Is it fair that the world’s richest people pay so little in tax? That in a time of extreme inequality, those that have so much contribute so little in proportion to their vast wealth? These are the questions motivating US Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, who’s been calling for new taxes on billionaires.
Is it fair that the democracy I live in might have some demands of me? How can I prove that I’m super edgy and totally unfazed by the prospect of paying more tax? These are the questions apparently motivating Elon Musk, who replied to a tweet from Wyden by asking why the senator looks like he’s just orgasmed in his profile picture.
Musk’s crude tweet caps a particularly interesting weekend for the world’s richest man, who didn’t seem to get the answer he wanted when polling the internet on the issue of wealth.
On Saturday, Musk asked his 63 million Twitter followers whether or not he should sell 10 percent of his Tesla stock. The question is important, because without selling stock, Musk isn’t actually taxed on the main source of his vast fortune (he owns around 17 percent of Tesla stock, currently worth around $200 billion). This is the situation that Wyden and other politicians wanted to change with a plan to annually tax unsold assets like stocks belonging to the United States’ wealthiest citizens — around 700 billionaires (though Wyden’s proposals have already been rejected).
As Musk put it in a separate tweet: “I do not take a cash salary or bonus from anywhere. I only have stock, thus the only way for me to pay taxes personally is to sell stock.”
Musk’s Twitter followers were clear, though: Elon should sell his stock, with 57.9 percent of 3.5 million participants voting “yes” on the poll. In other words: Musk should be paying more in tax than he does already. (Interestingly, due to how Musk’s Tesla stock options are structured, he’s likely due a sizable tax bill regardless of the outcome of any Twitter poll.)
Musk, who promised to “abide by the results of this poll, whichever way it goes,” hasn’t commented directly on the poll’s outcome. Instead, he chose to fire off his tweet to Wyden after the senator pointed out that “whether or not the world’s wealthiest man pays any taxes at all shouldn’t depend on the results of a Twitter poll.”
It was this shocking suggestion — that questions of great public import, like billionaires’ tax rates, might be settled outside of Musk’s Twitter feed — that apparently proved too much for Elon to bear. Presumably, though, he’s too busy preparing the necessary paperwork to follow through on his promise and sell his stock to come up with a more articulate reply.