Saturday, October 13, 2012

Billionaires Feeling the Pang of Guilt and Social Injustice

Bridge with a Welcome Sign

Although I find it highly unlikely and implausible, not to say impossible, that any billionaires will ever read this – the poor reflections of a penniless philosopher - I want to start with a (rhetorical) question aimed at the super-wealthy: How much more (money / power) do you want?

Now I am asking this without any malice, anger or resentment. I am not blaming the super-rich here; I do not claim that many of our social problems could be alleviated if they decided to give and share a little, that is, if they were not so greedy after all. I am simply asking when and where the limit is. The sky perhaps? The universe?

We often bounce around or hear the word “billionaire,” but we can barely grasp the amount of money this actually implies. How long would it take to count those hundred dollar bills? In fact, billionaires are millionaires more than a thousand times over! Even if we take into account the fact that life is getting more and more expensive, the rising costs of property, of food and luxurious lifestyles, if we count in inflation and that fuel prices for jets have gone up too, there is still and always will be more than enough money in a billionaire's bank account!

No matter how a billionaire has gotten their money, whether it is inherited, through hard work, intimidation, good business sense, smart investing is really beyond the point. Yet the fact remains that they have more than enough to weather the storm, any storm for that matter and to lead the type of lifestyle that most people cannot even dream about.

Some of the billionaires - in all fairness - are doing something or rather quite a bit to help. They become philanthropists, and they tend to do an excellent job at it because they can. The agreement signed by the Bill Gates and Warren Buffets out there to give away half of their fortunes for charity over their lifetime is more than commendable. 

It shows a beating and warm heart for the plight of the world, for the 99% of us living ordinary lives by counting and limiting our budgets, by thinking more than twice and turning the coin several times before spending money.

I think some of the super-wealthy are (finally?) realizing, both on a logical and intuitive level that the distribution of wealth is simply not fair. Capitalism may be a good system to live by with its driving competitive edge, but somehow most people end up with little to nothing regardless of how much and how hard they work. So this system really ends up benefiting the few over the many. The rich get richer and the poor stay poor is the mantra of the modern world.

But what good is all your money when you are dead? You cannot take it with you where you will go next, the same place all the other 99% will go too. And if there is an afterlife, I would fear for my life if I were a billionaire, since on the other side of existence, your money cannot buy you extra security and electric fences. 

The mob will be angrier than ever at that point and if you are lucky enough to have been chosen by St. Peter, you should barricade yourself behind those gates of heaven. But don't make yourself any illusions because Jesus will strip you of your given names and give you an uncomfortable lecture on camels and needles.

The pang of guilt is a good thing after all. It brings you more in touch with us common folks. We are the faces pressed against the windowpanes outside of the sumptuous castles before the French Revolution (no threat intended). We do exist too and are not just a statistical number. 

We rely on your whims and good faith, on the crumbs of your bread. We beg you not to forget us, but to think of us from time to time. I know that many of you may never have gone through these stages of life; this lack of experience has hampered and stunted your feelings of empathy and compassion.

When you are among the “lower” classes you must live in constant fear. Whatever you have is not enough, and it can slip away faster than you think or can say Amen. Therefore, you have no choice but to follow what others are saying; you must please those in power because you are desperately holding onto your job, the little money you are making to get by.

Your existence is bound to that of others, such as the decisions of your boss who can hire and let you go anytime or your landlord who can kick you out because you are slightly behind next month's rent. These types of experiences add, apart from paranoia, a sense of humility to our lives.

With the exception of some of the self-made multi-millionaires and billionaires out there, few of you will ever know what it really feels like to worry about tomorrow or to suffer from a growling stomach, to know that your options are limited and to be aware of the fact that, unless you win the lottery, you will never be able to own a house, for example.

Those of you who used to be poor, who once had a brief taste of and encounter with poverty (although the rags to riches fairy-tale is so rare that we can count them on our fingers – no wonder it is called a dream!) you should still have the vestige of a memory where you too suffered on a daily basis to obtain money in order to get by.

Please do not forget that feeling, that moment of shared humanity that is our common denominator. And yes, help us, in any way you see fit. It is more than appreciated and remember, we do not hate; we just ask you to acknowledge our existence. As the Beatles sing, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

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