Words by Kennedi Woods
Every person has an ideal amount of money that they aim to make to feel comfortable and live the life they desire. People who throw the word ‘billionaire’ around aren’t using it lightly. Crossing that threshold takes an extreme level of intentionality. To be clear, nobody who is actively pursuing billionaire status is doing it simply to have more money. What sets a hundred millionaires apart from billionaires is their ability to turn wealth into power.
Arguably the most notorious billionaire around right now is the one and only President Donald Trump. Though wielding political power and disregarding the law has long been one of the benefits of the uber rich, his presidency has made it increasingly apparent. The New York Times recently revealed that Trump has hardly paid income taxes in 10 out of the last 15 years, but he also received a $72.9 million tax refund from the IRS. Trump’s political success may very well be the inspiration behind fellow billionaire and supporter, Kanye West’s, decision to run for president despite having never held public office. In other countries, it is not unusual for billionaires to hold positions of power and for government policies tend to benefit the wealthy. Putting billionaires in office is less about promoting social welfare than it is angling the market to best suit their business interests. Money and politics is a dangerous mix that is becoming more and more normalized.
Aside from the obvious ability to manipulate policy in public office, other billionaires have a similar ability from the outside. Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, has spent $200 million towards lobbying to implement the ‘Common Core’ benchmark for schools around the country. $4 Trillion of taxpayer money was put towards the program. Teachers that disprove of Common Core because of the limitations it has placed on the ability to teach subjects outside of their state-wide curriculums. The teachers are skeptical of Gate’s intentions. They believe that its goal wasn’t to help students as much as it was to increase the amount of funding toward programs like Microsoft that were to be used and paid for by Federal and State funds. Even billionaire philanthropic efforts have a hidden agenda.
Collectively, billionaires are not interested in doing what’s best for the common good. New York City is home to the most billionaires in the world, at 78, beating Moscow’s 68, and London’s 46. However, most New Yorkers have not benefited from being the home to the world’s richest people. The Bronx borough in New York City has one of the highest rates of asthma per capita due to the unclean air. In 2013, rather than using city funds to address this problem, the city spent $127 million on a golf course remodel in the Bronx. The needs of the thousands of New Yorkers struggling with this condition were outweighed to cater to a small, yet powerful percentage of the population.
A similar situation can be found across the country in Los Angeles, the second most populated city in the U.S. Of the nearly 4 million people living in L.A., nearly 23% of people over the age of 18 and under 65 live in poverty. During the first three months of the pandemic, the 154 billionaires living in California, including Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, collectively made $174 billion. Simultaneously, the state governor proposed $14 billion in budget cuts to public school funding, the state sponsored healthcare system, Medi-Cal, and other state sponsored programs less the U.S. Congress issued more funding to the states. Less than 10% of the $174 billion pocketed by the billionaire population of California could have covered the funding the state needed to avoid the budget cuts. While the state didn’t take it from them, they sure weren’t offering.
Billionaires won’t save us, in fact they are only making things worse. Though they have the money and power to enact real change, they continue to use their wealth to influence policy in their best interest at the expense of millions of Americans.
So, who wants to be a billionaire?