The topic of billionaires; what it takes to be one, how you get taxed when you are one etc. is something that has burst very recently into the zeitgeist. From Netflix documentaries to the British 2019 election and the American 2020 election; there is a clear intercontinental focus on the taxation of billionaires. What seems to be a recurring theme is that such extreme wealth is rooted in exploitation and gross inequality.
A common argument supporting the hoarding of wealth by billionaires is that they are able to complete massive acts of generosity and charity. The wealthy have been able to become pseudo-non state actors due to their wealth enabling them to be free to do what they want to do. Philanthropy has become a hobby in terms of exercising wealth; from reality star Kim Kardashian influencing single-handedly reformative justice policy and freeing unfairly incarcerated people, to Elon Musk donating money and water to alleviate the ongoing Flint water crisis. The power and control given to private citizens over policy is growing exponentially.
The release of the Panama Papers acted as a turning point to realise how these people managed to shirk their taxable responsibility and that the wealthy were able to hide and hoard billions under ‘legal’ loopholes. This wealth allows the super-rich to escape and function above national and economic law worldwide. This happens because it has been allowed and continues to be allowed by those in power. With low rates of taxation and various legal loopholes, how can the state of billionaires continue in this way? The system of this country enables this inequality and the domination of a few, over the majority of people, and even the political system.
The fact of the matter is that billionaire philanthropy would not be necessary if wealth was not so unequally shared between those with little and those with the most. The fallacy that has been created has presented philanthropy as a purely beneficial and charitable act, but I feel that it is important to focus on the base of it; that a few people hold so much power and wealth that they have the means to alleviate suffering and help impoverished people in ways that even large governments would not be able to do.
Perhaps within capitalist liberal democracy the case for abolishing billionaires is not as strong or as enactable a policy as it could be. Billionaires are not simply people within a society working to their maximum output. Hard work is, unfortunately, not the key to wealth, but other’s labour and ownership of capital.
If you combined the billionaires who hold unprecedented wealth and influence into a singular nation, they would become the 8th wealthiest country in the world. This would enable them to be able to influence policy or even reach places of esteem within society, taking massive control of the world we live in. They can directly influence policy and parties’ manifestos on the issue of tax by threatening to leave a country if the rate of tax goes up (UK, US). When billionaires can openly admit that the rate of taxation dictates whether they can endorse a certain candidate or not, I worry about where we are going in a world where billionaires are able to control the full range of politics and society, and our governments are at the mercy of a small super-elite.
By Tadiwa Ndlovu
- Zeitgeist: The mood or general feeling at a particular time
- Philanthropy: Action for social or human welfare not focused on profit. E.g. charitable actions and donations.
- Pseudo-non state actors: People acting within nations or internationally that aren’t connected to states or governments.
- Capitalist social democracy: Political ideology and economic theory that combines liberal democracy with capitalism
- Panama Papers: 11.5 million official documents released in 2016 exposing the ‘legal’ methods of global tax avoidance used by the super-rich