As he mounts the podium, he asks people to scream some motivational words to their neighbours while still standing. After he notices that they’ve all been fired up psychologically, he asks them to take their seats and immediately reads an inspirational verse from the Bible. He titles his talk ‘7 Keys to abundant financial prosperity’ and begins with a few quotes from Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Does this sound familiar? This is the way of the so-called motivational speakers.
Listen to their speeches. Read their books. They infuse you with this feeling that you can achieve anything if you believe and try. It is good to throw people into such positive psychology. It helps in day-in-day-out living. The story you heard about Mark Zuckerberg can actually inspire you to eventually conquer that core course you’ve retaken for 3 semesters now. Most of these richest people have garage beginning stories — stories that show that they started from nowhere. Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates were college dropouts while Apple and Amazon are two of the most valuable corporations that were started by boys from their parents’ garages — literally.
By these stories, you can be encouraged to see beyond your present predicament but that’s just about it. The rest of the story is what your motivational speakers won’t tell you. Those stories are freaks of nature. They are a rare combination of personality and opportunities that can only be complemented by hard work and not replaced by it. So no matter how hard you try, you won’t become another Bill Gates. Forget about it. If reading books and listening to motivational speakers would make you another Bill Gates, why haven’t the motivational speakers themselves become Bill Gates’s? It’s like Peter Dinklage working hard and reading books on how to become an NBA star!
‘You can achieve anything if you believe’ is a lie that the motivational speaking industry has sold and expanded into a multibillion-dollar industry globally in the form of books, CD’s, podcasts, and conferences. It is an industry where the actors keep showing expertise in what they themselves haven’t achieved. It is true that you can achieve anything if you believe but it is also true that you can not achieve anything just because you believe. The key to fulfillment in life is to always recalibrate your ambitions with reality. This is how to not live a frustrated life filled with disappointment that accompanies unachieved dreams.
With that out of the way, let’s look at how the richest people on earth become the richest people that they are. All the resources on earth belong to all human beings. So how do a few people gather so much wealth to themselves? You say it is because they’re wise and smart. Yes, you may be right but what exactly are they smart about? They’re smart in taking what should be other people’s wealth for themselves. That’s what they’re smart about. No more, no less.
In a Utopian world, the words ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ would not exist as everybody would own exactly the same amount of wealth as everybody else. In this world, every human being would own ₦5 for instance. If there were 2,000 people in that world, the total wealth of that world would be ₦10,000. If they were all assured that ₦5 would be enough for all their needs and wants, no one’s wealth would increase or decrease from ₦5. However once some of them began to think that ₦5 wasn’t enough for them, they became agitated and decided to own more than ₦5. It became a struggle, a stiff competition of who could own more — the concept of the survival of the fittest. After the fierce scampering, some people ended up with ₦20, others ₦12, etc, while others remained on ₦5, others went below to ₦1, ₦0, and even – ₦2 (debt). Even though wealth now ranged from ₦20 to – ₦2, note that the total wealth in that world was still ₦10,000. Total wealth hasn’t changed: it is the distribution of it that has changed. The movement from everybody owning exactly the same amount to people owning different amounts is the beginning of wealth inequality that we are battling with today.
As at April 2017, the world population was estimated at 7.5 billion. Based on a 2013 estimate, half of the total wealth on earth belongs to just 1% of the world’s population. In other words, the remaining 99% of us only own the remaining half. It’s like giving 100 people ₦20,000 to survive on and 1 person owning ₦10,000 leaving the remaining 99 persons to share the remaining ₦10,000 among themselves. If the remaining 99 persons shared the money equally among themselves, then 1 person would have ₦10,000 while the remaining 99 people would have ₦101 each. See that gap between ₦10,000 to ₦101! This is the similitude of the wealth distribution on earth as we speak.
