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We Need A World Without Billionaires
Yes I mean all billionaires
There’s been a lot of discussion about billionaires the past few days, so I’ll keep this brief. The one thing I want to say is that the very existence of billionaires is contingent upon violence. We need to understand that billionaires are fundamental upholders of this oppressive capitalist system. While we’ve been taught to assess each person by their actions and their character, the primary way we need to assess billionaires is as a class with massively disproportionate wealth. In fact, they have each accumulated such a mass of wealth that their relationship to the economy, to politics, and to other people is vastly different than our own.
What I mean by this is that we need to understand the position of billionaires not just as beneficiaries of capitalism, not just as people who somehow succeeded within the existing system, but as shapers and upholders of the economic and political order. The 2,000 or so billionaires on Earth wield tremendous power in elections in many of the countries they live in. They spend billions, collectively, to help elect politicians who make policy favorable to them and their interests, then lobby those politicians to pass the legislation they want once the election has been won. These are people who not only create and maintain conditions of mass poverty and death, but work to eliminate regulations, work to keep housing precarious, work to keep people hungry. They are responsible for a number of deaths and an amount of misery that is hard to calculate.
One glimpse at just part of the suffering they are responsible for is that poverty is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. On a global scale, 1.4 million die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. And while many billionaires give large sums of money to foundations, they do little to nothing to address the underlying structure of society which leads to such a massive imbalance of wealth and resources that a couple thousand people have billions while millions and millions die of preventable causes each year. We can work towards a world where we treat those who currently oppose us with kindness and where we build a world of abundance, while understanding that these very powerful people actively working to maintain the current status quo and all the violence it requires for its upkeep.
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The violence of its maintenance at time looks egregious and horrifying, like seeing police attack protesters again and again around the world. But most of it looks more mundane: bills passed through proper channels, wages stolen from working people every day, “benefits” such as people getting money for food slashed. And much of it is indirect, and hidden unless activists and journalists and organizers blast it into public view. For example the effort to build Cop City in Atlanta, a massive police training center with a nine figure price tag that would require the cutting down of the country’s biggest urban forests to build a mock neighbor where police around the county would practice repression is financed by multiple large companies. Sometimes projects like this and their corporate backers, or just ever-expanding police budgets, slide under the radar and the endless funding for violence is rendered normal and okay. Fortunately, people are fighting back. There is a giant movement to stop Cop City, and the movement to defund and abolish police has also grown in cities across the country, despite the rampant propaganda against it.
Workers are fighting back against the overt and the mundane violence of billionaires too, through unions and strikes and a growing militant labor movements. And this struggle is just as vital as the resistance to police violence. Every day workers die on the job, often because giant companies and their billionaire owners choose not to invest in safety. And on the systemic, regulatory level the U.S. government has been hobbled by the efforts of billionaires and the owner class in general. Just recently a worker was killed at an airport, sucked into a jet engine. The company, a subsidiary of American Airlines, was fined just $15,000, because that is the maximum possible fine from OSHA. This is just one way the policy interests, and investments in politics that billionaires and their entire class engage in are active, not passive attempts to hurt the working class.
As Jane Chung recently wrote on Twitter, “We seem to forget that people die from poverty, unsafe jobs, illness, state violence, and related causes every single day––and that their deaths are a direct result of cruel policy crafted by billionaires and corporate interests. who defends their lives? Who mourns their deaths?”
The answer is that working class people receive very little mourning. Their struggle, and their workplace deaths, certainly don’t get days of 24 hour news coverage and millions of dollars in rescue missions. Perhaps the clearest comparison, made many times now, is that the migrants crossing the Mediterranean certainly don’t receive this attention, money, or efforts to save their lives. For that matter neither do the migrants crossing the Rio Grande, or the deserts of the Southwest where border patrol often destroys water supplies left by good samaritans.
And that too is largely down to billionaires who want to keep migrants in legal and physical precarity, exploitable, and scapegoated. To become a billionaire one needs to exploit masses of workers, taking the profit they generate and hoarding it for yourself. I firmly believe that to be a billionaire is immoral on a structural level, much like capitalism writ large is structurally immoral. But on top of that billionaires make choices. They choose to support harmful politicians and harmful policies. Many choose to scapegoat migrants, and now more and more are choosing to embrace fascists and scapegoat trans, queer, and other marginalized people as well.
They also, maybe most simply, choose to keep hoarding massive wealth. They all make this choice, and many choose to hide it offshore rather pay taxes or help people. Several of them have enough wealth on their own to end hunger or homelessness in this country, and choose not to. These are simply unavoidable facts.
Lastly, billionaires have class consciousness. They have solidarity across their class, and with the broader owning class, on many keys issues. They know what they are doing and that their wealth is based off the exploitation of workers and the maintenance of a certain political and economic arrangement. They bust unions and oppose worker democracy and work to eliminate class solidarity among the rest of us as best they can.
I’m not here to talk about the submarine, because in many ways the conversation around that and its aftermath became a distraction, a debate around tone and propriety instead of the systems and structures and class dynamics that impact the lives of billions of people, and really life on earth. Because at this point in addition to harming workers, migrants, and other human beings, billionaires and their corporations and their fossil fuel companies are causing a climate crisis that is impacting and will impact all life on this planet.
So now all I ask is that we have class consciousness and solidarity and understand that someone with more wealth than the GDP of many countries isn't our friend. They may be kind to those around them, they may give away money, but they inhabit a harmful structural position, and they know it. They understand their role in the class war and they work to maintain the oppressive class relation, often at great expense to their wallets, and at an infinitely greater expense to the rest of the life on this planet. So it’s time for everyone else to understand our position, our role. It’s time to band together and be very clear that the current capitalist order of things is getting worse, not better. It’s getting close to overt fascism and the planet is heating up. So let’s organize, build consciousness, and get to work.
Thank you so much for reading this piece, I hope you’ll check out more of my work, and if you’re able to become a paid subscriber I would be immensely grateful! Thank you - Josh