July 6, 2021

How to become a billionaire

How to become a billionaire

Should billionaires exist? Let’s talk about it.

There are 2,755 billionaires in the world, which means 0.00000035% of us have three commas in our net worth. Despite that, those with the power to accumulate wealth are often those with the power, period.


Because of that, we need to hold the ultra wealthy accountable. How did they build their wealth? How have they held onto their wealth, often for generations? What responsibilities do they bear given their place in societal and economic structures?


They’re questions worth answering, so today we’ll attempt to do just that. I’ll tell you how to become a billionaire—and by the end of the episode, you’ll have the answer to a much bigger question: Should billionaires exist?


Listen to find out.


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*Roll pull quote*

TEDDY: “The questions, I think, are are big. In some ways. They're bigger than the question about whether or not billionaire exists. There are really questions about capitalism at large.”


*Roll intro music*


Hey there everyone and welcome to Thinking Is Cool, the show designed to make your next conversation better than your last, even if you’re talking to someone who uses the words net worth in an un-ironic way. I’m Kinsey Grant—journalist, former broke New Yorker, current slightly less broke New Yorker, and your host.


Before we jump into the good good, I have a very exciting announcement: Thinking Is Cool is now both a media company and a merch company. We just launched our first drop of merch complete with very cool thinking caps and very cool stickers. Go to thinking is cool dot com slash shop to get yours. I’ll put that link in the show notes too since I know you’re all too eager to hear today’s episode to go buy our merch right now. But do go later.


Alright...to today’s episode. Today, we’re talking about the mega-wealthy. The kinds of people whose progeny turn into the real life Serena Van Der Woodsens of the world. The modern dynasty kinda folks. Billionaires. With a B.


Because all season long, we’ve been tiptoeing around the idea of wealth inequality. Well, today we’re kicking down the door—it’s time to consider whether billionaires should exist at all. So join me as we take a journey through the ultra high net worth corners of this shared world to consider the larger question...how much money is too much money?


You know the drill if you’ve been here before: Thank you to our friends at HMBradley for making this show possible and empowering us to have the best summer ever. Now...nothing is off limits. Everything is on the table. Take it anywhere. And remember, thinking is cool. And so are you.


*Roll transition music*


Are YOU tired of living paycheck to paycheck, eating either leftovers or scrambled eggs for every meal, and living in a fifth floor walkup apartment? Do you wish you had a driver, butler, doorman, or all of the above? Have you ever thought to yourself...life sure would be easier if I had a cool three commas in my net worth?


Well then, you are in luck. Sit down, pull up a chair, grab a pen and paper, and get ready to change your life. Today, I’m going to tell you how to become a billionaire...in just three simple steps.


Before we get started with Step 1, I want to take a step back. As we parse through what it takes to become a billionaire today—and scratch at the larger question of whether that should be possible—I’d like you to keep this fact in mind: Wealth inequality in the United States is at a 50-year high.


According to Oxfam, the 1,000 richest people in the world recouped their COVID-19 losses within just nine months. It could take more than a decade for the rest of the world to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic.


The world’s 10 richest men have seen their combined wealth increase by half a trillion dollars since the pandemic began— that’s more than enough to pay for a COVID-19 vaccine for everyone and to ensure no one is pushed into poverty by the pandemic.


Now, I don’t mean to villainize billionaires or even the ultra-wealthy. I’ve met many of them over the years, and billionaires are people too. Also, I asked every billionaire I know and some I don’t know to come on this episode and every single one said no.


While I know there are a handful of my billionaire friends listening to this episode—hi, Mark—most of us are probably not in the three-comma club. The harsh news my friend Mark might not want me to share with you? Their membership to that three-comma club means our exclusion. More on that in just a bit.


Now...let’s talk about billionaires. Because for those of us whose net worth is a couple years of birthday money from your grandparents and 10% of every other paycheck? It can be hard to comprehend just how much money $1 billion is.


If you save $100 a day, it will take you 27,397 years to reach $1 billion in savings.


An oft-cited social media stat goes as follows: If you made $5,000 a day every day, starting in 1492, when Columbus arrived in America, you would still have less money than Jeff Bezos—post-divorce.