But it is even worse. In January this year, Oxfam International released an estimate that shows that the richest 8 people in the world are as rich as half the population on earth. In other words, the total amount of wealth owned by the poorest 3.75 billion people is the same as what only 8 people own! Who are these 8 people? They are Bill Gates, Amancio Ortega, Warren Buffet, Carlo Slim Helu, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Lary Ellison, and Michael Bloomberg (This is not the current order). If you increase the number to 25, perhaps that would be wealth equal to that of 70% of the world’s population. Our own Aliko Dangote is in that club of those who own the same quantity of wealth as 70% of the world’s population. A number of those guys are actually richer than some nations. These are the people motivational speakers like to tell you about in their books and sermons, aren’t they?
So how did some human beings become extremely rich while the rest of world is extremely poor? Of course, they became rich at the expense of everybody else. Remember our hypothetical world above? Everybody was supposed to own exactly the same thing but by the game of the survival of the fittest, some people succeed in taking more for themselves at the expense of the others. That is how. So how do they do it? In a previous article, I argued that people don’t become rich by money rituals or other magical means. People become extremely rich by one or more of inheritance, hard work, and fraud. Yes. That’s how people become rich.
But the next question is even if you inherit wealth, has your lineage always been rich? How did extreme wealth enter your lineage? Again, it is by hard work and/or fraud. Hard work? Are these people the most hardworking people on earth? The answer is no. In fact, it is universally agreed that what all these billionaires own is much more than their work input. Group 1 people are those who outright loot public coffers to enrich themselves. In other words, they directly take for themselves wealth that belongs to a multitude. Some other ones (group 2) start from there, then diversify into business later to cast a cloak of legitimacy over their stolen wealth. Still others (group 3) start legitimate businesses but along the line receive illegitimate help from governments to grow their wealth disproportionately. They won’t outright steal anything but they get illegitimate help like tax cuts, import waivers, etc. Nigeria is one of the countries with the worst wealth inequality the world over and it is because every billionaire we have belongs to one of the 3 groups I’ve just highlighted.
Ok. What about folks like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook? They seem to have gone about their businesses legitimately without taking anything that doesn’t belong to them. Well, so it seems but it’s not entirely true. Remember that I said the world’s richest people actually own much more than they deserve. That is the truth. They evade taxes too. They collude with people in governments all across the world so as to cut their taxes. Apple, Facebook, and Google and many others are notorious tax evaders. These megacompanies recognize the loopholes in tax laws across the world and use them in perpetrating their tax evasions. Thus they commit crimes that seem non-punishable under the law. And tax evasion is only one of such sharp practices they do to enlarge their businesses.
Besides the official sharp practices, hardly is there any big privately owned corporation in the world that pays all their workers what they ought to pay them. To maximize profit, Apple and the other electronic manufacturers move their factories to Shenzhen in China where they can have factory workers that meet their oppressive specifications. These are poor people who can be driven beyond internationally recognized work limits under terrible conditions with very little wages. Many of them are children and women. They work 12-hour shifts, get lied to, and harassed. Many of them commit suicide from time to time due to the inhumane working conditions. These are the foot soldiers who generate all the money the billionaire executives enjoy. Recently, an Uber engineer also committed suicide due to the harsh working conditions.
At Facebook, while some workers are well paid, so many others are ‘underpaid and overburdened.’ Even those who seem to be fairly well paid do so much more work than what their pay can account for: their relatively better working condition is a trap to overwork them beyond humanly acceptable limits. Jeff Bezos is the 2nd richest man in the world and the working conditions at Amazon, his company, have made news headlines for all the most heartbreaking reasons. If these happen in the tech industry, imagine what would happen in other industries. The treatment these companies mete out to their workers is reminiscent of the dark ages of human slavery. That is how you drive big businesses. You maximize profit by driving people much more and pay them very little. A cooperate billionaire is a 21st century slave owner. That’s how you appear on the Forbes list.
