Billionaires should not exist

Billionaires should not exist.

Bernie Sanders says billionaires should not exist. I couldn’t agree more. I find the fact of billionaires’ existence astounding, especially given how much money $1,000,000,000 actually is.

Most of the time, we don’t think about it. We use words like “billionaire” and “a billion dollars,” but rarely do we stop to comprehend the sheer size of these numbers.

Consider this: If you worked every day, making $5,000 a day, from the time Christopher Columbus sailed to the Americas in 1492 to the time you’re reading this, you still would not be a billionaire. (The math is simple: $5000 x 365 days x 528 years = $963,600,000.)

Even that might not register, so try this: if you work a full-time job (8 hours/day) at a living wage ($15/hour), you only make $120/day.

Or if you make what I do ($70,000/year), you get about $191/day.

Or this: if you receive compensation equivalent to the president of Allegheny College, you get (according to 2017 data) $432,428/year, or $1,184/day.

That means you’d have to make four times the president of Allegheny College just to get up to $5,000/day … and make it every day for 527 years (since Columbus) — and you still would not be a billionaire.

That’s a lot of money.

For some, however, it’s just chump change.

Consider Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and the richest person in the world.

If you made $5,000/day every day since Columbus, you’d still have less money than Bezos accumulates in one week (that’s right, one week).

That’s because Bezos has a net worth of $114 billion, which comes to roughly $2.2 billion a week, or $312 million a day. In fact, Bezos probably accumulated somewhere between $300,000 to $500,000 just within the timespan it took you to read this far.

And he’s not the only one. There are 607 billionaires in the U.S., including the guy currently occupying the White House, and most of them are multi-billionaires, meaning they amass more than $100 per second.

Bernie’s point, of course, is that hoarding that much wealth in a society like ours, where so many people are suffering, is grotesque and immoral.

Today, 38 million Americans live in poverty, 78% of workers live paycheck to paycheck, and half of all American families (61 million households) can’t afford basics like food and rent.

30 million Americans don’t have health insurance, and another 80 million are under-insured (meaning they skip the doctor because it costs too much).

Half a million Americans go bankrupt each year from medical bills and 40% don’t have $400 in the bank to cover emergency expenses.

80% of families have an average debt load of $135,768, and 44 million Americans are burdened with student debt, and over 2 million of them owe more than $100,000.

Bezos accumulates that much in 30 seconds.

Bernie’s point (and mine) is that these conditions are related. The super-rich flourish because the rest of us do not. Class inequality is relational.

Worker productivity is up 70% since 1980, yet wages are up only 11%. Workers’ share of income is going down while corporate profits are going up. The rich get richer at your expense.

Of course, the rich say they “deserve” their wealth because they “earned” it. Even if that were true — it’s not, by the way; 50% of billionaire wealth is inherited, another 15% is a result of monopoly control — it doesn’t justify a situation where the mega-rich sit on mountains of money while people are dying because they cannot afford insulin, losing teeth because they cannot afford a trip to the dentist, and graduating college with the equivalent of a mortgage.

The median Amazon worker makes $28,000 a year; Jeff Bezos collects more than that in 10 seconds. His company paid $0 in federal income tax in 2018, despite $11 billion in profits. The reason? Another billionaire gave him a tax cut.

As Forbes magazine put it, “Trump’s tax cuts helped billionaires pay less taxes than the working class in 2018.” Now, for the first time in history, the 400 richest Americans (of which Trump is number 275) pay a lower tax rate than every other income group.

Bernie wants to tax billionaires to help the working class. He thinks we should prioritize peoples’ basic needs (healthcare, housing, education) at the expense of billionaire fortunes. His wealth tax would leave Bezos with “only” $57 billion.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden has Bezos’ support, along with 44 other individual billionaire donors — so, naturally, he doesn’t want to “demonize” them.

Likewise, Biden says he has “no empathy” for students who face massive debt loads and bleak job prospects. As he told his Wall Street donors back in June, “No one’s standard of living will change,” if he’s elected. “Nothing would fundamentally change.”

That includes the system that produced Jeff Bezos, who accrued enough to pay the average American’s student debt, mortgage, medical bills and annual food costs — all within the time it took you to read this column.

There should be no billionaires.

Joe Tompkins is an assistant professor of communication arts at Allegheny College.