Opinions

Billionaires Pose a Moral Crisis

Ashley Kronebusch, staff writer

It is hard for us, as humans, to comprehend big numbers. 1,000 is not too tricky if we break it up: first, think of a stack of 100-dollar bills, and then multiply that by 10. Then, try thinking of 1,000 times that, and it is pretty tricky, if not impossible. That is one million: 1,000 thousands. Try multiplying that by 1,000 again, and I’d be willing to bet you cannot picture what that looks like. For as much as it is thrown around, a billion is an inconceivably large number. I have not even been alive for a billion seconds, which is the smallest unit of time I can think of. To put it in another way, if I worked 40 hours a week for $15 an hour and somehow had no expenses and paid no taxes, it would take me 32 years to become a millionaire. That is no small feat, but it is not impossible either. To become a billionaire, it would take me 32,000 years. 32,000 years ago, people were living in caves and shooting paint onto walls with hollowed out reeds.

Bill Gates has 110 times that amount. If he had worked for that 40 hours a week at $15 an hour, he would have had to have started over 3.5 million years ago. That was before humans even existed. If Bill Gates lives to an average life expectancy for Americans, he would need to spend over 230 dollars every second for the rest of his life to use up his fortune.

I know that this is a whole lot of math and visualization, but it is essential to understand exactly what being a billionaire means. We often conflate millionaires and billionaires. Still, there is an astronomical difference between someone who is made a million through a combination of luck and hard work (and privilege) and someone like Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, who are the modern day equivalent of dragons, hoarding piles of gold they do not need and could never possibly even use.

 

Many have started looking at the Democratic presidential primaries for answers about how to deal with this absurd wealth inequality. Elizabeth Warren has emerged at the forefront of this, championing progressive tax policies and selling a “Billionaire Tears” mug on her campaign website. However, Warren might not be the leftist darling that she is made out to be.

 

Warren’s ties to the traditionally established super rich donors in the democratic party make the “Billionaire Tears” mug feel like a cheap publicity stunt, rather than a declaration for real change.

Even so, Warren has still faced criticism for alienating potential voters, or for inciting class warfare. However, the 600 or so billionaires in the US are hardly enough to constitute a class, and individually do not have enough voting power to make a difference in a national election. These are people who make the conscious decision to hoard incredible wealth when they have the power to end homelessness and hunger in the US. Frankly, people like that should feel alienated from the Democratic Party.

A lukewarm rejection of billionaires is not enough. So many Americans suffer from poverty; you only need to go a couple of blocks away from Augsburg to see for yourself. It is a grave social sin that we have allowed so few to amass so much wealth while others freeze in the streets, while kids have to wonder if there will be food at home after school, while an entire generation is crushed under the debt from higher education. This is not an extremist position. It is the only morally responsible response to our present crisis.

 

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