“I’m a millionaire, and millionaires make money. It’s the billionaires who make history”. This quote was attributed to George Soros in a biopic published in Duga, a Serbian magazine that I used to follow back in the ’90s. It was the answer Soros allegedly made in his early days of being ‘just’ a millionaire when being asked how it feels to have so much power and influence to change the course of history. Unfortunately, I could not find the original statement cited; therefore, I doubt if Soros made it.
However, the message remains despite the lack of the messenger.
‘Millionaires make money. Billionaires make history.’
As it turns out, it is precisely the kind of history that benefits its makers.
In 2017, according to Oxfam, a new billionaire was being made every two days. According to the BBC, during the pandemic, billionaires have seen their fortunes rise by 27%. Despite the lockdown and most economies under severe impact, it was the industrialists, ‘whose wealth rose a staggering 44% in the three months to July.’ What was perhaps less surprising is the rise of tech billionaires who ‘have also had a good pandemic, seeing their wealth soar 41%’. This was due to ‘the corona-induced demand for their goods and services” and social distancing accelerating “digital businesses [and] compressing several years’ evolution into a few months”.
This compression has led to 82% of US households having Amazon Prime membership, which is only a small proportion of its expansion into global dominance. Today, very few things are being sold online and shipped globally without producing the clinging sound of amounting to Jeff Bezos’s wealth.
Bezos is at the pinnacle of the list of 2,189 names whose fortune is more significant than 4.6 billion people combined. And it all happened in the last 100 years. One century has passed from John D. Rockefeller, the first-ever declared dollar billionaire, back on 29 September 1916, to having 2,189 billionaires worldwide.
The history has been very productive. It has been producing billionaires who, in return, have been making history. A kind of an autopoiesis system that self-perpetuates to the detriment of the whole. A history where an increasing share of income goes to the top 1 percent is not compatible with achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly to the goal of reducing inequalities and ensure no one is left behind. Billions are being left behind, while a very few are becoming billionaires. That’s just too much history being made!