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billionaires

via TED

Comedian Pardis Parker at the Global Ted COnference 2022.

In April 2022, comedian Pardis Parker performed a five-minute set at the global TED Conference in Vancouver, Canada, where he admitted he’s “terrified of wanting to be a billionaire.” The performance was a funny and bold, statement in a culture obsessed with the ultra-wealthy.

Parker’s fear of becoming a billionaire began after he left Canada for Los Angeles. “I think the biggest difference between Canada and L.A. is the extent to which people in L.A. fetishize wealth,” Parker said.

“I'm terrified, man. I'm terrified that L.A. is changing me that I'm becoming one of those people who chases money, who fetishizes wealth who wants to be a billionaire,” he continued. “When I say that people get angry they get defensive. They’re like, ‘What's wrong with being rich? What's wrong with being a billionaire? What's wrong with being financially savvy?’ It's just like yo man, if you own a billion of anything that doesn't make you savvy, that makes you a hoarder.


He then points out that billionaires are just as quickly forgotten as anyone else. “There's 2,668 billionaires on the planet right now. Name them. You can't, and that's while they're still alive,” Parker joked.

Parker finishes his chunk by sharing how almost everyone can leave a legacy long after they’re gone. For example, give kids a full-size candy bar on Halloween. “That's it, that's it. Legacy cemented. It's been 30 years since I went trick-or-treating and me and my brother still talk about 39 Grenon.”

Parker’s stand-up routine presents a fun way of rethinking what it means to be rich and leave a legacy and he’s right. In the end, people will probably forget those who impressed them with their wealth, but they’ll never forget someone who made them feel good.

I'm not proud to admit this, but I know virtually nothing about the stock market. I mean, I know what it is and on a very, very basic level know how it works. Kinda. Maybe. I don't even know.

That's a problem when some huge news about the stock market comes along. While clearly a big deal, this news about GameStop stock skyrocketing because a bunch of Reddit users did something and a bunch of billionaire hedge funders got screwed over by it has been a little lost of me.

I'm sure I'm not alone in this. In fact, I know I'm not, based on the virality of this "normal person" explainer video shared on Twitter. Prior to two days ago, this is pretty much exactly how I would have explained what's going on:

There are a whole lot of us who don't understand the stock market and usually don't care that we don't understand it. Then a big, important David and Goliath story like this comes along, making it clear we should know more than we do.


Part of the problem is that there's so much "inside baseball" terminology to wade through when you dive in. I graduated from college with honors, for the love, but every time I try to read a news story about this GameStop thing, I have to stop every other sentence to look up words that financial writers assume we all know and understand. (I still don't even get what a hedge fund is, much less how short selling would affect one. And WTF is a "position" in a stock market context? Zero idea.)

What I need is someone to translate all that finance-speak into layman's terms, super simply, like I'm in kindergarten. I don't need all the nitty-gritty details of exactly how it all works, I just need enough so that I "get it." I read a bunch of posts and explainer articles, some more helpful than others, but nothing has synopsized it all quite as concisely and clearly as this 3-minute video shared by Now This. Enjoy:

Okay, so I still don't know exactly what a position is, but I get the gist.

Not only does this story explain a bit about how the game of Wall Street is played, but it also helps explain how the filthy rich have managed to get filthy richer during a pandemic when millions are struggling. On one level, businesses struggling is actually good for investors as they can take advantage of the falling prices.

Pretty gross to purposefully profit off of pandemic fallout, if you ask me. But what do I know? Like I said, not much. I will say, this whole thing is a good incentive to learn more about how that part of the U.S. economic system works. Knowing that it's actually not untouchable, that it's not just elite economic geniuses who know what they're doing, that there are ways for the average person to influence wealth distribution is intriguing to say the least. And anything that makes predatory billionaires shake in their boots is good fun.

We could all benefit from greater financial literacy, especially when it's clear that the rules of the game are in flux. We'll see how it all shakes out in the end, but it seems that these Redditors may prove that David has a chance against Goliath after all.

Over the weekend, Jeff Bezos—founder of Amazon and literally the richest man on Earth—announced on Instagram that he's launching the Bezos Earth Fund to fight climate change. More significantly, he's donating $10 billion to it as a start, stating, "This global initiative will fund scientists, activists, NGOs — any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world."


