Jeff Bezos controls Amazon. And Whole Foods. And The Washington Post. And IMDB, Zappos, Souq, Blue Origin, Kiva Systems, Alexa, DPReview, Fabric.com, Woot, Goodreads, Twitch, Audible, Elemental, Quidsi, Annapurna Labels, Accept, Living Social, Twilio, HomeGrocer, Bill Me Later, eZiba, BankBazaar, Kozmo, Ionic, Songza, and Wine.com. Plus he has VC stakes in Lookout, Juno, Grail, Workday, Vessel, Domo, Fundbox, Stack Overflow, Everfi, Remitly, Rethink Robotics, General Fusion, MakerBot, Unity Biotech, General Assembly, Business Insider, Google, Uber, Airbnb, and Twitter. And he’s working on acquiring MGM. Plus he owns at least eight mansions and 100,000+ acres, a bunch of penis-shaped rockets, and a $500,000,000 hyper-yacht.
Bernard Arnault controls LVMH, which has swallowed more than seventy of its competitors, including Dior, Fendi, Givenchy, Dom Pérignon, Loius Vuitton, Moët & Chandon, Marc Jacobs, Stella McCartney, Loro Piana, Princess Yachts, Bulgari, Sephora, and Tiffany & Co.
Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway owns massive chunks of nearly fifty companies including Apple, Amazon, Amex, Bank of America, Chevron, Kraft, Mastercard, Sirius, Visa, Wells Fargo, P&G, Johnson & Johnson, Dairy Queen, Fruit of the Loom, GM, Merck, T-Mobile, GEICO, and Coca-Cola, which itself has eaten more than 400 competing drink companies.
Blackrock, which owns a piece of 5,480 companies including Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Nvidia, Tesla, JP Morgan, Paypal, Home Depot, Disney, Exxon, Pfizer, Pepsi, AT&T, Nike, Walmart, McDonald’s, Costco, and Netflix, just bought Reese Witherspoon’s media company for $900 million, adding to its $9 trillion Smaug-like horde.
It makes you wonder when monopolists will stop growing larger and larger.
And then one day it occurs to you…
They will not stop until they are stopped.
There are now 2,755 billionaires on the planet, not including “royalty” and dictators.
In the year 2000, they controlled less than $1 trillion.
Today, they control more than $13.1 trillion.
13.5X in a generation.
And they’ve grown their wealth by $5.5 trillion during the pandemic so far.
On the flip side, there’s never been so many people experiencing suffering and deprivation in human history:
2.3 million children die from malnutrition every year.
Clearly, there is no limit to the depth of poverty and deprivation to which our global society will allow humans to fall — never forget that millions of children are still trafficked for rape annually and that nine million people die from starvation each year — yet somehow elite individuals are allowed to amass unlimited plenty in a world of deprivation?
It begs the question: Is it moral and right for us to allow individuals to hoard extreme wealth in the face of overwhelming widespread poverty, documented democratic subversion, and environmental catastrophe?
If humanity saw itself as the global family that it truly is, it would be morally impossible to not limit the amount that one family member could control while another suffered and died.
It is impossible for an individual to legitimately earn a billion dollars.
If someone earned $100 per hour — more than enough for anyone to live in luxurious comfort — in order to truly earn a billion dollars, they’d have to work 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year, for five thousand years.
So how is a billion dollars actually amassed?
By skimming a profit off the backs of untold others:
off the workers they employ
off the suppliers they squeeze
off the carcasses of the competitors they destroy with monopoly
off the planet they unsustainably extract from
off the governments from which they gain subsidies and advantages
off the stable societies they sell to while evading taxation
off the democracies whose rules they change at will
off the shareholders they dupe
How is the ability to skim achieved? Through unfair advantage and privilege.
It is impossible to “work hard, save, and invest” your way to a billion dollars.
Let’s be crystal clear: billionaires don’t “create jobs.” They extract value — time, talent, creativity, effort — from others at an industrial scale.
Here’s a short thought experiment.
Which is better: 2,755 billionaires and their $13.1 trillion, each monopolizing roughly one industry apiece and subverting democracy, or 131,000 centa-millionaires in competition?
How about 1,310,000 deca-millionaires?
Or 13,100,000 millionaires?
13.1 million millionaires would do far more for the economy in terms of spending, hiring, diffusing power, avoiding democratic destruction, increasing competition, and sparking innovation.
Are there truly enough benefits to the global population to merit supporting the costs of maintaining billionaires? Surely not. No rational person can make the argument that 2,755 billionaires are globally preferable to having 13.1 million more millionaires, or 131 million more workers each controlling a $100K stake in the businesses wherein they constitute all of the wealth-creation.
