Is it just me who appreciates billionaires?

I feel like billionaires have been getting a bad rep lately. Let’s be honest, I’m ever so slightly jealous of someone who can figure out how to be just that successful. The level of work ethic, sacrifice, innovation, failure, disappointment and endurance is to be celebrated and encouraged.

When kids talk about their big dreams and their big plans they are applauded. But when adults hit real success and real figures, somehow society turns on its head. It’s very easy for us to criticise and judge.

Exhibit A: Mr Bezos

Take Jeff Bezos for example who founded Amazon who recently donated $98.5 million to help the homeless. Much commentary has been made about how it’s nothing compared to tax he should be paying and so on.

I don’t know Mr Bezos heart, motives or really understand the complexities of high level tax in the corporate world. To be honest, you and most other people probably don’t either. What fascinates me though is that so many are straight up there to knock his generosity. When was the last time you gave anything to the homeless? Let alone $98.5 million.

Does money really solve everything?

There is this sense that he owes society for all of his success and somehow he must have cheated everyone who didn’t make it to the top. And in the run up to the recent election, many have jumped on the bandwagon that we should somehow force the super rich to simply give us more money. Because money solves everything… right?

There are some very important spiritual and practical thoughts around this to consider though.

Radical generosity is different than you think

Jesus encouraged radical generosity not on the basis of absolute wealth but proportional cost. He welcomed the giving of the widow who had just a couple of pennies to her name, even though she gave everything she had (and needed) away.

Most of us would not allow her that opportunity but not Jesus.

He criticised those (such as the Pharisees) who withheld their kindness from others and lived a self-orientated life but crucially, he never enforced giving, not even from the wealthy. Because generosity has to come from the heart. As soon as it is mandated, it loses its power, becomes an obligation and spoils the goodness attached to it.

Widow or Pharisee – where do you fit?

What’s also interesting to me is that nearly all of us tend to see ourselves as the widow instead of as the Pharisees. And yet, you need to earn just £24k per year in the UK to be considered in the top 1% of earners in the whole world today. If you’re reading this on a smartphone then almost certainly you’re at the upper end of the spectrum.

Just maybe, you and Mr Bezos are more similar than you think.

Let’s talk about how loaded you are

This is the part of equality that nobody seems to talk about. Why stop at fixing income equality in the UK alone when you’re filthy rich by the world’s standards. If we were to follow that line of thinking then is it really right for you to have multiple holidays abroad whilst some are living below the bread line? 

It’s a dangerous place to go and I’m not suggesting we should live in guilt but judge at your own peril because it leads to your own judgement. Maybe it’s time for us to stop pointing fingers at the billionaires and to start to check our own hearts. Because the Pharisees spent all of their energy focusing on others morality that tragically they never took notice of their own.

It’s not as simple as it seems

On a practical note though, taxing the successful seems to ignore the fact that Jeff Bezos’ success is creating a multitude of jobs as well as filling a gap in the market that solves many consumers’ problems. (Where else are you going to buy a drone from?) Up the tax and the first thing that will happen is that ordinary people with ordinary jobs will suffer for it in job loss and cuts.

That’s not to say that tax is entirely bad – it’s a healthy part of society. But someone earning £80k is already paying approx £25k in tax. And someone earning £25k is paying less than £5k tax. In fact, the top 0.01% of earners in the UK are paying almost a third of the whole tax bill – a whopping £52.5 billion. Maybe it’s time to be a little bit more thankful and a little less entitled.

Higher earnings have a higher personal cost

I think it’s fair to say that the higher earners are already carrying their weight, not to mention the added stress, job responsibility, lack of work/life balance, personal toll, long hours, commutes, cost of education etc.

Let’s stop blaming billionaires for the issues in society. Just maybe we should be thanking them for footing the bill. If we really do care about our nation then maybe it’s time for us to become more generous though. Maybe it will cost us something and take us into real sacrificial territory but Jesus seems to be totally ok with that. 

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