By Amy Hernandez
The growing wealth of the billionaire class has turned into a severe concern for the rest of society. The future of the middle class, working-class, and lower class seems more uncertain now as economic struggles and overall quality of life have worsened due to the pandemic. However, one group of people has not been affected in the slightest by these trying times. Unlike the rest of society, the billionaire class has seen their wealth grow significantly since the start of the pandemic. According to Business Insider, by June 4, 2020, seven of the richest people in the world saw their fortunes increase over 50 percent. They also reported that the billionaires became $565 billion richer since the start of the pandemic. The numbers are mind-blowing, and you might be asking yourself, how did this come to be?
For one, the government allocates aid to more prominent companies when there is a crisis, and the disparity is massive. Subsequently, the rich never lose money and can continue making investments that bring them profit. Another damaging part of the system that keeps billionaires safe is the lack of taxation. You might have heard that tax laws are friendly to billionaires, and many loopholes exist that keep billionaires from paying taxes. Since 1980, fees paid by billionaires have decreased by 79 percent! For example, the IRS permitted Amazon to pay zero dollars in taxes for two consecutive years. And in 2019, Amazon paid $162 million, which was only 1.2 percent of the company's total income.
The treatment billionaires receive from the government is infuriating to those who are either middle, working, or lower class. 2020 has especially tested the working and lower class, and witnessing billionaires prosper is incredibly disturbing, considering billionaires gain their wealth by exploiting the working class. Both Walmart and Amazon have been guilty of creating terrible working conditions and committing illegal labor violations. Moreover, billionaires aren't the charitable entities many believe they are. The millions of dollars billionaires donate appear like a fortune to the everyday person. In reality, those donations aren't even close to what they should be paying in taxes. Jeff Bezos donating $100 million to Feeding America may seem like a lot, but he makes $215 million a day.
Similarly, Bill Gates's donation to charity in 2019 amounted to $589 million, but this number is incredibly low and insignificant, considering its 0.6% of his $98 billion net worth. In the end, society has to understand that what billionaires give back are mere scraps. No matter how the situation is framed, the truth remains that billionaires are hoarders. They wouldn't have to donate millions in the first place or set up charities if they stopped exploiting the poor. Billionaires will never fix a problem they caused and willingly perpetuate.
So, what can we do about it? Researchers have the following recommendations:
Enforce a 10% millionaire income surtax
Put pressure on the Senate to pass the Corporate Transparency Act, which would place stricter regulations on U.S. billionaires.
Put an end to the global hidden wealth economy.
Institute a wealth tax
Increase the capital wealth tax
Establish a stimulus package for funding charities
More IRS oversight
These are a few actions we can take to combat wealth inequality, which is reaching historic levels. Another great course of action is to simply stay informed. If we're going to make billionaires accountable, we must know what they're up to and understand their underlying motives. It's time we stop defending or justifying billionaires, especially when their participation in big philanthropy can be incredibly damaging. Many don't know that only 8.8% of grant money goes to communities of color. This statistic makes it more troubling when people take to social media to criticize looters. These are the same people who are victims of wealth inequality but will still take the side of multi-billion dollar companies over the lives of those affected by systematic racism.
The world is facing a myriad of problems, from climate change to homelessness, all of which could be solved if billionaires parted ways with some of their wealth. But their greediness is larger than their empathy. The wealth gap is increasing, and it's only going to get larger as the pandemic continues. Our laws continue to aid billionaires in their quest to hoard as much money as possible, and it needs to stop. In 2019, TIME reported that the top 26 billionaires have as much wealth as the poorest 3.8 billion people.
If you're on any social media, you've probably seen some sort of post or meme that expresses the absurdity of the billionaire situation. Young people have to pay close attention to this situation because billionaires have power over what our future is going to look like. A long time ago, this country condemned monopolies, but it would seem that they're back in business. Everyone has the right to spend their money how they wish. However, there is no denying that how billionaires spend or don't spend their cash affects the majority of society. There's been a phrase that has been going around social media lately: "eat the rich." There is too much suffering and anxiety in the world right now, but the rich don't seem to be in a rush to save us. People who can barely make ends meet aren't lazy. The difference is that their work and lives will never be valued like the lives of the wealthy.
Why should you care?
If you're reading this, chances are you're not a billionaire. There's a reason why the mega-rich are called the 1% and why so many of us are left on the outside of that margin. I will use "we," "us," and "our" to represent lower, working, and middle-class members of society because we are the majority of the population and because there are clear distinctions between us and the 1% who I will refer to as "them." In debates I've overseen or been a part of, there are still some of us who will take the time to defend billionaires and the capitalist society that enables them. It has to stop. Billionaires are not your friends; they never were. Statements such as "they worked hard to earn their money," "you can be a billionaire too if you stopped being lazy," and "they're giving back to charity" are poor excuses rooted in the fallacy of capitalism. It does not matter how hard you work, you will never come close to the wealth of a billionaire. While the 1% live in sheer comfort, we live in fear of not paying our mortgages or rent. We live in fear of getting sick or suffering an accident and having wished we died after seeing our medical bills. We live in fear of not attending college because tuitions and loans are a burden too stressful to carry. Every day we live in fear because we're told to work hard, but hard work isn't paying off. We may feel powerless because of how much money and power the 1% have seized, but this is why we need to start paying attention and start holding politicians, lawmakers, and billionaires accountable. If you're able to, vote for candidates who will truly represent us and look out for our well-being. Research the people in office, research the actions of billionaires, and research people in the political sector who want to decrease the wealth gap. Reducing the wealth gap will give us the fundamental human rights we have so long been neglected. I know it’s easy to be politically apathetic, but we must remember that together we are stronger than any force which oppressed us. We have to demand better because no matter what they tell us, this Earth does have enough resources for everyone.
Amy Hernandez is an editorial intern dedicated to researching and writing about all things skincare, film, and fashion.