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The Criticism Is Not Without Merit

The criticism of tycoons reflects the criticism of the extremes to which capitalism has been taken—cultivating consumerism and extreme inequality, and compelling us to lead a life of stress, debt, and constant pressure as we pursue a never-achieved happiness from acquiring material possessions. Studies indicate that people who focus on materialism tend to suffer from high levels of anxiety and depression [100].

Meanwhile, tycoons have become a symbol of inequality; they are regarded as one of the causes of the perpetuation of the existing system. Neo-liberalism, which idealized individualism, free competition, and diminishing government intervention to the minimum possible, is what allows tycoons to use their natural gifts and increase their power and wealth.

Tycoons do not hesitate to act to maximize their personal benefit, but when a billionaire employs tens of thousand of workers at minimum wages, or subcontracts work to a factory in East Asia that employs people under slavery conditions, it arouses antagonism. The companies owned by tycoons are not altruistic entities. The degree to which capitalism has evolved gives them permission and incentives to do all that they can to increase their profits, often exploiting their monopolistic power to spike prices and maximize profits. As is well known, those who are hurt the most by this policy are the lower economic classes.

Also, as reported in the above-mentioned “The Network of Global Corporate Control” report, “Many of the top actors belong to the core. This means that they do not carry out their business in isolation. On the contrary, they are tied together in an extremely entangled web of control.” [101] This web of control allows tycoons to bind customers to them through engagements that exploit these customers. Moreover, they often use their ties to government institutions to promote their special interests by employing lobbyists. Although greed is not unique to tycoons, they have more tools to realize it than others, with subsequently more adverse effects on society and the environment.

The global crisis hurt the business world in general and tycoons in particular. The majority of their activities are heavily leveraged, having been financed with credit received from banks or institutional investors. When a business that tycoons purchase with credit (loans) cannot meet the debt with which it was bought, tycoons do not hesitate to declare that they will not be able to fully repay their debt, and ask for the banks and institutional investors (where our pension money is invested) to partake in the damage, meaning to write off some of the debt.

In the short range, this process causes great damages to many people, while the tycoons come out relatively unscathed. However, their financial wizardry is costing them heavily, tarnishing their public image and creating public pressure to restrain their power and regulate their actions. Some are heavily engaged in philanthropy, such as Bill Gates through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but for the most part that activity is perceived as both a disguise and inconsequential compared to their extreme wealth, clout, and the damages they inflict on the economy and the environment.

Finally, the lavish lifestyle that many of the super-rich have adopted arouses envy, or loathing, or both, but leaves no one indifferent.

[100] Kasser, Tim, The High Price of Materialism Cambridge, (U.S.A., MIT Press, Oct 1, 2003)

[101] Vitali, Glattfelder, and Battiston, “The Network of Global Corporate Control,” p 32

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