“If you work hard enough.”
It’s peak Asian culture, an expression we’ve had ceaselessly drilled into us from childhood. From teachers saying it in class in an attempt to encourage us to study harder, to aunties sharing viral Facebook rags-to-riches stories in WhatsApp groups, to fathers pulling us aside whenever they see a Ferrari on the street, telling us, “If you work hard enough, one day you, too, can buy a Ferrari.”
Ferraris are one thing. Sure, they’re exorbitantly expensive and it takes an average person decades to be able to afford one – but while improbable, the dream of owning a Ferrari isn’t an entirely far-fetched one. I mean, we’ve all passed by a Ferrari navigating the streets of KL, or on the highway balik kampung. We don’t see it every day, but when it does make an appearance once every few years, we’re reassured by it. After all, if someone can buy a Ferrari here, in Malaysia, what’s stopping us from buying one, too?
This mentality is why a grand majority of people defend billionaires so strongly.
As of right now, there are 2,668 billionaires in the world. We are, of course, familiar with those at the very top of the list – Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and the person currently holding the title of the richest man in the world, Twitter’s own Elon Musk.
And if you’ve spent any time on Twitter, you’ll know that there is an entire subsection of people who will defend him to the death. To them, he can do no wrong. Sure, he laid off thousands of workers at Twitter HQ when he first bought the company, and risked the health and safety of Tesla employees by forcing them to go to work during a deadly pandemic – but hey, he co-founded Tesla and SpaceX! And he understands memes!
His mistreatment towards his employees is a widely documented fact, but it’s baffling how it’s had hardly any effect on either his social status, nor his income. As much as the internet likes to make fun of him, his image has suffered no real damage. Nor did Steve Jobs’ image, when his factory employees in China were working in such deplorable conditions that suicide nets had to be installed outside of their dormitory windows. Nor did Jeff Bezos’, when we found out that Amazon factory workers urinated in bottles to avoid taking bathroom breaks and being fired by machines monitoring their productivity.
Because there are so many billionaires nowadays – who we see very, very often thanks to social media – it’s gotten difficult to conceptualise how much 1 billion dollars actually is. After all, we know how much 1 million is. It wouldn’t be that hard to estimate what 1 billion dollars would look like – wrong.
Let’s put it into perspective – if you spent $10,000 every single day, it would take you 274 years to spend it all. If you made $80,000 a year, it would take you 12,500 years to become a billionaire. And that’s only in US dollars.
Meanwhile, Elon Musk’s net worth is $219 billion. Combined with the other existing billionaires, they have a total net worth of US$12.7 trillion. Trillion. You do the math.
And considering their wealth only seems to be increasing, what could they possibly be doing with all of that money? Certainly not eradicating poverty or ending world hunger, since homelessness is still a huge issue even in developed countries, and millions of people all over the world still die from hunger. Sure, they do make donations from time to time, but only to avoid paying taxes. So what are they doing with the money?
They try to get more.
You’ve probably heard this said a million times before, but it begs repetition anyways: there’s no such thing as an ethical billionaire.
Becoming a billionaire inherently means exploiting the labour of other people. There will never be an ethical way to become a billionaire, because the truth is that earning a billion dollars in the first place means that someone is not being properly compensated for their work. Which is to say that if you become a billionaire, that automatically means that there are people working for you that are either not receiving a living wage, working in awful labour conditions or, in most cases, both. It’s a non-negotiable, inarguable fact. The very idea of receiving enough profit to amass a billion dollars most definitely means that at every position in the supply chain, people are being underpaid.
The fact of the matter is that no person could ever realistically make a billion dollars in their lifetime, let alone 219, in Elon Musk’s case. We’ve done the calculations, we’ve dealt with the facts – it is literally impossible. The only reason why it’s currently our reality is that the money these billionaires make doesn’t actually belong to them – it belongs to the people who’ve put in the actual work. No matter how fairly you think you’re paying the people working for you, if you actually manage to get a billion dollars, the system, and therefore the pay, will always be unequal.
If you aren’t angry, you should be. If you aren’t hungry, you need to be.
“But then,” you could argue, “how else would you be a billionaire? It’s practically impossible, then.” To which I say – you’re getting closer! The brutal truth is that nobody should be a billionaire. Billionaires shouldn’t exist, period. Nobody should ever be in possession of a billion dollars. Becoming a billionaire isn’t a badge of honour. It’s a pin of shame – it’s a neon sign plastered on your forehead that tells everybody that you got here by exploiting the work of thousands, if not millions of people. It is far from being something to be proud of.
So why are there so many people still defending billionaires? The simple truth is that they want to believe that if one day, they miraculously manage to get into that illustrious list and actually become a billionaire – the highest in the pecking order, the top of the social ladder – that they will also deserve it. It’s why they’re so against taxing the rich. Taxing the rich won’t ever affect a majority of the people hell-bent on defending the wealthy, as they are not billionaires, nor will they ever be, but it’s a problem they’re passionate about nonetheless because it’s a problem they all want to have. We live vicariously through the lives of the uber rich because we want to be counted among them; we aspire to be them someday. The crux of it all is wholly human – how can we not defend the people we wish ourselves to be?
If we work hard enough – that’s what we’ve been told, so it has to be correct. It’s why so many people believe that the extremely wealthy deserve to be wealthy, because they have ‘worked hard.’ But as mentioned above, it isn’t as simple as that. They also often forget that the system is inherently flawed and will always, always be skewed towards those who have luck, general wealth and social privilege on their side. The harsh reality is that we can work as hard as we possibly can, every day for the rest of our lives, and still end up struggling, because the system is, and has always been rigged to help the rich become richer and ignore those who have put in the effort. And to that, I say – eat the rich!
It’s time to stop idolising these people. Daddy Musk isn’t going to be grateful that you chose to side with him and his net worth of 219 billion dollars instead of the millions of people struggling to make ends meet, and suddenly decide he has to reward you handsomely for your loyalty by putting a couple million dollars in your bank account, Mr Beast-style. He has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t care about anything other than his exorbitant wealth – not the people directly responsible for providing him his fortune, not his android son X Æ A-Xii, and certainly not you.