By 2026, Jeff Bezos is set to become the first “trillionaire” on earth. According to Comparisun, Bezos’ wealth is on the verge of increasing by so much that he’ll pretty much be leapfrogging the other contenders of the ‘soon-to-be-trillionaire club’ quickly. Putting that into perspective, Bezos is now 36% richer than the British monarchy and approximately makes around $2,480 per second (more than twice the amount the average worker in the United States makes within a week). During the 2019 Democrat presidential candidate debates, Bernie Sanders once said that “billionaires should be taxed out of existence”. However, billionaires also provide job opportunities and in a time of such crisis such as the pandemic – the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation for example has pledged millions into COVID-19 research. Which brings us to a quite controversial and often debatable question: Should the concept of “billionaires” exist?
People and Perspectives
A study by Oxfam published in late January this year showed that the richest 1,000 people in the world had recouped their losses and even expanded their wealth within the first nine months of the pandemic. In the meantime, the poor are now at a greater risk of spirling into a decade-long freefall into further poverty. Senator Bernie Sanders once described the existence of billionaires as a “moral and economic outrage”, pointing to the fact that about three wealthiest Americans control as much money as half of the country. The UK’s Labour Member of Parliament Lloyd-Russell-Moyle also has also publicly said that “billionaires just simply shouldn’t exist”. One of the main reasons figures such as the two believe in such a strong statement? the issue of income inequality. The very structure of the economy that allows such a disproportionate amount of wealth to be gained and distributed.
The pandemic has acted as some sort of accelerator of trends. One of them being the rapidly growing socio-economic disparities, which adds emphasis on the overall global divide between the poor and the super-rich 1%. There’s no surprise that the rapid increase of inequality has led to more voices demanding the wealthy to give back more as their fortunes have risen.
With a lot of people in quarantine, online retailers such as Amazon reaped the benefits. While Bezos’ net worth increased, workers in Amazon warehouses around the world, have staged numerous strikes.Last year’s Black Friday witnessed the creation of a global coalition of warehouse workers, trade unions, and activists all coming together for the banner: Make Amazon Pay – the first kind of a coalition holding an international scope that demands Amazon to provide better working conditions for its workers and to reduce its carbon footprint.
Strikes and work stoppages have taken place all around the world. The strikes were an outcry for international recognition of the worker’s conditions and treatment. During the weeks leading up to Black Friday, Amazon also announced that they had put an end to hazard and double overtime pay for their warehouse employees. A decision that came under intense criticism from activists and politicians alike.
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The billionaire “space race” was something that was already talked about back in 2016. Space exploration was once a celebrated achievement on humanity’s side – a bold step in further understanding or answering who we are and most debatable, why we are. Now it’s pretty much become more of a spectacle of which super rich guy can conquer the Moon or Mars first. In February this year, Jeff Bezos announced that he’d be stepping down from his role as head of Amazon. A move that lets him focus on another ongoing project: reaching the moon. Then you’ve got Elon Musk’s SpaceX program which has been all around the news for quite some time, and Branson’s dream of “space tourism”.
Yet all around the world there is no shortage of human suffering. Poverty, diseases, violence, the list goes on. While many governments look for areas to cut funding and decide on what gets more focus than others, maybe it’s time to think about whether the super rich spending so much money and power on unnecessary/unscientific “exploration” is really what the world needs right now.
What good does sending a few people to the moon do while children are starving to death?
Why dream of “space tourism” when entire nations are on the brink of economic collapse?
What good does a new launchpad do when people get displaced from their homes in the process?
Why are we glorifying who wins the “Billionaire Space Race” when severe climate change is literally sinking cities?
And it shouldn’t be a pro “left” or “right” winged thing to ask these types of questions. It’s simply down to being pro human life.
Philanthropy and Perspectives
Not all of the super rich 1% has kept it all to themselves. In fact, some tycoons have already given a substantial amount of their fortunes for philanthropic causes during this pandemic alone. Russian steel and tech oligarch Alisher Usmanov pledged over $168 million to support relief on those affected by the pandemic. The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation committed over $250 million to continue funding scientific breakthroughs in an effort to combat the Coronavirus. These donations create a big difference – especially when it’s for small independent grass-root movements or organizations that innovate through the means of disruption.
Since the middle of March, Forbes had been tracking just how much the super rich has been donating for COVID-19 related causes. While most of the world’s 2,000+ billionaires have not (or won’t disclose how much they have) spent, according to Forbes’ database about 77 of them have publicly done so.
Could this just be a philanthropic transparency matter?
Are billionaires doing more than we think?
A majority of philanthropists prefer that their donations stay anonymous. Many billionaires use LLCs (Limited Liability Companies) or donor-advised funds that don’t necessarily have to file tax documents that would showcase where their money is actually coming from or what it is spent on, instead of private foundations that do take time in doing so.
It may well be that the super rich donate more to charity and causes than we actually know. Not to mention the existence of jobs and economic flourish that in some sectors do depend on these billionaires. However, the pandemic tells us that the existence of billionaires comes at a massive price. The amount of power and influence the super rich 1% has increased almost tenfold in the pandemic – while the rest of the world either spirals closer to poverty or simply get by in their own means.
Should there be a harder wealth tax? Maybe Forbes’ concept of a “Good-Billionaire-Index” should push for more transparency on their side? Or should we just take it from Bernie and say that the very concept of a billionaire should never exist in the first place?