On Billionaires

Date: 03 July 2022

Author: Indescribled

Tags: N. America, Economics

How much is one billion? A million seconds is 11.574 days. A billion seconds is 11,574 days, or almost 32 years. 32 years versus 11.5 days is difficult to grasp. In regard to time, 32 years is a fathomable number; almost everyone knows someone that is 32 years old or is that old themselves, but as soon as multiple billion become considered the time goes beyond lifetimes and the numbers get absurdly large. The largest issue at hand in 2022 in regard to billions is money - the existence of billionaires, people with a net worth of at least one billion dollars. Billionaires are problematic because they obtain massive wealth through widespread exploitation of workers and negatively impact the mentality of workers by reinforcing individualistic tendencies and ideas. 

Billionaires acquire their wealth by exploiting countless employees and workers across the world as well as owning large amounts of private property. There are many arguments made that billionaires somehow deserve their wealth because they are harder workers, took larger risks, or are smarter, but just how hard does someone have to work to become a billionaire? If someone is making $20/hour after taxes and has absolutely no expenses it takes 50,000,000 hours of work, or 2,083,333 days, to make $1 billion. No one has worked over 2 million days. These numbers are to make ONE billion. Bloomberg has an index that tracks the richest people in the world, and the 500th richest person has a net worth of almost FIVE billion. If it takes almost 2.1 million days to make $1 billion, then it takes over 10 million days to make $5 billion. 

The problem can be approached differently when considering how much harder a billionaire must work than a wage-laborer to acquire their wealth. Making $20/hour leaves the worker with $160/day after an 8 hour shift (assuming no taxes for simpler math). Bill Gates is 66 years old and, according to Bloomberg’s billionaire index, has a net worth of $115 billion. Since Bill Gates is such a hard worker, he probably started as soon as he was born, meaning he has made $1.74 billion per year on average since birth or $4.8 million per day, which is 29,836 times more than the $20/hour worker makes. No one works 29,836 times harder than someone else. 

Hoarding massive wealth has direct and indirect impacts on the proletariat. Directly, the capital creates a kind of vacuum that sucks in more and more money from the proletariat into a comically large and almost limitless vacuum bag. The reach of capital is massive, extending not just domestically in a country, but globally due to capitalism's desire to grow and connect everyone in one world market to maximize consumers. Billionaires use their hoards of capital to stretch everywhere they can in order to find more and more people to exploit in new and innovative ways. The wealth that some regions or people may have had is then taken from their land and deposited into the billionaires bank account to continue the cycle.  As Michael Parenti says, “You don’t go to poor countries to make money … Most countries are rich … These countries are not underdeveloped, they’re overexploited”. Capitalism pushes its exploitation around the world as the process continues it leads to massive wealth going to one person. Billionaires are the current result of global exploitation; if the process continues long enough there will eventually be trillionaires. 

Indirectly, the existence of billionaires and the ultra-wealthy reinforces the myth that hard work is what it takes to get rich. With stories saying that Elon Musk and Kylie Jenner are self-made, workers will get the idea that they can also achieve that level of wealth. They just have to pick themselves up by their bootstraps, get on the grind, and wake up at 4 am everyday. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. As mentioned earlier, the amount of work it takes is astronomical. Massive levels of wealth are accumulated not through hard work of one person, but hard work of many proletarians while one person reaps the benefits due to ownership of property and/or stock. While workers think they can follow the footsteps of the rich, they end up looking up to the billionaires, the same people exploiting their labor. Billionaires are placed on a pedestal in our society, not just by the media, but also by some members of the working class. The following quote is often misattributed to John Steinbeck, but it encapsulates the idea: “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” Instead of seeing themselves as the exploited working class, workers are tricked into thinking that they are on the path to becoming millionaires because they hear and see so much about how others accomplished it. A few of them may succeed, but the vast majority has no chance because the system is stacked against them at every opportunity. Workers are often forced to own a car, often going in debt to do so, to get to work, inflation is at a record high recently, rent goes up every single year, raises - if even received - often are not enough to even match inflation, and the massive debt from healthcare and education that millions have to take on also does not even give them a chance. 

The system is stacked against workers, but it is not stacked against billionaires, which is demonstrated by capitalism's treatment of the ultra wealthy. The rich in the US are worshiped by thousands trying to follow in their footsteps. Millions are ready to buy any cryptocurrency that Elon whispers about and millions follow investing advice by Warren Buffet. Within the past two decades large businesses have received massive tax breaks and government support; in the 2008 recession these businesses received billions while 10% of the country was unemployed. Currently, after billions have been spent in COVID bailouts, companies like Starbucks, Amazon, and Apple have been making headlines with record profits. It is no coincidence that unionization efforts are ramping up at each of those companies - workers see the massive profits going to the CEOs and the shareholders, but are not receiving anything themselves.

Contrast the treatment above to that in China, a socialist country. According to the Guardian, “China sentenced a banker to death for corruption and bigamy”. Lai Xiaomin pled guilty to the charges of soliciting almost $280 million in bribes over ten years in addition to embezzlement and bigamy. Xiaomin abused his position to get the bribes, then granted people jobs, promotions, or contracts. In the United States embezzlement and bribery are technically illegal, but lobbying is legal and family members are often given jobs as seen most recently in Trump’s presidency. Another example is Sun Dawu, who was sentenced to 18 years. Some of the charges include “illegally occupying farmland, assembling a crowd to attack state agencies and obstructing government workers from performing their duties.” Dawu is also known to “criticize the government’s rural policies”. Those policies include "not allowing the sale of rural land or its use as collateral when obtaining bank loans". NPR tries to use the rural land restriction to justify fraud, saying that it forces “rural firms to turn to shadow lending or private wealth”. Using his wealth and power to push and instigate anti-government ideas and support is the problem with Dawu, perhaps not clear corruption. The Washington Post writes in 2018 that China started an anti-corruption campaign and since 2012 investigated 2.7 million officials, punishing 1.5 million of them. Being a millionaire or billionaire is allowed in China. What is not allowed is corruption. Considering the two examples of Xiaomin and Dawu as well as the overall anti-corruption campaign, China has much less leniency for letting the wealthy get away with whatever they want. 

Even if billionaires ceased to exist tomorrow that would not mean that socialism has been achieved. Socialism is characterized by the dictatorship of the proletariat and removal of private property, there is not a magic number of billionaires that causes a qualitative change from capitalism to socialism. Billionaire today, trillionaire the next, they can be called anything. The mass hoarding of wealth due to private property is the problem. The wealthy have never felt the fear of missing rent, not having healthcare, paying for a college education, where their next meal will come from, how they will afford a child, and so many more financial questions that the working class has to face every single day. The bourgeoisie – the rich, the billionaires – only fear a united, revolutionary working class because it is the only threat to their existence and their rule. Ending billionaires is not the goal, ending the system that allows one individual to hoard massive levels of wealth and rewards them for it is the goal.