The Billion Dollar Question

Amazon CEO- Jeff Bezos recently took the spot of richest human being, with a net worth of a whopping $146.3 billion dollars; that’s about $50 billion more than Bill Gates who sits at number two. Now just to get some perspective on just how massive $146.3 billion is, Bezos could easily buy 59 Space Shuttle Endeavors for all his friends, and still be a billionaire with $46 billion left in his comically large wallet. Here’s another way to look at it, Bezos could spend $5000 per day for 500 years and would have only spent $1 billion. In normal human life-span numbers, if he’s going to spend $1 billion in say 25 years (imagine mid-life crisis but on steroids), he’d have to burn through $100,000 every single day. And that’s just one of his billions; the dude’s got over a hundred more!

But that’s just one guy.

An Oxfam report found that in 2017, the top eight richest billionaires in the world had the same wealth as half of the world’s population. In 1965 American CEOs were paid 20 times their typical worker was paid, but as of 2013 it has skyrocketed to 296 times typical workers’ pay. Meanwhile the average American worker pay has seen no pay increase at all (adjusted for inflation).

Going back to Jeff Bezos, his Amazon employees only got an average pay of $28,446 in 2017 while ol’ Bezos cashed in $1.68 million; 59 times more than his workers. And because I like to torture myself, let’s do some more math; there were 87,000 people working at Amazon in 2017, so a total of $2.47 million went to workers. So Bezos’ 2017 pay cheque was the equivalent of 59,160 individual pay cheques.

And god forbid you should get injured while working at Amazon. Vickie Shannon Allen, injured her back in an Amazon warehouse reportedly due to missing safety equipment in 2017. Amazon only offered her a week’s paid leave of US$3,500 and non-disclosure agreement, to which Allen refused. The ex-Amazon worker now currently lives in her car in an Amazon warehouse carpark because she can no longer to afford to live anywhere else.

It may or may not come as a shock to some of you that Amazon has been identified as one of the worst companies for workplace health and safety by the non-profit workers agency ‘National Council for Occupational Safety and Health’. Seven people have died while working at Amazon since 2013, and in the UK ambulances were called to Amazon warehouses over 600 times between 2015 and 2018. Most if not all of these injuries and deaths were easily preventable had the company invested more time and money in safer workspaces, reasonable breaks, and an intentional health and safety system. Instead Bezos and his company has invested in a patent for ultrasonic wristbands that will record worker’s hand movements and “buzz” a worker’s wrist they make a movement in the wrong direction; essentially treating employees more like robots than human beings, if they decide to turn the concept into a reality.

The priority at Amazon, like many other billion dollar companies, always seem to be profit above all else; subsequently leaving the workers with the short end of the stick. We are seeing some serious inequalities in wealth distribution here, which is not just unfair to workers, but is also really bad for the economy. Economic researchers, Bagchi and Svejnar have found that “…wealth inequality tends to have a negative effect on economic growth.”

Generally it means that if people don’t have enough money to spend, then the economy will stall. A prime example of this can be seen in Australia’s response to the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. In order to boost spending and protect the economy, the Australian government handed out one-off $900 cheques to Aussie families in 2009 which they were encouraged to spend on locally-owned businesses to keep them afloat. These payments were found effective in stimulating consumption and speeding up the stabilisation of the Australian economy.

If this is what happens when people have enough money to purchase things; what about the billionaires? One person with billions of dollars at their disposal will never be able to buy enough for their money to go back into the economy. No a billionaire will buy a couple of islands, cars and yachts, and then invest the rest of their money into intangible things like stocks and bitcoin; y’know stuff that’s ultimately not going back into the working economy.

So what’s being done about it?

Well at the moment America has implemented a legislation that has removed the Clinton administered tax breaks for executive performance pay; which has since subsidised taxpayers more than $30 billion between 2007 and 2010 that otherwise would have gone into CEO pockets. Small steps in the grand scheme of things but it’s certainly something.

At the moment there’s not much stopping billionaires from becoming even more rich and powerful, with the world’s first trillionaire set to emerge in as little as 25 years. I guess time will tell what will happen to the rest of us when that throne is taken.

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