Elizabeth Warren Slams Elon Musk over Taxes

Left: Sen. Elizabeth Warren at a Senate Finance Committee hearing in 2013. Right: Elon Musk in Berlin, Germany, in 2020. (Evelyn Hockstein, Hannibal Hanschke/Pool via Reuters)

Elizabeth Warren, tweeting on December 13:

When someone makes it big in America—millionaire big, billionaire big, Person of the Year big—part of it has to include paying it forward so the next kid can get a chance, too.

Attached to her tweet was a doctored cover of Time’s “Person of the Year” cover, which incorporated the claim that Musk paid no federal income tax in 2018.

The same day, Warren also tweeted this:

Let’s change the rigged tax code so The Person of the Year will actually pay taxes and stop freeloading off everyone else.

As so often with Warren, it’s striking to see how quickly and how often she resorts to the language of conspiracism. It’s not enough for her to say that the tax code is, to use a gentle adjective, flawed (a view quite a few of us share — even if we disagree on the nature of the flaws), but no, it has to be “rigged.”

And as so often with Musk, he wasn’t slow to respond (I’ll pass quickly over the whole “Senator Karen” business), tweeting this on Dec 14:

And if you opened your eyes for 2 seconds, you would realize I will pay more taxes than any American in history this year

And this:

Don’t spend it all at once … oh wait you did already.


And (from yesterday) this:

For those wondering, I will pay over $11 billion in taxes this year.

And about the alleged $0 in 2018. CNN explains:

Musk is worth an estimated $251 billion, according to Forbes’ Real Time Billionaires estimate. But an investigation by ProPublica reported that in 2018, he and other billionaires paid zero in taxes. That year, he had little in the way of taxable income, given that he sold no shares of his stock and received no cash salary or bonus.

Having little in the way of taxable income will generally mean a low tax bill. That’s how the law works.

What Warren wants, of course, is a wealth tax, something that, regardless of its other malign consequences, is, in essence (as I’ve argued before), a form of feudalism (the “king” has a claim on everything you own), a stage I had hoped we had left behind. Or, if Warren cannot get a wealth tax, she would settle on something very close to it, a tax on unrealized capital gains, which adds absurdity to an already poisonous mix.

I wrote about that here in the wake of the ProPublica revelations:

“Gains” are ultimately meaningless until they are realized. Given how many digits can be involved, I wouldn’t want to push the claim of meaninglessness too far, but those who were worth millions on paper during the dot-com boom — and then next to nothing thereafter — might have a few thoughts on the evanescence of unrealized gains. In the event there had been a tax on the unrealized gains that they had “accumulated” during the bubble would they have been given refunds after they had been wiped out, say, the year after?

And there’s something else. We are frequently told by those on the left and their fellow travelers that short-term investment horizons are a discreditable feature of “casino capitalism.” Yet taxing unrealized gains penalizes those investors and business-builders who are in for the long haul.

Class warfare trumps consistency, it seems.