There is a famous, or infamous, Bernie Sanders quote. It is “If you write a best-selling book, you can be a millionaire, too.” It goes back to an interview he gave with the NY Times. He also told Fox news people can be a millionaire if they write a successful book like he did.
While of course no one ever knows what is in another person’s head, when reading the interview and other news stories/interviews he has done on the issue, his point is that he wrote a best selling book and was financially rewarded for doing so. In fact, he also said “I didn’t know that it was a crime to write a good book, which turned out to be a best-seller.”
I fully agree with Bernie on his point and I agree with the quote of “If you write a best-selling book, you can be a millionaire, too”. However, it is interesting to me in that if he really believes that concept of you do something well, if you are great and successful at it, then you deserve to be financially rewarded. If he really believes that concept, then at what point does he think that it no longer holds true. At what point does he think that someone should not be financially rewarded?
As the fact is that Bernie Sanders wrote a few books that sold less than a million copies in aggregate, and he has made a couple million dollars from those books. Selling under a million books is a “nice accomplishment”, but it is nothing innovative or ground-breaking. Writing a book does not improve society, productivity of the American economy/worker, his writing does not lead to others getting jobs (at least it would be an immaterial number), etc. The point being his books did nothing to improve “society” as a whole, but he deserve to be a millionaire?
A million dollars for some books – really?
Lets put this into perspective. Let me ask you this. Should Mark Zuckerberg, who took an idea he had and took that idea to a found company (Facebook) that impacts over 2 billion people worldwide and employs ~40,000 people be worth billions of dollars? As I think any reasonable person would say what Zuckerberg has accomplished is infinitely more impactful and groundbreaking. How much more financially rewarded should that historical accomplishment be than a book that sold several hundred thousand copies? I would love Zuckerberg to say “If you create a company that impacts 40% of the world, and employ 40,000 people, you can be a multi-billionaire, too”.
What about Bill Gates? He took an idea to create a company that employs 150,000 workers. The Microsoft software and technology has improved the productivity of hundreds of millions of people. Does he deserve billions for that? Frederick Smith founded Fed Ex, which employs over 400,000 people and allows packages to be shipped worldwide on a days’ notice, thus increasing productivity of society as a whole. Should he be worth a couple billion and make several million per year for that huge accomplishment/benefit to society?
Sanders can’t in one breath imply you have the right to be financially successful for your achievement (like he claims he has a right to be in his case) but also almost preach day in and day out about some people having too much. If Sanders says he deserves to be a millionaire for his accomplishment of writing a somewhat successful book (and it is an accomplishment), the fact what is that Sanders has done writing a book pales in every objective way to what thousands of business leaders, entrepreneurs, and others do every single day.
The fact is countless other entrepreneurs, executives and others have done so much more for society than just writing a book. Countless hard working, innovate people have changed the world, made it more productive, increased efficiency, created jobs, and had a tremendous impact. If Sanders can be a millionaire for writing a book on his own, I think someone that increases productivity of millions of workers from their achievement or created tens of thousands of jobs should be rewarded exponentially more than “writing a book”.
Why did Sanders not voluntarily pay those earnings to the government?
Bernie also said “I pay the taxes that I owe” in regards to his income. Another point here is that Sanders could have taken his income from the book sales and wrote a check to the US Treasury if he feels that high earners need to do more and pay more taxes. In other words, he did not need to keep that money.
Anyone at anytime can just write an extra check to the US Treasury and pay more in taxes. Should someone like Bernie have done this and “led” by example?
Not anti-Sanders or anti-book writing!
This post is not to bash Bernie Sanders. It is not to minimize anyone out there who has written a successful book. In fact I 100% agree with the concept of “If you write a best-selling book, you can be a millionaire, too” and 100% agree that the writer should be financially rewarded. The post is really to point out how ridiculous/hypocritical that comment is when at the same time you are also demonizing financially successful people.
There is a lack of thoughtfulness around this issue (and many others!). I would love for someone to ask Bernie about it. Hopefully someone will tell Mr. Sanders that we agree he should be a millionaire, but what then should Zuckerberg be? What should Elon Musk be rewarded for risking everything (including personal bankrutcy) founding Tesla and the thousands of jobs in “green energy”? What should Tom Brady be earning? What should Pierre Omidyar, the founder of Ebay be worth? Should all of them “only” be “millionaires”? I think not, especially when you compare those historical achievements with “writing a book”.
Who should determine what someone should or should be worth based on their accomplishments? As Bernie apparently thinks writing a book is enough for a millionaire. Should Mr. Sanders (or the government) be the ones to determine what a founder of a company that employs thousands of workers should be worth? Should Sanders determine what a professional athlete should be worth?
People should study up on what many successful people have done to get to where they are. Hard work, taking risks, giving up weekends, sleeping in the office, taking out personal loans or debt to pay for starting a business, using a 2nd mortgage (and risking their home) and so much more. I know I do not think anyone, or any government, should determine what a salary or the “rewards” should or shouldn’t be.