“We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.” -- Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.
We have all heard about wealth inequality, about how the rich keep getting richer while the rest of us stagnate or struggle. Given all the consistent reporting about class structure and socio-economic battles of late, it’s surprising this reality appears to largely fall on deaf ears.
Evidence suggests half the population, including Independents, Republicans and Democrats, have a somewhat positive-to-indifferent view about America’s billionaire class. Given the pandemic and the death and destruction of governmental norms we have witnessed, it’s incredible that more people are not incensed by the rise of billionaires and the power they hold over politicians and our very existence.
There has been a consistent drum beat from the Democratic Party’s progressive wing to tax billionaires. No one has been more vocal on the issue than Sen. Bernie Sanders, who during the presidential primary debates in 2020 challenged the notion that billionaires should exist at all.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently stated that "no one ever makes a billion dollars. You take a billion dollars."
This begs the question. Where is the public outcry?
After the banking crisis in 2008, we had Occupy Wall Street, a short-lived movement that generated nowhere near as much media coverage as it merited. There are plenty of arguments to be made as to why it fizzled. According to John Ehrenberg of Palgrave Communications, its ultimate failure was a function of its initial strength. Occupy Wall Street refused to engage with the established political system. This self-defeating strategy caused harm, because nobody understood exactly what they were trying to accomplish. In contrast, the Civil Rights, antiwar and women’s movements all understood the importance of addressing society as a whole and proposing comprehensive critiques that could mobilize large numbers of people.
It is disheartening Occupy Wall Street didn’t succeed like other grassroots social movements. Perhaps if it had, we could have taken an honest look at what purpose Wall Street financiers and the wealthy actually serve.
Billionaires make grandiose claims about giving back and creating jobs. But the reality is, with few exceptions, they do the exact opposite. They often create the problems they swoop in to solve, or they keep labor costs low by hiring in emerging markets with lower standards of living. That lowers prices on the products they ship back to the United States, but it leaves many Americans with little-to-no work, so they can’t afford these goods.
What’s worse is their justification for taking so much, while leaving so little for everyone else. They want us to believe they are special somehow, because they worked hard, so they deserve all of it. They even comfort themselves in the absurd myth that they are intellectually superior to the rest of us.
As if they are sitting around reading Tolstoy, discussing Russian history and putting things in an historical context. The only thing they appear to read are books about how capitalism will solve their problems and the various ways to avoid paying taxes.
We cannot count on billionaires. They harm us, they harm democracy and they don’t give back; so what good are they doing except to make us slaves to products we used to live without? If we have to have them, let's insist they at least pay their taxes, or to quote Bernie Sanders, question their existence and value as a whole.
In order for them to succeed, countless others need to suffer.
They have no magic answers. Donald Trump may tout the Big Lie for the rest of his life, but billionaires have been lying to us for years.
Do not let them run for office, do not elect them and don’t give them more power than they deserve. Business and capitalism do not solve every problem, as they would have you believe.
It's long past time to take our country back from billionaires.
We don’t need them, and we never did.