Math quiz: How many billionaires does it take to…

Image: Public Domain from US Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs Division

A billionaire is donating $30 million to the University of San Francisco in order to conduct a study of the root causes of homelessness. Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce and a San Francisco native, said of his donation, “we’re investing in programs that will help solve the homelessness crisis.” (Sacramento Bee)

Sounds good, right? And in a way, it is. Data driven research just might lead to understanding the root causes of homelessness and thereby reveal a long-term solution to end the tragedy. You never know. It might.

But I can’t help wondering … The street population in San Francisco is estimated to be in the neighborhood of 4,000 people. Let’ s do the math…

$30,000,000 / 4,000 = $7,500 per person

I have to think that just simply giving $7,500 to each person living on the streets might go a long way. Benioff is a billionaire, he could easily double the amount. Or triple it. Or add a zero.

I don’t mean this to be critical of Benioff. He does seem genuinely concerned about the issue. He generously supported a recent ballot measure in San Francisco that will impose a new tax on businesses which goes directly into services for the unhoused.

I mean this as a criticism of a political and economic system that is generating new billionaires seemingly by the hour while there are 4,000 human beings sleeping on the streets. What if Benioff didn’t have a conscience? Tough luck.

This is why I think Elizabeth Warren’s proposal for a wealth tax is so important. She proposes a simple 2% tax on accumulated personal wealth over $50 million. What that would mean for someone like Benioff, who is estimated to hold some $6.9 billion in assets, is a tax bill of $138 million per year. Each and every year. That’s nearly five times what he is offering for this study. Every year.

So instead of waiting around for the rare billionaire with a conscience to cough up some dough to address a social problem, we the people could decide how best to spend the money needed to address the many issues that face us. In this new gilded age, Warren’s proposal is a modest one. And revolutionary.



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