After the destruction wrought by the 2008 market crash and the anemic economic “recovery” following the Great Recession, it may come as a surprise that there is a social layer doing fabulously well: the super-rich. Needless to say, the working poor and the chronically unemployed are excluded from this recovery, even as social services on which they rely are eviscerated.
According to the Billionaire Census 2013 by Wealth X and UBS, billionaires’ wealth has doubled since 2009, reaching the unprecedented level of $6.5 trillion. This obscene figure is larger than the gross domestic product of every economy excluding those of China and the United States.
RT reports, “The Wealth X and UBS Billionaire Census 2013 makes for sobering reading, in that it seems to confirm many peoples’ suspicions that the financial crisis, while a nightmare for so many, has actually been a windfall for the world’s richest.”
As if the fact that a mere 2,170 people possess $6.5 trillion is not appalling enough, the source of this wealth is revelatory. A full 17 percent of billionaires derive their wealth from the parasitic financial and banking sector, which continues to be profitable today only due to a multi-billion-dollar bailout at the American taxpayers’ expense.
At the same time, vital social programs received debilitating cuts, all with the claim that there is “no money.” The Billionaires Census belies this claim.
The government cut food stamps for the first time in American history on Nov. 4, which, according to USA Today, will result in the loss of funding for 21 meals per month for a family of four.
Meanwhile, according to the World Socialist Web Site, “The budget for the [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] is currently $74.6 billion a year, and funding the extended unemployment benefit extension, scheduled to expire in January, for one year would cost $25.2 billion. The combined net worth of the 515 billionaires in the U.S. would pay for the food stamp and extended unemployment benefit program for an entire century.”
The startling juxtaposition of massive wealth on one side and the need for funding on the other reveals the inequities inherent in a system based on exploitation.
As the Billionaires Census 2013 reveals, billionaires make their money from leeching off the propped-up financial sector, inheritance or Chinese sweatshop labor.
The easy objection to this critique of the concentration of wealth is that billionaires have “earned” their fortunes or otherwise deserve it. Heiresses notwithstanding, many argue people like Bill Gates and Carlos Slim – the two richest people in the world –deserve their vast fortunes.
This ignores the fact that Slim monopolizes the Mexican telecommunications industry, forcing Mexicans to pay his exorbitant fees. Gates uses an army of overworked Chinese laborers to make Xbox and amass his property.
And it is not as if billionaires spend their opulent wealth wisely. Ostentatious homes – with the average billionaire owning four with a value of $20 million each – and yachts are the assets valued by the world’s wealthiest, according to The Times of India.
Then there is the ethical argument. Concentration of wealth in the hands of the few endangers access to social services for billions globally. If forced to choose between allowing this kind of accumulation and providing decent housing, education and health care, who would pick the first option?