The Billionaires List And The Fetishism Of Money

March 10, 2023
8 mins read

“I want to write… the history….of a world that is treated virtually as a forbidden subject in an increasingly parochial culture that celebrates the virtues of ignorance, promotes a culture of stupidity and extols the present as a process without a n alternative, implying that we all live in a consumerist paradise. A world in which disappointment breeds apathy and, for that reason, escapist fantasies of every sort are encouraged from above. – TARIQ ALI in THE CLASH OF FUNDAMETALISMS.


With the collapse of the socialist system towards the end of the twentieth century, the world capitalist system entered a phase of triumph which was signposted by the American intellectual, Francis Fukuyama’s well-quoted book, THE END OF HISTORY. Imperialist intellectuals, theorists of neo-liberalism, journalists in the employ of capitalist media institutions, politicians and people around the world, who believe in the exploitative system of capitalism, began to argue that there was no alternative to the system which has so spectacularly won the ideological battle against socialism. The world is now a safe place for the movement of capital, for the institution of the free market economic model and bourgeois democracy. It is the end of history; we have arrived at the phase of the institution of the paradise of consumerism; the deification of the cult of money!


The past twenty years or so has seen the flowering of “motivational” literature and the speakers who market the chloroform of illusions about the world of capitalism. The exploited and hopeless are taught, almost like a new religious faith, to accept the world order as it is, because “prosperity” is just around the corner. The content of education is being “reformed” everywhere to align the training and mind of the student and products of school systems, with the need of the capitalist marketplace. Education used to have the philosophical underpinning of producing citizens of a democratic society, who have both a sense of duty and a cognizance of their rights. Today it is common place to hear education planners talk about the need for a “functional education”, the danger that must be rooted out is the graduated that develops a critical perspective which questions the entire system of exploitation that underlies the world of work and the capitalist arrangement of society. So away with the citizen, welcome the consumer!


The ideological paraphemalia becomes ever more sophisticated, especially in the advanced capitalist countries, with the media being a the heart of the process of construction of hegemony and consent and the incorporation and alienation of dissent, as the case might be. One of the great services that the media offers the capitalist system is the celebration of the wealth of the rich and the spread of the illusion that such wealth is available to all. Of course, we know that it is not true, yet we are titillated and taken on fantasy journeys about the obscene wealth of a few individuals around the world. The FORBES magazine has turned this annual ritual into a money-spinning, even if deeply ideological project, and well-followed spectacle around the world. The recent list of the world’s billionaires was released last week. I have in front of me as I write these lines in my hotel room in Toronto, Canada, the NATIONAL POST newspaper of Thursday, March 6, 2008. The newspaper devoted quite a copious amount of column inches to reporting the FORBES billionaires.


According to the report, for the first time ever, the number of FORBES billionaires crossed into the thousands, up 170 billionaires from last year, to 1,125. Their total worth is $4.4 trillion, not only are there more billionaires, they are also getting richer. FORBES says the average billionaire, is worth $3.9 billion, up $250 million from last year. NATIONAL POST said that the so-called BRICA countries. Brazil, Russia, India, China and the Middle East “have accounted for 40% of global growth, or nearly four times the US share in the part three years”. Russia, for example, has replaced Germany as the number two-ranked country, with 87 billionaires. It is also pumping out the world’s youngest billionaires, the average age being 46. The 40-year-old Russian Aluminum tycoon. Oleg Deripaska is worth $28 billion. The statistical list is very long.


But what makes the list interesting this year is the enlistment of Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote into the exclusive clube of the billionaires. The online edition of Nigeria’s THISDAY newspaper of Friday, March 7, 2008, reported that Aliko Dangote is the 334th richest man in the world, with assets estimated to be worth $3.3 billion. The paper reported Dangote as saying that he was “grateful to God (for being named as Africa’s richest man), he went further, that he was “confident that more Nigerians will make the list next year (obviously members of his circle of Obasanjo billionaires cronies who creamed the life out of the eight years of the monster president!)”.


THISDAY newspaper quoted Aliko Dangote as saying further that “the country is moving in the right direction (what that direction is, he did not expatiate!).things are happening. I am confident that in years to come, Nigeria alone will boast of 100 billionaires… The signs are good for Nigeria. Next year, I expect at least four Nigerians to be on the list” according to Aliko Dangote. it might be recalled that the monster despot, Olusegun Obasanjo, at the twilight of his disgraceful regime, had told the audience at a PDP fund-raising dinner, that he owed nobody any apologies for creating a handful of billionaires (in a sea of poverty) and that he would have loved to create a few more (if third term had not been killed!). so Obasanjo must have been very happy about the enlistment of one of his billionaire cronies, Aliko Dangote, on the FORBES list this year. That is a major achievement of the eight wasted years under his leadership of the Nigerian nation!.


As I indicated earlier, lists such as the FORBES billionaires list play the ideological role of making us all accept the immutability or inevitability of a world of grotesque and obscene wealth, in a sea of despair, poverty, under development and exploitation, upon which is built the wealth f the super-rich individuals. We are systematically programmed to accept that it is the only way that the world can be arranged. Magazines, television and other media images glamorize the world of these rich people; we are given tantalizing glimpses into their scandal-filled lives; their exquisite residences; their personal, luxury jets or yachts, etc. we fantasize about their wealth, live in dream lands of delusion that we might become equally lucky someday to own such mind-boggling monies. Of course, the overwhelming majority of human beings lives and dies without any form of wealth, whatsoever. However, the ideological end of keeping us deluded within the fantasies of capitalist society is achieved and is being further refined each new day!


