Every billionaire is a policy failure,” so goes a slogan associated with the Left. And if you were to ask US Sen. Bernie Sanders, billionaires shouldn’t even exist. Can someone become insanely rich on honesty and hard work alone? Do we benefit from their existence at all? Should society place expectations on their accumulated wealth?
Billionaires have been a subject of plentiful fascination. They are like the outliers of all outliers, the Everest of material success. In our meritorious society, where class progression is an aspiration and a possibility, they are seen as those who have braved the biggest of all odds.
But there is a growing alternative view, one where their business models are being challenged , even threatened, sometimes by national leaders. In other parts of the world, they are the hot subject of a special kind of taxes. And the faith society once lavished on them—for their acumen or sense of philanthropy—has gone dry. Paul Krugman recently asked in The New York Times whether it was time for “bursting the billionaire bubble.”
It has been reported that there is a billionaire created every 48 hours. The exclusive club apparently gains membership exponentially. This year, some of these additions grabbed international headlines—Kylie Jenner, for instance, who, according to a Forbes article in March, was set to become “the world’s youngest self-made billionaire.” In June, Jay-Z was branded “hip hop’s first billionaire,” also by Forbes. Spotify’s Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon have also joined the ranks.
If this is an equal society, there probably should be no billionaires, and people like Kylie and Jay-Z wouldn’t even become filthy rich. But we don’t live in a society like that. Instead, we live in an environment where demand fuels enterprise. And with high demand comes high revenues for those with the capital and resources to meet such demands. Thus, them billionaires.
But are billionaires a political glitch? Are they an indication that the government failed, in fact, to have a system that ensures that majority of the income goes to the many?
Leaders have started to notice. Sanders is proposing to tax the superrich at rates as high as 8 percent for wealth over $10 billion, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants to levy a 2-percent tax on wealth above $50 million and 3 percent on wealth above $1 billion. In the United Kingdom, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn vows to run after those who have enriched themselves by exploiting a “rigged system.” Britons share his views, according to recent surveys results. They believe that having more billionaires prove that “society is getting worse” and that there should be “no billionaire under any circumstances.”
In our country, President Duterte has publicly expressed outrage over “oligarchs“ for various reasons, such as billions in unpaid taxes and alleged economic sabotage. Early this month, he ranted that he would show Filipinos how to “slap millionaires and billionaires.”
The anti-billionaire sentiment is understandable and may have its merits. No one should get rich, let alone mind-bogglingly rich, at the expense of others. As Grace Blakeley wrote for The New Statesman, billionaires don’t create wealth, they extract them. These capitalists take over valuable and scarce resources, then overcharge those who use them. Those who have accumulated wealth by exploitation or through government loopholes rightly deserve the ire of society.
The government, for its part, should be more conscientious not only about creating wealth, but more importantly, also ensuring that it ends up being distributed equitably—that many more share in its benefits. When certain firms are granted virtual monopolies over resources or its owners become cronies of the powers that be, the situation creates an enormous opportunity for abnormal wealth creation. Add to that labor and tax policies that shift resources to a privileged few. In a fair world, markets should be engineered or structured not to lean toward a select segment of the population.
But while it is easy to blame the system and/or the politicians behind it, we’ve also contributed much to creating these billionaires. We’ve purchased their products, patronized their businesses and depended on their services. Our consumerism is the lubricant that gets the wheel turning for them.
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