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Acton Institute’s shameful defense of Billionaires

July 22, 2021

There are lots of critiques and memes these days calling out Jeff Bezos for spending a shit ton of money to go into space. While I generally view such attention as a distraction, it has provided an opportunity to talk about Capitalism and the Billionaire Class.

In many ways, the Billionaire Class are an easy target, but useful as a way of framing the problem of wealth in society. For example, according to a recent Forbes report, in looking at the current wealth of Jeff Bezos, he makes $215,068,493 every day, which translates into $8,961,384 per hour or $149,353 a minute. This means that Bezos makes more money in a minute than millions of Americans will make in a year.

On the flip side, you have organizations, like the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, who have since their founding in 1990, have vehemently defended Capitalism. This is not surprising, considering the fact half of the members of the Acton Board of Directors are millionaires, with one member, Rick DeVos, being part of a Billionaire family.

Then on July 13, the Acton Institute posted an article entitled, Are Billionaires Evil? The article wasn’t about actually answering this question, as much as it was a defense of billionaires, wealth accumulation and Capitalism.

The article was written by Ben Luker, who is a Junior at Calvin University. According to Ben’s Linedin page, he worked as a sales associate for Boyne Country Sports for 6 months in Grand Rapids, plus he worked for 2 years at a concert set up and security group in his hometown of Grand Junction, Colorado. Considering his extensive job experience, it would appear that Ben has no clue as to realities of what it means to be part of the working class, nor the realities of how the Capitalist Class has been hell bent on exploiting workers, since Capitalism began centuries ago.

But hey, there’s nothing like drinking the Capitalist Koolaid and defending Billionaires. 

The article by Luker is brief, which begins with a quick dismissal of the criticisms of the Billionaire Class, then shifts to proclamations about how wealth promotes innovation and opportunity. Luker does admit that some of, “the ultra-rich have engaged in shady and immoral business practices.” The Acton writer cites illegal schemes made recently by Amazon, but only because it was outside the law. 

What young Ben Luker, the Acton Institute and other defenders of Capitalism will never talk about is the fact that:

  • It is completely legal for someone like Jeff Bezos or Hank Meijer to exploit workers in their own companies, paying them wages that require people to seek out various forms of charity just to survive.
  • It is completely legal for members of the Capitalist Class to pollute the world with toxins – called externalities – and to extract massive amounts of fossil fuels to make billions in profits, while contributing to Climate Catastrophe.
  • It is completely legal for members of the Capitalist Class to buy politicians and to influence public policy that benefits their bottom line, like not raising the minimum wage or creating tax policies that make it so that the wealthiest pay virtually nothing in taxes.
  • It is completely legal for members of the Capitalist Class to hide large amounts of their wealthy from being taxed, by creating foundations that are not only another way of practicing social management, it provides them with a fabulous PR opportunity to talk about how much they care about “the community.”

It is completely understandable for people to have nothing but contempt for Jeff Bezos, Hank Meijer, and the rest of the billionaire class. However, it is critical that we don’t let our contempt of the billionaire class cloud our analysis of the economic system that spawned billionaires in the first place. We must make it a priority to dismantle the system of Capitalism and replace it with other economic mechanisms that are not only sustainable, but honor the humanity of everyone on the planet.

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