Last week it seemed billionaires would be coming to the rescue. Jack Dorsey, who founded Twitter and Square, donated $1 billion — amounting to 28 percent of his wealth — to relief programs related to the novel coronavirus.
That is a good sign.
How about the richest man in the world, the King of Amazon, clocking in at $139 billion and growing?
Jeff Bezos donated $100 million to Feeding America, a nonprofit focused on supporting food banks. Nice, Jeff, that is seven one-hundredths of a percent of your wealth. The equivalent would be someone with a net worth of $1 million donating less than $2 a day for a year.
Of course, Jeff Bezos’s wealth has increased by $25 billion in the past four months. His former wife, MacKenzie Bezos, has enjoyed a $8.6 billion increase in her wealth.
How about the Ballmers? Steve was Bill Gates’s roommate at Harvard and, for a while, Microsoft’s caretaker CEO. Steve’s family got some good headlines, donating $10 million to the UW for COVID-19 testing. With a net worth of $54 billion, that is less than two one-hundredths of their wealth. The equivalent for someone with $1 million would be $185 in a year, or 51 cents a day.
The Ballmers’ wealth has increased by $2.2 billion since the new year … just saying.
Unemployment is more than 20 percent in our state. Workers are unable to pay their rents and have lost their employer-sponsored health care. Their kids are out of school and missing breakfast and lunch. Our state will lose $5 billion in the next few months for public services, including health coverage, higher education and early learning.
And yet, islands of incredible wealth and privilege are abundant in Washington. Washington is home to three of the wealthiest 10 people in the world. We have 15 billionaires. More than 12,000 people have incomes over $1 million.
The popular phrase is that we are all in this together.
But we aren’t, are we?
The wealthiest among us remain insulated from the pandemic crisis and the economic crisis.
And it seems that they really don’t care.
We should not be surprised.
The wealthy do not contribute, and have never contributed, proportionately and in an equitable manner, to the public services of our state. Households with more than half a million dollars in income pay less than 3 percent of their income in state and local taxes.
The uber-wealthy most likely pay less than 1 percent. Middle-class families pay 10 percent and poor families pay 17 percent.
In ordinary times, the billionaires did not want us to be all together. Ballmer publicly opposed Seattle’s income tax on the affluent over the past few years. Words and money are just pocket change for them, but they worked.
In our “progressive” state, there is no income tax on the wealthy.
Now, in bad times, the uber-wealthy again want to make sure that they rise above the citizens of our state, casting out crumbs of beneficence when we need bakeries full of bread.
John Burbank is the executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute.
Read more of the May 6-12, 2020 issue.