August 30, 2020, By Brett Wilkins
(Image credit: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr Creative Commons)
On Wednesday, Jeff Bezos, the world’s wealthiest person, shattered the $200 billion ceiling. He had a decent day on the stock market, with Amazon shares edging up about 2 percent. But a “decent” 2 percent day for the richest man on Earth means his net wealth soared by around $5 billion that day. And voilà, just like that, we’ve got the world’s first multi-centibillionaire, and I’m pretty sure the first ever printing of the word “multi-centibillionaire.” Strange days, friends. Strange days, indeed.
Dan Riffle, a senior advisor to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has famously asserted that “every billionaire is a policy failure.” If that’s so—and I do believe it is—then the United States of America is at least to some degree a failed state. And by “some,” I mean much more than we can afford to ignore.
Bezos isn’t alone up there. Yes, he is a whopping $75 billion richer than Bill Gates, the runner-up on the Bloomberg Billionaire Index. But that still means that the Microsoft co-founder is worth a staggering $125 billion, with Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg ($111 billion) not far behind, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk ($104 billion) pulling the platinum caboose of the centibillionaire’s club.
A train, replete with all the Snowpiercer-like mental imagery it conjures, seems a fitting metaphor for a system that progressive economist and former U.S. labor secretary says has “gone off the rails.”
As in Snowpiercer, Bezos and his plutocrat pals in the front of the train are worse than oblivious to the plight of the poor passengers in the back. They’re downright contemptuous.
Have you heard about Chris Smalls? He was a worker at Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse who was fired after organizing a work stoppage to protest a lack of protective gear and pandemic hazard pay amid the deaths of numerous company employees. What Amazon executives didn’t expect was that Smalls would become a cause célèbre who would draw worldwide attention to some of their worst corporate practices. Scrambling into damage control mode, Amazon general counsel David Zapolsky decided the company’s best course of action was to smear Smalls, a Black man, as “not smart or articulate.”
The system is beyond broken. It is beyond unfair. It has entered the realm of insanity. What else would you call it when three men own more wealth than the bottom half of the U.S. population—that’s 160 million people—combined? How would you describe a system in which tens of millions of people are jobless, millions of children are hungry, and millions of families are at risk of becoming homeless, while the net worth of America’s billionaires has skyrocketed by nearly $800 billion over the past five months?
The four richest men in the world now have a combined net worth of $540 billion. In my own personal quest to wrap my head around such stupendous wealth, I found countries to be a useful benchmark. More specifically, I reckoned that comparing the tech titans’ total treasure to the annual gross domestic product of various nations, the only truly appropriate entities against which these men can be accurately measured, would give me a fuller understanding of the scale and scope of their fortune.
So I got hold of the World Bank’s latest available (2019) world GDP figures and from these I learned that if Bezos, Gates, Zuckerberg and Musk were a country, their net worth would fall between the GDP of Thailand ($543 billion), the world’s 22nd-largest economy, and #23 Sweden ($530 billion).
On his own, Bezos’ bazillions would place him roughly on par with #52 New Zealand ($206 billion), and well ahead of oil-drenched #53, Qatar ($183 billion). Had Bezos and his former wife not divorced last year, the couple would be worth at least $263 billion, or about as much as the GDP of Finland, the world’s 44th-largest economy.
Bezos is now on track to become world’s first trillionaire. My spell-check doesn’t even recognize that word; surely it’s a mistake? Oh, but it’s not, and according to the business research firm Comparisun, Bezos is projected to reach that unimaginable milestone by 2026.
Unless, that is, somebody stops him and his ilk. Some think this can realized via more traditional means:
Others apparently favor more radical solutions: