Saturday, November 25, 2023

#329 / Billionaires And The Crisis - Stay Tuned!


According to Forbes, there are 735 billionaires living in the United States (as of 2023). Let's hear from Rebecca Solnit as we think about that fact. Solnit, for those who don't recognize her name, is an acclaimed author. She writes frequently about our global warming crisis. Here's what Solnit says about billionaires, and how they relate to that crisis, in a column that ran in The Guardian on November 20, 2023: 

When you talk about the climate crisis, sooner or later someone is going to say that population is the issue and fret about the sheer number of humans now living on Earth. But population per se is not the problem, because the farmer in Bangladesh or the street vendor in Brazil doesn’t have nearly the impact of the venture capitalist in California or the petroleum oligarchs of Russia and the Middle East. The richest 1% of humanity is responsible for more carbon emissions than the poorest 66%. The rich are bad for the Earth, and the richer they are the bigger their adverse impact (including the impact of money invested in banks, and stocks financing fossil fuels and other forms of climate destruction).

In other words, we are not all the same size. Billionaires loom large over our politics and environment in ways that are hard to understand without taking on the shocking scale of their wealth. That impact, both through their climate emissions and their manipulations of politics and public life means they are not at all like the rest of humanity. They are behemoths, and they mostly use their outsize power in ugly ways – both in how much they consume and how much they influence the world’s climate response.

Let me put it this way: If you made $10,000 a week – a princely sum by the standards of most people – you would have to work every week from the year of Jesus’s birth until this week to earn over a billion dollars. 
To earn as much as Elon Musk’s net worth at that rate – currently $180bn, according to Forbes – you’d have to work every week for more than a third of a million years – that is, since before Homo sapiens first emerged in Africa (emphasis added).

My near-constant assertion - that "we are together in this" - runs right up against the rocks of our outsized billionaire class. While we are together in this life (that's the truth, as the great poem I am linking right here attests), and while we, therefore, ought to act that way, the billionaires largely act as if they were capable of dealing with all of our problems (and their own problems, too, of course, since we are together in this life) by taking steps on their own.* 

The billionaires are beguiled by the idea that they can mobilize their money individually to solve the kind of problems that really demand that we get to the solution together. The most famous (or infamous) example of this way of thinking about our common problems, of course, is the plan that Elon Musk has devised (he is pictured above) to escape the mess we are making of this planet by decamping for Mars

If we are going to deal, at scale, with the global warming crisis (and thus have any possibility of preventing accelerating global warming from undermining the habitability of Planet Earth), we are going to have to mobilize all of "our" assets. My use of that word "our" is intentional, and is premised on the assertion [third time I am mentioning this] that we are "in this thing, together." If that is true (it is) we are going to have to assert dominion over the assets that 735 individual persons assert are "theirs." We probably will need to pay some attention to the "millionaires," too. Forbes says that there are almost 22 million of them.

Doing anything close to this will require, as all you readers can probably tell, a "revolution." If I am right, and we do, actually, "live in a political world," the "revolution" that is required will have to be a political revolution (as well, of course, as the kind of "spiritual" revolution that may be necessary for any other kind of revolution to be successful). 

The rich and the powerful (Bernie Sanders is right, in my opinion, in calling them "the billionaire class") control our governmental institutions - and increasingly, as in my own hometown, even at the local level, the level of government closest to the people. Taking back power from "the billionaires," and deploying it for projects that will benefit everyone (like confronting the global warming crisis, and providing housing, education, and health care for all) will not be easy. In fact, doing that will have to become the major project of those who are alive today. Projects of individual advancement will need to take a secondary place. 

How are we going to do that? We do need to figure that out. 

Stay tuned!

*On the day I published this comment on "Billionaires And The Crisis," The New York Times published a commentary by Guido Alfani, a professor of economic history at Bocconi University in Milan, which The Times titled (hard copy version), "The Rich Have Forgotten Their Place." If you can penetrate The Times' paywall I recommend reading what Alfani has to say.

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