Think about the difference between $0 and $999 million. That’s the difference between being a millionaire and a billionaire.


It’s a crazy amount of money, one that most of us have a hard time really recognizing. And that’s in part because we’ve gotten so used to billionaires existing—they’re are a lot of them. 

  • According to Forbes, there are 2,755 billionaires this year, up 660 from just a year ago.
  • Their net worth is $13.1 trillion, which is somewhere between the GDPs of China and Japan. This year is the first time that the billionaire class’s combined net worth has been in the double-digit trillions.
  • About 72% of this year’s billionaires are considered self-made, meaning they didn’t inherit their wealth.


Self-made makes it sound like it’s something any of us could do. In a lot of ways, it very much isn’t (more on that momentarily). But in some ways, a lot of us could become self-made billionaires. 


I’m guessing you either invest in the stock market or you’ve thought about investing in the stock market at least once over the last year. While you’ve been busy failing, learning, growing, getting promoted, getting laid off, or blowing up your life...some of those stocks you invested in have likely gone up in price. When they do? So does your net worth.


So how did these self-made billionaires self-make their fortunes? For most of them, wealth is tied up in stock of the companies they founded. Money talks, but equity walks. 


Take Jeff Bezos, for example, the world’s richest person with a net worth of about $177 billion. His fortune spiked by $64 billion in the last year thanks to Amazon stock, which surged during the pandemic.


Same goes for world’s second richest person Elon Musk, who added $126.4 billion to his net worth in a year courtesy of a 705% increase in Tesla stock price.


And for Bernard Arnault, the third richest person in the world. His fortune nearly doubled in the last year as shares of his LVMH rose 86%.


That’s the first big lesson in becoming a billionaire. Start or own a company that makes a ton of money. It’s less about good accounting and more about holding onto stock for dear life. Here’s Teddy Schleifer, a journalist who’s written about the mega-rich for CNN and Recode and is now starting a new media company called The Stratosphere.


TEDDY: “A lot of the debate centers on kind of the, you know, centered billionaire class people who have one hundred billion dollars or more or even fifty billion dollars or more. And that's a group of people that generally has made money by being, you know, it's very, very little literal explanation. The business, they're billionaires because they're large shareholders in, you know, billion or a trillion dollar companies. Right. And they're often the founders or things like that. So that's why I often feel like the debate about billionaires largely boils down to more fundamental debates about, you know, the justness of capitalism and really about should there be trillion dollar companies is really one way of talking about should there be dollars billion people.”


But not everyone has a trillion-dollar-company kind of an idea. At least not immediately. So with that, it’s time to learn how you—yes you—can become a billionaire. Let’s get into it.


*Roll transition music*


Step 1 to becoming a billionaire: Be born in the right place at the right time to the right family.


On being in the right place: Where you are impacts what your opportunities are. We know this to be true, and from an early age. Simply put, your chances of becoming a billionaire are higher in some countries than they are in others.


According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth report, just three countries contain just over 50% of the world’s millionaires—the US, China, and Japan. With 724 of them, the U.S. is home to the most billionaires of any country.


While you might run the risk of being born in Florida like I was, it still never hurts your billionaire chances to be born here in the US.


On being in the right time: We often look to historical figures like Cornelius Vanderbilt as measures of wealth—and fairly so. He’d be worth about $223 billion in 2021 dollars. But Cornelius was, as they say, the exception and not the rule. He was lightyears ahead of his time building an empire in the 1800s.


But he would have fit right in with Jeff, Elon, and Mark today.


Because today, more than 1% of global adults are millionaires—that’s 56.1 million millionaires. Never before have we seen 1% of the population reach that threshold, according to Quartz.


And that’s partially because of what Teddy explained a moment ago—the stock market has been an unbeatable force in recent memory, defying odds and even pandemics and global black swan events to, well, only go up.


If you are…


*Insert Bo Burnham here: CEO, entrepreneur born in 1964. Jeffrey, Jeffrey Bezos*


You’re right on time to cash in on an astoundingly prosperous period in our shared history. And just for fun, I’ll throw in this: Your chances of becoming a billionaire are even better if you’re born between September 23 — October 22. 27 of the top 250 billionaires last year were Libras


On being in the right family: It matters, plain and simple. And it goes beyond the debate over Kylie Jenner being self-made. 


