According to “The Conversation,” we have access to a story with far more information than that presented here. We are using a tiny portion of the statistics gathered to make a point with an entirely different focus and emphasis than that presented in the story linked above.
It begins with the shameful greed and economic inequality that shows no signs of stopping any time soon:
The top 50 donors in 2021 include only 14 of the many billionaires who have signed the Giving Pledge, a commitment by some of the world’s richest people to “dedicate the majority of their wealth to charitable causes.” To date, more than 230 individuals and couples have taken this step.
The 50 Americans who gave or pledged the most to charity in 2021 committed to giving a total of US$27.7 billion to hospitals, universities, museums and more – up 12% from 2020 levels, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s latest annual tally of these donations.
More than half of this money came from just two particularly big donors: Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates. Shortly before their divorce became final, in August 2021, they announced plans to add $15 billion to their foundation’s coffers.
There always have been and always will be examples of gross economic inequality in society, but it’s never been at the levels we see now. As but one example, CEOs in the 1960s made, on average 44x the mean salary of their employees. Today the number is close to 300x the average.
The economic inequality goes far further down the ladder, too. A doctor always made more money than a teacher or accountant. But in 2022 the difference is now at a level seemingly 4-5x what it once was. Another anecdote indicative of a changing society, look at any new NFL stadium or NBA/NHL arena. More than half the “room” for fans consists of luxury boxes. Actual “seats” seem to almost be diminishing, and even those seats are beyond the means of a regular two-income family.
Back to billionaires. We can all agree that anyone with wealth that approaches $250 million is essentially beyond the ability to spend even half of it without buying a grossly expensive private airplane or yacht. It is the kind of wealth that ensures one’s descendants will never have to work, ever, not with compound interest.
So with the Walton family with hundreds of billions, Musk, Bezos, Zuckerberg, the Google guys, and all the usual suspects, with wealth over $50 BILLION, why aren’t we seeing charitable giving at an amount equating to even half their wealth? If one is worth $20 Billion and gives away half their wealth, they still have $10 BILLION they couldn’t possibly spend in ten lifetimes.
As has always been said, it is not about the money at that point, but a means to keep score. Yes, yes, that remains an old truism. But it is much more than that now. So much wealth is generated at the very top that people like the Waltons, Musk, Bezos, etc. and their corporations, have become – essentially – nations unto themselves. They personally hold more wealth than many nations on earth and that kind of wealth creates the power to shape the globe. It would seem irresistible to almost all.
Let’s use just two examples of this approach to the use of their wealth. Musk wants humanity to become a two-planet species in order to absolutely ensure its survival. The goal has serious merit. But the technology and practical ability to accomplish such a feat remains well beyond our current ability and – much more importantly, a $100 billion dollar investment in STEM education among many underserved (poor) areas within the United States and elsewhere would likely accomplish just as much toward his goal as anything, while also alleviating a lot of suffering.
Zuckerberg wants to reinvent the internet, he wants it to become more of a two-way street, closer to a hive mind than instant access to any information in existence. Fine. But that sort of technology and movement is coming with or without Zuckerberg. He simply wants to get there first (In my opinion) in order to control much of it.
The point is that these people who could do so much to crush so much suffering are not necessarily using it to pamper themselves (though Bezos’s yacht is inexcusable), but to ensure that they have the power to shape the future in the way they desire that looks far more like fascism than capitalism.
The roots of this inequality are easily spotted, new industries that near demand monopolization (What good is Twitter unless everyone is on the same site? Same with Facebook. Same with Google), the destruction of unions, and a tax level that is shameful. The wealthy in this country go insane when the upper tax bracket goes from 31% to 34%, despite the fact that the very top pay almost no taxes anyway.
A very serious wealth tax for those with over $500 million (or thereabout) and an end to the loopholes found everywhere would be a start. During the cold war, the top tax brackets were well above 50% – no one with wealth equating to $5 million or more would be seriously “hurt” by moving that top bracket up again.
But none of this will happen until there is the will and political structure that allows it to happen. Citizens United ensured that there is no TDR trust buster coming to save us. And the wealthy use social wedge issues to split the poor vote, alleviating the worry that any sort of political movement initiated by people making less than $75K a year (sometimes FAR less) might threaten the current stasis.
So the pattern will continue into the foreseeable future, the economic inequality becoming ever more extreme and the power imbalance along with it. We are approaching a situation where perhaps 1,000 people on the planet set the global agenda for over nine billion. Now that is a far scarier proposition than the scant charitable giving, and there is no reason that the directions taken might not lead to war.
Jason Miciak is a political writer, features writer, author, and attorney. He is originally from Canada but grew up in the Pacific Northwest as a dual Canadian-American citizen, which he grows increasingly thankful for every day. He now enjoys life as a single dad, writing from the beaches of the Gulf Coast, getting advice from his beloved daughter and teammate. He is very much the dreamy mystic that cannot add and loves dogs more than most people. He also likes studying cooking, theoretical physics, cosmology, and quantum mechanics. He likes pizza.
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