“But those poor billionaires are just rich on paper!”
Sychophants for the ultra-elite are quick to cry out that most billionaires don’t actually have $1,000,000,000+ sitting in a Scrooge McDuck-style vault. Their wealth is usually tied up in shares of the companies they almost always undemocratically control.
But these people don’t understand how billionaires work.
Billionaires borrow colossal amounts of cheap debt against those paper shares, and let inflation devalue that debt over time.
So you and I — the real taxpayers in society — end up footing the bill as the money-printing machine devalues our actual-earned money.
I believe — as do most of the working masses and the desperate poor — that it is morally wrong and utterly inhumane to be a billionaire whilst millions starve and billions suffer.
To paraphrase the Bible: “The poor will always be among us because the rich will always be above us.”
The world and planet can’t afford to support billionaires anymore.
Corporatism is a gross inefficiency and major source of economic inequality; it is anti-democracy; it is ecological unsustainability.
We should replace it with an economy of sole proprietors, partnerships, cooperatives, not-for-profits, and for-benefits — all the wealth to all the workers — massively diverse, all competing and cooperating and innovating within a body of economic law that enforces ecological sustainability (as defined by biology) and economic fairness (as defined by real democracy.)
If we don’t, we’re mathematically doomed.
Charting our trajectory to zero
When will billionaires stop amassing more wealth?
The answer is clear:
Our total global wealth is currently $431 trillion.
In the past twenty years, billionaires have grown their wealth by 13.5X, to $13.1 trillion, far outpacing the poor and total growth in global wealth.
At their current pace, billionaires will control $176 trillion in twenty years and $2.3 quadrillion in forty.
You read that right: If we do not stop them, billionaires will control the entire globe’s resources within our lifetime.
From there, it’s simply a game of thrones to determine which few families will survive.
In the winner-take-all economy, elites will not stop until they are stopped.
Why can’t voter-shoppers fathom this fact?
The solution is frightfully simple
It’s a radical idea that will be common sense to future generations:
Individual private wealth must be limited.
That’s right: No more billionaires.
Every dollar over $1 billion in net worth will be taxed at 100% or placed in a commons trust.
As one Redditor put it:
Once you reach $999,999,999 we give you a plaque that says, “congratulations, you won capitalism,” and we name a dog park after you.
A global Billionaire Ban will have wonderful implications for protecting democracy and making the economy more robust and fair. Obviously, democracy can argue over the exact number for our new global limit — 10 million, 100 million, even 1 billion — so long as we agree on the underlying fundamental that private wealth must have an upper limit.
Older right-leaning white men will now scream “Communism! Socialism!” while failing to realize this piece is not advocating central ownership or central control of the economy. That’s what billionaires are working on.
We need to reform our economic system. We need a more equitable pre-distribution of ownership, wealth, and opportunity, and we desperately need democratic limits to protect against monopoly and wealth hoarding.
This isn’t optional for the survival of our species: it’s now required for the survival of all species.
The Christian response to wealth inequality
What’s incredibly disturbing about the wealth inequality discussion is how callous many Christians have become to the plight of the poor.
As if the riches of the wealthy matter more to our God than the survival of the poor!
Luke 3:11 is perhaps the most economically-convicting verse in Scripture:
“Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”
Clearly, God is not in favor of infinite wealth accumulation. Regardless of what reasonable limitations secularist governments place on private wealth, surely God always calls His family to a higher standard of generosity and stewardship.
Mark 14:7 says that “the poor will always be among us”… but that’s only because the rich will always be above us.
Do you where there weren’t any poor people? In the Acts 2 church, when those of means rejected the temptation to accumulate infinite wealth and instead sold assets to help others.
And according to Acts 4:34, “There were no needy people among them.”
That’s the power of Christians who actually obey Scripture… what a testament such a church would be to their community!
Christians live by a principle that transcends all secular economic schemes. When it comes to finances, we express our faith with one principle: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
When we align our financial thinking with the Bible’s, we end up using all of our abilities for His glory, and He meets all of our needs, not just as individuals, but as a community. After all, unlike the individualist anti-culture in which we find ourselves, we profoundly understand that we’re all in this thing together.
We need to move quickly.
In the time it took you to listen to this episode, the world’s billionaires gained $62 million in wealth, while sixty people moved into slums and thirty children died of hunger.
How many more people must suffer and die before we re-structure the global economy — or at least our local church community — for widest-spread wellbeing?
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