WHO wants to be a billionaire? Who can even conceive the meaning of the term?
If you happen to be one of the children of the world’s second richest man, Bill Gates, you won’t have to think too carefully about the concept: Dad is only planning that they inherit a few million each.
Mr Gates and his wife have been bitten by a bug called malaria; they are committed to its eradication in order to alleviate the suffering and death of many in the developing world. They are spending virtually all their spare cash to achieve that.
The real bug might be, ‘How do we make sense of being billionaires?’ For intelligent people, this must surely be the biggest quandary of all. How can I possibly be entitled to this level of wealth?
The simple answer is ‘You’re not.’
Because while something like 2.5 billion of the world’s poorest live on the equivalent of the wealth of the world’s TWO HUNDRED richest, as author Jeff Gates estimated a decade ago, you can be well and truly born into the wrong billionaires club.
The issue is ever more pertinent to residents of the western suburbs, as West Australian resources writer Tim Treadgold believes that a local is set to become the world’s richest person.
Gina Rinehart’s outright ownership of resource land with massive potential – as opposed to the companies that own huge projects on behalf of thousands of shareholders - has led to the prognostication.
Ms Rinehart is vehemently opposed to any constraint on her accumulation of wealth and loudly proclaimed her opposition to a tax on mineral wealth in Perth last year, together with Cottesloe billionaire Andrew Forrest.
Mr Forrest has himself clearly considered the existential burden of his extreme good fortune and has recently stepped down as chief executive of Fortescue Metals Group, with the intention of devoting more time to addressing chronic Aboriginal underemployment.
Though he is a vocal opponent of the way his industry is taxed, Mr Forrest will have to deal with the fact that the world is not in a position to tolerate the structural imbalances it faces.
Everyone suffers when the vast majority of the world’s people become desperate. The balance becomes rectified one way or another.
Taxing the super-wealthy appropriately is one way to address the world’s many structural imbalances. It’s not to strike out at them for their accumulation of wealth per se; many achieve this through their own talents and energy.
It’s simply that we can’t purely rely on the beneficence of those who put their hands up, such as Gates, his close philanthropist associate Warren Buffett and Forrest.
When Jeff Gates wrote his piece a decade ago, the United Nations had calculated that $35 billion per year was sufficient to fund the minimum conditions required to encourage for the flowering of human potential worldwide: safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, sufficient nutrition, primary health care, basic education, and family planning for willing couples.
“Those essential building blocks for human decency could be financed with the proceeds from a 3.5 percent levy on the assets of the world’s 200 richest people - less than a typical value added tax.”
Who wants to be a billionaire? Well, who would choose to become one of the world’s 2.5 billion poorest?