A 58-year old billionaire by the name of Gautam Adani reportedly lost $13B last week. His fortune plunged from $78B to a mere $65B.
That’s a lot of money. The annual budget for the State of California runs on the order of $200B. California is the most populous state, with nearly 40,000,000 people, and the third-largest in area, about 169,000 square miles. Imagine having enough money to cover one-third of the state budget.
Imagine being able to weather a loss of THIRTEEN BILLION DOLLARS.
More than half of the world’s working population makes less than $10,000 per year. About one-third make over $10,000/yr but less than $100,000/yr. (Personal note: I’m in that group.) About 12% make over $100,000/yr but less than $1,000,000/yr. Two percent are millionaires.
They have a term for rich people: ultra-high net worth individuals. These people are worth $30,000,000 or more. They comprise zero-point-zero-zero-two percent (0.002%) of the world. (Figures from Global Inequality .org) A billionaire like Gautam Adani, even at his low point of only $65B is worth as much as two thousand thirty-million types.
Friedrich Engels is not a popular fellow these days, with his and his buddy Karl Marx’ critique of capitalism having been crushed by history. But Engels said something interesting about free market ideologies, claiming that they would lead to a world made up of “millionaires and paupers.” That was in 1844!
The commies proved they didn’t know shit about running a country. Or taking care of their people. But they could at least see that capitalism was not sustainable. We can see it, too. We know that the wealth gap is tearing our society apart. We can watch Jeff Bezos launch himself into space in his very own rocket while his workers struggle to make ends meet.
What would I do with $13B? I suppose I’d be like Bezos’ ex-wife, the novelist McKenzie Scott, and give a lot of it away. She’s donated over $2B to charities and is still one of the wealthiest people in the world. I don’t want a helicopter or a solid gold tub or any of that. I’d probably settle for some really expensive bourbon. And get all my clothes made for me. I’d be Mr. Bespoke. I suppose I could buy Idaho or something. Seems like $13B would go a long way in Idaho.
The USA is the world’s wealthiest nation, but it also has the most—by far—of the world’s millionaires and billionaires. We have a top-heavy income structure. The top one percent of the people own over forty percent of the nation’s wealth. In fact, Americans are not as well-off as they like to think. Median income means that half the people make more, and half the people make less. Our median income is about $66,000. That’s lower than Switzerland, Australia, Belgium, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, Ireland, France, and the United Kingdom. (All of those countries have some form of socialized medical care and relatively generous old age pensions, I should note.)
With increasing automation and our corporations chasing lower labor costs with maniacal devotion I should expect we will see a steady loss of jobs. Oh, there will be plenty of work to do, but the wages will be too low. There will be fewer opportunities even for people with education and skills. Energy costs will ultimately put the brakes on a lot of development, thus increasing unemployment and enlarging the wealth gap. Like I said, Jeff Bezos has his very own rocket. Poor folks will have to be content with underfunded public transportation.
Anyway, I don’t have the answers. But I think we need to put our heads together about it. Scientists like to chase down The Mysteries of the Universe and I have no problem with that. But I don’t think those problems are actually solvable. I like to think social and economic problems are more solvable. That is, there may not be a particular solution or a clear fix, but I’ll bet there are a hell of a lot of ways things could be improved!