We hate the 1% but everyone loves billionaires, Cornell study finds
A study made by Cornell and Ohio State University reveals something unusual about the relationship average people have with billionaires. The results are telling.
Despite not enjoying the idea of a few individuals having too much money, we generally like successful rich people like Bill Gates, Kim Kardashian, Oprah Winfrey, or Richard Branson.
There are 2,755 billionaires in the world, according to Forbes Magazine. Out of those, an unprecedented 660 reached that position since 2020. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is the richest person alive, with a worth of 177 billion US dollars.
He's followed by Elon Musk, France’s Bernard Arnault, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. What do we think of them? What reaction do we have from people who own such wealth? Admiration or disgust?
"When there’s this group of people at the top, we think that’s unfair and wonder how luck or the economic system may have played a role in how they made all the money," stated Jesse Walker, assistant professor in marketing and one of the authors of the study, to the Ohio State News.
However, Walker adds a caveat: “When we look at one person at the top, we tend to think that person is talented and hard-working, and they’re more deserving of all the money they made.”
One example of this is Oprah Winfrey, the daughter of a poor, unwed mother from the American South who rose to become the first black female billionaire in the world.
Others have earned a good reputation thanks to doing humanitarian work around the globe, using their wealth to reach out and help so many people. The biggest example is probably Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who is currently just as well known for his philanthropic endeavours.
A different approach is done by Elon Musk. The Tesla CEO tries to paint himself with a casual, irreverent persona who has no issues appearing on animated shows such as Rick & Morty or podcasts like the Joe Rogan Experience. No doubt this has earned Elon his legion of fans and apologists. (And critics too, of course).
A few have even managed to break in into politics with little to no experience holding a public office. Probably the best examples in recent times are Donald Trump's successful bid for the US presidency and Michael Bloomberg's run for mayor of New York City.
Cornell's psychology professor Thomas Gilovich, who co-wrote the study, points out that the public is likely to support taxes for the rich in abstract terms such as 'the 1%' but have doubts when they think about individual billionaires.
However, not everyone is happy with personable billionaires. Critics argue that they could do more for the world. For instance, Jeff Bezos got some backlash for the working conditions of Amazon employees while spending millions on the Blue Origin space flight.
Elon Musk has also faced many controversies, from some tactless comments made on social media to his somewhat careless attitude in public appearances. This not only has harmed his public image but also, on occasions, the value of his own company stocks.
But then again, billionaires are just as humans as anyone else, and some do make an effort to make a difference for the better. For instance, it is estimated that Bill and Melinda Gates have donated over 50 billion US dollars to charity in the last three decades.
Sometimes their generosity is met with suspicion. This is the case of Hungarian-born investor George Soros, who has donated over 32 billion US dollars to liberal and progressive causes through his Open Society Foundations and tends to be the target of numerous conspiracy theories.
What is true is that data from the International Monetary Fund points out that both inequality and the wealth of the rich increased as the economy suffered the effects of Covid-19. In developing countries, this new gap might last a generation or more, depending on how long it takes them to recover from the pandemic.
The past two years also have represented a time of recovery for the economy in the United States after being hit hard by the outbreak of Covid-19 the year before. This doesn't mean the country doesn't have its own inequality issues.
Financial news network CNBC reports that the wealthiest 1% of the US population controls about 41 trillion US dollars, 15 times more money than the poorer 50% of the population. Also, that only 10% of Americans own 89% of all the stocks traded on Wall Street.
Things are slowly recovering around the globe, including the economy. However, there's still the question of how much money is too much money. As the big gap between the rich and the poor only gets bigger, maybe it would be a good idea to think about billionaires differently.
Image: Sharon McCutcheon / Unsplash