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This sublime and funky and expensive love that I crave


Cornel West has blown millions of dollars on women, luxury condos, women, and Caddys, and the rest of it he wasted:

Cornel West has been a fixture of American society for more than three decades, publishing books, teaching at Ivy League institutions, commenting on cable news, collaborating on music with Prince—even popping up in sequels to the Matrix. Ubiquity provided liquidity, with West earning an estimated $15 million or so over the last 30 years. But oddly, as he mounts an independent run for president, his net worth resembles that of a first-year adjunct professor. “I live paycheck to paycheck,” says West.

A review of federal filings and property records confirms that West’s net worth is near zero. Other outlets have previously reported on his troubles paying taxes over the years. But no one so far has explained how someone so successful became so broke. With West in position to affect who becomes America’s next president, Forbes set out to answer that question, digging into heaps of legal and tax documents filed in various jurisdictions over six decades. Turns out much of the damage was self-inflicted. 

West burst onto the national scene in the 1990s with Race Matters, a compilation of essays that sold more than 500,000 copies. He traveled the country to deliver speeches, hauling in more than $500,000 a year. Much of the money flowed to him with no taxes deducted. West blew it—on many things, especially women—leaving little left for Uncle Sam by the time tax season arrived. The liens piled up: $144,000 in 1998, $105,000 in 2000, $205,000 in 2001 and so on. “Almost like a reptile biting its tail,” he says now. 

West lived in a Four Seasons condo in Boston, which he later admitted he could not afford, and rode around in a Mercedes or Cadillac. One of his four ex-wives accused West of maintaining a covert apartment in Boston for $5,000 a month to use as a love den. She also alleged that, despite not having any health conditions, he later took a medical leave from his job at Harvard to live a “secret life” with another woman in New Mexico. 

In court documents filed in 2002 and 2003, West did not deny burning money on affairs, at least one of which produced a child. (He acknowledged he had an 18-month-old daughter at the time.) And in his 2009 memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, West confirms some of the less-salacious details. But when asked in November to respond to claims he’d “hid or wasted” close to a million dollars, at least some of which went to support extramarital affairs, West offered via email that “The allegations were too ridiculous to attend to–then and now, my brother!” He did not respond to a follow-up inquiry that detailed his ex-wife’s specific allegations. 

In 2002, he blamed his financial troubles on other factors, such as his soon-to-be ex-wife’s propensity to spend money on Chanel clothing, upscale dining and antique furniture. More recently, after news about his tax liens surfaced, West elaborated on the genesis of his debt problems, suggesting the student loans he incurred as an undergraduate put him in a “black hole” that he could never escape.

That’s nonsense. After three decades in the public eye, West has earned more than enough money to pay back his student loans. Without enormous earnings, West would not owe the federal government so much in unpaid taxes (he still has about $483,000 in outstanding tax liens today). The real explanation for West’s financial problems: recklessness. Despite his professorial appearance—West is famous for his toothy smile and W. E. B. Du Bois-inspired, three-piece suits—he has spent and lived wildly, impregnating and abandoning multiple women, leaving him with significant divorce and child-support payments, some of which he failed to pay. If government leadership is largely about managing money and maintaining relationships, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the field who is less prepared for the job than Cornel West.

Obviously, if he paid his child support and his taxes his romantic life and how he spends his money is his business, but…that “if” is the rub. And it also makes one wonder who besides Harlan Crow is funding his current pro-Trump ratfucking efforts and how much of that money will find its way into his personal kick.

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