ProPublica recently wrote this in a groundbreaking investigation into billionaires. Of the 25 richest people in America today, about a quarter are heirs: three are Waltons of Walmart fame, two are scions of the Mars candy fortune and one is the son of Estée Lauder.


Here’s Teddy again.


TEDDY: “You know, if you are the kid of someone who is wealthy and you're not even a billionaire, someone is very, very wealthy and you inherit a lot of money, you know, money compounds. And if you have five million dollars when you're 30 years old, there's a good chance if you play your cards right, you're going to be a billionaire when you're 70.”


That said, you don’t have to have billionaire parents for your chances of becoming one yourself to increase. An inheritance surely helps, but many of today’s most famous billionaires will brag about their humble upper middle class upbringings. 


At the core of this idea is being born into the kind of family that makes risk-taking possible. A hypothetical: If you’re given the opportunity to get an education as a young child, you’re more likely to get a good, high-paying job after college. If you make money in that job and don’t have to pay to care for your family, you can save more. Those savings can in turn be the initial capital for a business that might reach a trillion-dollar market cap.


A lot of becoming a billionaire boils down to the cards you’re dealt at birth. Some hands are just better than others.


*Roll transition music*


But once you’re on track to bank a billi? There are a few specific things you can do to ensure that the third comma makes an appearance.


Step 2 to becoming a billionaire: Don’t pay your taxes.


I’d like to start this part of the conversation with an admission: I thought that increasing taxes on the wealthy, as proposed by modern liberals time and again to pay for important social programs like education and childcare, would ensure the mega-rich pay their fair share in taxes.


I mean, listen to this from Teddy’s time at Vox and tell me it doesn’t sound like the rich are about to get taxed into next week:


“The Biden plan would increase the federal rate for individuals making over $450,000 a year to almost 40 percent. It would increase the ultra-rich’s capital gains tax rate — the tax rate paid by wealthy entrepreneurs when they sell a company or wealthy investors when they sell a stock — to a sum of over 40 percent. The White House would end the so-called “Angel of Death” loophole that allows the wealthy to effectively avoid capital gains tax altogether by not assessing the tax if the asset is passed along to an heir. And crucially, Biden plans to increase the enforcement firepower of the IRS, a move that the administration thinks could raise over a third of the $1.8 trillion in revenue targeted by the tax overhaul.”


But the reality is this: Very little of that matters to the mega-rich, because the mega-rich don’t make that much money...at least as far as income is concerned. For people like Jeff Bezos, if you can avoid income you can avoid taxes. Because here in the US, we don’t tax wealth, we tax income. 


So what’s the difference between the two? Wealth is calculated by subtracting a household’s liabilities—mortgages, college debt, etc—from assets such as homes and stock-market investments. Income is money received by a person or household over a period of time, like wages, salaries, and cash assistance from the government.


I think of it like this: income is what you make, wealth is what you have. And when you’re superrich, what you make is very little.


Here’s an excerpt from that groundbreaking ProPublica piece I mentioned earlier. It delved into the ways the world’s billionaires do and don’t pay taxes in a manner never before seen, at least in modern journalism.

  • “America’s billionaires avail themselves of tax-avoidance strategies beyond the reach of ordinary people. Their wealth derives from the skyrocketing value of their assets, like stock and property. Those gains are not defined by U.S. laws as taxable income unless and until the billionaires sell.”


So as long as you hold onto those assets, you don’t have to pay. Here’s Teddy.


TEDDY: “The system obviously is not working as intended. Right, I mean, whether or not there should be a wealth tax or not, the fact is that lots of the wealthiest people in the world don't realize their capital gains right now. So they're able to defray people to delay paying taxes on millions or hundreds of billions of dollars in stock appreciation, or they're able to use philanthropy or other tax credits to reduce their overall tax bill. So right now, the system, at least based on what I think most people would think is fair, isn't living up to expectations.”


