We learnt that by 2026, Jeff Bezos is set to become the first trillionaire on earth. According to Comparisum, his wealth is set to increase exponentially and leapfrog the other hard contenders of the ‘soon-to-be trillionaire club’. Putting that into perspective, Jeff Bezos is now 36% richer than the British monarchy and approximately makes a rough amount of $2,480 per second (that’s more than twice the amount the average worker in the USA makes within a week. Putting that into perspective, it’s safe to say that changes all definitions of the word “rich”. Which brings us to the famous old question: Should the super rich actually be super rich?
Does a person need that much money?
One or two ethic classes made me wonder: Does one person really need that much money? or Shouldn’t there be a systematic cap of some sort? A morally guided redistribution process maybe? Considering the social economic struggles of numerous countries and the large amounts of people trying to make a living, the very existence of a debate on whether one person should earn such an immense amount of money or not is already considered to some people, as a clear “indication of normalised extreme inequality”.
As US left-wing politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez puts it “A system that allows billionaires to exist when there are places where people get ringworm because they don’t have access to public health, is wrong”. And boy, is she right.
Personally, I don’t have anything against the super rich. In fact, I don’t necessarily think we should do what’s in our power to ban them from ever existing in the first place. However, my intention is to put this whole debate into a certain perspective.
As people and businesses continue to keep up with life in the midst of the global pandemic for example, analysis by Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies reveal that Jeff Bezos added $34.5 billion to his earnings from the period from mid March to mid May. Mark Zuckerberg gained $25.3 billion. Bezos later stated that Amazon would be spending at least it’s $4 billion profit from the first quarter on initiatives to fight the COVID-19 crisis in the upcoming months. One of which was confirmed through an announcement that Amazon would be starting a mass-production of face shields. However, in a few weeks Amazon also announced that they would be putting an end to hazard and double overtime pay for warehouse employees at the end of the month. A decision that came under intense criticism from activists, politicians, and even employees of Amazon. As the political left remain adamant on more aggressive taxing of the ultra rich, the very incentive is still often met with a form of resentment. And not only from actual billionaires. Here’s where I think it’s time we address some common misconceptions about the super rich.
“They are where they are because they earned it through hard work”
Let’s take a moment to reflect on the “hard work gets you results” norm we’ve been taught. The idea that if we were to work hard enough, there would be a higher probability that we would eventually earn the resources to live a “better” life. While some inherit this financial advantage to achieve that, others inherit wealth from associated social privileges from an elite circle of people to help them in getting where they are today.
Many people work just as “hard” and still struggle to keep up with society’s demand. As we’re all aiming for a “better” quality of life, we’re quite unaware as to what constitutes as “better”? And most importantly, why is one’s hard work just not as deserving of a better life quality than others in that sense?
“The truth is, we cannot afford to continue this level of income and wealth inequality”
Measuring “hard work”
Here are a few questions I think about when people talk about a billionaire’s “hard work”:
1. How did they make that much money? was it through an innovation that drastically changed the way we live our lives?
2. Is there a group of people that through it’s creation process, “loses” upon the business’ “gains”?
From the young mother of three who earns less than a dollar an hour working in a secluded sweatshop/factory, to the student working part-time to pay off his college debt at a popular clothing store, it might be time to realise that not a single person really “earns” their billions of dollars alone. In fact, accumulating anywhere near such an amount comes at a hefty price to pay: undervaluing others’ labor, services, products, and well-being. Especially with exploitation happening in different industries and when politicians around the world turn a blind eye.
“But, the super rich create opportunities“
It’s no surprise that the super rich have made significant impacts to the world economy as we know it. Funding new innovations, starting projects, philanthropy, creating jobs, etc. But in this case, the point I’d like to get across is that I believe some billionaires are not just “super rich people”. In fact, to really clarify that point, some are “beyond what-you-can-imagine-rich”.
I’m talking about complete dominance in the economy and the resources to influence policies or even shift political agendas to their liking. And it’s what kind of shift they choose on making, that will ultimately affects the tax payer and everyone else outside the super rich bracket. Will it be the type of shift to give them even more power? Will it be one to protect those who can’t keep up with the demands of society? The latter isn’t so realistic – but I can dream.
The existence of the super rich elite proves to mostly be a creation of wealth achieved by the struggle of countless people being put through a funnel that leads into the pockets of a selective few.
Here’s where I personally believe that such extensive wealth should be put into improving the lives of the majority, and not the few. Getting the super rich few to pay their taxes and not allowing wealth to impact a country’s well-being should be number one on the to-do list. Prioritise public health, food distribution, access to proper education, and improve living conditions of the many.