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Bad Reputation: How Taylor Swift’s New Billionaire Status is Not News You Should Be Shaking Off

Eva Rinaldi, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Eva Rinaldi
Eva Rinaldi, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Taylor Swift is now a billionaire, according to Bloomberg News who announced her new status late last month. Her net worth is almost $1.1 billion. 

She is now one of just a few musicians, like Jay-Z, Rihanna, and Paul McCartney, who have achieved that status, and she has done so almost exclusively through her music and performance revenue. But there’s a problem. 

Although she has—arguably—earned her money fairly, billionaires like Swift are notoriously bad for the economy. In a healthy democratic society, we shouldn’t have them at all. 

While some argue that the wealthy have fairly earned their money through business, hard work, and as the saying “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps,” the truth is that it is simply impossible to have a billion (or more) dollars and have earned said dollars fairly. 

If we took every dollar and turned it into one meter for reference, billionaires would be running a very different race
Credits: Elaine Clarke

A billion dollars is much more than just an insane amount of money. It is easy to demean those in the billionaire status as just another category of wealthy, just a bit worse than the meager millionaire. Yet, even when compared to millionaires, billionaires are far removed. 

To put it into perspective, the median American household earns around $75,000 a year, according to the 2022 U.S. Census Bureau. If we were to turn those $75,000 into seconds, they would add up to just under 21 hours.

A million dollars in seconds, on the other hand, is equal to almost 12 days—around 13 times that amount of time. A billion dollars is 31.71 years. It is 1,000 times larger than a million and over 13,000 times the median American household. That means it would take the average American 13,000 years of hard work to save up enough money to join Swift as a billionaire. 

Nowadays, the nature of capitalism allows for one of the most profitable professions to be one based in owning capital. Hence, almost all billionaires are CEOs or business owners, not musicians like Swift. 

Ideally, this should mean that billionaires are ready to be the greatest benefactors of our society. Americans should reap the benefits of better social services, more job opportunities, and higher paychecks because of its billionaires. Their money should also be incentivizing others to innovate and become billionaires themselves.

Credits: Elaine Clarke

Yet this is a false idea. Billionaires should also be a huge source of tax revenue used by the government for the public good, however through loopholes, lobbying, or illegal practices, many billionaires and corporations pay little to no taxes, proportional to their wealth. 

In the early 1960s, America’s richest had a 91 percent marginal tax rate on income. Nowadays, the wealthy in America are only taxed 37 percent.

A faith in trickle down economics has ensured that many still believe this is a good thing. But instead it has only led to underfunded social programs. 

According to a report by Oxfam, an organization devoted to fighting poverty, if globally billionaires were to pay an additional 5 percent wealth tax rate and multimillionaires paid a 2-3 percent wealth tax rate, 2 billion people could be lifted out of poverty.  

And despite appearing to create more opportunities for work, many jobs created by billionaires have poor pay and terrible working conditions. Jeff Bezos, for example, uses his Amazon sweatshops to encourage tired workers to quit before they ask for a raise or try to start a union. It’s cheaper that way, allowing for the ultrarich to maximize profits. 

Large corporations also often outsource their work, so Americans are left with fewer jobs, compared to what they should be getting theoretically. Swift uses this tactic herself, outsourcing clothing manufacturing to countries like China or Honduras to make her merch for cheap.

As Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says, the ultra-rich are simply the beneficiaries of an unjust economic system:

“Billionaires don’t make money, they take money.” 

Not only are billionaires bad for our society, they are equally terrible for our climate. The wealthiest 125 billionaires in the world emit 393 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year — a million times more than the bottom 90% of humanity.

Part is rooted in their lavish lifestyle, such as their many homes, yachts, and jets (Swift herself has 8 homes and 2 jets), but the majority of their carbon footprint is from the corporations they invest in, like backing high carbon infrastructure and locking in high emissions for decades to come. 

So not only are billionaires actively detrimental to our society by not paying their fair share, they are one of the leading causes of the global climate crisis.

The most impact billionaires have, however, is on democracy. Billionaires destroy democracy. They easily sway politicians through campaign contributions to support whatever they would like. 

One of the more alarming examples of this is the lobbying group the American Legislative Exchange Council, which writes legislation (that is often passed) on a variety of topics — worker’s rights, climate change, taxes, election laws, and more — but is entirely funded by billionaires such as Charles Koch from Koch Industries. 

Instead of what politicians are supposed to do — represent the average American — they work for the wealthy’s agenda, passing policies like our present income tax bracket in order to ensure that the rich stay rich. They have rebuilt our democracy with their best interests at heart, not yours.

“We want an economy that works for everyone, not just for a small elite,” says former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich in a statement for Oxfam.

So although Swift is not like most billionaires, her new status stands as a worrying symbol: wealth inequality in America has now grown to such an extreme that even musicians, like Swift, are able to amass enough money to become a billionaire. 

Her new status is not an accomplishment to be cheering on, but rather an omen that our democracy is in danger. 

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Elaine Clarke, Opinion Desk Editor
Elaine Clarke is a Senior at Hendrick Hudson High School. This is her fourth year writing for the newspaper and first year as editor. Alongside this, Elaine participates in the school musicals and plays, film club, as well as the senior club. In her free time, she likes to hang with her friends, listen to music, or just chill with her cat.
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