Let’s talk about billionaires

Angel Baikakedi, Columnist

Before we go any further, I would just like to put into context how much a billion is. In simple terms, a billion is equivalent to one thousand million, which, come to think of it, is a lot on its own. But if we were to apply this analogy in real-time, to attain a billion dollars, an average person earning the standard minimum wage per hour would have to work for eight hours a day, every single day per year, for about 600 years (give or take). And that is just getting to a billion, whereas most billionaires currently have hundreds of billions to their names, which is highly disturbing.

Firstly, nobody needs that much money, ever. Secondly, the main concern is about how the money is acquired and spent given the crises we face as a society, such as poverty, amongst others. A lot of thoughts I’ve come across about this topic talk about how these billionaires have rightfully earned their money and, as a result, don’t owe anyone a cent of their wealth just because they are that rich.

While, in theory, this is a valid argument, the problem is that many said billionaires do not accumulate their wealth in an equitable way nor do they rely on just themselves to earn it. Some of them evade taxes and take advantage of cheap labor.

Illustration by Ally Kim.

Such actions, in light of how much wealth these people have, are ridiculous. As much as the services they provide for us have come in handy, an example being Amazon through Jeff Bezos, we cannot deny that these services have come at the cost of exploiting other human beings. Taking the example of Jeff Bezos (net worth $203 billion) and Amazon again, if he were to raise the pay of every one of his workers by at least five dollars and provide suitable working conditions, he would not even feel the effect because Amazon makes an estimated $638 million a day. These billionaires can all do better, especially for their workers who cannot do so themselves.

Then comes the issue of tax evasion. According to The Business Insider, US billionaires paid proportionally fewer taxes than the working class in the country in 2018. Suppose billionaires and the rich in general had to pay more taxes. In that case, that money could increase the overall social welfare as it provides the federal government with more money to work on urgent issues such as the healthcare system.  

However, I believe that this is not a problem that the billionaires themselves can directly solve. This is a direct consequence of global capitalism. In this situation, the power lies in the elected leaders we’ve chosen.

That being said, I would be wrong if I did not acknowledge that at least a handful of the billionaires globally have tried or continue to try and contribute to good causes. However, these forms of charity hardly scratch the surface of the impact they could potentially make with their wealth, not just in the world at large but within the very companies that generated that wealth in the first place.