Imagine for a moment you have a billion dollars. What would you buy? Whose lives would you change? How many swimming pools would you build for your mansion? In America, the life of a billionaire is the life of luxury. It is a label that simply means to be rich, to have done well for oneself, to simply be one step above “millionaire.”
For your consideration, allow me to tell you what you can buy with a billion dollars — courtesy of Forbes magazine. You’d want a mansion, of course, so you’d shell out $10 million for a resort-sized seaside chateau in San Francisco. But how will you get around? Look no further than the world’s most expensive car, a $35 million 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. Just in case, you decide to buy five of them. For sea and air travel you resort to a $160 million Tatoosh yacht and $40 million Dassault Falcon 7X, respectively. But for vacation, you wouldn’t want to get your plane dirty, so you take a group of your best friends on a twenty-five day tour around the world on an Intrav private jet for $5 million. Hey, you might even go twice. Eventually a billionaire is going to need some alone time, so you can take your yacht for a spin and dock at your $75 million private island. Need something to wear? Why not take the Hope Diamond off the Smithsonian’s hands for $350 million? And you’ll naturally want to fill your closet with at least $250,000 worth of designer clothing and shoes – a billionaire has to look their best. Once that’s taken care of, you can spend the last $179,750,000 on whatever you so choose: pay off all the student debt at your alma mater, donate $50 million to your favorite charity, buy a safe full of gold, and still have enough money to ensure that you will never work another day in your life.
We can argue until our faces turn blue about necessity and excess. Just because I believe that such extravagant spending is a direct slap in the face to the countless dying in poverty every year doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t want a 15,000 square foot house for you and your seventy-five hoverboards. But the methods by which someone acquires a billion dollars are not the same as those one would use to acquire financial security; to accumulate such excessive wealth — wealth that one could never reasonably spend on necessities within their own lifetime — one must engage in practices that cross into the unethical (unpaid and underpaid labor, low-quality production, job reduction in the name of efficacy, etc.). The accumulation of such wealth for the sake of accumulating wealth whittles down the existence of the middle class, leaving behind the mega-wealthy and lower class. Moreover, this wealth isn’t being reintroduced into the economy; rather, the majority of it stagnates in private investments and does little to stimulate new business.
The problem is not money. More than anything, the problem is the prioritization of hoarding wealth as an indicator of status. Jeff Bezos, the current richest man on the planet, is not inherently morally corrupt because of his net worth, of course. But what I cannot resolve on a humanistic level is his ability to solve world hunger (about $30 billion per year) five times while still maintaining a $14 billion fortune and the subsequent decision not to. And yes, Mr. Bezos has made charitable donations in the past – one $10 million, one $33 million, and one $2 billion, now recognized as the largest charitable donation in history. But such donations were only made after intense media scrutiny, and even then only account for 0.006%, 0.02%, and 1.2% of his wealth respectively. To pay his roughly 350,000 American employees a wage of $60,000 per year from his own assets, it would cost him $12 billion – about 13% annually. Instead, they make a median of $28,446 per year, which is less than $1,000 above the national poverty line. When one has the ability to change the world and chooses to give tokens by comparison, is one still moral? I can’t, with a clear conscience, say yes.
A lot of people disagree with me, and I see why. It would be fun to have a billion dollars. It’s fun to fantasize about having a billion dollars. As a broke college student, I would love to feel the singular sensation of being able to buy whatever I want, whenever I want. But more than that, I would want to use that money to foster more good in the world than when I found it. In turn, I wouldn’t be a billionaire for very long. I don’t need a billion dollars; I’d much rather give it to people who do.
Brooke Morris is a fourth-year English major. She can be reached at email@example.com.