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I launched this blog in 1995. Since then, we have published 1603 articles. It's all free and means a lot of work in my spare time. I enjoy sharing knowledge and experiences with you.

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No Such Thing as a Good Billionaire

Taking notes from "The Gospel of Wealth" and the ⋯


Richie Bartlett, Jr.

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The Disney™ story of Scrooge McDuck has inspired a generation of what life could be if one bought the assertions of "cleverness, hard work, and ingenuity" alone are what it takes to become ultra-wealthy...

Billionaire class 🔗

Aspiring to become wealthy should not be a game of amassing the most numbers in one’s bank account(s). Nor should it be about the singular goal of building some “status trophy.” It should not be a means of control or power. Rather, it should only be for the pursuit of options to live life as one would wish.

Regardless of what that pursuit could be, it should not be at the exploitation of the “average people” that made it possible to become wealthy. Similar to the Robber Barons of the 19th century, we have yet again a new generation of ultra-wealthy families and individuals that could never spend their entire wealth within 5 (or more) lifetimes.

The end-goal should not be the wealth in-and-of itself. Rather accumulating some wealth should be a byproduct of a service to humanity or a product that enhances the livelihoods of those in your community.

We have mountains of evidence that handing a small handful of essentially random people a large and disproportionate concentration of humanity’s entire wealth tends to make them:

  • act above the law
  • use their wealth to attack and generally bully others to get their way
  • exert disproportionate influence (relative to their actual insight or utility of their actions) on people’s lives, government, and society as a whole
  • choose other winners and losers in the market (this is not inherently good or bad, but when bad it is disproportionately bad)
  • decide what things the rest of humanity should pay more or less attention
  • consume exorbitantly in the face of still-existent human poverty, disease, security, environmental concerns, etc.
  • most directly: decide how and to whom that wealth will be distributed long after they’ve “earned” it, thus continuing a cycle of “haves” and “have nots”

And so based on that evidence, all things being equal, having less concentration of wealth and more equity is better for society as a whole. (See: Friedman, Piketty, Smith, Keynes, George, et al)

Whatever argument you may have about this or that billionaire, it should be easy to understand why we, as a society, should be exceptionally wary of the negative impacts of encouraging overly concentrated wealth versus the positive benefits of encouraging risk-taking and entrepreneurial reward.

Philanthropy 🔗

Rare is a billionaire that legitimately cares to contribute to society beyond padding their bank accounts, egos, and/or political whims. As we have seen time and again from billionaires like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet, Larry Ellison, et al is that they love to spin their public works in a concerted effort to win our trust and favor.

Unfortunately, few will bother to look just under the covers of their carefully crafted stories to see how much is fabricated for their public image. To be clear, I’m not saying that these billionaires have contributed nothing good to humanity. But the “sins of the past” are often deeper than any good works they offer in public.

Having studied history, one would take note of how past oligarchs have worked to build a shining and whitewashed public image devoid of any imperfections — a legacy, if you will. Andrew Carnegie wrote “The Gospel of Wealth” as a guide for how the upper-class should employ philanthropy and that any surplus of money they had was best suited for re-circulation back into society.

Political Spin 🔗

Clever billionaires have learned the art of misdirection. In the case of Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, decided the best way to contribute to society is by donating his company to a non-profit “charity” (Holdfast Collective) and a perpetual business purpose trust that he setup for his family.

Nevermind that Patagonia only promises a meager 1% of its sales profits to fund political climate initiatives. That’s just simple PR and cheap marketing. The slight of hand comes in the form of a letter claiming that:

Yvon Chouinard

Earth is now our only shareholder.

If you read the FAQ on Patagonia’s website, you’ll find that Yvon is very much in control (indirectly) of the company. Only difference is that now he won’t be taxed for “donations” he directs the company to send to his “charity.” Nor will any of his family be responsible for paying any gift and death taxes for inheriting (via board positions) the Trust or the non-profit organization.

The Patagonia Purpose Trust Yvon setup for his family gets all 2% of private stock with voting rights to approve company decisions. Naturally, Yvon will be behind the chair of the board that controls the trust. In his own words:

Yvon Chouinard

we couldn’t be sure a new owner would maintain our values or keep our team

While Yvon is trying hard to sell the environmental angle on why he decided to “donate” the company, anyone willing to look beyond the clickbait titles and press releases (aka political spin) will see the plain truth. Like Warren Buffet, Mr. Chouinard is attempting to escape paying his share of taxes to society.

Of course the paid media outlets will lap up the press releases with glowing articles saying:

  • “Billionaire No More: Patagonia Founder Gives Away the Company”
  • “Finally, a billionaire willing to smack back at capitalism”
  • “Patagonia founder gives away the company to help fight climate change”
🎥 Why There's No Such Thing as a Good Billionaire | Video (20:28 minutes)
In which I break down why billionaire "charity" is terrible for the planet, and why we should stop swallowing their myths.Support my work on Patreon:

What good is a billionaire? 🔗

There appears to be common misconception that billionaires are wealthy because they are smart and generous. These “job creators” are often praised for exploiting workers beyond what is reasonable. The snarky responses include:

  • If they didn’t build products you “couldn’t live without,” your life would be that much poorer for it.
  • Once your product turns out to be something people just can’t live without, then you will have millions or even billions yourself.
  • It takes money to make money. We need the moneyed-class to keep everything moving…
  • Entrepreneurs are heroes! Government is bad…

The economic reality that, in the present, produces billionaires is a result of economic policies enacted during the Reagan administration, which still plague us to this day. Specifically, the ruinous notion of reducing taxes on the rich and the corporations in the belief that doing so would result in economic growth. Instead, what happened as a result of this four decades long exercise in economic ignorance, is that more wealth was simply handed over to those who were already rich, by taking it away from the rest of us.

