On the 13th of August, another Nowadays writer, Nathan Reid, published a piece entitled ‘Billionaires Should Exist.’ This is my response to that article.
Defenders of billionaires credit the recent critique of wealth inequality with the rise in prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement. In fact, this debate has existed for centuries; perhaps even millennia. The storming of Versailles in 1789 was the result of French women growing tired of this exact issue. Humans throughout the years have all agreed that it is wrong to live in decadence while those around you suffer. It has been oft-repeated that it is harder for a rich man to get into Heaven than a camel to get through the eye of a needle. This by no means in a new sentiment.
Praising billionaires for their philanthropy is equally contentious. Swathes of this charity is a smoke and mirrors way to make more money or gain more influence. Take The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for example. It is undeniable that this foundation can be credited with the creation of the GAVI Alliance, which has increased immunization rates across the globe, this foundation is also the second-largest funder of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Extensive philanthropy and bankrolling of the WHO has given three private citizens (Bill Gates, Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffet: the three trustees) an immense foothold in the world of public and global health, a sphere in which they have no knowledge and no accountability. Pablo Eisenberg, a member of Georgetown’s Public Policy Institute, told Nature: ‘You may have foundations with assets larger than almost 70% of the world’s nations making decisions about public policy and public priorities without any public discussions or political process.’
My second critique of people citing philanthropy to defend billionaires is, if the globe had improved public infrastructure, there would be no need for extensive philanthropy. I am a realist, and thus acknowledge there is no way to end suffering permanently. Suffering, however, could be greatly reduced, especially among those exploited to gain wealth.
Let us now take Jeff Bezos for example. He pledged $1 million to match donations to Mary’s Place in Seattle dedicated to fighting home insecurity. (Note that this is not actually a donation, but a pledge to match donations.) The main contributor to homelessness in Seattle, though, is Amazon headquarters. The influx of the incredibly rich Amazon executives priced people out of their own homes. Essentially, Jeff Bezos is performing accountability by pledging a relatively small amount of his massive fortune. If Bezos donated a much larger amount, public housing might become availabe for some of those he rendered homeless.
The defenders of wealth also cite innovation in their defence of billionaires. In my opinion however, the billionaire CEO‘s controlling companies like SpaceX, Tesla, and Apple have nothing to do with innovation. Rather, this should be credited to the scientists and innovators in research and development labs. I agree that financial resources could be used effectively by government research and development departments, but perhaps if billionaires‘ money were redistributed into schools in lower income areas, governments could increase the number of people who can get a good education regardless of where they grew up. Thousands of schools in America don’t have air conditioning, up to date textbooks, appropriate facilities, or a high enough budget to feed every child who is hungry but can’t afford food. This severely impedes learning abilities, and prevents the next generations of scientists and innovators from getting the best education available to them.
So many intelligent children also achieve good enough grades to get into top colleges, but cannot afford the ever-privatizing education industry. Yes, there are financial aid, loans, grants, but a lot of this leaves students from low income neighborhoods in a position of immense debt immediately upon graduation college. Universities can become even more accessible with donations from billionaires to create scholarships or grants.
Finally, there is the ever-prominent hypothesis that a billion dollar pharmeceutical company will develop the coronavirus vaccine, not a government. There is some evidence to support this claim. I will cite the current coronavirus drug on the market, remdesivir, as evidence.
Gilead Sciences, not a government, developed remdesivir, brand name Veklury. However, Public Citizen estimates taxpayers contributed ~$70 billion. Yet, Gilead Sciences is still charging +$3000 for a full treatment. Essentially, if the American taxpayer requires this treatment, they will pay for this drug twice.
I am not suggesting capping wealth, nor am I attempting to discourage innovation. I have simply grown weary of the wealthiest in the world controlling every aspect of human life. Billionaires should not exist when 40 million are at risk of eviction. People will eventually have net worths that exceed one trillion, but once one reaches this point, they have a moral and civic duty to redistribute it. I, like Mr Reid, do not trust politicians to do this, so I do believe this wealth should be distributed either through direct reparations or direct donations, not through a fund but straight from billionaire’s pockets.
Wadman, M. State of the donation. Nature 447, 248–250 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/447248a
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