7 Problems with Billionaires Existing

Inequalities created by the existence of the billionaire class fuels protests against the mega-rich

Billionaires: just like all of us, except way more rich. Shockingly so, actually. That’s why they shouldn’t be allowed to exist. The very fact that our system allows them to happen is proof that it is a broken system. Why am I so convinced that really, really rich people are bad for the economy and for our freedoms? Because billion with a “b” spells trouble with a capital “T” for all of us.

1. Too much power over political focus

Time is valuable to a politician. If you can get an item on a politician’s agenda, you’ve already gone more than halfway to getting what you want. Most Americans have a tough time getting politicians to take the little guy seriously. Repeated calls to a congressman’s office will get you blocked before it gets you answered. This isn’t a problem for billionaires. As a recent New York Times article states, “The answer is that huge disparities in income and wealth translate into comparable disparities in political influence”. Billionaires can command the attention of politicians and shift the focus to problems they have rather than problems the average person experiences. Money becomes a ticket to Congress’ attention and action. So, the billionaires become over-represented.

2. Tax loopholes rob countries of needed funding

If you earn any kind of money, you always have to account for how much tax comes out of your paycheck. Take home is always quite a bit smaller than your gross paycheck after the government takes its portion. Many don’t have an issue, seeing taxes as a way to invest in their community and pay for essential services. That civic-mindedness doesn’t always extend to the 9-figure crowd. Fortune magazine states,“According to a report published by the Institute on Taxation and Economic (ITEP) policy Wednesday, the e-tail/retail/tech/entertainment/everything giant won’t have to pay a cent in federal taxes for the second year in a row”. The very fact that the tax laws exist in such a way as to let billionaires pay nothing while fast food workers lose a portion of their money before they ever see it is beyond unequal, it’s insulting. However, it’s unlikely such laws are going to change (see number 1).

3. Accountable to no one in their spending

We’ve all felt the pinch at the store when the tally is rung up. Even if it’s for necessities, middle and lower class earners often wince at checkout line. As a result, we become accountable to our needs and to the ones that need us in our spending. We learn to say no to certain things and to dream realistically within our budget. That pressure and that accountability isn’t there if you’re a billionaire. Business Insider notes how “the value of $1 to the average person is the same as $1,355 to a billionaire”. You or I shopping the value menu at McDonalds is how a billionaire feels about buying the latest iPhone. Let that sink in for a moment. And what do they buy? Whatever they want. Islands, vacations, works of art, and the service of hundreds of people. I’m not begrudging successful people their luxuries, but if you have more money than you can spend in 100 lifetimes, maybe it’s time to have some rules to focus all that spending on.

4. They are effectively above the law

Knowing that we live in a law-abiding country gives many a sense of ease. Even some of the worst parts of most towns are preferable to cities or countries with even fewer resources. The belief that the law makes us equal means there is a sense of fairness. Terrible people must pay a terrible price for their actions. In America, at least, it is becoming obvious that you have as much justice as you can afford. An article on the New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s scandal involving prostitution and a massage parlor reveals the ugly reality. According to the Miami Herald, “The Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office in September dropped the misdemeanor cases against Kraft and the other men after courts threw out the key evidence: videos taken by hidden cameras installed by police”. The article goes on to say that the two final women charged with felonies (note that Kraft was charged with a misdemeanor) at the parlor accepted plea deals. The billionaire walks free; the poorer people have to claw through the justice system. No amount of legal wrangling can make it fair as Kraft’s money would make any legal fight unwinnable. He can just outspend you and make it back faster than he spent it. In a system where justice can be bought, billionaires don’t need to fear anything.

5. When they work together, no one can stop them

While it is a truism that there is always collateral damage when large entities compete, the reverse may be even more terrifying. What if the giants work together? Corporate consolidation through buyouts and mergers creates mega-corporations that can simply dictate the rules of a marketplace without needing to care about the customer and his or her needs. This isn’t a far off cynical prediction for the future, either. It’s already here. Time magazine quotes John Oliver in his piece on corporate consolidation, “90% of the car rental business is dominated by three companies, 70% of the U.S. beer industry is owned by two companies, and online search is dominated by one company [Google]”. When billionaires cooperate with each other, no one can really stop them. The figures above only depict legal mergers that have been allowed to happen despite antitrust legislation. What of backroom deals and verbal understandings that can never be vetted by an oversight agency? As the old saying goes, “Beware of men with money shaking hands”.

6. They reduce choice for all of us

Why should anybody care if a few people strike it rich? It’s not a sin to be rich, even absurdly rich. Some might say it’s jealousy because the poor want to be the rich. Truthfully, I don’t want to be one of them. I just want to pay my rent and even that is looking pretty dicey these days. Look forward to Medium articles written at my local library when I get evicted. No, I don’t want Jeff Bezos’s money, and I don’t envy Zuckerberg or Elon Musk, either. The simple fact is that their very existence makes us all less free. We all have less choice about where to shop thanks to Walmart and Amazon. We all have fewer methods of communicating thanks to Time-Warner and AT&T. Fewer choices reminds us that the walls of our lives are slowly being narrowed by need created by an ever-wealthier billionaire class. There are already many people that have to support companies and industries they despise on principle simply because there’s no other game in town. Money becomes a civil liberties issue. The more you have, the freer you are. Where are the well-dressed teenagers to save us from this dystopian nightmare?

7. It encourages the creation of a financial ruling class

All that money has to go somewhere, though. If it isn’t being spread around to help others, it’s going to the next generation. They will be taught the skills of acquiring money and, crucially, keeping everyone’s grubby hands off of it. The accumulation of wealth encourages dynasties that coalesce to form a de facto ruling class. The wealth is passed on and cements the barrier between the have and have nots. It’s not only money, though. It’s the whole package. Power, influence, and a seat at the table where the big decisions get made. Wars, countries, lives and livelihoods — all just faceless concepts in the hands of a generation that will grow up never knowing need. All while 99 percent of people have grown up knowing little else.

Let’s review. Billionaires have…

  • unequal access to political focus which means
  • they pay little to no taxes, allowing them to be
  • entirely unaccountable in their spending, which we can prove because
  • they are above the law while
  • they work together in order to
  • rob us of our choices.

If that doesn’t terrify you, then let me say I’m glad you read to the end, Mr. Zuckerberg. But, if it does give you pause, maybe we should start coming up with solutions to the problem of billionaires. Unfortunately, Congress won’t pass laws against them (see number 1). They’d find a way around them even if we did (see number 2). And, in the unlikely event we have them dead to rights, money will save the day (see numbers 3 and 4). You’re right if you feel like that doesn’t leave us many options (see number 6) because, as we all know, this problem isn’t going away (see number 7). If we aren’t careful, billionaires might destroy society by trying to ensure their own growth and survival. Sort of like a virus, you might say.

Sources:

Image Credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/42/Traditional_Workers_May_Day_Rally_and_March_Chicago_Illinois_5-1-18_1309_%2840960418265%29.jpg

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Elijah Ramirez

Elijah Ramirez

Formerly a high school English teacher, a truck driver, and a direct support professional with disabled individuals. Degrees in English and Secondary Education.