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Billionaires, And What to do With Them

Photo courtesy Pepi Stojanovski.

Regardless of how you view former Democratic Presidential candidate and California Sen. Kamala Harris’ (D-Calif.) record on police body cams and legal marijuana, a fierce and intelligent Black woman had to bow out of the presidential race last month. It should also be noted two money-choked, white, male billionaires continued to cruise along in the primary without incident.

Some critics, like Harris supporter and Illinois resident John Kruiswyk, say Harris’ race was a factor in her defeat, while other politicos believe her killing blow actually came from a combination of race and a political system in lockstep with billionaires.

“It’s not surprising that a woman of color has to drop out of the race where rich white men continue to hang on,” said political analyst Katelyn Kivel, formerly of Grit Post. “While race and gender aren’t the only reason she is out and (billionaire candidate) Michael Bloomberg is in, they absolutely are a reason.”

Kivel acknowledged former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and hedge fund manager Tom Steyer have a tactical advantage over Harris in that they are both billionaires who selffund their way through the presidential election. Being self-funded, they have no need of the campaign donors who failed to keep the Harris campaign afloat. Critics say this also means both Steyer and Bloomberg have no direct obligation to listen to the needs of voters, however, and this sets a dangerous precedent when considering billionaires’ overall history of carelessness and self-interest.

The National Football Leagues’ Top 10 billionaires make a fine example of the connection between big money and even bigger apathy. Owners seem to prize players who shove and kick women in hotel halls over those who protest police violence. All are infamous for squeezing cash from an extremely wealthy organization that, until recently, insisted on calling itself a “non-profit.” And while drowning in all that dough, they’ve made a point to tamp down freedom of expression in the league. Like most billionaires, NFL owners and owners of other professional sports teams are primarily white, despite more than 70 percent of their players being people of color.

If any aloofness can conceivably be connected to billionaires’ overwhelming “whiteness,” then media mogul Jay-Z probably stands as a kind of reverse reinforcement to the argument. The hip-hop artist, who stretched his fingers into liquor, real estate, entertainment and Uber to become one of 13 Black billionaires on the planet, devotes considerable (however you may define that) effort to helping the less fortunate. When 11-year-old Jabari Talbot was arrested for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, Jay-Z was influential in getting the case tossed. He’s also made news for paying Lil Wayne’s troublesome back taxes and financing 21 Savages’ defense in his deportation case. Jay-Z’s family is also devoted to helping young students pay for college.

But don’t go thinking it’s all about race—it’s really about privilege, which can skew just about anybody’s moral code. Jay-Z came from humble beginnings, unlike Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman, who owes her wealth to her father, longtime Angola leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos. While in power, Eduardo made his daughter head of Angola’s state oil firm, Sonangol, and today, dos Santos stands accused of funneling $38 million from Sonangol and leaving the company $7 billion in debt days after she was sacked.

Economist Thomas Piketty says it’s easy to see how an overwhelming sense of greed in a very powerful person can act as a vacuum. Piketty’s 2013 book “Capital in the 21st Century,” was a global bestseller, and his follow-up book “Capital and Ideology” is becoming a kind of bible on how to run a more efficient economy.

Piketty recently told a French magazine billionaires do not boost the economy or create jobs. They concentrate wealth into tiny, powerful vectors of influence by exploiting other economic sectors. Piketty said he believes billionaires should be taxed out of existence for the good of the world economy, with a graduated wealth tax of 5 percent on those worth 2 million euros or more, but up to 90 percent on those worth more than 2 billion euros.

“[…] ([T]o avoid steep taxes) those who have hundreds of millions or billions will have to share with shareholders, who could be employees. So no, there (would not) be billionaires anymore,” Piketty told reporters. “How can we justify that their existence is necessary for the common good?”

A billionaire’s big money is actually difficult to swallow when put into perspective. Jeff Bezos, for example, makes more than $4 million every single hour of the day, while running a company that demands 60-hour work weeks and allegedly forces employees to pee in bottles while working distribution lines. Indeed, worker strikes at European Amazon distribution houses have kicked in across Europe, and lawmakers like US Sen. Bernie Sanders have used Amazon’s low pay and long hours as a campaign platform.

How to handle the billionaire class and their unhealthy influence upon the world around them is a project that voters—particularly minorities—will likely be tackling as members of the Democratic Party. The Republican Party, according to critics, is now the go-to party for the wealthy, so it will probably fall to minorities, who comprise the base of the Democratic Party, to provide the brunt of resistance. In so doing, they will also have to push against billionaire-friendly forces within their own party, like presidential candidates Steyer, Bloomberg and Bain Capital leader Deval Patrick, according to Atlantic staff writer Adam Serwer. Patrick, according to Serwer, exemplified the party’s blind centrist leaders when he told reporters he didn’t “think that wealth is the problem.”

“Laws cannot purge greed from the hearts of men and women any more than they can purge racism,” Serwer wrote, “but just as civil-rights laws can address the material effects of discrimination, so, too, can public policy ameliorate the politics of false scarcity that helps turn Americans against one another […] —and Patrick’s opening announcement, and his role as an avatar of the Democratic establishment, suggest neither he nor his benefactors are capable of doing so.”


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