The rise of billionaires

Income inequality grows

Last week, Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook, joined Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Microsoft founder Bill Gates as the world’s only “centibillionaires.” In layman’s terms, the three technology magnates all have a net worth of more than $100 billion.

According to the “Bloomberg Billionaires Index,” a daily ranking of the world’s richest people, Bezos is worth $187 billion, followed by Gates at $121 billion and Zuckerberg at $102 billion. Eight of the top 10 on the Bloomberg index are from the United States and seven are in the technology field.

As the United States struggles to shake out of an economic disaster triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, those atop Bloomberg’s billionaire index actually saw their wealth grow. A new report, “Billionaires by the Numbers,” issued by Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies, shows that U.S. billionaires saw their net worth soar by $584 billion during the nation’s coronavirus lockdown between mid-March and mid-June.

While 45.5 million people lost their jobs due to the pandemic, Bezos added $34.6 billion to his wealth and Zuckerberg gained $25 billion. In addition, the United States added 29 more billionaires between March and June, from 614 to 643, according to the report.

“Their wealth increased twice as much as (what) the federal government paid out in one-time checks to more than 150 million Americans,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness. “If this pandemic reveals anything, it’s how unequal our society has become and how drastically it must change.”

Making a living and enjoying the fruits of our labor are part of the great American dream. Indeed, it is why so many immigrants seek to enter our country. Yet we must look at this concentration of wealth through the lens of faith.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that earning a profit is essential. “Profits … make possible the investments that ensure the future of a business and they guarantee employment” (2432).

At the same time it states, “Rich nations have a grave moral responsibility toward those which are unable to ensure the means of their development by themselves or have been prevented from doing so by tragic historical events” (2439). One way rich nations meet their moral responsibility is through fair taxation.

However, between 1980 and 2018, taxes paid by America’s billionaires, measured as a percentage of their wealth, decreased 79 percent, according to Bob Lord, an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Income inequality is a dangerous result of an unjust economic system. Pope Francis called these recurrent tax breaks for the wealthy “structures of sin.”

“The world is rich, and yet the number of poor people is swelling all around us,” Pope Francis told a gathering of finance ministers at the Vatican last February. “Every year, hundreds of millions of dollars — which should be collected as taxes and go to finance health care and education — instead end up in offshore accounts,” he said.

Fair taxation on the 643 billionaires (and counting) of this nation would go a long way in pulling the country out of a recession caused by the pandemic and lighten our national debt that hovers around $26.5 trillion.