What does a person do with a billion dollars? I’ve been pondering this for a while now, ever since Trump took office and began making decisions and policies that largely benefit only those who already have more money than they know what to do with. I have a rather socialistic way of looking at the world, believing that it is wrong for one man to live a posh, hedonistic lifestyle while others are starving. As such, I am aghast at the current administration’s constant pandering to those who already have too much at the expense of those who are barely getting by.
It seems somehow criminal to give tax cuts to the wealthy, while the rest of us are paying about the same or even more than before. The latest news is that Trump is attempting to force the Tennessee Valley Authority to keep open a power plant that is no longer viable, simply because they buy coal from his uber-wealthy pal and supporter, Robert Murray, owner of Murray Energy of whom I’ve written before. It seems criminal that Trump is rolling back efficiency standards on light bulbs, which is estimated to carry a high cost to consumers (us).
And those are only the most recent examples. All of these decisions are made with an eye toward putting more money in the pockets of billionaires. And what do they do with it? I don’t know, but I will tell you what they don’t do with it. They don’t pay a fair portion of taxes on it – taxes that might go toward such things as taking care of people less fortunate. They don’t donate the bulk of it to worthy causes. They hoard it. It seems criminal to me, for any person to have so much money sitting around for bragging purposes while the vast majority of people in the world are truly struggling to stay alive.
I was in that frame of mind a few days ago when I stumbled upon an article by journalist Tom Scocca. The title of the piece, No Billionaires, caught my eye. Take a look for yourself …
Some ideas about how to make the world better require careful, nuanced thinking about how best to balance competing interests. Others don’t: Billionaires are bad. We should presumptively get rid of billionaires. All of them.
Does this sound like an incitement to the most dreaded kind of revolution, when people are struck down by the mob simply on the basis of some crude simple standard? It is not. The people who have a billion dollars are fine; they may go on living. It is just that, for the sake of everyone else (and, honestly, for their own sake) they must not be allowed to possess a billion dollars.
No one needs a billion dollars. No one deserves a billion dollars. There is a widespread moral and conceptual error, in a society saturated in the ideology of competition and monetary success, that the property a person has gotten does not simply belong to that person but is, somehow, itself an embodiment of their personhood—that to separate a person from property is to attack their human existence.
This is true to an extent—to the extent that property secures a person food, and shelter, and physical security, and health and futurity. Even, despite the inequities and injustices that have emerged by this level, a person’s opportunities to have leisure, to make art, etc.
None of this comes anywhere near adding up to a billion dollars.
Another error is the belief that billionaires have made their money by adding value to society, of which they take a minor share. One pictures some great industrialist inventing and manufacturing a useful item, which makes every single person’s life better, and in return receiving a small share of the price of the item.
A kindergarten teacher, teaching 25 new people a year not to bite each other and to work in occasional harmony with strangers, produces far more social good in a lifetime than an industrialist does. Even to picture the billionaire as a productive industrialist is too optimistic—read up and down the Forbes list, larded with monopolists, retailers, retail monopolists, the heirs of retail monopolies, real estate magnates, Mark Zuckerberg.
What do they do with all their extra money? They buy atrocious houses. They shut down publications. They buy politicians, over and under the table. Now a whole batch of them have moved directly into government—and we have the most corrupt and incompetent executive branch in memory to show for it.
When we speak of the better billionaires, we simply mean the ones who are not actively malignant. There are no good billionaires. There may be some relatively good people who are attached to a pile of money that stacks one billion dollars high, but the money does not improve them. It makes them worse. Their good points would be no less good if they held only, say, 500 million dollars. And their bad points would be that much less of a problem for anyone else.