I had to check my math several times as I was developing today’s cartoon. Would it really take 10,000 years for an annual income of $100,000 to add up to a billion? To reach $200 billion – a sum only a little higher than the current net worth of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos – would it really take two million years?
The answer is yes. It is hard to fit all those zeros into a calculator screen, but the numbers do add up. Nevertheless, it is still almost incomprehensible. Earning a hundred grand a year would be a big accomplishment for most American families. How did Bezos get to a number so ridiculously high in a mere 57 years of life?
I do not mean to pick on Bezos. I met him once at the Gridiron Dinner in Washington, D.C., and he was perfectly nice. When he started his online book selling business in his garage, I doubt that he expected to become the richest human on the planet. Things just worked out really well for him, as they did for a local computer nerd named Bill Gates, and as they did for Tesla’s Elon Musk and the other quirky geniuses who have come up with clever ideas that have generated unimaginable fortunes.
Entrepreneurs who build great enterprises deserve to benefit greatly. The problem is that America’s risk and reward system has become wildly distorted. A tiny number of people at the top are reaping most of the bounty from our dynamic economy while millions struggle to make ends meet on stagnant wages, an obscene number of children are poorly nourished and badly educated, and the nation’s infrastructure is falling apart. The United States is the richest country in history but, because so much wealth is in so few hands, the vast majority of people in the country are not sharing in the benefits of the nation’s success.
Both Gates and Bezos have said they and other billionaires should be taxed more, as has Warren Buffett, another multi-billionaire. We should take them up on their offer. They are smart guys– smart enough to know that our society cannot sustain this obscene disparity in wealth without facing a very hard reckoning sooner or later.
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