Let’s again turn to ProPublica and use Jeff Bezos as an example:

  • In 2007. Amazon’s stock price more than doubled. Bezos’s fortune increased $3.8 billion. He paid zero in federal income taxes.
  • According to ProPublica, Bezos, who that year filed his taxes jointly with then-wife MacKenzie Scott, reported $46 million in income, due in large part to interest and dividend payments on outside investments. Bezos offset every single penny of that $46 million with losses from side investments and various deductions, like interest expenses on debts and the ever-vague “other expenses” category.


In 2011, Jeff Bezos actually reported losing money...even though his wealth held steady at about $18 billion. Because of the way tax law in the US is written, Bezos made so “little” that he claimed and received a $4,000 tax credit for his children.


It’s not just Bezos, though he’s been called a “welfare queen” by friend of the show Scott Galloway on more than one occasion.


In 2018, Elon Musk paid no federal income taxes. Michael Bloomberg, Carl Icahn, George Soros—they all avoid paying income taxes despite their ballooning net worths.


For context...in recent years, the median American household earned about $70,000 annually and paid 14% in federal taxes.


Call it savvy accounting on behalf of the billionaire class if you want, but the bigger issue here is this: We’ve been sold what is, objectively speaking, a lie about the American tax system. From a young age, we’re told that taxes in this country are progressive—the more you make, the more you pay. Everyone forks over their fair share every spring.


But that’s just not what happens. The very wealthy in this country pay just a sliver of what you might expect, and they do it perfectly legally.


The consequences are significant. Tax dollars pay for federal budgets, which in turn allocate money to things like fixing infrastructure problems like dilapidated roads and bridges, offering social services to communities in need, paying for the social security my generation will almost certainly not get, keeping Medicare solvent.


It’s perfectly legal to work to keep your tax bill low every year. I do it, you do it, we all do it. But just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s right. It’s perfectly legal for me to dunk on Tucker Carlson in every episode of this show, but is it right? Not so sure.


*Roll transition music*


Of course, what’s right is a concept in the eye of the beholder. I think that a wealth tax—an annual tax on the net wealth a person holds—makes sense. The ultra-rich, like $50 million in wealth rich, who’ve benefited from and perpetuated unforgiving working conditions for the rest of the world should be responsible for ensuring that the workers whom they’ve stripped of rights can access government-funded and well-run social programs. But that’s just my belief as someone who is admittedly not very wealthy. Or wealthy at all. 


Among the billionaire class, responsibility is viewed a little differently. Which brings me to...


Step 3 to becoming a billionaire: Engage in philanthropy, but only a specific kind of philanthropy.


There’s a common belief among many of the world’s most outspoken billionaires that they’re better suited to engineer a better world than the world’s governments are. Warren Buffett has said this,  “I believe the money will be of more use to society if disbursed philanthropically than if it is used to slightly reduce an ever-increasing U.S. debt.”


So instead of paying taxes to fund government programs, Buffett believes that his money is better deployed the way he wants it to be. And in fairness, he does plan to donate 99.5% of his fortune to charity. 


Buffett and fellow “good in air quotes because we really have no idea what he’s been up to” billionaire Bill Gates are the developers and major public proponents of The Giving Pledge, a movement they started in 2010 to encourage the world’s wealthiest people to give away more than half of their wealth to charitable causes.


When Gates and Buffett started the Giving Pledge in 2010, the 400 highest tax-paying Americans donated between 8% and 11% of their income. Upping that to 50% seems good, right?


The Giving Pledge has been met with, at times, mixed responses. On one hand, it’s better to have some dollars going to some people than no dollars going to no people. But at the same time, as Kelsey Piper wrote in Vox, “The Giving Pledge was not a very big ask. It did not involve a timetable for giving, or impose any requirements on how the money could be given. It wasn’t legally binding. And it was aimed at people who couldn’t possibly miss the money.”


Let’s ask Teddy, who’s spent years covering the rich and their philanthropic philandering.


