Time to Vote Jeff Bezos off the Island

Clearly, if I put down the chocolate and live to see 80, there won’t be enough fists for me to shake nor enough children for me to yell at to get off my lawn. Okay, okay, I’ll hopefully have just the usual two hands for balling into fists, and lawns aren’t exactly my thing to get worked up about, and I probably will still be renting so people of all ages can frolic or even take dumps on my future landscape. Plus I love children and if I did have a lawn, they’d be more than welcome to play there as children should on a stupid patch of (usually) non-native, water-sucking grass.

Where did that train go?! Time to get back onto my original thought, which is that I am oft very crusty about things big and small, and this time around I’m angry at Jeff Bezos. Jeff and the metaphorical $153B net worth horse he rode in on. Okay, I’m actually angry about Jeff, about that horse, and – most of all – about our world which not only accepts but admires a wealth so staggering and so beyond reason.

Let’s have a think about this, shall we? $153 billllllion dollars, according to Forbes and its net worth updates every 24 hours, because, you know, who wants to live in a world where we can’t check daily to see how Jeff Bezos’s wealth is accumulating? And, in case you were wondering, the answer is fast; Forbes’s 2018 billionaires list, posted in March of this year, clocked him in at a relatively paltry $112B.

So what does it mean to be worth $153? I don’t know; you’ll definitely have to ask Jeff Bezos, as even Bill Gates has been left in his dust. What I DO know is that Jeff Bezos is worth more than the 2017 GDP of Hungary (https://knoema.com/tbocwag/gdp-by-country-statistics-from-imf-1980-2022). I know that if you pick any country in the Caribbean, combine them, sprinkle in some European, African, and Central American countries’ GDPs, he’s worth more than that. I know that if even 1% of his assets are liquid, and he chose to live this amount alone, and he lived to a fairly generous 94, he would have to figure out how to make do on a measly $104,000+ per day. What does that kind of money even mean? How many people in your sphere earn that amount annually?

At this point maybe I should pull back and say that I am very much embedded in our capitalist, rapacious society. I have no illusions that I wouldn’t take any and all raises offered to me. If I had more money, I would upgrade from m y rental basement suite in which only the hardiest bamboo survives and in which sow bugs and spiders wage war. I would buy rainier cherries more, get better concert seats, and not wince when I run my debit card through the machine. And I know it’s all relative; for some, my place is palatial and to have a computer and TV and a cell are remote luxuries. So I’m not necessarily pointing any fingers.

But actually I am. The thing is, nobody is worth $153B. Or if someone is, we all are and money doesn’t actually mean anything anyway. In our neoliberal, comsumerist society, many believe that Jeff Bezos just worked that hard, and is that much better than the rest of us. I actually don’t believe that. I’m sure he worked hard, and in the pathological way that the very, very rich seem to, he probably still does. So do doctors. So do people who take care of animals or prepare my food at Saskatoon Asian or grow the eggplants I eat or who take two minimum-wage jobs at 7-11 and A&W. Yes, Jeff Bezos obviously scratched a societal itch to have books delivered to our doorsteps within days. Yes, he has clearly figured out what he needs to do to ride the wave of tax loopholes, incentives, and money begetting money to see his own fortune increase $40B over a few months. But what has he really done? How is it that he, or anyone, dares to have that amount of money when so many have so little?

Know that when I bemoan the monetary fortune of Jeff Bezos, it is not with the bitter heart of someone who wishes to be in his place. It is with the deeply bitter heart of someone who owns a calculator and can see what that amount of money could do for countless millions of people if it weren’t locked in the hands of a single person. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Canada’s total healthcare budget for 2017 was $242B (https://www.cihi.ca/en/health-spending). Think of that the next time you hear of someone you care about being put on a long waiting list for surgery. The total budget of the Department of Environment and Climate Change in the 2016-2017 year was just over $1B (www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change). Imagine the clean-water and conservation initiatives we could enact if Jeff were to become our benefactor! Or, better yet, if he fired some of his money to countries that need it even more. Yeah, I get it, money doesn’t work that way. I also get that I don’t know how deeply philanthropic he may be (though if that section of his Wiki page is even close to comprehensive, I’ll summarize his charitable contributions as something like a giant imparting a gift of a giant pea; it’s giant to us, and to him it’s a pea).

Tying up this rant with a neat bow, I want to say that I think (most) humans seek justice. Evolution has gifted us with a powerful need to seek justice; in olden times, as now, it didn’t do well for everyone to work constantly to acquire food and shelter, only to have one jeff  – I mean jerk – take the share of thousands. This isn’t an anthropological study so I don’t know what people actually did if/when that happened, but I imagine the dude with the cave with a square footage greater than the total size of the village, plus a summer cave, plus more pre-historic horse meat than he could eat in hundreds of lifetimes while those outside his cave starved, was not revered and admired for his hard work. I’m guessing there was some sort of justice in the form of shunning, forced redistribution of resources, or a similar fun equalizing activity. I may not wax nostalgic for early times that were not only pre-sliced bread but also pre-penicillin and pre-housing barring the entry of predatory animals, but I do like the thought of a time when people simply didn’t truck with any one person having so much. It didn’t make any more sense then than it does now, though we’ve nimbly created and adapted to an economic system where this kind of inequality somehow makes sense to us. He’s earned it. He deserves it. If he weren’t supposed to have this kind of wealth, he wouldn’t. . . and other neoliberal chants we tell ourselves so that we get mad at one another for being on income assistance, or daring to ask for a living minimum wage, or having meaningful resource-sharing with Indigenous people. We continue to go off in the heinous CBC comments sections and in the streets about “my taxes” going to social, educational, and environmental programs, while the richest individuals and corporations keep getting richer, often via tax loopholes or getting government subsidies. Fun fact: In 2017, Amazon, which posted $3B in profits, payed “almost no” federal tax (https://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-not-paying-taxes-trump-bezos-2018-4). But hey, remember that time you heard of that one guy who collected income assistance fraudulently?

It’s amazing how the reality of income inequality seems so far removed from our lives that we wring hands and fret over the distribution of money that would actually contribute to a better quality of life for all, in which people, the environment, and animals might flourish, but don’t blink an eye as Jeff Bezos and other ultra-richies walk away with the community’s resources.

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