Updated: Dec 3, 2020
The capacity to determine your own life lies within your skills, but it is more often than not dependent on the circumstances within which you grew up. Money and our chances in life are intrinsically tied to one another. Yet, over the past decades, prices have skyrocketed while wages have more or less stayed the same and barely adjusted to new, more expensive living costs.
To me, it seems that the discrepancy between the rich and the poor is now becoming more and more obvious again. Not only that – it appears that for the first time in a long time, people have actually come together to call for action. The wealthiest 1% is a term often used to show how much power and money only 1% of the world’s population holds, but stating this percentage is misleading. Really what we should be saying is that merely 2.825 billionaires, who make up only 0,00000036242116% of the world’s population, are worth US$8 trillion. In 2019, Oxfam stated that the then only 2.153 billionaires had more wealth accumulated than 4,6 billion people, who make up 60% of the planet’s population.
These numbers reveal the huge gap between the wealthy and the rest of the world. But they are so large that it is difficult for us to grasp their meaning. So let’s look at Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, who has earned this title for the third year in a row now and just recently became the first person to ever be worth US$200 billion. The amount of power and influence this one man holds is incredible. "Give a good reason why we don't deserve a $30 minimum wage when this man makes $4,000 a second" were the words of Chris Smalls, who has protested Bezos and told his story of employment at Amazon. Finding anything comparable to the amount he earns in a day, let alone a month is something I can’t do. It is a number unimaginable to most of us, especially if math was never your strong suit!
There have always been some people who are richer than most, with some who’ve exploited the masses and minimum wage systems in order to thrive. Over the past decades, there have been a lot more billionaires than ever before and this massive accumulation of wealth isn’t beneficial for anyone, especially not for the public. People have been fed up with this for so long that they have taken to the streets over the past couple of years as we have seen in France and Germany with the Yellow Vest protest marches. In fact, just after Bezos hit $200 billion, some protestors took the protest directly to his house. They erected a guillotine in front of it and used its symbolism from the French Revolution in which it was used as a method of execution. They chanted “If we don’t get it [higher wages], we shut it down [Amazon’s warehouses]!”, uniting themselves and standing up for their rights. I don’t mean to solely accuse Jeff Bezos and make him out to be some sort of devil, but he is the world’s richest person and who better to use as an example than the number one.
All these billionaires have at some point been used as an exemplification of what is wrong and what needs to change. They are excellent cases to showcase inequality and one can’t ignore that big money like that doesn’t come from fair and happy workplaces, but from poor, exploitative working conditions. It isn’t anyone else but those who are in charge of these companies that are benefiting from these simply unfair and depleting circumstances.
So what does this mean? There are multiple ways of thinking. Some think that the wealthy must be praised for every contribution they make, no matter how small and insignificant it may be compared to their wealth. Although we know that these people could easily afford to invest millions, if not billions, into any sector that comes to mind, while still paying their workers respectable wages, we choose to smile and applaud their charity work that’s really just there for publicity and arguably insignificant to what they could actually contribute. Yes, I understand, they wouldn’t even have to donate, they choose to, it’s their money, they’ve earned it fair and square. We’ve all heard arguments like that before.
Supporting modern systems of exploitation, and siding with people who don’t care about your needs or rights to begin with, seems very contradictory to me. Why would people rather stand up for those who aren’t in need of anything, when there are so many in need of the bare minimum? It’s not as if by defending them you’ll get points in a system and have a better chance at becoming a billionaire. That’s just something that isn’t going to be happening for a lot of us. And even if so, why is it that money, power and wealth are valued higher than the life spans invested by those workers who make these companies rich and who give them their value in the first place?
I think it’s important to ask these questions, no matter how unkind and unpleasant they may be. We have managed to dig ourselves into a system whose worth is only relevant as long as it’s connected to numbers. The workers and the time they choose to invest in that system is what keeps it going. And lately, it seems as if people have finally had enough of being taken advantage of.
Value human life more than purchasing commodities and hoarding wealth. Your time should be the most valued good, since it is the only reason these companies even exist. But this counts for everything. If we manage to rethink our values and learn to appreciate our time more, this might just lead to rethinking the whole system.
drawing by joy