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Robert Reich: The Rise Of The Centibillionaires – OpEd

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The word “‘billionaire” didn’t even exist until 1844. Fifty years later, we got “multibillionaire.” And for the next 127 years, that was enough. 

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But in 2020, while the working class faced near-record unemployment during the pandemic, the wealthiest Americans faced a different problem. Some of them had gotten so rich, there was no longer a word to describe just how rich they were. 

That’s why I want to bring you one of the newest additions to the English language: “centibillionaires,” people with $100 billion or more.  

What’s it like being one of history’s first centibillionaires? It’s hard to even imagine, but let’s try it by comparing them to the less fortunate. By which I mean just … regular … billionaires. 

If you’re a regular billionaire, you can afford a private jet. If you’re a centibillionaire, you can afford a brand-new Gulfstream jet every single day for more than ten years. (Not sure what you’d do with a new Gulfstream every day — maybe give one to each of your closest 4,000 friends?)

A regular billionaire would struggle to buy their own professional baseball team. Sad, I know. But a centibillionaire could easily buy every team in the entire major league

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If you’re a regular billionaire, you can donate to your alma mater and get your name on a building. If you’re a centibillionaire, you could single-handedly give every teacher in America an $8,000 raise for 5 straight years

Of course, that’s not all you could do. $100 billion is enough to wipe out all the medical debt in the United States. Or provide permanent shelter for every homeless person in AmericaOr buy Covid-19 vaccines for the entire world.

Basically what I’m saying is, $100 billion is a lot of money. 

More than two and a half million times what the average American worker makes in a year. 

So here’s the big question. Are these centibillionaires so rich because they work two and half million times harder than the average American? Are they really 100 times smarter than the typical billionaire?

I don’t think so. The reason for the rise of centibillionaires is that for decades, wealth hasn’t trickled down, it’s gushed up, all the way to the very top. 

That’s not an accident. As it turns out, the system that the super-rich themselves carefully crafted and lobbied for, benefits… the rich! 

And while you may not own more private jets than your average centibillionaire, you probably do pay a higher tax rate. And thanks to legal loopholes and the Trump tax cuts, when the wealthiest Americans die, they get to pass on most of their centibillions to their kids tax-free

We’ve got two choices as a country. We can tax the richest Americans fairly, and invest that money in ways that benefit all of us.

Or we can keep doing what we’re doing, and watch as centibillionaires get even richer while the rest of us get left behind. 

If you think wealth and power are too concentrated in the hands of a privileged few now, just imagine what a few more years of trickle-down nonsense will bring.

Of course, it won’t be all bad. At least “trillionaire” is easy to say.

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at robertreich.substack.com. Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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