Before delving into the pros and cons of this donation, I'd like to acknowledge that Jeff Bezos's $10 billion pledge to tackle climate change is huge. Massively, stupendously huge. Since few of us are able to wrap our minds around how much money that really is, here's a comparison.

If you were to count $10 million at a dollar per second, it would take a little more than 115 days to count.

Change that to $10 billion, and it would take a little more than 115,000 days—or 316 years—to count.

Any time we're talking billions of dollars, we are in unfathomable-amount-of-money territory. By anyone's standards, $10 billion is an incredibly generous donation. As someone who has written about how little Jeff Bezos has given to charity in comparison to his wealth and rolled my eyes at people fawning over donations that are the equivalent of the average American giving pocket change, I give Bezos credit for loosening his giant-sized purse strings and putting his billions to use for humanity. Applause and kudos.

However...

We should all be wary about what the richest man in the world—or any multi-billionaire for that matter—does with unfathomable chunks of cash. The economics of the billionaire class impacts us all. Enormous wealth equals enormous power, so we shouldn't simply giving Bezos a thumbs up because he's offering up billions for a cause we all should care about.

Yes, this donation is historic and worthy of praise. And yes, we should also scrutinize it, unless we all feel comfortable letting a handful of elite billionaires wield their wealth in ways that will impact billions of people who have zero say in it.

THE PROS

Let's start with the positives here, because overall this donation is a good thing.

$10 billion is far more than Jeff Bezos has ever donated to anything, so yay him.

According to Vox, this pledge is approximately 7.5% of Bezos's net worth. Compared to the 0.1% he's donated in the past, this is a big step forward. (And yes, I'm one of those people who thinks billionaires owe the world a significant amount. No one becomes a billionaire without climbing on the shoulders of average people to get there, and

We need powerful people to take the climate crisis seriously, and this donation lends weight to it.

Jeff Bezos could throw $10 billion at any cause—medical research, hunger, education, what have you—but he's chosen climate change. That's a big deal. Not only will it hopefully help scientists and innovators do the research and development needed to solve environmental problems, but it also sends a message to the leaders of the world that this issue is where we need to be investing enormous resources. All of the world's problems will grow exponentially worse if we do not address the climate crisis now.

This amount of money might actually be enough to make a difference.

While it remains to be seen how this money will actually be used, Bezos's description of supporting scientists, activists, and NGOs that have proven to be effective sounds fantastic. Real solutions demand real funding, and $10 billion can go a long way toward innovative problem-solving.

THE CONS

While a generous donation overall a good thing, $10 billion is a powerful amount of money. Looking at it from various angles, there are some issues it brings up that we all should reflect on.

A handful of unelected billionaires shouldn't be in charge of the future of our planet.

I honestly find this donation as terrifying as it is exciting. I happen to be totally on board with mitigating climate change, but what if the world's richest man decided to throw his enormous wealth behind something nefarious? The fact that any one individual can put that much money behind anything that impacts the entire world should give us all pause. And especially on the climate change front, we need global, governmental action, not a single donor swooping in to save us all.

Such donations make it easier for the wealthy to argue against paying their fair share of taxes.

Let's not forget that Amazon itself not only paid $0 taxes in 2018, but actually received a $129 million federal tax refund from the government. Billionaires already pay less in taxes than the working class, and this kind of donation makes it far too easy to say, "See? It's okay for billionaires to not pay their share because they can be more generous with their money that way." Nevermind the fact that we're relying on the generosity of people who have already proven to be money hoarders.

The argument that governments can be inefficient with funds is totally legitimate. But is really better to have unelected individuals who have no responsibility or accountability toward the masses funding our global issues?

A wildly generous donation may tempt us to overlook problematic practices that made him a billionaire to begin with.

Many people have found it ironic that Bezos is putting all this money toward climate change when his own company has greatly contributed to it with its shipping practices. However, to its credit, Amazon has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2040, and has started by investing in 100,000 electric delivery vans. Bezos does seem sincere in wanting to tackle this issue.

But that doesn't negate the company's exploitation of its workers or its cutting off of long-standing employee health insurance after acquiring Whole Foods. The image of Amazon as a growing, monopolistic behemoth run by an uber-rich individual whose hundreds of thousands of employees relentlessly toil away, exponentially increasing his personal wealth is objectively accurate. A $10 billion donation doesn't change that.

