Label Volunteer, Lily Bass, dives into the topic of ethics surrounding billionaires, a fiercely debated topic.
“What would you do with a billion pounds to your name?”
Ask this question around and – alongside the purchase of a yacht or two – most people will invariably claim to give lavishly to charity. They’ll become the next Greta Thunberg, cure disease across the globe and end world poverty. Whilst many billionaires do start important foundations and contribute toward charitable causes, most fail to adopt such God-like benevolence, or do so to such a small degree in contrast to their own staggering wealth. This is especially true for billionaires who are born into wealth: if you don’t practice giving before inheriting wealth, tackling poverty is unlikely to be high on your super-busy billionaire agenda.
Yes, there are billionaires who have drawn themselves out of poverty and, therefore, are more naturally inclined to help others. Oprah Winfrey is an apt example of this, having donated millions of dollars to various charities and philanthropic causes over the years. However, even “charitable” billionaires like Oprah are not entirely clear ethics-wise. The $2.9 billion Oprah has acquired from the “Oprah Winfrey Show” has not gone entirely to humanitarian causes. Take her $42 million private jet for example, or the over $100 million she has spent on property across the world – the consequence of the former being an increase in carbon emissions and the latter being the increase in the price of valuable land for working-class people or indigenous groups.
You might point out that we exist in a free market economy. This is a democracy; it is not anybody’s responsibility to spend their money on others living in poverty. Surely, we have the right to be ambitious and reach for the stars? Certainly, these are all valid points but from an ethical standpoint, billionaires hold the indisputable ability to inflict major change whilst barely making a dent in their own pockets. A billion dollars is a thousand million dollars – an unfathomable amount of money. If you were to spend $1000 every single day of your life as a billionaire, you would not have to shed so much as a worry about bankruptcy for 2,740 years. With statistics like this, it’s difficult to see how billionaires can be awarded the ethical stamp of approval for performing charitable acts while they spend the vast majority of their wealth on personal (and often destructive) means, whilst the majority of the global population struggles to afford basic necessities.
There is also the consideration that when one individual hoards an obscene amount of money, a large community is almost always being exploited. Recently, Kylie Jenner has had to fight to clear her name after an outbreak of claims about poor pay by Bangladeshi factory workers. Richard Branson has also been under scrutiny for insisting that his workers must take 8 weeks of unpaid leave. Then, of course, there’s Jeff Bezos and the well-documented working conditions and poor pay experienced by his Amazon staff.
So, can ethical billionaires exist in the 21st century? Short answer: no. By no means am I a communist. I fully support financial freedom. However, the fact remains that excessive wealth cannot come without excessive poverty – the two are, as they have always been, inherently linked.
Edited By: Rachel Cannings (Culture and Entertainment Editor)
Design By: Megan Crowther (Head of Design)