The man jus’ upped my rent las’ night.
(’cause Whitey’s on the moon)
No hot water, no toilets, no lights.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
— Gil Scott-Heron
What is it with insanely rich White guys? Richard Branson has Virgin Galactic. Paul Allen’s got Stratolaunch. Elon Musk owns SpaceX. And Jeff Bezos is finding his own way off the planet with Blue Origin.
CNBC reports that “Jeff Bezos dreams of a world with a trillion people living in space.
“Bezos — who is currently worth $130 billion, according to Forbes — says if humanity does not become multiplanetary, eventually it will stagnate.
“‘I’m pursuing this work, because I believe if we don’t, we will eventually end up with a civilization of stasis, which I find very demoralizing. I don’t want my great-grandchildren’s great-grandchildren to live in a civilization of stasis. We all enjoy a dynamic civilization of growth and change,’ says Bezos.”
Earth to Bezos: You don’t need to wait six more generations to see civilization rot from within. That comes with radical inequality.
Most of us are already there.
You could see democracy dying last week at the North Seattle community meeting on the Employee Hours Tax (EHT), where affluent Seattleites gathered for a frenzied two-hour homeless hate fest.
You can see it on Seattle’s streets, with people sleeping in cars and tents and literally on our sidewalks.
You can see it when Amazon bullies and blackmails their home city to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
The fact is we do not “all enjoy a dynamic civilization of growth and change.”
The fact is we do not “all enjoy a dynamic civilization of growth and change.” Bezos’ vision of unlimited growth — fed by tax breaks, job automation and monopoly capitalism — comes at the expense of the rest of us, people whose great-grandchildren’s great-grandchildren have a far greater chance of going to prison than blasting into space, thanks to people like Bezos.
This is what our neoliberal worship of growth for growth’s sake buys us: rich guys in space and misery on our streets.
That misery comes with a high degree of racial disparity.
A 2015 United Way study on the racial gap in King County reports that about half of all Black, Latinx and Native households live in “asset poverty.”
This means that they lack the wealth to weather up to three months of unexpected financial burdens.
According to the Washington Post, the median wealth of White families rests at about 10 times that of Black families.
Here in Seattle, 29 percent of our homeless are African-American, a more than three-fold overrepresentation by population.
And yet, in 2016, the top 20 percent of income earners in Seattle took home half the city’s income.
Earners in this top income quintile took home an average $40,000 pay raise that year. Most of these, of course, were White.
Meanwhile, Seattle’s biggest employer posted $1.9 billion in profit for the last quarter of 2017 alone.
Under the proposed EHT, they would pay about 1 percent of that single quarter’s earnings to house the homeless in their home city.
To put this another way, Amazon’s estimated $20 million EHT bill designed to mitigate the impact of its 45,000 local employees is about 2.5 percent of their $789 million 2017 federal tax rebate.
Amazon paid no federal taxes in 2017
That’s right. Amazon paid no federal taxes in 2017. They paid no state taxes here, either. They received a corporate tax windfall instead.
But while Jeff Bezos doesn’t have $20 million to house the homeless, he has $1 billion a year to take luxury tourists to the edge of space.
Was all that money I made las’ year
(for Whitey on the moon?)
How come there ain’t no money here?
(Hm! Whitey’s on the moon)
Y’know I jus’ ’bout had my fill
(of Whitey on the moon)
I think I’ll sen’ these doctor bills,
(to Whitey on the moon)
Tim Harris is the Founding Director Real Change and has been active as a poor people’s organizer for more than two decades. Prior to moving to Seattle in 1994, Harris founded street newspaper Spare Change in Boston while working as Executive Director of Boston Jobs with Peace.
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