The next big billionaire thing: Hunting humans?

Can we actually start taxing the rich again?


Collecting signatures takes energy, and young people in Switzerland seem to have an abundance of just that. The young who belong to the youth wing of Switzerland’s Social Democratic Party earlier this month — after a two-year campaign — deposited over 140,000 signatures at the Federal Chancellery in Bern.

Why go to all that effort? Activists in Switzerland’s Young Socialists group want to seriously tax the huge inheritances their nation’s fabulously rich routinely pass on to family and friends. The 140,000 signatures the activists’ “For the Future” initiative has collected adds up to much more than enough to place on the Swiss ballot a proposition that would, if enacted, subject all inheritances over 50 million Swiss francs — the equivalent of about $57.3 million — to a 50 percent tax.

The proceeds from that tax — an estimated $6.8 billion a year — would enable what the “For the Future” initiative is calling a “socially equitable financing of climate protection.” Swiss federal and canton authorities would be able to use the billions in proceeds from the proposed tax on everything from developing renewable energy to boosting public transportation.

All this Swiss activist interest in curbing the wealth of the wealthy should come as no surprise. Switzerland currently boasts more billionaires per capita than all but two of the world’s political nation states.

Swiss billionaires range from Rafaela Aponte-Diamant and Gianluigi Aponte, shipping magnates worth $29.4 billion each who share 54th place on the Forbes real-time world billionaire list, to Stephane Bonvin, a real-estate king who sits in 2,394th place with a fortune worth a mere $1.1 billion.

On that same Forbes billionaire list, all the way down at the bottom, sits South Korea’s Lee Jay-hyun in 2,532nd place. Lee just happens to boast a bio that touches all the billionaire bases, encompassing everything from corruption and corporate power to inherited grand fortune and political clout.

Lee’s granddad, for starters, founded the Samsung global electronics empire. That gave Lee a head-start in life that surely didn’t hurt his climb to the top of the CJ Group, the giant food and beverage conglomerate that Lee currently chairs.

Back in 2014, Lee held that same corporate power position. But a South Korean court that year found Lee, then his nation’s tenth-richest man, guilty of embezzling $156 million and stashing that tidy sum offshore. The judge in the case, citing Lee’s “social status and social responsibility,” ruled he deserved a “tough punishment” and sentenced him to four years in prison — on top of a stiff fine.

Lee ended up never having to serve that prison sentence. In 2016, “after gathering diverse opinions to unite our people and overcome an economic crisis,” South Korea’s Justice Ministry announced that the nation’s president had decided to pardon the then 56-year-old Lee in honor of the nation’s upcoming Liberation Day holiday.

That a man of awesome means can get away with committing a major crime comes, of course, as no surprise to those of us who have watched our global rich bounce all the way back and then some from the “dark” days of the mid-20th century, a time when the developed world’s highest incomes faced tax rates of up to 91 percent.

How much — in our current 21st-century plutocratic climate — can our richest now get away with? They can, two Austrian filmmakers posit, get away with murder. Literally.

The two filmmakers, Daniel Hoesl and Julia Niemann, gave their latest collaboration a world premiere last month at the Sundance Film Festival.

“We always follow the money,” says Hoesl, the screenwriter of their just-released Veni Vidi Vici.

And the money this time led them to the story of Amon Maynard, a lavishly endowed billionaire who enjoys hunting humans.

“Decked in the epitome of rich-people elegance, Maynard seems to be the kind of man who has never heard no for an answer,” writes film critic Jose Solís in the journal Film Stage. “Killing a person doesn’t even seem to thrill him much as a fetish — it’s just something else he does in his free time.”

And what does Solis see as the “craziest thing” about Hoesl and Niemann’s “pitch-black satire about a wealthy family with a predilection for human-hunting”? The film, he notes, just “doesn’t seem that crazy.”

Why should it? As filmmaker Hoesl puts it: “Didn’t some country’s president say something like ‘I could kill someone on Fifth Avenue but still get elected?’”


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