TEDDY: “I think the evidence that any objective person could point to that. The giving pledge has spurred billions of dollars in new giving is pretty weak. You know, if you talk to people in case world or people involved with the giving pledge, they speak more kind of qualitatively about the role of the enclosure's played in spurring more philanthropy to change the conversation about philanthropy, encourage people to give their lifetimes rather than there will have to be more in vogue among wealthy people. Like it's kind of hard to assess whether that's true or not. It's very handwaving. I would say.”


And part of that is because the world’s rich are becoming richer by the second. So rich, in fact, that they’re struggling to keep giving in lockstep with the pace at which their wealth is accelerating.


Consider the late Paul Allen, who signed the pledge to give away his fortune when he was only worth $10 billion. Over the next decade, the Microsoft cofounder gave away billions, often making individual 9-figure contributions to charities.


By the time Paul Allen died in 2018, his net worth had risen to $20 billion, or twice that of when he began giving it away. It grew faster than he could donate it.


What’s more, the thing about billionaires is that they’re often deeply passionate. Libras—what are you gonna do. 


When the billionaire class takes it upon themselves to determine what problems need fixing, they often do the fixing with about as much grace as a bull in a china shop. And in turning into whirling dervishes of philanthropy, they also pick and choose favorites to a potentially disastrous tune.


Here’s Jeff Yang in the NYT: “The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has loomed so large over the global public health landscape that some experts worry it has effectively privatized health decision-making in emerging countries, pushing them toward Western drugs rather than sustainable systemic health reforms. Mark Zuckerberg’s foundation reportedly killed a voter data project that might have put too close a spotlight on Facebook’s user data scandal involving the 2016 election. And Mr. Bezos’ foray into free Montessori-like schools has been derided by some as just the first step toward a takeover of childhood education: “Amazon Primary,” if you will.”


I don’t want to suggest that philanthropic giving is bad. It’s truly incredible what the Gates Foundation and other organizations like it have been able to accomplish for groups in need. But there are risks to granting such enormous power to a relatively small cohort of very wealthy people. Intent and impact are two very different things. Here’s Teddy again.


TEDDY: “And in some ways, you can make the problem worse because, you know, it sort of empowers the philanthropist in society and makes it a more central figure. It makes the billionaire more powerful. It's also often, you know, less democratic. Right. Because if you want to solve a social problem, you know, a billionaire deciding where they should give their money to to solve a social problem is going to reflect the billionaire's personal opinion.”


What’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander, especially when the goose is worth billions of dollars.


Well, here we are. Now you know the three simple steps to becoming a billionaire: being born in the right time and place, avoiding your taxes, and giving juuuuust a bit. These are the markers of today’s billionaire class.


But we have a bigger question to answer in just a moment after a short break to hear from our sponsor.


*Roll ad here*


Thank you to HMBradley...whose tools are pretty great, even if you’re not a billionaire. 


So—now we know what it takes to become a billionaire. You’ve got the steps written down. You’ve heard it all. You’ve made enough money to buy Thinking Is Cool clean out of hats and stickers. But the question becomes this...should you have that much money?


I told you at the beginning of this episode that I’d teach you how to become a billionaire. Now, I want you to forget it all. How to become a billionaire? Don’t.




It’s my belief that billionaires shouldn’t be permitted to accumulate the wealth they have in recent memory. Being rich isn’t and shouldn’t be a crime. If you want to build wealth, you should. I want to. I plan to.


But being a megamillionaire and being a 100+ billionaire are vastly different things. Buying the townhouse I’ve always loved in the West Village is in a different dimension than Jeff Bezos colonizing space because he can. So right now, I’m going to explain to you why I don’t think that billionaires should exist.


It starts and ends with wealth inequality in this country. Like I said at the top, wealth inequality is at a 50-year high.


In 2020, more than a third of adults said they might not be able to cover a sudden $400 expense in cash, according to the Fed.


The Federal Reserve says the top 1% owned nearly one-quarter of all U.S. household wealth 30 years ago...and now owns nearly one-third.


And the pandemic has exacerbated these trends. According to the WSJ, more than 70% of the $13.5 trillion increase in household wealth last year went to the top 20% of income earners. A full one-third went to the top 1%.


