Ethical Billionaires: The ultimate Oxymoron
Updated: Jan 4
Billionaire: A person who has insurmountable amounts of wealth that is usually earned on the expense of entire communities, with the building blocks being pure, unadulterated talent or an idea so unique that thousands of people spend a good portion of their income on that product and result in the creation of a billionaire. A common question that a person with such deep pockets should be asked is, what are they doing for our community?
The fact of the matter is that there are no ethical billionaires. No benevolent tycoon will put an end to world poverty. Jeff Bezos won't save you and neither will Elon Musk, Warren Buffet or Mark Zuckerberg. They might put a stop to a few things here and there, and set up a few cheeky foundations. But do not, by any means, believe that they might go out of their way to help better the world. So the question is, can a “moral” world and billionaires co-exist? Yes.
In our current globalized society, most (if not all) billionaires have reached their stature as a result of exploiting large communities. Kylie Jenner has recently had to deny the claims by Bangladeshi workers of poor pay. Richard Branson emerged as a villain after insisting that his workers take 8 weeks of unpaid leave. Don’t even get me started on Jeff Bezos — Amazon employees’ working conditions and low wages are well known.
Yes, I do understand that everyone has to eat. Everyone wants to feel comfortable, safe, and financially capable enough to do the things they truly love. Nobody wants to have constraints placed on the pursuit of their dreams. Earning a few million dollars might cater to those needs, but a billion? I doubt it.
Are we comfortable living in a society where, on one hand, someone has a personal helipad, and on the other hand, an unimaginable number of people work for inconceivable hours a week and are still unable to feed their kids? At what point do we ask the question that Martin Luther King and Gandhi asked, is our material technology outpacing our moral technology?
When billionaires have a higher net worth than the total GDP of entire countries, it becomes an issue worth discussing.
A professor of mine once asked us what we would do if we had a billion dollars. The majority of us said we would spend it on our favourite things, invest, donate a portion to charity and ultimately, live a life of pleasure and luxury. He then went on to make us understand the true meaning of having a billion dollars. If we were to spend $10,000 a day, then it would take 274 years to spend $1 billion. If we made $80,000 a year, it would take 12,500 years to become a billionaire. Why would one person need such staggering amounts of wealth? This is why billionaires, especially those who’ve amassed their wealth after ruthless exploitation, need to be checked, and fast.
Most people pledge that whenever they become rich, they will commit to giving lavishly. They’ll be passionate philanthropists, start foundations and end major world problems. Whilst some people go down the path of benevolence, most don’t. Do you know why? Because money just enhances who you are presently.
Now, that doesn't mean that humans are rigid. We are changing and evolving every minute. But, I continue to be dismayed and disappointed by prominent figures who didn’t live up to their word after witnessing a ginormous change in their net worth. If you do not practice kindness before you become ridiculously wealthy, there’s a high chance you won’t take a stab at it after too.
The structure into which unethical billionaires are born is maintained by capitalist, primarily Western, countries. Kings, queens, and emperors built their fortunes on slave labor, preserved in various varieties by classicist regimes.
And the band of billionaires of our time are equally disappointing.
As ideas have shifted with the rise of technology and industry and fore thinkers of these fields have shot to fame and fortune, the number of billionaires has doubled since 2008.
Perhaps the onus should not be put on individuals. We have a government, after all. That’s certainly true—entire structures and institutions need to account for their sins. But I think a system that allows for the existence of people with wealth beyond our wildest imaginations when there are parts of the country where people are still victims of Cholera, because of lack of access to clean water or public health facilities, is wrong.
These institutions set the backdrop and the scenes by which many individuals have been able to use exploitation as a one way ticket to fame and fortune. Not only must we point a finger at billionaires—we must also do so at the global institutions allowing them to make their money using the most sordid means.
Bottom line? Excessive wealth in the 21st century means that someone, somewhere, is losing out excessively. No, I’m not a socialist or a communist. No, I don’t hate money or luxury. I’m a fan of financial freedom and I wish to build my wealth.
But, perhaps I’m radical for recognizing that we need stronger systems in place to ensure that the transfer of wealth is made with good intentions. This isn’t simply about comfort and earning more than the average person. This is about ensuring that whilst one pursues these things, the bulk of this wealth is not built on the life-threatening labour of entire communities. Telling our kids that they too can become a billionaire someday and own more wealth than millions of families combined, doesn’t seem pretty aspirational or moral, does it?
Written by Natya Kurapati