NEW YORK: A study just released by UBS, a major global financial services company, has revealed that, during 2016, the total wealth of the world’s billionaires rose by 17 percent?from $5.1 trillion to $6.0 trillion. Furthermore, the number of billionaires grew by 10 percent to 1,542, with more than a third of them located in the United States.
There is a very substantial gap between the circumstances of what Senator Bernie Sanders calls “the billionaire class” and average Americans, including the nearly 28 million Americans working for companies these billionaires own or partly own. The five members of the Walton family who are heirs to the Walmart fortune now have a collective net worth of $140 billion. Recently, in fact, their wealth jumped $5 billion in one day. Walmart workers, though, are unlikely to ever amass any wealth for their wages are pathetic.
Given these wealth disparities in what has been called “a new Gilded Age,” you might think that government action would be taken to redress the balance. But you would be wrong. Despite rising economic inequality in the United States, Congress has kept the minimum wage stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. If anyone thinks this is a living wage, he or she should try living on it some time. Meanwhile, as Senator Sanders pointed out, the Republican tax plan moving through Congress provides $1.9 trillion in tax breaks for the richest Americans and the largest corporations.
But the super-rich do have problems. Key among them is how to spend the enormous amounts of money that they are amassing. Many of their new purchases include very expensive art and, particularly, sports teams. Indeed, more than 140 of the top sports clubs around the world have been gobbled up by just 109 billionaires, of whom 60 are from the United States. Billionaires now own two-thirds of NBA and NFL teams and half of all Major League baseball teams. But there’s plenty of wealth left over, and so the super-rich spend it on driving $4 million Lamborghini Venenos, acquiring megamansions for their horses, flying luxurious underwater planes, taking $80,000 “safaris” in private jets, purchasing gold toothpicks ($600 each), creating megaclosets the size of homes, having champagne delivered to them by parachute, building new megamansions and leaving them vacant for years, residing in $15,000 a night penthouse hotel suites, installing luxury showers for their dogs, covering their staircases in gold, and building luxury survival bunkers. Commenting on his expenditure of at least $600 million to create an exact replica of the Titanic, one billionaire remarked: “I’ve got enough to pay for it, so that’s all that really matters.”
For the most part, the very wealthy do not want to shop for and cook their own food, serve their meals, wash their dishes, care for their children, clean their homes, and engage in the many other tasks that consume large portions of the lives of ordinary people. Therefore, the very wealthy rely heavily on those other people to do these things for them. But they are frequently dissatisfied with the service they receive and, as a result, spend a good deal of time among themselves complaining about “the help” and looking for better, more dutiful workers. Not surprisingly, the new super-rich are now scrambling to acquire well-trained, impeccably-groomed, and properly-behaved servants, even at a substantial cost.
In any case, the problems of the super-rich are rather unique, and do not appear to be those of most other people. In the United States, at least, there seems to be far more widespread concern about unemployment and underemployment, stagnant wages, climate change, and the enormous cost of healthcare and higher education than there is about acquiring gold toothpicks. Furthermore, like most Americans, the vast majority of the world’s people are not going to have their problems addressed as long as the world’s riches remain concentrated in the hands of the wealthy few, whose priorities determine public policy.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Problems of the Super Rich’.