The independent Vermont senator argued against unfettered capitalism in an interview with journalist Chris Wallace
The US government should confiscate 100% of any money that Americans make above $999m, the leftwing independent senator Bernie Sanders said late last week.
Sanders expressed that belief in an exchange on Friday evening with the host of Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace? on HBO Max.
Wallace had asked Sanders about the general assertion in his book It’s OK to Be Angry About Capitalism that billionaires should not exist.
“Are you basically saying that once you get to $999m that the government should confiscate all the rest?” Matthews asked the US senator from Vermont, who is an independent but caucuses with Democrats and has helped them attain their current slim majority in the upper congressional chamber.
“Yeah,” Sanders replied. “You may disagree with me but, fine, I think people can make it on $999m. I think that they can survive just fine.”
Wallace had earlier mentioned how the late Sam Walton could make the giant retail chain Walmart the largest single private employer in the US thanks to his family’s net worth of about $225bn. Sanders countered that Walmart in many cases pays starvation wages to its 1.2 million employees despite how rich the Waltons are.
“Many of their workers are on Medicaid or food stamps,” Sanders said, referring to forms of government assistance for which low-income Americans can qualify. “In other words, taxpayers are subsidizing the wealthiest family in the country. Do I think that’s right? No, I don’t.”
Nonetheless, Sanders said his comments on the matter weren’t a personal attack against the Waltons or other billionaires.
“It is an attack upon a system,” Sanders said. “You can have a vibrant economy without [a few] people owning more wealth than the bottom half of American society” combined.
He added that if he were in charge: “If you make a whole lot of money, you’re going to pay a whole lot of money.”
Sanders’s remarks are unlikely to ingratiate him with proponents of the US political right who already dismiss him as a communist. But they have never been a part of his base of supporters.
The 81-year-old has held one of Vermont’s US Senate seats since 2007. He had spent the previous 16 years representing the state in the US House of Representatives, helping him become the longest-serving independent in American congressional history.
Sanders, who has previously run unsuccessfully to become a Democratic presidential candidate, published It’s OK to Be Angry About Capitalism in February. In it, he notes that one-tenth of 1% of the US population owns 90% of the nation’s wealth, among other things.
He also argues that “unfettered capitalism … destroys anything that gets in its way in the pursuit of profits”, including the environment, democracy and human rights.
On Friday, Sanders told Wallace that he believes “people who work hard and create businesses should be rich”, but the concept of some being billionaires offended him deeply when a half-million Americans are homeless and 85 million of them cannot afford to buy health insurance.