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  • Tanya Mackenzie

Why Billionaires Should Give Back

“Help! A socialist. The greatest evil in the world as we know it.”

That would be the reaction of many who I have engaged in internet battles with anyway. So let’s start off by saying that just as socialism does not equal communism (something I and my Russian family wholeheartedly disagree with), helping others/being a decent and caring human being does not equal hardcore socialism.

I do not believe that valuing human life and wanting the best possible outcome for the greatest number of people should be seen as ‘evil’, in fact, when phrased like this, I fail to see the logic behind the outcry. But that is the impression of some, and those people also would surely posit that if a billionaire has earned their money, whatever the means, that is their money and they should not be obliged to help anyone but themselves. They earned it, they keep it.

On the surface of course this makes sense. But I would suggest that this reasoning is ultimately flawed, as no-one can possibly amass such wealth entirely single-handedly. Their fortune in built on the backs of lower-paid workers, and consumers who purchase whatever it is they have to offer. Whatever your empire, it is only thanks to other people that it can exist in the first place.

Second of all, how many of us can really imagine what a billion actually means monetarily? I certainly can’t imagine what to even do with such an obscene amount of money, aside from giving my workers all a big fat pay rise. Sadly, this is usually not what happens. In order to amass such a ridiculous amount of money, so much that it is hard to imagine what one could even spend such an amount on, either the workers are not being paid their fair share for their labour upon which the company rests, or the product or service is too costly. I would hazard a guess that usually it is a bit of both.

Now we must also consider how one becomes a billionaire in the first place. They may have inherited it, or worked for it. But in either case it all boils down to LUCK. Yes, they have certainly strived to achieve their goals, come up with a great and original idea, and had the intelligence and charisma to carry it out. But so have millions of other people. There are millions of people around the world with great ideas and a strong work ethic, but for one reason or another they have not been given the opportunity to convert these into a billion pound empire. In some cases, their interests may lie elsewhere, in public service as a nurse or a teacher for instance. Who was it that decided a CEO is worth more than a teacher, or a cleaner, or a paramedic, or a shelf stacker? It seems to me to be entirely arbitrary. The only reason why a CEO takes home such a huge amount more than a paramedic is because they can choose to pay themselves more and others less. They, in fact, choose to believe that they are more worthy than anyone else, which seems pretty egocentric to my eyes.

Ten billionaires reap $400bn boost to wealth during pandemic – The Guardian

My point in this instance is, why should a paramedic or a teacher be punished for pursuing a career that helps others, being told they ‘just didn’t try hard enough to succeed’ or that they are ‘worth less’ than someone who goes out into the world with the sole ambition of making themselves a rich fat cat? Without not only teachers and nurses, but cleaners, administrators, posties and shelf stackers, this society which has made some so rich could not function. We are, at the core of our nature, a social species. We succeed through co-operation, helping others less fortunate than ourselves, community effort, and through the development of all-important empathy. These are some of the most important things that have set us apart from other animals for so long.

In light of all the above, why should we not hold billionaires accountable and expect them to give something back to society? It would, in fact, hardly scrape the edges of their massive wealth if they were to give enough to make a huge difference to less fortunate individuals. Individuals who have not thought only of themselves, or who have fallen on hard times, or who have not had the lucky breaks to make use of their talents and ambitions. I personally would even go so far as to say those who do not are deplorable; their behaviour in fact disgusts me.

It takes eight weeks for an Amazon warehouse worker to earn what Jeff Bezos makes in a second - The Trades Union Congress

Proportionate to their wealth, we all know many ordinary people who give SO MUCH compared to those who HAVE so much. The only justification I can fathom that 'those who have' would give to explain why they hold onto much more than they need, while people around the world with so much less or giving comparatively so much more, is that they deserve it. It is their money (that they paid themselves), and therefore they do not owe anyone anything.

But yes, dear billionaires, holders of obscene wealth in a world still plagued by poverty, illness, starvation and injustice, you DO owe people something. At the very least you owe your workers a higher wage. The lowest paid worker at Amazon may earn more than the average American, but you would never ever pay yourself anywhere near to 15 dollars an hour (source: https://www.businessinsider.com/jeff-bezos-amazon-worker-earns-more-than-millions-of-americans-2020-4?r=US&IR=T).

At the end of the day, you could never have chosen to pay yourself so much without the low-paid workforce you would say are ‘failures’. This is not how a good society works. A good society is fair and just, a good society cares about others less fortunate than themselves. The cold, hard truth of such wealth is that every moment you hold on tooth and nail to your unjust gains, someone dies because they can’t afford the insulin they need to survive, someone loses their child because they don’t have access to clean water, someone you employ can’t afford their own place to live, someone even less fortunate is forced to live on the streets, and someone else is worked to exhaustion making cheap clothes for your profit. With this reality in mind, the level of selfishness is unbelievable.

Just because you had fortune on your side, that does not make you any better than anyone else in this world. The sooner you humble yourself, the better life will be for countless others who don’t have the voice that you do.

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