Op-Ed: Should billionaires exist? A comment on the class divides

Abstract Mar 30, 2020

Bill Gates, Elon Musk or Warren Buffet, this is the era of billionaires and their billions. You may not know western or Indian celebrities but there is one thing everyone knows, the top wealthiest few in the world. Money talks they say and these days it also luxuriates to extents unbeknownst to us less privileged 80 percent. In January, it was reported that the world's wealthiest 26 individuals, had the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the population.

It's the top 0.1 percent v/s the bottom 80 percent (according to The Wall Street's magazine) and guess who's teaming with opportunity and luxuries, not us.

‌‌On November 8, 2019, Matt Flegenheimer wrote for the New York Times stating that, "There is probably never a bad time to be a billionaire. But this, at least, is an especially complicated one. … Across politics, technology and popular culture, the wisdom and purpose of the extremely wealthy is being questioned as never before." This is the day and age when billionaires and their existence are being questioned like never before, and many like me are of the opinion that they should not.

‌‌From 2020 US political candidates like Bernie Sanders promising greater taxes for the rich, to charities holding billionaires accountable for not donating enough money towards the Amazon fires or the Coronavirus pandemic; There is a change in the way society now looks at billionaires, from admiration to despise, billionaires face the best and worst of humanity these days. Now not to appease pity from the readers, however many billionaires aren't to blame for their deeds as they're unconscious of the amount of power they hold over the general public and the government itself, they too are following a set norm on how wealth is handled.

‌‌This, as many experts suggest is a byproduct of, you guessed it: society. According to researchers at the Oxford Union during a debate about the topic, society has been garnered since the very advent of capitalism to be billionaire friendly first. May it be tax maneuvers available to them courtesy of the government or the concept of minimum wage, the whole system has been manufactured to favour the rich. This, further raises the question, is it then acceptable to be a billionaire in 2020.

‌‌Anand Giridharadas, an Indian origin long-time supporter of equal income and widely renown political author phrases it perfectly;

‌‌"If you're the beneficiary of a system that predictably, reliably, foreseeably favours your continued hoarding of resources while most people are not able to have the rudiments of a decent life; and if you're not doing everything in your power to dismantle that system that you're standing on top of, you become complicit to that system."

‌‌Billionaires are people who benefit way more than the average person from the capitalist system that we've built in the society. This may be because the majority of the rulers or politicians in our country have been these said billionaires or millionaires, forming society in a way best accessible to them.

‌‌Many may further continue to argue that not all billionaires are these rich, ruthless politicians or opportunists I've portrayed till now. For example the opioid crisis causing Sackler family to Serena Williams, both of which have polarising paths to their billions yet, both of them are equally as responsible for not taking action towards change.

‌Serena Williams or even Kylie Jenner fans out there may argue, with points such as her charity work, which is admirable in its place but can also be compared to a minimum wage labourer giving one rupee out of his meager 178 rupee salary. Along with this, there also comes the self made narrative, wherein many argue that being self made separates you from the stereotyped inheritance billionaires out there, with even Anand countering that statement with that there is always privilege that hides behind self made money worth billions.

‌‌This unconsciousness of billionaires or the wealthy for that matter is aptly portrayed in the recent Oscar-winning movie Parasite. It has been all the craze recently and correctly so, the blatant wealth divide seen in the movie really puts the world's situation into perspective. Its anti-capitalist narrative that depicts the wealthy as parasitic, and the working class as, quite literally, struggling to keep their heads above water isn't hard to miss.

‌‌From the Kim family struggling to afford food in the beginning or fight the flood that occurs in the middle of the film, to the Park family being their entitled selves and finding fault in the way the Kim family smelled or finding their son to be an artistic genius, a commodity the poor can't even begin to consider, the wealth disparity was seen loud and clear by the viewers all over the world. There are many other subtle ways that Bong Joon-ho has depicted the class divide, with the Parks living geographically higher in the city on top of a hill, while the Kim's lived in a dingy basement, much like the slums in Mumbai.

‌‌The recent Coronavirus pandemic puts these figures into perspective as well, with privilege defining where and how we're spending our social distancing at. While the billionaires are privileged enough to sit in their expensive yet seemingly modest houses, their house help still has to make the commute to work in order to earn the month's paycheck. From daily wage workers to millions of illegal migrants, the bottom half has been hit the most from this pandemic.

‌‌Thus there's a popular myth among the older generation that if we leave entrepreneurs alone, the best society will be achieved. Which on the face of it, sounds like a better idea. However, the pursuit of money shouldn't be the end goal, with teachers, journalists and many other people working towards societal prosperity instead. It is upto the younger generation now, to attain the rights and capital we deserve and must attain from the wealthy.

Finally, to all the billionaires out there, money isn't everything, please distribute your capital as much as possible and consider the concept of equal income being imposed imminent.

‌‌

Adrika Singh

DJLIT Editorial Co-committee member

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