Uncategorized · April 11, 2024 4

2,692.

 

Marty Levine

April 11, 2024 

2,692.

That’s the number of people who have made Forbes Magazine’s recently published list of Billionaires.  And, as Forbes describes, 2023 was a very good year if you are very wealthy:

…141 more than last year and 26 more than the record set in 2021. They’re richer than ever, worth $14.2 trillion in aggregate, up by $2 trillion from 2023 and $1.1 trillion above the previous record, also set in 2021. Two-thirds of the list’s members are worth more than a year ago; only one fourth are poorer. Much of the gains come from the top 20, who added a combined $700 billion in wealth since 2023, and from the U.S., which now boasts a record 813 billionaires worth a combined $5.7 trillion. 

It is hard to fathom how wealthy these men and women are. The extent of their wealth dwarfs what even financially comfortable people can generate over a lifetime.

They are so wealthy that based on market swings their total worth can add to or decrease from their fortunes by amounts that are in and of themselves mind-boggling.  Just look at the Forbes daily tracker that charts these swings for the  20 wealthiest men and women to see this in real-time.

The least wealthy person with “only” $1 billion to their name, if they invested their wealth at a 4% annual return,  could “earn” $40 million every year without reducing their total worth!  If they lived in my home state they would have an after-tax income of more than $23 million.

Consider that in my Chicago community MIT’s Living Wage Calculator tells us a family of 4 requires $82,862 after taxes to meet their expenses. That’s but 0.36% of that conservative investing billionaire’s annual income!   

And that’s for the least wealthy person on that list.

The wealthiest person on Forbes’ list is 200 times wealthier than that.    Two hundred times!

I think about my own life. My wife and I consider ourselves incredibly fortunate to have retired and are able to live with a very comfortable lifestyle. We are living in a condo unit of our choice looking out at the Chicago skyline rising over the waves of Lake Michigan. We travel when and where we want; we can support organizations we think are doing good work; we can participate politically as we wish and do not have to think about what we are putting in our shopping baskets when we buy groceries. We do not worry about paying our bills.

And, as wonderful as this is, our wealth is far, far below anyone on the Forbes list.

 No one needs to have that much wealth.

Whether they built their fortunes from scratch or inherited their wealth from their parents, being rich provides a degree of power and freedom beyond the rest of us.

Money can and does buy access and access allows an ability to influence policy and societal direction that can and often does outstrip the power of the ballot.

Earlier this week Donald Trump hosted an event whose  “guests were asked to contribute $814,600 per person as a ‘chairman’ contributor, which came with seating at Trump’s table, or $250,000 per person as a “host committee” contributor. Both options come with a photo opportunity…”  The 100-person guest list raised $50.5 million according to the Trump campaign.

Just days earlier the Biden Campaign had held its event which featured Presidents Biden, Obama, and Clinton, and raised “only” $29 million those giving “more money got…more intimate time with the presidents. A photo with all three was $100,000. A donation of $250,000 earned donors access to one reception, and $500,000 got them into an even more exclusive gathering. First lady Jill Biden and DJ D-Nice hosted an afterparty at the music hall with 500 guests, the campaign said.”

Being in the room plays into another myth that if you are wealthy, you are smart and able to solve problems in a manner that “average” people cannot do. You are rich because you are capable and deserve to be listened to.

Access and believed expertise are a powerful and dangerous mixture.

But it is only that way because we allow it to be so. We have created policies that make it possible to amass (or horde) huge amounts of wealth. We have created policies that allow that wealth to be passed on from generation to generation, creating family dynasties. We have allowed almost unlimited use of that wealth for political and philanthropic spending. And, as a society, we have bought into the myth that wealth equals wisdom.

This is not healthy for our democracy. And it is in place because, and only because, as a people we refuse to change the tax and philanthropic policies that make it so.