Have you noticed that the richest people on earth are mostly males? As at March 2017, women comprised only 11% of the 2,043 world’s billionaires and most of these women ‘inherited their money.’ Only 3 of the top richest 20 people are women and the richest woman is only 14th on the general list. And generally, women dominate the poor population of the world. In other words, wealth inequality is also gender-sensitive. Men tend to become wealthy at the expense of women. Let me leave this topic for another article.
I know you are already talking about their philanthropic activities. After all, they give back to the society. Bill Gates particularly, through his Gates-Melinda Foundation, is a renowned giver. In fact, he also runs a collaborative charity outfit with other givers, Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffet. But the truth is that this kind of giving is only superficial. If they gave as much as they could, they would have declared bankruptcy. So their giving is calculated as to not harm their position on the Forbes list and perhaps even help them make more money in the process. Bill Gates is a far richer person than Jeff Bezos but because Bill gives and Jeff practically doesn’t, Jeff temporarily overtook Bill yesterday as the world’s richest man. The reason for the slight blip in ranking was that Bill had given so much of his wealth away in charity. That’s a sign that if these millionaires did give so much more, they would all have lost their spots on the Forbes list. That they haven’t lost the spots is proof that they haven’t given enough of their possessions to the poor as they would want us to believe.
That’s how you eliminate wealth inequality. You create a system that either prevents it or one that addresses it after it has happened. You create a system that takes from the rich to give to the poor such that it becomes extremely difficult to become extremely rich. The governments across the world are working to eliminate this wealth inequality as it is dangerous for peaceful coexistence. It is maddening to think about the current situation where only 8 persons own as much wealth as 3.75 billion people on the one hand and on the other hand, millions of people, especially children and women, are dying of poverty-related causes. There is abundant evidence that once wealth inequality reaches a critical limit, political instability is imminent. That’s why governments need to work hard to stem the tide.
They should do this by several methods two of which are strict tax regimes and enforcement of workers’ welfare. Picture if corruption was eliminated totally from the surface of the earth. Imagine Facebook paying as much tax as they should all across the world and paying workers what is commensurate to their work input while treating them more like human beings than inanimate machines, would Mark Zuckerberg still be this rich? The answer is no. Picture if we could successfully do this to all rich people’s companies, what do you think would happen to our dear Forbes list?
The survival of the fittest is what generates a situation where there are some people called the ‘world’s richest people.’ Forbes list is a sign of how far humanity has fallen. That survival game came to existence when resources were scarce on earth and we needed to scamper for them. The 21st century has overcome that. Now humanity has what it takes to generate and maximize enough resources for itself. Still this greedy trait is yet to leave us. We still think we all should race to the top of the ladder. We still think there is nowhere else that is safe except the zenith of the food chain. That is why we feel it is important to listen to motivational speakers roll out quotes from Warren Buffet and serenade us with biographies of Bill Gates. That’s why we’ve funded a whole different multibillion-dollar industry called motivational speaking. Something governments across the world and every sane human being should join hands to extirpate is what motivational speaking seeks to establish. What a pity!
Am I saying you shouldn’t read the biographies of the world’s most successful people and get inspired? Not at all. As I said earlier, learning a few things from them can be useful for our daily living. However I’m sorry for those who dream of becoming Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. No. Your chances are extremely slim. One, because of the things I said in the beginning of this article. You don’t have the natural makeup and the situations as they did.
And two, some of us are dreaming of a world where wealth inequality will become a thing of the past. We are dreaming of a situation where effective governance will prevent 8 people from owning as much wealth as that of 50% of the world’s population. We believe that an end will come to modern-era slavery that makes some people extremely rich at the expense of others who are dying of hunger. I know you don’t care what happens to anybody else: you just want to amass all that wealth for yourself. However the ultimate beauty of humanity is when those who own ₦20 drop to ₦5 so that those who own – ₦2 can come up to ₦5. Our dreams will come to pass and yours will fail as we won’t have any more of Bill Gates’s on earth.