Musings about Vilifying Billionaires


Bernie Sanders has been getting headlines and filling up stadiums of people with his message:

Let us wage a moral and political war against the billionaires and corporate leaders, on Wall Street and elsewhere, whose policies and greed are destroying the middle class of America.

Here is another quote:

Sanders, an independent, is seeking the Democratic nomination for president. On Saturday, the second day of a three-day Iowa swing, pointed out how FDR called the wealthy protectors of the status quo “economic royalists.”

“He said, ‘They hate my guts. Never have they hated someone as much as they hate me. And I welcome their hatred,’” Sanders said.

“And let me echo that today: If the Koch Brothers and the billionaire class hate my guts, I welcome their hatred. Because I am going to stand with working families.”

In a 1936 speech at Madison Square Garden, just days before his reelection, Roosevelt described his opposition as “the old enemies of peace: business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.”

“They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”

— Des Moines Register

He is basically saying that billionaires are bad people, criminals, and financial and moral rapists of the middle class.

I call this whole line of thinking bullshit. Bernie may have some good ideas. I admire his zeal and energy, but he needs to drop this silly line of thinking because it makes no sense.

I am not a billionaire. I am not a millionaire. But I have been a business owner and job creator all my life. For the vast majority of my career, I was responsible for meeting payroll. I know a thing or two about business.

There are very few billionaires in the country. Forbes lists about 400 or so. The exact number does not matter. The fact is, they would all pretty much fit into one Boeing 747. It’s not a lot of people.

I have read the biographies of a number of billionaires, including several of Bill Gates, several of  Steve Jobs ( – by Isaacson), and one of Elon Musk ( – by Vance).  I have learned a thing or two about billionaires in the process.

I actually talked with Ted Waitt, the founder of Gateway 2000, at a CEO round table in San Diego. There were about 10 to 15 of us CEOs of local companies who invited business personalities on a monthly basis, and one time our guest was Ted Waitt. At the time he was worth about $1.4 billion. Ted talked about the days when he started Gateway in his family barn in Sioux City, South Dakota. He started the company on September 5, 1985 with a $10,000 loan secured by his grandmother.

On September 5, 1985, I was a computer programmer in San Diego, making $26,000 a year. I could have started a computer company in my garage. But I didn’t. Ted did. He talked about the early years trying to keep the company going. “Every morning we’d go to the mailbox and see what checks we received, and then the accountant and I would decide which bills to pay that day,” he said, and to every one of us CEOs in the room, that rang home loud and clear. Everyone who ever had to meet payroll has run out of money and has had to figure out how to make it past that. All too often, the solution came in form of a personal credit card in the owner’s wallet – or worse.

Ted Waitt didn’t become a billionaire because he ripped off people, stole from the middle class, or was greedy. He was successful because he provided a product (computers) at a time when the personal computer business was booming, and supplied that product at a fair price, with high quality, and with little overhead, since he pioneered the concept of mail-order computers (along with his rival Michael Dell at the time). He was eventually successful because we worked 18 hour days, 7 days a week, for years and years, and took enormous risks. He shipped millions of good computers. Our company bought all Gateway machines in the early years. He created thousands of high-paying jobs in – of all places – South Dakota, until he couldn’t fill the positions anymore, having pretty much employed everyone available within commuting distance. That’s when he moved the company to San Diego. Ted Waitt, through his sheer tenacity, brutally hard work, long hours, his creativity, vision, and leadership built a billion-dollar company, made himself fabulously wealthy (billionaire), made many of his partners and investors very wealthy, employed thousands of people, became a major industrial factor in Sioux City, South Dakota, and supplied good, solid computers, made in the USA, to millions of people for many years.

We don’t want to strike down people like Ted Waitt! We need more of them, many more of them, if the USA is to ever again be an industrial nation that creates and ships products all over the world.

I don’t need to talk much about Bill Gates, who has been the wealthiest person in America for some 25 years or more now. Gates, of course, heads off the billionaire class, and in my estimation he is one of the most brilliant business men of our entire generation. He has created an entire industry. He employed many thousands of people, now for more than 40 years. Many thousands of ex-Microsoft workers are millionaires now in their retirement. Microsoft still fuels our US economy. It’s one of the companies that still makes stuff right here and exports it all over the world. Microsoft is a major job creator.

Apple is the most valuable company on the planet, with today’s market cap at $661 billion. Steve Jobs became a billionaire many times over, not because he raped the middle class, but because he reinvented an entire host of industries single-handedly, including computers, movies (Pixar), music distribution (iTunes), cell phones (iPhone), and modern computing (iPad). It is reported that Apple is now working on a car. I guess it’ll be called the iCar?