That is why we’re having this conversation right now. As I said before, just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s right. Elon Musk, Warren Buffett, any billionaire—even if they were perfectly by the book in accumulating their wealth, it doesn’t mean that said accumulation is right. Especially when such vast swaths of this country are suffering, and stuck in cycles of suffering.


Recognizing the duality of living in America hasn’t been pleasant, but it has been transformative. It’s not easy to see that there are very clearly two sides of this country, but we have come to do just that in recent years, grappling with the insincerity of the ideals the billionaire owner class began forcing down our throats decades back.


It’s made us question everything, from the existence of billionaires to the system that allowed them to create such vast fortunes: capitalism.


And here’s the uncomfortable truth: This conversation is less about capping the personal fortunes of a select few people in our world and more about tamping down on the systems that enabled them to build those fortunes in the first place. To question whether billionaires should exist is really, in essence, to question capitalism. Here’s Teddy again.


TEDDY: “The questions, I think, are are big. In some ways. They're bigger than the question about whether or not billionaire exists. There are really questions about capitalism at large.”


Teddy continued to say this.


TEDDY: “I think there's a much more aggressive critique of of capitalism, especially among young people, than there was before the financial crisis, for instance. Right. So it's two things. A, there's just more winners than ever have been. And there is a vocal group of people that is questioning, you know, why these people should exist. You know, what is the true scale of their power? And those questions weren't being asked, you know, 10, 15 years ago.”


So here I am, questioning capitalism. Questioning the ways something I was taught to cherish has actually spelled disaster for so many of my fellow Americans. Questioning a belief system that has simultaneously handed me my biggest dreams and handed my peers the short stick.


We’ll do more of this in the next season of Thinking Is Cool, but I want to start the conversation about capitalism now...because it’s a lengthy one. But as far as I can tell, it’s never a bad idea to question belief systems that were architected well before our time. Times have changed, and we should stress test norms to ensure they change in the right directions too.


Think for a moment about what capitalism really is at its core—it’s something we decided on for ourselves. Sure, there’s the invisible hand...but we don’t have to subscribe to that belief system if we don’t want to. Capitalism—a system of incentives, policies, decisions, and rules—is a system that was enacted in tandem with democracy here in the United States. We could change our minds on either of those two mega-forces whenever we want. 


And now that many of us have woken up to the inequities these systems are capable of breeding, that’s becoming more and more enticing.


It doesn’t mean we have to completely eschew the forces of capitalism that do work, and there are forces that do work. But it does mean we should rethink what’s broken...and recognize that acting in rampant self-interest across the board typically doesn’t render the best outcome for the most people.


Don’t take my word for it. Take billionaire hedge fund manager Ray Dalio’s word: “Capitalism basically is not working for the majority of people. That’s just the reality,” he said in 2018.


The supporting evidence for broad and widespread wealth inequality I cited a moment ago is proof...capitalism isn’t working for everyone. For the predominantly white predominantly male billionaires I’ve talked about this episode? It is working.


For you and me? It might not be.


I know my suggestion that capitalism is due for a referendum will ruffle some feathers, especially among the b-school graduate bros who wear five-inch inseams in Easthampton every weekend. But riddle me this...for all the riches capitalism has handed you, you’re still not the ones most benefiting from its flagrant disregard for the masses. Even if you’re making double what I make, triple even...you’re still not the ones benefiting from capitalism. The CEO of your company sure as hell is.


320:1 — That’s the ratio between average pay of CEOs and workers at the 350 largest US companies in 2019. In 1965, the ratio was 21:1. Today it’s 320:1.


Now, I’m in no position to say “no one needs that much money.” Because that’s not what this conversation is about...although no one needs that much money. 


This is about something larger—the ways that economic opportunities are doled out. The ways that capitalism is, at its core, built on the premise that Jeff Bezos’s win is your loss, at least as far as wealth accumulation goes.


Without billionaires, capitalism might even work better. Opportunity might flow more equally, which would in turn empower more people to take advantage of the riches capitalism can, at times, afford all of us. We’re not writing billionaires out of history—we’re instead rewriting the rules such that fewer billionaires will come into such vast and unimaginable fortunes. 


I want to be clear about something—not all mega-rich people are bad people, but they’ve taken advantage of the system in a way that many of us will never be able to.


