Billionaires: Part of a Flawed Economic System

One billion. Let us take a moment to digest what that number means. A simple exercise developed by UC Berkeley called Who Wants to Be a Billionaire? can help us understand the enormity of the number. 

Visual display of what one billion dollars in one-dollar bills looks like next to a human being.

Imagine a scenario in which you are to put forward $100 in savings per day to become a billionaire. Do this every day, and it would take 10,000,000 days to reach $1,000,000,000. Divide 10,000,000 by the number of days in a year, 365, and it would take 27,397.26 years to reach the $1 billion finish line. That number equates to 304 generations of your descendants living up to 90 years each to save up one billion dollars. If that is not sinking in, let’s talk about what it would take to spend $1 billion. 

Personal luxuries would not even make a dent. Even the Gucci store has a tag with the maximum price; in fact, the most expensive Gucci belt to ever be sold could be purchased more than 3,800 times and would still not break $1 billion. If you’re looking for a one time purchase a bit closer to home, consider buying the Miami Marlins. Or if you’re not very fond of sports, the entire Hannah Montana franchise. Don’t watch too much TV? Buy the White House. Twice (and have $204.2 million left to spend). 

Now put yourself in the shoes of the richest man in the world: Jeff Bezos, the founder of the well-known e-commercial company Amazon. In one second, Bezos makes $2,487, or more than half what the median U.S. worker makes in one week. That’s not all; his overall net worth is approximately $195.3 billion. If you chose to buy two White Houses in the prior scenario, congratulations! You could now own 491 of them. That may seem like a ludicrous investment, but Bezos has quite the allowance for disposable purchases. According to Market Watch, the median net worth of an American household is $97,300. Compared to how much Jeff Bezos makes, the math reveals that spending $1 at a soda machine costs approximately the same amount of sacrifice as Bezos dropping $1.2 million, making it not so much of a “sacrifice” as you may believe. With billionaires having millions in disposable income, especially when most of the population does not, economists begin to question: should a person be able to possess $1 billion? How do they acquire that kind of money in the first place?

No billionaire is “self-made,” at least not entirely. Being a billionaire means exploiting the labor of the masses. Sending liveable wage workers to stand on their feet for hours a day with bathroom breaks as a luxury while the CEO sits back to do the bare minimum is hardly ethical. Neither is having factory employees in China living in such crushing conditions that they have suicide nets outside their dorm windows. Both are real-life situations that billionaires have had their workers experience. Not only are the means of attaining this hardly conceivable amount of money morally questionable, but billionaires could also practically continue growing their wealth for as long as they live due to compounding interest. 

I’m bothered when people don’t understand that they have an obligation to use their best measure of devotion, of resources, to sacrifice for the common good.”

— Cory Brooker

After the first one million is made, usually through actual hard work, all these newfound millionaires have to do is keep their expenses growing at a slower rate. That makes each new million easier and easier to acquire thus building themselves up to billionaires with ease. However, this does not work for the lower classes. To see interest, one has to out-earn their expenses. For example, if an individual has a net worth of around $50k a year and expenses of approximately $40k, they would need an extremely cheap lifestyle to out-earn themselves. It would be far too difficult to accomplish, and they would hardly be able to see any compounded interest. Consequently, the rich get richer, and the poor stay poor.

Our flawed economic system contributes to the continuation of this trend. Allowing for billionaires to continue thriving allows for our country’s levels of income and wealth inequality to continue growing. Few government officials push for a new agenda, such as Senator Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposing to tax incomes over $10 million at a rate of 70%. Unfortunately, many in our society continue to support and defend billionaires, even when they have proven not to care much for the rest of us. They can afford to make sacrifices to better our economy, living conditions, and education without even seeing a difference in their day-to-day luxurious lifestyles. As Cory Brooker, New Jersey senator, once said: “I’m bothered when people don’t understand that they have an obligation to use their best measure of devotion, of resources, to sacrifice for the common good.” Billionaires can do precisely that, with nothing but their selfishness holding them back.