Skyscrapers and Billionaires


At some point in my past I found an artistically-sized book of Skyscrapers (still in print). It started me on a journey that described the race in America and eventually around the world to build the tallest building. Since skyscrapers were impossible before steel girders and reliable elevators they are a 20th century phenomenon. Furthermore since the first skyscraper was built on an island of only 24 square miles with perhaps the densest population in the world, the footprint on the ground tends to be small, but the sky is, seemingly, the limit where height is concerned.

As soon as the first skyscraper was built, or perhaps even before it was finished, the race was on to build one that was higher. The race eventually moved to other American cities and then the involvement reached out to the entire globe. Architects and builders design skyscrapers, but rich people, usually men, finance them and get to adorn them with the name of their choice (sometimes with their own name). It is so predictable, this competitive desire to be first, to be the best, the tallest, the biggest. You show me yours and I’ll show you mine, and mine will be bigger. Given the phallic nature inherent in the design of this particular class of buildings it is tough to read them as feminine structures. I am always being sexist I guess, but I just can’t help myself since men are having such difficulty sharing almost everything. It seems natural to compare skyscrapers and billionaires.

Anyway I started to connect this race to build the tallest building with the race to be the biggest billionaire which seems to be the newest prize to grasp in the 21st century. Not all billionaires are hoarders. We can name a number of billionaires who have philanthropic goals and who spend their money in useful ways that benefit man and woman kind. Look at the top ten names on the latest Forbes list of billionaires and you will recognize some of those who feel that they have enough money that they can give back.

#1 Bill Gates $75 B 61 Microsoft United States
#2 Amancio Ortega $67 B 80 Zara Spain
#3 Warren Buffett $60.8 B 86 Berkshire Hathaway United States
#4 Carlos Slim Helu $50 B 76 telecom Mexico
#5 Jeff Bezos $45.2 B 52 United States
#6 Mark Zuckerberg $44.6 B 32 Facebook United States
#7 Larry Ellison $43.6 B 72 Oracle United States
#8 Michael Bloomberg $40 B 74 Bloomberg LP United States
#9 Charles Koch $39.6 B 81 diversified United States
#9 David Koch $39.6 B 76 diversified United States

The article goes on to give us this information:

By Kerry A. Dolan and Luisa Kroll

“Volatile stock markets, cratering oil prices and a stronger dollar led to a dynamic reshuffling of wealth around the globe and a drop in ten-figure fortunes for the first time since 2009. For our 30th annual guide to the world’s richest, we found 1,810 billionaires, down from a record 1,826 a year ago. Their aggregate net worth was $6.48 trillion, $570 billion less than last year.  It was also the first time since 2010 that the average net worth of a billionaire dropped – it is now $3.6 billion, $300 million less than last year.”

The article lists all 1,810 billionaires if you are interested. Are billionaires feeling nervous that they lost some ground last year? Do powerful people race to climb the billionaire ladder in ways that are similar to the race to build taller skyscrapers? I’m guessing that some do and some don’t. But what does it mean for us that these people, by virtue of their wealth can yank our world around and get it to serve the purposes of the wealthy? What does it mean that 1,810 people have lives so much more expansive that most of the 7+ billion people on the planet? How much money would each of us have if the distribution was more equal? Will wealth always accrue to the few in any cultural model? Are there laws and regulations that insure that those who are already wealthy will get wealthier? Are there ways to pass laws which make sure that money will be distributed more evenly? These people want us to believe that they deserve to be wealthy because they are the smartest, the hardest working, the most creative and they would always rise to the top like cream on milk that has not been homogenized. Homogenized milk tastes good. Wouldn’t earth’s societies work well if the money was spread around a bit more? Even cogitating on these matter is likely to raise an injured outcry, but I am going to see what answers I can find. It is my New Year’s Resolution.


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