Bill and Melinda Gates are well aware of the conversations happening around the moral existence of billionaires in American society.
During an interview on The Late Show Tuesday night, Stephen Colbert asked the world’s second-richest couple, “There’s a lot of talk right now that maybe billionaires shouldn’t exist, have you heard some of this talk?”
“We have,” Melinda Gates replied.
Colbert summed up the argument by saying that “maybe the existence of billionaires is a failure of capitalism, because the capital gets too concentrated with too few people.” He asked them, “What would you say to those people who say billionaires shouldn’t exist?”
“Well, we might be biased,” Bill Gates replied with a laugh before adding, “I think you can make the tax system take a much higher portion from people with great wealth.”
When Colbert mentioned the 70 percent marginal tax rate proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Gates said, “Well, that’s the ordinary income. These great fortunes were not made through ordinary incomes. So you probably have to look to the capital gains rate and the estate tax if you want to, you know, create more equity there.”
“So I think that’s a great debate,” he continued. “I think if you go so far as to say that there’s a total upper limit, that might have more negatives than positives. But, you know, I may have a distorted view of this.”
Similarly, Melinda Gates shared her criticisms of other countries around the world that already have much higher tax rates than the U.S., suggesting that it stifles innovation.
“In fact there have been many times when you're in France and they’ll say, ‘Gosh, we wish we could have a Bill Gates, we wish we could have such a vibrant tech sector,’” she said. “But the taxes have been done there in such a way that it doesn’t actually stimulate good growth. So we believe in a good tax system that should tax the wealthy more than low-income people for sure.”
When Ocasio-Cortez was asked by Ta-Nehisi Coates last month whether it is “moral” for people to become billionaires, she referenced Gates directly in her answer. “I don’t think that necessarily means that all billionaires are immoral,” she said. “It is not to say that someone like Bill Gates, for example, or Warren Buffet, are immoral people. I do not believe that. I’m not saying that, but I do think a system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don’t have access to public health, is wrong.”
Later in his interview, Colbert asked why, when a billionaire like Howard Schultz is teasing a run for president and a “fake billionaire” like Trump is president, the Gates have never considered an entrée into politics.
“Well, we work with politicians,” Bill Gates said. “But neither of us will choose to run for office. You know, we are specialized in what we dig into and what we know. And, you know, we hope we get good politicians, but we’re not going to run.”
With that in mind, Colbert presented them with a pair of “Gates 2020: It’s Not an Option” T-shirts.