Steve Jobs was a billionaire when he died too early. He, too, created good American jobs and industries that will fuel our national economy for decades to come. Apple is one of the most recognized brands on the planet. He founded the company on April 1, 1976. I remember that day, because on that very day I reported to military boot camp. Every soldier remembers that day vividly. Jobs built his company through relentless hard work, vision, persistence when everyone around him told him it could not be done. He ran several companies in parallel for years (Pixar, Apple). Apple would not exist without Jobs. There would be no Apple stores everywhere. We would not be using iPhones. Smart phones might look different entirely today if it hadn’t been for Apple’s creativity and leadership. Jobs was a billionaire, and he produced more value for the US than thousands of average workers combined.

Then there is Elon Musk, an immigrant from South Africa who arrived first in Canada as a teenager in the late 1980s with a few hundred dollars in his pocket. Eventually, he cofounded PayPal, and after it was sold, started Tesla, the electric car company, SpaceX, the rocket company, and he was heavily involved in SolarCity, the solar energy leasing company. With Tesla worth over $40 billion, and SpaceX still private, but estimated at more than $12 billion, Musk is a multi-billionaire and he got there by taking huge risks, working extremely hard for decades and having an outsized vision of what can be done.

Did you ever think it would be possible to start a brand-new car company? Or how about a rocket company that will compete with Russia and NASA? That’s exactly what Musk did, from scratch, in his garage, with his own money, that he made from writing code for PayPal – while the rest of us went to work every day at our jobs. Now he too employs thousands of people in several companies. Those companies are still growing and creating jobs in America, every day, every week, every month.

We need more people like Waitt, Gates, Jobs and Musk in this country, not less. Bernie Sanders does not know what he is talking about when he vilifies billionaires.

Granted, I just listed a few prominent ones here, but I could go on and on. Go and study up on the biographies of the wealthiest people in this country, and you’ll find that for the most part, they are the ones that have created opportunity, wealth and welfare by providing superior products for the US and the rest of the world.

So when I quote Sanders again from the top of this post:

Let us wage a moral and political war against the billionaires and corporate leaders, on Wall Street and elsewhere, whose policies and greed are destroying the middle class of America.

I can only say: what an idiotic statement!

2 thoughts on “Musings about Vilifying Billionaires

  1. While I agree with your initial premise which is vilifying an entire group of people based on over generalization, I think there are a couple of problems with the supporting logic.

    Granted Barry Sanders hyperbolic rhetoric would sound ludicrous in most conversations, he is a politician running for President and as such doesn’t sound much different from the rest of the pack n terms of tone if not content.

    You then cite a number of great examples of billionaires with demonstrably records of community empathy and philanthropism. But why no discussion of, say, the Koch Bros. or the dozen or so CEOs of the investment banking community or even Donald Trump. I wholeheartedly agree that the world needs the people you itemized but the same can’t be said for the folks on my list.

    Finally a comment on where we live economically right now. We currently are running a federal government deficit of $17T and even though we have reduced the federal debt in the last few years we still post a budget in the red. We have been doing that since the 80s when we began dismantling financial safeguards in regulations.I think it should be clear that the strategy for the past 35 years practiced by both parties of lowering the marginal tax rates and continuous expansion of the government is not a recipe for success. Some of the wealthiest US Corporations (Exxon comes to mind) pay no tax or nearly no tax. This can’t continue. The most efficient way way to do this is to reform the tax code and remove decades old loopholes, raise the marginal rate on the billionaire and above level and continue to cut back the federal government on all fronts. This is not meant to be exercised on small business people but rather to restore the equilibrium between multi-billion dollar corporations and every one else. This is a position that has been publicly backed by one person on your list, Bill Gates and also another guy who should have made your list, Warren Buffett.

    1. Ah, good response. Thanks for taking the time.

      First, of course “my list” wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive one, but rather represents people I have knowledge about, so they were easy to discuss. Yes, Buffet belongs there.

      And yes, the Koch brothers. It’s time I read up on them, and not just what the liberal media forces down our throats.

      Agree completely on your examples of Exxon and others that pay no taxes. Hence the flat tax suggestion.

      My point cannot be to solve the country’s problems in a few blog posts. Brighter people than I have spent their careers on these issues. But I do try to stimulate a few constructive – and hopefully critical – thoughts, and from your comments, I would say, that I have at least done a little bit of that.

Leave a Reply