Over the last two years of the pandemic, billionaires had a financial field day. As we previously reported, the world’s ten richest men doubled their collective fortunes – from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion – at the same time that incomes for 99% of humanity fell. America’s 740 billionaires also increased their combined wealth by no less than $2 trillion over the same period.
This week, the ultra-rich are making headlines for how they’ve gone about spending the billions that they’ve made over the pandemic. Many of them have purchased superyachts, driving sales for the mega-ships to record-highs in 2021. Jeff Bezos, the world’s most notorious superyacht customer, has a new ship, Y721, that is so large that a historic bridge in the Netherlands will have to be temporarily dismantled in order to let it pass.
But billionaires aren’t just buying yachts – they’re buying politicians as well. Billionaires have spent generously this cycle, particularly through SuperPACS, in hopes of shaping future legislation. Politicians like Senators Manchin and Sinema may not be up for re-election, but they have nonetheless attracted billionaire backing by successfully roadblocking President Biden’s legislative agenda.
We’ve got a billionaire problem. It’s frankly disturbing to see that while millions needlessly suffer from hunger, disease, environmental devastation, and more, billionaires can waste their endless wealth on superyachts and rigging our democracy. And don’t forget, most of these people pay almost nothing in taxes (we’re sure their support for Sinema and Manchin has nothing to do with their desire to keep those tax rates low).
This week, we’re shining a spotlight on billionaires’ spending on the high seas and the political arena.
Rotterdam Is Dismantling a Historic Bridge for Jeff Bezos’s Superyacht by Emily Burack
Jeff Bezos’s new $500 million superyacht being constructed in Alblasserdam, Netherlands, known only as Y721, will be the world’s largest sailing yacht and will also come with a smaller “support yacht.” What’s attracting the most attention is the fact that Bezos’s ship will be so large that, in order to properly take it to sea, the historic Koningshaven bridge in Rotterdam, Netherlands will have to be temporarily dismantled. Although Bezos has agreed to pay to dismantle and rebuild the bridge, Rotterdam residents are so upset by the news that they’ve already begun to plan an event in which they will throw rotten eggs at Bezos’s yacht as it passes through their harbor.
It’s not just Jeff Bezos. Super rich around the world are snapping up superyachts as sales hit a record high last year. By Huileng Tan
According to shipping data provider VesselsValue, a record 887 superyachts were sold in 2021, which represents a 77% jump in sales from 2020. Demand for superyachts is so large that the ship-making industry can’t keep up, which has pushed prices for the already-expensive yachts even higher. Why the balloon in demand? Sam Tucker, the head of VesselsValue, cites “the increased need for privacy and private isolation” that superyachts can provide as one reason why the ultra-rich have been so keen on purchasing these vessels during the pandemic. Apparently, their mega-mansions and private islands didn’t provide enough space for them to properly self-isolate and work-from-home like the rest of us.
Billionaires and Big Checks Shape Battle for Congress by Shane Goldmacher and Rachel Shorey
Both Democrats and Republicans have raked in millions ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, and billionaires have played an outsized role in the funding on both sides. With a $2,900 limit on direct candidate contributions, most billionaires have directed their campaign donations to SuperPACs, which have no contribution limits. The ultra-rich funding Democratic SuperPACs include George Soros, Fred Eychaner, Reid Hoffman, Connie Ballmer, and George Marcus; top donors on the Republican side include Patrick Ryan and Ken Griffin. Top Republican donors aren’t just spending on Republicans – many have flocked to support Senators Manchin and Sinema as they have roadblocked President Biden’s agenda, particularly his Build Back Better agenda, at nearly every turn.
Billionaires are the reason Build Back Better has stalled by Douglas Rooks
In this piece, Douglas Rooks contends that the reason why President Biden’s Build Back Better Act has failed to pass is because it raises taxes on the rich. Other budget bills like the CARES Act, the American Rescue Plan, and the bipartisan infrastructure bill all passed with support from all 50 Senate Democrats. The difference between these bills and the Build Back Better Act is that the latter is fully paid for by increased taxes on the wealthy and corporations. The excuses that Senators Manchin and Sinema have respectively deployed for their opposition to the Build Back Better agenda simply don’t add up. What does make sense is that their billionaire donors wouldn’t like having to pay their fair share in taxes because of the bill.