“I object to people who are rich in politics. I don’t think they should be allowed to be in politics. It is bad that rich people are in politics, it is bad for everybody but rich people. Whenever people say, “Oh, he earned his money himself,” I always say the same thing: “No one earns a billion dollars. People earn $10 an hour, people steal a billion dollars.” — Fran Lebowitz in Paper Magazine, September 2014
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” The Holy Bible, Matthew 19: 23, (NKJV)
Building on the momentum of anti-establishment politics that defined both the Left and Right during the 2016 election cycle, over the last few weeks, an election season rife with anti-corruption, anti-billionaire, and anti-Wall Street sentiment confronted its biggest ideological stress test to date: the entry of former NYC mayor and billionaire Mike Bloomberg into the presidential race. Employing only a fraction of his $50+ billion dollar net worth, Bloomberg has eclipsed the spending of fellow billionaire, Tom Steyer, and after only a few months on the campaign trail, broke the record for most expensive self-funded presidential campaign of all time. With a political operation running on the fumes generated by the campaign’s aggressive cash burn, he’s managed to catapult himself to third-place, “earning” a coveted spot on the debate stage. Bloomberg’s recent debate performance, however, made more obvious than ever that cashing in on the massive sphere of social, political, & philanthropic influence he’s cultivated over the years (particularly the last two years) is the only way he could’ve gotten here, and the only way it’s possible that he could actually win this thing.
There are many grounds on which Bloomberg’s candidacy should be rightfully criticized: the racist policies which defined his tenure as mayor (“Stop & Frisk’’, metal detectors and police presence in public schools), his ahistorical and inaccurate assertion that redlining, or discriminatory lending, caused the financial crisis, and his support of union-busting efforts and Republican lawmakers, to name a few. There are equally many personal grounds on which Bloomberg can be criticized: his treatment of women, generally, and numerous allegations of sexual assault and harassment, corroborated by, as Elizabeth Warren astutely pointed out, a number of NDAs served to over 60 female ex-employees.
Putting all that aside, Bloomberg, or any other billionaire for that matter, is morally unfit for the office of president. This is because billionaires, no matter who they are, no matter what they did to make their money, demonstrate that when given the choice, they will hoard a massive store of individual wealth at the expense of the economy’s collective well-being. This alone is sufficiently disqualifying for an individual pursuing a role which’s primary objective is to do the most good, for the most amount of people.
Billionaires are inherently immoral actors due to the simple fact that a surplus of that magnitude remaining at the end of a supply chain is evidence of exploitation within it. If an individual firm is able to procure raw materials, labor, shipping, transportation, sale, marketing, distribution, and delivery for a product and still have a billion dollars left over, that is undoubtedly evidence of that firm’s ability to more equitably distribute that value throughout the supply chain — by paying more for the cost of materials, paying more for the cost of labor, hiring more people, charging less for the product — and the firm manager deciding not to. A billion dollars owned by a single individual is evidence of a refusal to address the systematic moral and economic failures that create the circumstances for such profit maximization.
Billionaires are inherently immoral actors due to the simple fact that a surplus of that magnitude remaining at the end of a supply chain is evidence of exploitation within it.
It is an oft-cited claim that Bloomberg, unlike Donald Trump, is a “self-made billionaire”, who started his company after being laid off from his job without severance. To be clear, that job was as an investment banker at Solomon Brothers and while he did not receive a severance, the $10 million dollars of equity in the firm he walked out the door with provided sufficient start-up capital for Innovative Market Systems (IMS), later renamed Bloomberg, LP. IMS was founded on the accurate principle that Wall Street investors would pay high prices for highly specialized financial data and analytics in as many usable forms as possible. When used with a single monitor, the Bloomberg terminal appears no different than a desktop computer, the main difference being that, with a Bloomberg subscription, the desktop becomes a portal with all concentrated, unique and obscure information financiers need — “everything from interest rates on obscure bonds to the current utilization of oil storage tanks in Cushing, Oklahoma”. The cost of a single terminal with a subscription is $24,000 per year, discounted to $20,000 if you have two or more subscriptions. The reason Bloomberg was and is able to charge so much for this device is that before his entry, the financial services data industry was pretty much dominated by Reuters, the only real competitor at the time of Bloomberg’s market entry. With limited competition, Bloomberg put an exorbitantly high price on access to financial data and thereby restricted participation in the securities market and exchange economy to the global elite, if not for insidious purposes, simply because to do so was more profitable. Compare the creation of the Bloomberg Terminal to the creation of the Internet. Though the result of a publicly-funded research project, the Internet was made publicly available by its inventors, rather than privatized. The effect of that decision was a radical democratization of information access, and the effective elimination of barriers to participate in global information and thought exchange. Despite its public accessibility, it still managed to be profitable for both its founders and eventual users.
It was Bloomberg’s right as a profit-maximizing, business owner to do what he did. In The Social Responsibility of Business, economist Milton Friedman concluded that because a business entity is not a human, it does not have responsibilities and therefore cannot be expected to act with some responsibility to society or, what we would call “morality” and the sole “social responsibility of business is to increase its profits” and nothing else. From here, Friedman implies, it is the job of civil servants and governments — not business managers — to impose and enforce the “rules” that force the profit-seeking corporation to act in ways that improve collective well-being. Managers’ job is to adhere to the laws which assure the circumstances whereby the value extracted and produced by the economy is returned to it — not necessarily to create them.
In practice, the equilibrium Friedman implies fails because for most exorbitantly wealthy people this is just as much about power as it is money. They want to dictate who deserves resources, and when they receive them, and how much they receive and why they receive it. Billionaires choose to forgo “social responsibility” in their own business practices, and then refuse to consent to the taxation and legislation on which the exemption Friedman’s “social responsibility of business” lies. The result is a common people subject to both predatory capitalism and oligarchy, where, void of laws preventing them from doing so, wealthy individuals wield undue influence over our political system and electoral politics. Shrouding this fact by citing philanthropic donations proves society’s inability to prevent them from doing this or their willingness to allow them to do so. Friedman’s fallacious argument of the workers’ “voluntary cooperation” in this free market society is the same argument as Benjamin Powell and Matt Zwolinski’s claim that “gains to objective material conditions” justifies sweatshop labor. Under predatory, “free market” — or more accurately, “free-range” — capitalism, wealthy individuals’ machines of political and philanthropic “charity” employ a familiar capitalist frame: masquerading coercion as choice.
The skills and objectives of the profit-maximizing firm manager do not transfer to the skills and objectives which define public servitude, least of all the objectives of the profit-maximizing firm manager who has done this so to the tune of one billion dollars or more. Just as it is their theoretical “right” to conform to market capitalism, it is our right to determine that a person willing to seek profits in this way is inherently disqualified to serve as representative for a population of over 300 million people, which includes 1 in 8 people living below the poverty line. To be a billionaire is evidence of putting the desires one’s self over the needs of one’s society, and as a result of this alone, every last one of them is morally unfit to lead this (or any) country.