It sucks to be a billionaire these days
Even Harvard can't convince students to come to campus this fall
The Belt & Road Today
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According to a recent poll, over 20% of Harvard students are not going back this fall. Of those not returning to school, most — 73% have opted to work full time instead. 4% are taking classes at a different university, and 2% are doing volunteer work.
Why? 85% believe they are likely to be exposed to the coronavirus if study on campus this fall. Another victim of the pandemic is dormitory life. Of those that will return to university 56% are living off-campus, 7% are in single dorms and 9% are in doubles. Most universities have responded by limiting dorm capacities.
And that is not all. In 2019 nearly 400,000 students from China studied at U.S. universities. The vast majority of them will not be returning—ever. Not only was China the largest contingent of foreign students studying in the U.S., but they also contributed $13 billion to the U.S. economy.
U.S. universities are facing a massive decline in enrollment and revenues as a direct fallout of Trump administration policies and the pandemic. The winners will be the U.K. and the universities of other first world English speaking nations. Chinese students still want the best English-language education money can buy, they will just spend their money elsewhere.
Oh, and in case you are wondering this is a one-way street. By way of comparison, the number of American students traveling to China to study is very small, with just under 12,000 enrolling in Chinese universities in 2017.
Just saying “The rich keep getting richer.” doesn’t even begin to tell the story these days. Since the pandemic first exploded in the U.S. in March, the top dozen richest men in America have enjoyed a 40% surge in its combined wealth — or an increase of $283 billion.
According to the Institute for Policy Studies, the top 12 billionaires in the U.S. hit a new combined high of one trillion dollars — yes, that is 13 digits, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
The statistic is telling and exacerbated by the devastation in the broader economy due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some people are already starting to give these (mostly) tech titans disparaging epithets.
“This is a disturbing milestone in the U.S. history of concentrated wealth and power,” said Chuck Collins, a director for the Washington D.C.-based progressive think tank. “This is simply too much economic and political power in the hands of twelve people. From the point of view of a democratic self-governing society, this represents an Oligarchic Dozen.”
In a previous era in the United States these “captains of industry” were also called “Robber Barons” and president Teddy Roosevelt went after them (Banker J.P. Morgan was the first target) aggressively, and became known as the “Trust Buster” president.
Being a minor billionaire (not even in the top 500) Trump is unlikely to become the next “Trust Buster” president. But if you think Trump is unpopular, being a billionaire who’s net worth is rapidly increasing during these tough times will likely make you at least as unpopular.
I write this just hours after my next-door neighbor told me unequivocally that “Bill Gates cooked up the coronavirus in order that his companies could sell more vaccines and make himself richer”. When I pointed out that Bill Gates has already turned over the bulk of his wealth to a charitable foundation that is not profit motivated, he looked at me dumbfounded, convinced I was making it up. As he started to walk away, I reminded him that the Gates Foundation now spends more on global health every year than the World Health Organization — not to mention more than most countries on the planet.
From a public image standpoint, it has become a no-win situation for the billionaires. No wonder Jeff Bezos has given relatively little to charity. It wouldn’t make him any more friends. For John D. Rockefeller and Bill Gates who gave most of their wealth to charitable organizations—that work to spend their fortune as diligently as they made it—for the sake of the health of the entire human race get as maligned for the giving as they did for the getting.
Written in 2005 before Fake News was an everyday occurrence, James Surowiecki’s “The Wisdom of Crowds” is a fascinating read and should give you some hope for the November election. That said, the part of the book that discusses sports betting quoted a bookie saying “The line we want is the line that’ll split the public because that’s when you start earning that vig.” In this sense, Donald Trump plays politics like a bookie. He focuses on splitting the public so that he can win in the end.
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