Billionaires ain’t getting no love

microsoft, billionaires ain’t getting no love
© Moneycontrol Billionaires ain’t getting no love

Being a billionaire isn’t much fun any more. They just aren’t getting the love they believe they deserve. The elite club of barely 3,000 across the world is hurting. They got the stick for exploiting the pandemic to grow their wealth and also for not doing enough to alleviate the misery of those less fortunate. They are also being regularly beaten up for not paying enough taxes and also for fostering crony capitalism.

The way things are going, they’ll soon cop the blame for global warming or for the inequitable distribution of vaccines that’s left people in many low-income countries unprotected from the deadly virus. Oh wait, they are already being held responsible for that!

One billionaire in particular has seen his reputation shred to bits over the course of the last two years, even as his personal life has been in strife. William Henry Gates III has been in the eye of the storm ever since he opposed the sharing of intellectual property rights for making Covid-19 vaccines with developing countries. For this he was branded “vaccine racist” and much worse. Given the billions of dollars in profits that pharma companies like Pfizer and Moderna have made from their vaccines, even as many of the poorer countries struggle to pay for them, it is difficult to understand why a man who never stops reminding us how he is a global philanthropist should choose to side with the medicine monopolies.

Gates did appear to have changed his mind when the CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced last year that the foundation was supportive of temporarily lifting coronavirus vaccine patent protections. But the reprieve, if any, was temporary.

The Microsoft founder has now waded into another controversy with the publication of his book How to prevent the next pandemic. The reception, fans apart, hasn’t been flattering. The Telegraph review said, the book “is a triumph of the ‘systems brain’ over feeling” and that it set “out a wishlist to make the world safer – but becomes meaninglessly ambitious.” That was kind.

On substack, blogger eugyppius was scathing in his review titled “We Must Find a Way to Prevent Bill Gates from Preventing the Next Pandemic”. But it is his conclusion about Gates as well as the other few thousand new rich that is most trenchant: “Gates is part of an ominous development, a new breed of low-brow elite who present themselves as leaders, while eagerly following every source of celebrity and authority they know.”

How did this come to pass? In the process of becoming wealthy, really wealthy, how have the super rich made themselves so unpopular? The number of bestsellers on the theme is a pointer to the contempt that they have been garnering.

Columnist Anand Giridhardas, who called out the hypocrisy of the super rich in his 2018 book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, has been a constant pest, forever railing against “billionaire supremacy”. But it was Peter Goodman, another former New York Times reporter who did the biggest disservice to this class with his book Davos Man: How the Billionaires Devoured the World. In the prologue to the book, he offers this biting criticism of the conduct of the billionaire class during the worst crisis that humanity has seen in 100 years: “One select group — a species of human known as Davos Man — thrived like never before. The wealthiest, most powerful people on earth used their money and influence to separate themselves from the pandemic, riding it out in their oceanfront estates, mountain hideaways, and yachts. They feasted on calamity, snapping up real estate, shares of stock, and other companies at distressed prices.”

Ouch!

Time was when making all that money was the tough part. Today, that’s easy. Float a few bubbles, get the markets excited about them and then momentum takes over.

The pain starts after that, in getting people to like you. After all, what’s the point is of being rich and still being unloved.

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