There are uncomfortable questions that must be placed side-by-side with the wealth that Aliko Dangote and his exclusive band of billionaires sit atop of. At our local level, it would be worthwhile to know how much does Aliko Dangote give back to the society on whose back he climbed to become billionaire. What are he and the soon to be enlisted Nigerian billionaires doing to help health care delivery, help to remove the rot in our educational system or endow foundations to propel Nigeria’s scientific and technological development? what are Dangote and his ilk doing to help renew the roads that Dangote trailers ply everyday? These are the serious questions to be raised about a handful of billionaires in a sea of poverty and underdevelopment. Beyond the fetishism of money and ego message, what does Aliko Dangote’s appearance on the list of billionaires contribute to our country’s development or democratic consolidation? Right wing journalists and other hangers-on of the billionaires might celebrate the FORBES list, but I think it should give us the pause about the depth of depravity which underlies modern capitalism.


To put the obscene wealth of these individuals in perspective, I went on the internet to check the statistics of poverty, inequality and obscene wealth in our world today. See what you make of my findings and juxtapose these with the FORBES celebration of the wealth of the Aliko Dangotes of this world. In 2006, there were 497 billionaires in the world; they represented 0.000008% of the approximately 6.5 billion people in the world. But these 497 people owned $48.2 trillion. If these statistics of just 497 people owning so much is not obscene, I wonder just what would be! The wealth of the three riches billionaires in the world in 1998 exceeded the combined GDP of the 48 least developed countries of the world.


What is certain is that a few individuals from India, Russia and even Aliko Dangote might have joined the FORBES list of billionaires, but the tendency towards the concentration of wealth remains intrinsic to the capitalist system. For example, the total wealth of the top 8.3 million people around the world rose by 8% to $30.8 trillion in 2004, giving them control of nearly a quarter of the world’s financial assets; in other words, about 0.13% of the world’s population controlled 25% of the world’s financial assets. The analysis of the long term trends show that the distance between the richest and poorest countries was about; 3 to 1 in 1820, 11 to I in 1913; 35 to 1 in 1950; 44 to 1 in 1973 and 72 to 1 in 1992! So when we are called upon to celebrate Aliko Dangote’s billions, we should also remember that 26,500 to 30,000 children die each day in the developing countries, including Aliko Dangote’s Nigeria, due to poverty; while 27 to 28 percent of all children born in our countries are estimated to be underweight and stunted. 30 million of these children are likely to miss the MDG targets in respect of the underweight. It must also interest our billionaires, if they care at all, that one billion people have inadequate access to water; 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation and 1.8 million children die each year as a result of diarrhea.


The world of capitalism celebrates the money of a few billionaires, while it masks the grotesque inequalities that form the basis of the wealth of this handful of super-rich individuals. There is colossal waste of money while basic issues of global priorities are suffering from underfunding. They impose neo-liberal policies on developing countries, so the state is forced to remove spending from basic necessities of existence; in the meantime, the economies and societies are opened up for a few billionaires to make a killing as we saw in the eight years of Olusegun Obasanjo. Wasteful spending on vanity lengthens the profit margins of the billionaire entrepreneurs. In 1998 for example, 8$billion was spent on cosmetics in the USA; $11 billion went into ice cream in Europe; perfumes took $12 billion in the USA; the Americans and Europeans spent $17billion feeding their pet dogs and cats; Japan expended $35 billion on business entertainment and the Europeans smoked cigarettes worth $105 billion!


Meanwhile the United Nations estimated that additional sums spent as follows would have changedthe face of our world for the better. $6 billion for basic education; $9 billion for water and basic sanitation; $12 billion could have drastically improved reproductive health; all of these in the developing countries. It is equally significant that in 1998 $780 billion was spent on military forces. That was before 9/11 and the subsequent invasion and illegal occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. The USA, according to Professor Stiglitz, the Nobel laureate, is now spending $400 million per day on those wars and illegal occupation. It is expected that the war would eventually cost a total sum of $3 trillion. I am quite sorry to have inundated you with statistics this week, but I think that it was imperative to be able to put the cult of the billionaires and the fetishism of money in a proper historic context.


So when Aliko Dangote tells us that he is grateful to God to be enlisted in the exclusive list of billionaires, and he adds further that a few more people from his Nigerian circle would soon be so enlisted, it will be worthy to remember the context of the world of a few rich and the obverse of a world of injustice and poverty which aided the creation of the billionaires. They go together, like day and night. At the beginning of this piece, I quoted from Tariq Ali’s work and the “increasingly parchial culture that celebrates the virtues of ignorance, promotes a culture of stupidity and extols the present as a process without an alternative… and for that reason, escapist fantasies of every sort are encouraged”. This is the way our world is organized today. In the meantime, let us hold our home-grown billionaires to account. They should give back to our society; at least that is what their counterparts do in other societies. Ted Turner, Bill GATES AND Warren Buffett have shown that stupendous wealth taken from society can be given back to aid good  and worthy cause. Our billionaires exploited fully the access they have to state power, especially under the monster despot, Olusegun Osanjo. Thanking God or assuring us that more members of their circle will soon be on the FORBES list will not be enough. Let them become socially-relevant; that is when their billions can be genuinely meaningful in the context of our society.


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