Who decides whether billionaires should exist? We all do

Two prominent politicians have recently been holding forth about billionaires on Twitter…

Should billionaires exist? Should anyone have a billion dollars? Well, who makes that decision? The answer is you, in most cases.

According to Forbes, the richest guy in the world in 2019 with a net worth of $131 billion is Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com. Who made him a billionaire? Every Amazon customer did. By choosing to purchase a good or service from or through Amazon and choosing to hand your money to Jeff Bezos’ company in exchange for that good or service, you played some small role in making him a billionaire. Add together all the relatively small amounts that individuals have freely handed over to Jeff Bezos in exchange for the goods and services his company provides, and you see where his billions come from. You also see who made him a billionaire. You did.

You didn’t intend to. Neither did I when I bought Jonathan Wilson’s ‘The Names Heard Long Ago: How the Golden Age of Hungarian Football Shaped the Modern Game‘ from Amazon for $16.33 in July.

But that is beside the point. I wanted that book and Amazon had it at a price I was willing to pay. I wanted the CD ‘Christmas Music From Medieval Hungary‘ and Amazon had it at a price I was willing to pay. In both cases – and many others – I had a demand and Amazon supplied it. It profited by doing so, as it should. And because it did such a good job and satisfied so many people’s demands, those profits were large and Jeff Bezos got rich. 

The same goes for other billionaires. Bill Gates is number two with a net worth of $96.5 billion from Microsoft. If you have ever given Microsoft money in return for a good or service, you helped make Bill Gates a billionaire.

Maybe Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez never bought anything from Amazon. But if they did then they, in their small, unconscious way, helped to make Jeff Bezos a billionaire in return from him supplying them with a product or service they wanted.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.