It’s Time to Abolish Billionaires
The existence of billionaires is a symptom of a manifestly unjust society that cannot be justified to those who lose out.
Yesterday it was reported that Jeff Bezos increased his wealth by $13 billion in single day. Just this increase in his wealth is 30 times more than The Queen’s £350 million net worth. His current net worth ($189 billion) is just a little bit less than the entire economy of Greece ($218 billion) and according to a recent estimate, he makes $2,489 per second. This means that if he walked past a suitcase full of money, it would be barely worth his time to pick it up.
To say that he has ‘earned’ this money would be an abuse of language, because to earn something is to morally deserve to have it. It entails acquiring something in a way that could be justified to those who lose out. Such a defence cannot be mounted because it’s impossible to justify an institutional arrangement that allows this outcome to happen.
This is not to say that I don’t think Jeff Bezos worked hard. I don’t deny that he did and that his entrepreneurial activity has led to the growth of a company that, despite its faults, makes our lives as consumers easier. I accept the argument that inequalities of outcome are required to motivate people to engage in productive employment and to innovate for profit. What we need to question is how large these inequalities need to be in order to motivate the positive, entrepreneurial activity that we all want to see, whilst limiting the vast inequalities that create disparities of power and influence that are destructive of liberal democratic norms.
We also need to question how much of the wealth that is accumulated by the rich can be defended by appealing to an argument about their entrepreneurial endeavour. After all, a large amount of wealth is acquired in ways that you can’t even begin to defend using the argument that the money is earned. Many people inherit their wealth, others acquire it through corruption and nepotism, some simply invest their money to acquire a passive income from the efforts of others. In all of these cases it is difficult to argue that the money is morally deserved and yet our system does precious little to limit this form of acquisition and these undeserving…