I’ll also concede a moment for the suggestion that billionaires are not the cause of inequality, but rather part of the solution. Here’s a small excerpt from a piece written by Blair DuQuesnay, an investment advisor at Ritholtz Wealth Management:

  • “It is the profit motive inherent in a capitalistic system that provides the environment to create the products, services, and innovations that make modern life so miraculous and comfortable. Capitalism has raised billions of people from poverty and continues to do so today. Limiting the upside is potentially catastrophic to a system that, although imperfect, continues to grow the pie.”


To Blair, I would say this—limiting the upside might not be great, but it’s a whole heck of a lot better than concentrating the upside in the hands of just a few hundred white men. Limiting their upside means increasing said upside for everyone else. 


And a moment for the idea of good vs. bad billionaires. Last year, Amazon employed more than a million people. Under what kind of circumstances remains to be seen, but a million jobs is a million jobs.


To that, I say this: We can’t measure the utility of all the world’s billionaires based on the actions of just one or two. Melinda Gates and Bill Gates have done incredible things for those less gobsmackingly rich than they are. But not all billionaires are Bill Gates billionaires, in fact, most of them are the opposite.


Here is Anand Giridharadas for the NYT: “There is no way to be a billionaire in America without taking advantage of a system predicated on cruelty, a system whose tax code and labor laws and regulatory apparatus prioritize your needs above most people’s. Even noted Good Billionaire Mr. Buffett has profited from Coca-Cola’s sugary drinks, Amazon’s union busting, Chevron’s oil drilling, Clayton Homes’s predatory loans and, as the country learned recently, the failure to tax billionaires on their wealth.’


I’d like to introduce Noah Wossen, a new friend of mine I met while in LA. Noah is the CEO of a startup called Gthr, and I wanted to hear his perspective on becoming a billionaire as a young founder seemingly poised for success.


Noah offered me incredible insight on what it might be like to be a “good” billionaire—he wants to give back, especially in his home country of Ethiopia. 


Noah also shared this.


NOAH: “I think another problem is that the way in which businesses have been run for the majority of America's history has been in large part corrupt. I mean, we look at kind of some of the richest people that have ever lived in this world, kind of Rockefeller era and how they built their wealth and how they built their businesses. It was it was all kinds of messed up. And so that's when we started putting in laws and kind of enforcing business practices and looking deeper into that. And we're still trying to do that. Right. We have it. The government is having a hard time not just keeping up, but catching up to kind of where we are today because, you know, we have big tech as kind of the next era, the current era of of how we're trying to look at businesses in the tech space and how they're growing. And is it messed up or is it corrupt for them to be building these algorithms that are studying human behavior and essentially hacking that?”


It’s time for all of us to catch up. It’s time to recognize that the system that created the world’s billionaires needs to be reexamined. It’s time to question whether anyone should be able to lay claim to $1 billion.


I started this episode with the steps to becoming a billionaire. 

  1. Be born in the right time and place and to the right family.
  2. Avoid paying taxes.
  3. Give just a little bit.
  4. Don’t...because it’s not cool to be a billionaire. And if you disagree with me, you know where to find me. And we can keep the conversation going.


There’s a difference between making your money work for you and making sure your money doesn’t work for anyone else. Let’s start talking about it—because if you’ve listened to this season, you know that power often flows to those with the most zeros behind their net worth If we want to accomplish any of the big picture changes we’ve talked about in this season, from climate change to voting reform, we have to hold the powerful accountable Talking is how we start doing that.


Today, take the physical and mental time and space to think about what it means to be a billionaire. Question why you’re working so hard—is it to become a billionaire? Is it to build something billionaire proof? Ask yourself what capitalism has really done for you, aside from breeding far too many DTC companies. Poll your friends about our tax system—ask them if they know it’s actually regressive instead of progressive. Ponder the pros and cons of a wealth tax and the impacts of wealth inequality. Think about these things yourself, then ask your friends, coworkers, hell...ask your boss.


Just start talking and keep thinking. Because remember: Thinking is cool, and so are you. I’m Kinsey Grant, and I’ll see you next time.