By the hoarders, for the hoarders: Billionaires are incompatible with a democratic society

I spent most of the last six years or so helping conduct experiments in science education. To get funding, we had to show evidence supporting our techniques and expectations. During the work we had oversight from both our company and experts at the NSF. This wasn’t just making sure that the grant money wasn’t being misused, it was also to ensure that the children on whose classrooms we were experimenting were not harmed by our experiments. These students are real people, and their schooling, good or bad, has ripple effects that will last for their entire lives.

Because of that, my team, in addition to being run by people with a solid record in the field, spent a lot of time soliciting the advice of science teachers, both in and out of the schools we were working with. There’s a balance to be found. On the one hand, I know a lot more about climate science than most k-12 teachers. On the other hand, I have no degrees in education, and I have never been a class teacher.

It wouldn’t matter if I could recite every climate science paper ever written from memory, because actually teaching a classroom full of children is a completely different area of expertise, and I think there’s an strong case to be made that it’s actually harder than any field of science. Managing dozens of children with developing brains, changing bodies, and home lives ranging from idyllic to abusive is a massive challenge, even without trying to teach them anything, and I don’t think our culture really understands that.

Bill Gates, like most people, saw that there were problems with our education system, and decided to use his massive hoard of wealth to try to fix it. I suppose that could have been a good thing, and there were a lot of people who were convinced that it WAS a good thing. The problem is that Gates ignored the people who warned him that his ideas wouldn’t work.  In the last few years, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has issued quiet statements indicating that they had just spent billions of dollars to find out that their entire approach was misguided and possibly damaging. Had they actually listened to the people who dedicated their lives to education, they could have spent all that time, money, and manpower actually improving our education system.

But they didn’t need to listen to anybody. They didn’t need to check in or get approval. Billionaires have no checks and balances on them. Trump’s stance of being above the law isn’t just because he’s in the Oval Office – as a billionaire, he comes from a culture of people whose general goal is to be above the law. “Liberal” billionaires are no exception. EVERYONE with that much money believes that it’s more important for them to be that wealthy than it is for people to have enough money to survive. That also means that they think they are the best people to decide what to do with that money.

When I, as some guy with a B.A. in biology, want to try some experimental bit of curriculum, or some new educational technique, I need to get funding and approval. I need check in with multiple people every step of the way. It’s a frustrating system, but it has a couple very important benefits – it means that if I want to try something that’s been tried or that ignores basic realities of the classroom, I’ll probably be stopped before I can waste time, money, and years of children’s education. Oversight and bureaucracy can be important tools if you actually care about doing a good job and helping people.

Billionaires don’t have any oversight beyond what they choose for themselves. That means that if they decide they know how to solve a problem, there’s no point at which someone else can point out a problem and force the billionaire to stop. The fundamental belief that they deserve their hoard, and that they know best how to use or not use it is directly opposed to the interests of a country run for the people, by the people. We’re seeing the effects of that now, with the myriad of “socialist” policies that have broad support among the American people, but that go against the interests of a handful of billionaires. The result? The feudal lords get what they want, and the peasants have to clean up after them as best we can.

This would be dangerous at the best of times. Our healthcare system was needlessly destroying lives long before the effects of climate change began to escalate. Now we are in an unstable climate, and our planet is largely ruled by a tiny group of billionaires who think they know what’s best for the everybody.

I don’t have a solution to it. There is no way around this danger so long as billionaires are allowed to exist. To be clear – I don’t really care if someone has a couple million, or even a couple hundred million dollars. I might view them as lacking in morals for hoarding money while there’s so much good they could do, but I won’t advocate for laws saying they’re too rich.

But we’re talking about people with thousands of millions of dollars – these are people with individual control of nation-sized amounts of money, but they answer only to themselves. Unlike feudal lords of the past, however, these people acknowledge no duty to their nations, their subjects, or even their descendants. They are all of them like rogue dictators who pillage their countries for personal gain, and flee for safer ground when their victims rise up.

We need a peaceful solution if at all possible, but we can no longer afford to indulge a whole class of money hoarders who control a majority of the world’s resources.

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