Bernie Sanders has responded to Elon Musk’s defense of the Tesla founder’s enormous wealth amid growing discussions in Congress about income inequality.
Mr Musk responded to a column criticising the senator’s previous remarks about his wealth, which is estimated to be roughly $167 billion.
“We are in a moment in American history where two guys” – Musk and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos – “own more wealth than the bottom 40 per cent of people in this country,” Mr Sanders said.
“That level of greed and inequality is not only immoral,” he added. “It is unsustainable.”
Mr Musk responded by saying that he is “accumulating resources to help make life multiplanetary [and] extend the light of consciousness to the stars.”
Mr Sanders then circled back on the Space X founder on Sunday: “Space travel is an exciting idea, but right now we need to focus on Earth and create a progressive tax system so that children don’t go hungry, people are not homeless and all Americans have healthcare. The level of inequality in America is obscene and a threat to our democracy.”
Mr Musk, who also founded SpaceX, plans to send people to Mars as part of a colonisation effort over the next decade.
The Tesla founder previously sparred with the senator over the company’s government subsidies – he called Mr Sanders a “docile puppet of big oil” after the senator pointed out that Tesla was buoyed by “$4.9 billion in corporate welfare”.
Mr Sanders has leveraged his seat as the new chair of the Senate’s critical Budget Committee to mull legislation and hold public hearings on income inequality, pay disparities and corporate subsidies.
This week, the senator and progressive lawmakers in Congress proposed raising taxes on companies that pay their top executives at least 50 times more than the pay of a median worker.
In 1980, corporate CEOs made an average of 42 times more money than their average workers. But over the last two decades, CEO pay has ballooned to nearly 350 times more than an average employee, according to testimony at a Senate Budget Committee hearing from Sarah Anderson of the Institute for Policy Studies.
The organisation reported that nearly 80 per cent of S&P 500 companies paid their CEO more than 100 times the median salary for their average worker in 2018, while nearly 10 per cent of those companies paid median incomes that were below the federal poverty line for a family of four.
In 2018, Mr Musk earned more than $2.28 billion from Tesla, including salary, stock options, stock appreciation and other benefits, according to the report, while the median worker salary was $56,163.
One recent analysis revealed that the collective wealth of the 651 richest billionaires increased by more than $1 trillion during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement announcing legislation aimed at CEO pay, Senator Sanders said the US is “moving toward an oligarchic form of society where the very rich are doing phenomenally well, and working families are struggling in a way that we have not seen since the Great Depression.”
“At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, the American people are demanding that large, profitable corporations pay their fair share of taxes and treat their employees with the dignity and respect they deserve,” he said.
Under the Tax Excessive CEO Pay Act, which applies pressure on top-earning companies to raise wages, tax penalties would begin at .5 per cent for companies that pay their top executives between 50 and 100 times more than their typical workers.
Walmart would pay up to $854.9 million more in taxes and Home Depot would pay up to $550.8 million more in taxes, according to lawmakers.