Over the course of the pandemic there have been many debates over various topics, but arguably one of the most divisive has been about the existence of billionaires and how ethical being a billionaire really is. The arguments that billionaires deserve all their money vs billionaires are inherently exploitative have been the main focal points of this discussion.
According to Forbes, billionaires became $1.2 trillion dollars richer during the pandemic, with Rihanna becoming one of the most recent billionaires as of August 2021. Rihanna’s newfound billionaire status sparked both anger and celebration amongst those who found out this information.
Those who were happy for the musician cited how they were proud of her, with one twitter user gushing over how she built her ‘billionaire empire’. Whereas others were not so fond of this, there were little negative feelings towards Rihanna personally, but more discomfort with the fact that she now has excessive wealth.
The usual victim of this is the global south
The main issue surrounding billionaires is that in order to make a billion in any currency, someone or a group of people along the line will have been exploited and underpaid. Simply put, there is no ethical way to become a billionaire as to possess that amount of wealth, corners must be cut in order to keep costs low, and workers must be exploited.
The usual victim of this is the global south, in particular countries such as India and Bangladesh where garment workers make mere pennies per hour despite producing most of the fashion that we wear. In addition to this, child labour is also rife in garment making as there are few laws that protect workers in these countries.
The amount of work they do, and the amount they are paid do not match, this is done on purpose so that clothes and products can be made as cheaply as possible in order to maximise profits for those at the top.
Calling out the harm that billionaires cause is often eclipsed
As much as we know that that figures such as Rihanna don’t actively seek to exploit workers, we must also acknowledge that billionaires are not unaware as to how their products are made, and to assume that ignorance of them is more harmful.
We can acknowledge the hard work that an individual puts into a company whilst remembering that their company thrives at the expense of a much larger group of people. Sometimes it feels as though calling out the harm that billionaires cause is often eclipsed by people who want to uplift and focus on the success of people whom they deem inspirational.
On the contrary, those who support billionaires argue that they give back to the community through philanthropic work. The most notable person for this is Bill Gates who through the Gates Foundation, has already donated over £26 billion of his own wealth.
With money comes extreme amounts of power
The main aim of the Gates Foundation is to help develop cures for preventable diseases, as well as helping treat diseases in third world countries. In addition to this, the foundation donated over $4 billion to the development of the covid vaccine. In this case, the wealth that was accumulated is being distributed with the intention of improving the quality of life for those who are less fortunate.
However, the issue with this, is that it also illustrates the vast amount of power that billionaires have. They have enough money that they can do anything they want with it, and with money comes extreme amounts of power. The implication of this is that if billionaires make donations to organisations that they align with, those organisations technically must do what their donor wants in order to keep receiving funding.
This is not to say that all billionaires are big, evil people who are planning to take over the world, but it does show that they can pursue all their own interests with little resistance, and their interests may not always align with what the world needs.
We should be careful to not forget about the workers
Recently, we saw Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos team up and venture into space simply because they could. They did this under the guise of wanting to encourage more space exploration and they hoped that soon more people will be able to go to space. The disconnect between billionaires and the average person is unreal.
This criticism is not to take away from the innovation that the companies of billionaires have given us, some of which has been very helpful. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that we can’t question why they are able to accumulate billions and the ways in which their wealth is generated.
As our society becomes increasingly consumerist, we should be careful to not forget about the workers who are constantly forgotten about and treated as collateral, whilst public figures hoard billions off the backs of their labour and claim to care about our global society.