October 21, 2019

ZOHORE | Kylie Jenner’s $65 Hoodie Shows Why We Need a Wealth Tax

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Early this week, the internet was consumed by a video of media personality, Kylie Jenner. In the video, Jenner enters her baby’s room and sings, “rise and shine” in a hilariously off-key tone. Amidst the hype, Jenner is selling a $65 poorly-designed rise and shine hoodies.

It definitely wasn’t that funny.

Of course, capitalizing off internet fame is how she became famous in the first place, but it is quite unsettling that a 22-year-old billionaire would sell such an expensive product, based on a fleeting meme, to her audience that primarily consists of adolescents.

There are billions of people across the globe who live in poverty, yet the one percent continues to grow wealthier and wealthier. The income inequality gap is the greatest it has been in almost 50 years. But at what point is enough, enough?

It is said that if you made $5,000 every day since 1492, you still would not be a billionaire. There are 2,208 billionaires in the world, each having an average of $4.1 billion. Their accumulated wealth is estimated at roughly $9.1 trillion.

I often wonder why it is that a person can have such an insane amount of wealth, and still wish for more. Writing in The New York Times in 2014, Sam Polk, CEO of Everytable, offered a compelling possible answer, admitting that in his time as a Wall Street trader, he was addicted to money. He found himself surrounded by billionaires and desperate to be one. “Dozens of different types of 12-step support groups exist to help addicts of various types, yet there is no Wealth Addicts Anonymous. Why not? Because our culture supports and even lauds the addiction. Look at the magazine covers in any newsstand, plastered with the faces of celebrities and C.E.O.’s; the super-rich are our cultural gods.”

That said, I do somewhat believe it is unfair to vilify the wealthy completely. Many of them are “self-made” and have worked hard to amass to their success. Studies even show that wealthy people tend to work longer hours and spend less time socializing. After all, they have achieved the American Dream that has been ever so glorified in our country. I think the problem lies largely in how our government manages wealth.

The issue of income inequality has garnered much conversation in the political arena, especially with several Democratic candidates like Tom Steyer, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren being in support of implementing a wealth tax. A wealth tax would require the ultra-wealthy to pay the federal government a percentage of their yearly net worth. Candidates suggest that the money would fund initiatives in environmental efforts, health care reform, economic investment and more.

In this month’s Democratic Debate, moderator Erin Burnett highlighted the terrifying fact that “the top one percent now own more of the nation’s wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined.” Bernie Sanders, an avid proponent of the idea that “billionaires should not exist,” also stated that “we cannot afford to continue this level of income and wealth inequality, and we cannot afford a billionaire class whose greed and corruption has been at war with the working families of this country for 45 years.”

Even some billionaires have vocalized support in enacting such legislation. Eli Broad, the 78th wealthiest man in America, wrote in a New York Times article, “Let’s admit out loud what we all know to be true: A wealth tax can start to address the economic inequality eroding the soul of our country’s strength. I can afford to pay more, and I know others can too. What we can’t afford are more shortsighted policies that skirt big ideas, avoid tough issues and do little to alleviate the poverty faced by millions of Americans. There’s no time to waste.”

While I agree with Sanders’ sentiments on containing wealth disparities in America, I fear his verbiage will ostracize many Americans from adopting this ideology. Instead, I think candidate Elizabeth Warren’s stance is the most digestible for the American people. Warren’s plan would place a 2 percent annual tax on those making over $50 million, and an additional 1 percent for those valued in the billions. Her team estimates that the tax would only affect one in 1,700 American families, but the impact would be widespread. She hopes to use this tax revenue to increase funding for the public education system, especially in low-income communities.

Kylie Jenner and her hideous, ridiculously overpriced hoodie are indicative of a far more significant problem — the few who hoard wealth from the many. If she, like other billionaires, can afford lavish vacations on private jets, an extensive collection of luxury cars and five multi-million dollar homes, she can certainly afford to pay a 3 percent tax that will improve the lives of millions. While I believe a wealth tax is imperative for our country, the upcoming presidential election will be a fascinating indication of how we as a nation prioritize this pressing issue.

Amelia Zohore is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at az288@cornell.edu. And What About It? runs every other Tuesday this semester.