Let's hope that this pledge really does the good that it has the potential for. But let's also maintain a healthy wariness about celebrating the power that a multibillionaire has to impact the world, for better or for worse.

Newsflash: Kylie Jenner is really, really wealthy.

Forbes just estimated her total worth, conservatively, at $900 million.

Most of that wealth comes from the 20-year-old's young cosmetics brand, Kylie Cosmetics, which Forbes (again, conservatively) valued at $800 million. Her astonishing wealth landed Jenner a place on Forbes' 2018 list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women.


Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.

"Another year of growth will make her the youngest self-made billionaire ever, male or female," the outlet reported, noting she'll have edged out Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (who became a billionaire at age 23) by two birthdays.

But Jenner's isn't exactly a rags-to-riches story. The youngest child in the Kardashian-Jenner crew was already starring in her family's reality TV series and swimming in endorsement deal cash before her 18th birthday. If your zip code does, in fact, decide your destiny, Jenner's Calabasas, California, upbringing has paved the way to a life of luxury.

It's easy to understand why Forbes' "self-made" distinction raised plenty of eyebrows.

"Calling Kylie Jenner self-made without acknowledging anywhere the incredible head start she had is what allows people to turn around and look at poor people and ask them why they haven't become billionaires yet," read one viral tweet that's amassed over 280,000 likes as of this writing.

The backlash was swift (and, at times, kind of funny).

[rebelmouse-image 19478608 dam="1" original_size="631x267" caption="Image via Gulab Jamun/Twitter." expand=1]Image via Gulab Jamun/Twitter.

Disgruntled readers even pushed Forbes to note that the publication "fully acknowledges that within the term 'self-made' there are many who are more self-made than others," a spokesperson noted to CNN. A glimpse through the full list of women — on which Jenner ranked amongst the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg, and Taylor Swift — further illustrates that point.

In peak internet form, however, then there was a backlash to the backlash.

Some argued the "self-made" distinction is fair, while others justifiably suggested the intense backlash was over-the-top and sexist.

[rebelmouse-image 19478609 dam="1" original_size="631x279" caption="Image via Alexandra Talty/Twitter." expand=1]Image via Alexandra Talty/Twitter.

Even Dictionary.com threw in its two cents on the matter, clarifying on Twitter that "self-made means having succeeded in life unaided."

[rebelmouse-image 19478610 dam="1" original_size="637x262" caption="Image via Dictionary.com/Twitter." expand=1]Image via Dictionary.com/Twitter.

Intentional or not, Dictionary.com's input further stirred the pot, with outlets like People magazine quipping, "Dictionary.com Shades Kylie Jenner After Forbes Calls Her a 'Self-Made' Almost Billionaire."

As all things internet tend to do, the conversation snowballed into a sour, divisive, and oversimplified water cooler debate.

But then Roxane Gay chimed in.

And in under 280 characters, the acclaimed author gave some much needed perspective. "It is not shade to point out that Kylie Jenner isn't self-made," she wrote on Twitter. "She grew up in a wealthy, famous family. Her success is commendable, but it comes by virtue of her privilege."

[rebelmouse-image 19478611 dam="1" original_size="637x379" caption="Image via Roxane Gay/Twitter." expand=1]Image via Roxane Gay/Twitter.

"Words have meanings," she concluded. "And it behooves a dictionary to remind us of that."

Gay's tempered response touched on an important point.

Privilege — whether it comes down to skin color, sexual orientation, gender, ability, or money — doesn't mean a person hasn't worked hard or faces no hurdles, as Gay suggested in noting Jenner's "commendable" success. But privilege does mean a person's benefited from a system that — in some way, shape, or form — gives them a leg up.

Or, in Jenner's case, many millions of legs up.

Jenner may be a hardworking, business-savvy entrepreneur, but she's also benefitted from an incredible amount of privilege that's served as the springboard to her status as an almost-billionaire. Both things can be true at once.

And acknowledging that privilege isn't "throwing shade"or "lambasting" Jenner — it's simply recognizing that maybe "self-made" isn't the most accurate term to describe her wealth.

Words matter, after all.

[rebelmouse-image 19478612 dam="1" original_size="635x308" caption="Image via Dictionary.com/Twitter." expand=1]Image via Dictionary.com/Twitter.