Americans pride themselves on being a country of self-made people all chasing the ideal of wealth and the American dream. There’s a prevailing myth that America is a meritocracy, and while merit might have allowed people to reach a higher class, that’s certainly not the case today. The divide between the rich and the poor has been getting stronger in recent years, but the Coronavirus has undoubtedly accelerated that divide. The unemployment rate has a dramatic increase because of the virus. Millions of people are struggling to make rent and get food on the table while billionaires like Jeff Bezos are getting richer and richer. The strange part is, people are still defending billionaires citing reasons that they earned their money fair and square and they should get to keep it.
There is no way a person could responsibly make a billion dollars. Jeff Bezos exploited his workers and only gave a mere two dollar increase in wages to cover hazardous pay. This pay raise ended in June and Amazon workers are still forced to work as the pandemic continues, while Bezos saw his wealth increase because he didn’t adequately pay his workers. It makes sense on his end, his profits are higher because of the low wages of his workers. This goes back to Marx’s theory of wage labor; wage labor, and therefore capitalism, is inherently exploitative because of the reliance on profit.
Another reason people may defend the rich is that they believe that they too might be up there in the billionaires club. The truth is gaining wealth without nepotism or existing wealth is very hard. For example, many prestigious universities are hard to get into because of their nearly impossible admissions standards, standards that are easier to meet if you’re already rich. Paying for SAT tutors — or even bribing the admissions council — requires a lot of money. But on the small chance a working-class student gets admitted into an Ivy League, they will most likely have to turn it down because they can’t afford it even with a scholarship. Many big companies with high-paying entry-level positions only scout for employees at top universities. With all of this in mind, it’s easy to see how the American dream is only a dream for the rich to get even richer.
People may cite those in high-paying and honorable positions as reasons why rich people deserve their money. Professions such as doctors and computer scientists are indeed noble careers and do deserve the money that they earned. I don’t have a problem with those who earn their wealth like this because they truly have earned their money and don’t directly profit from the exploitation of others. Owning the means of production directly profits from worker exploitation. Even noble professions such as doctors and engineers are a form of wage labor, as their earnings are determined by their hours, experiences and education levels, while the earnings of a capitalist are determined by sales and profits.
So no, you most likely won’t be rubbing elbows with billionaires just by working hard. There is no way someone can become a billionaire just by being just a professional, they would have to own some means of production to attain that level of wealth.
The fact of the matter is, America is not a meritocracy. Those born into wealth will likely die with wealth and those born into poverty will likely die from poverty. There may be instances of people moving up the class ladder in their lifetime, but those are few and far between. It is better to live through life knowing that the ultra-rich do not care about the rest of us than to have this false hope that one day you might be like them.