What to do when you’re worth billions of dollars

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What can someone buy with $1 billion? Approximately 1,100 houses in Toronto. 140,000 years of tuition at WLU. A luxurious steak dinner, for three meals a day, for 9000 years. 

It’s hard to comprehend, but a billion dollars is an absurd amount of money. More than any individual can spend in a year, maybe a lifetime, even when living the most lavish lifestyle. 

Despite this, our society has created the conditions that allow numerous people to earn this much, and more, at the expense of the rest of the population. 

Jeff Bezos, the Founder and CEO of Amazon.com, is worth $125 billion. In 2017, he made almost $20 billion. That’s about $55 million a day. If he worked 24/7, with no breaks or sleep, that would be $40,000 a second. 

In two seconds, he will make more than the average Canadian does in an entire year. According to Business Insider, the source of Bezos’ wealth is listed as “self-made”, along with many other people on the list of the richest in the world, such as Bill Gates. 

While there’s no doubt that many of the richest people in the world have added tremendous value — I’m sure the world would look a lot different without Amazon or Microsoft — but that doesn’t mean they are worth billions of dollars. 

Billionaires like Bezos and Gates are not solely responsible for creating their wealth. Often forgotten are the workers in offices and factories, here and around the world, making minimum wage (or less). 

These workers create value for their companies, and by paying them less than their worth, those at the top are able to profit on the value of their labour — and use it to buy their second, third, or fourth yacht. 

In both America and Canada, along with most other countries, tax rates are progressive. This means that each bracket is taxed at a different rate, getting progressively higher as you make more money. 

As many of the world’s richest are in the US, let’s take a look at their federal tax rates. 

In 2019, anything an American makes over $500,000 is taxed at a rate of about 40 per cent. This may seem like a lot, but compare it to the 1944-45 rate of 94 per cent for any income above $200,000 ($2.4 million in 2009 dollars). 

In recent years, politicians, such as President Trump, have promised to increase taxes for the richest in society, but that still doesn’t mean they’re paying their fair share. And while corporations have their own tax laws, many still manage to find a way around paying. 

It’s likely that Amazon will not have to pay any federal income tax for 2018, despite the fact that is made over $11 billion in profit. Does that really seem fair?

In a world where one in 10 people are undernourished; where 80 per cent of the world lives on less than $10 a day; where 22,000 children die each day due to poverty; where approximately 35,000 people are homeless on any given night in Canada, we must consider if we have a moral responsibility to share this wealth. 

I’m not an expert in economics, or wealth inequality, or taxes. People can argue about the value that these people bring to the world, and that it’s not the place of us, or the government, to take this money away from them. Yet, I can’t help but feel like we have an obligation to do something. 

When some people make more than the GDP of entire countries, and other individuals are struggling to put food on the table, the system is broken. 

So, what can be done? On a personal level, it doesn’t seem like much (unless you’re prepared to become the new Robin Hood and rob Jeff Bezos to redistribute his wealth). However, we can become aware of how our system is failing most people in favour of the most elite. 

We can support politicians that care about the working and middle class more than their corporate donors. And we can call for higher tax rates for the most wealthy in society, and for that money to go towards things that benefit the most vulnerable. 


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