So from a practical point of view, the policies that made the accumulation of wealth so great — that it created the billionaire class — is directly responsible for the decline in the standard of living of the working-class. These policies also explain our crumbling infrastructure, deterioration in our public education system, the stagnation of working-class wages, all of which has had a 40+ years long negative impact on our society as a whole.

Ha-Joon Chang - Faculty of Economics at University of Cambridge

Once you realize that trickle-down economics does not work, you will see the excessive tax cuts for the rich as what they are — a simple upward redistribution of income, rather than a way to make all of us richer, as we were told.

Not only do the upper-class continue to amass greater amounts of wealth, but they continue to do so in a collective effort to control the very government bodies that are supposed to regulate them. There is no bill in congress for which any billionaire disagrees that has a chance to be voted into law. This is because many of the politicians are beholden to them. The lobbying efforts of billionaires continue to plague the once great nation of the United States.

Therefore, it would be perfectly valid to note that not only do billionaires do nothing to benefit the economy, their existence actually causes great harm to our country. Twenty-percent of American children live in poverty so that a few hundred people can have enormous wealth.

Anand Giridharadas

Goldman Sachs may complain about regulation… but actually everything they are able to do and trust… are able to have when someone picks up a phone and place a trade… is entirely based on these public systems. So these are people who benefit way more than average people from the regulatory infrastructure that we all pay for. And then they have the gall to turn around and malign that infrastructure that they so leverage and so use just in those moments when it’s “expensive” for them. It’s extremely ungrateful! And I think part of what I’m advocating people need to do is: to offer the plutocrats of the world (or of our countries) a deal. Here’s the cost of doing business in Canada by the United States of America. Here’s the tax rate. Here’s the minimum wage…

Dark money 🔗

Honoré de Balzac

The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been found, because it was properly executed.

It’s often simplified as “behind every great fortune lies a crime” (Le Père Goriot circa 1835) but the truth is when you’ve reached enough, you can buy your own history and let people believe in it.

In the early 1970s, leaks and shoe-leather reporting by news organizations uncovered the Watergate scandal — the modern era’s foundational dark money exposé. That debacle birthed the original federal disclosure laws and a golden age of journalism. For a time, the new statutes allowed campaign finance reporting to become systematic, methodical and based on required disclosures, rather than sporadic, random and reliant on the goodwill of courageous whistleblowers.

A half-century later, however, the dark money practices of 50 years past have again become normalized. In 2020 alone, more than $1 billion dollars worth of dark money flooded around weak disclosure rules and into America’s elections, financing Super Pacs, ad-blitzes, mailers and door-knocking campaigns. As millions of votes were swayed, reporters and the public had no knowledge of the money sources, or what policies they were buying.

The Disclose Act, sponsored by the Democratic senator Sheldon Whitehouse, would force dark money groups to disclose any of their donors who give more than $10,000, require shell companies spending money on elections to disclose their owners, and mandate that election ads list their sponsors’ major contributors. These requirements would extend not only to election-related activity, but also to campaigns to influence governmental decisions – including judicial nominations.

A separate Whitehouse bill would additionally require donor disclosure from shadowy groups lobbying the supreme court through amicus briefs designed to tilt judicial rulings without letting the public know which billionaire or CEO’s thumb is on the scale. And other pending legislation would finally allow the Securities and Exchange Commission to require major corporations to more fully disclose their political spending.

Koch Brothers were notorious for funneling money into right-wing idealogy candidates

Sadly, dark money is not a new concept to the United States. Unfortunately, thanks to our outdated laws, most funding are now hidden behind anonymity, shell companies and shadowy political groups. America is long overdue for an overhaul of its political disclosure laws – and news organizations in particular should be leading the charge for reform.

Thanks to the case commonly referred to as Citizens United v. FEC, those with enough money have gained a much louder voice in policy decisions and election campaigning.

Conclusion 🔗

The democratic experiment of the Americas has succumbed to the very factors it sought to escape centuries ago.
As the noblesse oblige would prefer the common person to “have cake” rather than complain about their lots in life, the States will soon decide if tyranny against the ignorant is more palatable to freedom of reason.
Sadly, as dark money has become so rampant thanks to persistent efforts on the right (since the 1970s) and more recent Citizens United, it’s hard to see how everyone could understand the damage already done to the once great democracy. So much vitriolic noise fired omnidirectional. People too busy trying to survive the day to have any time to think about politics — much less about the future…

I fear the plutocrats have already won. The corporatocracy will soon provide its directions and the beholden politicians (aka boot-lickers) will follow orders.

Louis Brandeis

We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.

Reference 🔗

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