As Ray Charles wailed in a song of true-life blues, "(T)hem that's got are them that gets/ And I ain't got nothin' yet."
While the workaday majority of Americans continue to be mired in our low-wage economy, the precious few at the tippy top soared out of sight in 2019. They started the year wallowing in wealth — and the more they had, the more they got. As tracked by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, by year's end, the 500 richest people saw their total haul jump by 25 percent, with $1.2 trillion added to their collective net worth! Indeed, the wealth of the wealthiest is growing so large so fast that a new category of ultra-richness has been coined: "centibillionaires," those who have amassed more than $100 billion.
Mark Zuckerberg, the ethically challenged jefe of Facebook, is one of them, and he piled up and extra $27 billion in personal wealth last year. Bill Gates of Microsoft added $22 billion to his stash. And even though Amazon czar Jeff Bezos dropped $9 billion last year in a divorce settlement, his fortune multiplied so much that he's still the world's richest person.
Bear in mind that none of these moneyed elites did anything to earn these extraordinary bonanzas. They didn't work any harder, didn't get smarter, didn't add anything of value to society. They simply reclined in luxury and let their money make money. That's a dirty little secret of our rigged economic system: Unfettered inequality begets ever-expanding inequality.
Another dirty little secret is that billionaire-ism and centibillionaire-ism are hereditary. Right-wing media baron Rupert Murdoch, for example, saw his enormous level of riches fall by $10 billion in 2019 but only because he doled out that wad of wealth to his six children. So, voila! Thus were born six brand-spanking-new baby billionaires who did nothing to reach the top of the world's financial heap except please Daddy.
Not only are the rich different from you and me but they're also different from the filthy rich. It can take hard work, creativity, perseverance and luck to become a millionaire, but in today's skewed wealth system, multibillionaires don't need any of that — their money does all the work to lift them above everyone else.
I'm guessing that being rich is a comfortable feeling — no money worries; you're set for life!
But is it possible that too rich can be too much, even discombobulating? Imagine being Mark Zuckerberg, who has become richer than Croesus by amalgamating vast troves of nearly everyone's personal data and then using it piecemeal for global corporations, governments, political groups and who knows who else through his Facebook social media monopoly. Last year, his mass peddling of our privacy put another $27.3 billion in his pocket.
Imagine. On top of already having billions of bucks tucked away, suddenly, in a single year, here comes 27.3 more gushing into your treasury. Forget fundamental questions about whether you (or anyone) are worthy of such an excessive haul of the world's wealth. How do you spend it? Mansions, yachts, jets, jewels, your personal island and other trinkets barely dent your multibillionous windfall. Funding political front groups and financing corporate-friendly candidates takes a little chunk of your change, as do some charity donations. And since the Trumpeteers slashed taxes for the corporate rich, far less of your extraordinarily good fortune is diverted to public need and America's common good.
Thus, the bulk of your booty goes to making you even richer! You buy out other corporations and advanced technologies, and you dump billions into Wall Street, intentionally and artificially jacking up the price of stocks you own. Your wealth expands exponentially; inequality spreads further and faster; and the egalitarian ideals that hold our huge, diverse society together are stretched to the breaking point.
Interestingly, more and more of the uber-rich are comprehending the ultimate consequences of such extreme selfishness, so they're responding with extreme consumerism. Specifically, they've created a boom in the sale of maximum-security, James Bond-ish armored vehicles. Priced in the half-million-dollar range, these rolling fortresses can come with 700 horsepower engines, tailpipe-to-grille anti-blast protection, door handles that can electrocute intruders, roof-mounted gun turrets and room for 10 fully equipped bodyguards.
With names like Marauder and Black Shark, these armored beasts have become the preferred rides of gabillionaires — not to flaunt their fortunes but to fend off the masses they've ripped off.
Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes "The Hightower Lowdown," a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America's ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.
Photo credit: TechCrunch