Big Bad Billionaires: Dissecting the Ethics of Money
Newsflash: You are closer to becoming homeless, than to ever becoming a billionaire. Yes, I know the Hustle and Grind motivation posts say differently, the American Dream says differently, and the absurd rise of the rich during the two years of the pandemic definitely paints a rosy picture of wealth and economy. But, unless you strike gold - or marry rich, there is a 0.0002% chance for you to ever be a part of that 1% of our society, and this percentage is even lesser - if you do not belong to the Land of Opportunity, namely USA - lesser yet if you are a non-white, non-cis, non-man.
Every billionaire, is a result of a policy failure - which calls into question, the viability of our model of capitalism, where the rich get richer, not because they are paragons of hard work and productivity, but because the working class is ruthlessly exploited - and used as a stepping stone towards material wealth and success. This effectively labels capitalism as not only brutal, but also immoral. If Jeff Bezos makes more than $140,000 a month, and $4,700 a day. To put it more into perspective, the billionaire makes about $390 an hour, $6.56 a minute, and $0.10 a second while the common person struggles to even meet their rent, or cover basic necessities, in their minimum wage of 7.25 dollars. An unjust economic model, a tilted judicial system, and insidious government subsidies are allies to this upward scaling of the Billionaire™, and here’s how you are an unwitting ally to this as well.
The Self Made Billionaire: A Little Effort, and a Pinch of Luck The term ‘Self Made’ in itself implies a linguistic error that contributes to the facets of the American Dream, albeit with rose tinted glasses. It discreetly shifts the accountability from societal systems, and pushes it onto the individual. In very clear terms, the message this sends across sounds something like this - Anyone can become a billionaire, with the right amount of hard work and sacrifice, and a little sprinkle of luck. If you are not a billionaire yet, you only have your laziness and bad decision making skills to blame.
Not only is this extremely detrimental to the psyche of young individuals that build role models out of billionaires, it very methodically conceals the roadblocks that block this kind of wealth accumulation, and the pathways and opportunities that are fully exclusive. We cannot create prosperity without standing on the shoulders of generations before us, and hence, our own contributions to our success are limited. All of the so-called self made billionaires, have had doorways being opened for them - not through simple hard work, but either networking contacts, or inherited wealth. Jeff Bezos claims to have started Amazon out of a garage - a very sympathetic story indeed, but what about the initial 3000 dollar investment made by his parents, which financed the project and helped it catapult into an Internet Giant? And however compelling and tear-inducing Musk’s nerd-to-internet celebrity story may be, it does not overshadow his father’s very lucrative and very profitable emerald mine. Every Billionaire is sponsored by three very prominent things - Family Wealth and/or Privilege, Labour Exploitation, and Tax Evasion.
The Billionaire is not a layman person, nor the boy next door - and more so, they are parasitical for the functioning of our society as a whole - let’s see how. No Such Thing as an Ethical Billionaire
We so desperately want to believe in the good in the world, and we want that goodness to be reflected in our parasocial relationships as well. Rihanna, singer-songwriter and now a businesswoman, is a woman of colour with a huge fan base that spans age groups, she could do no wrong in the eyes of her admirers, but can this admiration contest the allegations that her brand ‘Fenty Beauty’ sources their materials from mines in Jharkhand that exploit children? Does Elon Musk’s almost meme worthy internet presence take away from the 4.9 billion dollars worth of loans and tax cuts he received from the government to fund SpaceX - money that was meant for public wellness but ends up in the pockets of individuals to fund their own little passion projects. It is no coincidence that the pandemic saw the surge of billionaires by 54%, while most people were victims to layoffs and pay cuts. Three billionaires, namely - Bezos, Gates, and Buffet, have collectively acquired more wealth than the bottom tier of American households, in mathematical terms - that is three people v/s 160 million individuals. That’s a number that is neither feasible to my brain, nor does it sit well with my conscience. Breaking down the tax evasion, we realise that these individuals purposely pay themselves a lesser salary on paper, so as to evade the 37% income tax on their wages - the major chunk of their wealth is in the form of stocks, and luxurious properties - so while they may earn a salary of only around $81,840, their net worth still amasses to US$114.5 billion. (Bezos, I am looking at you) In defence of the Billionaire - Oh well, not really The counterpoint to this perspective is the idea that these paragons and torch bearers serve as an inspiration to the rest of the population, in particular, the youth. It idealises capitalism - making it seem as though this is the most practical economical system - ensuring that the cycle of oppression persists, and the top 1% remains untouchable. Yes, privatisation leads to job creation and nudges creative and technological advancement - but are these jobs new, or simply stolen? For every apparently philanthropic billionaire, there exist enough who hoard their wealth and monetise morality. After all, only 10% of the billionaires have signed The Giving Pledge - a Treatise that ensures that they give away a majority of their wealth to charity.
Money has always been at the root of all evil, and this is no different. With this monetary support, these individuals also wield an insane amount of political power - and can easily influence decisions that impact the society with no qualifications whatsoever. With the limelight, and the power of social media - they construct a likeable image of themselves, silence dissent, and perpetuate a class divide - and become machiavellian in their approach. The Billionaires Will Not Save You The direct repercussion of all of these immoral actions affects our environment. The easy way out - more often than not, is at the cost of the preservation of nature. Jeff Bezos’s Amazon emitted roughly 71.44 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2021 . This number alone supersedes the carbon footprint of many small countries, such as that of Switzerland. No amount of magnanimous gestures and donations can conceal this truth - Wealth will always be prioritised over the Collective Good. Even with the planet being on the verge of death, there will be no reorganisation of ownership in our economy - because this, right now, is convenient. We cannot sustainably co-exist with Billionaires, and as we all know - this is now a matter of the survival of the fittest.