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How the Super-Rich Will Destroy Themselves

Paul Buchheit

Perhaps they believe that their underground survival bunkers with bullet-resistant doors and geothermal power and anti-chemical air filters and infrared surveillance devices and pepper spray detonators will sustain them for two or three generations.

Perhaps they feel immune from the killings in the streets, for they rarely venture into the streets anymore. They don't care about the great masses of ordinary people, nor do they think they need us.

Or do they? There are a number of ways that the super-rich, because of their greed and lack of empathy for others, may be hastening their own demise, while taking the rest of us with them.

1. Pandemic (Because of Their Disdain for Global Health)

"A year ago the world was in a panic over Ebola. Now it’s Zika at the gate. When will it end?" --Public health expert Dr. Ali Khan.

It could end with a global pandemic that spreads with the speed of the 1918 Spanish Flu, but with a virulence that kills over half of us, rich and poor alike. Vanderbilt University's Dr. William Schaffner warned us a decade ago, "You've got to really invest vast resources right now to protect us from a pandemic." Added infectious disease specialist Dr. Stephen Baum, "There's nobody making vaccines anymore because the profitability is low and the liability is high."

The flu is just one of our worries. It has been estimated that less than 10 percent of the budget for health research is spent on diseases that cause 90 percent of the world's illnesses. According to a study in The Lancet, of the 336 new drugs developed in the first decade of this century, only four of them were for diseases impacting third-world peoples. World Health Organization director Margaret Chan lamented the long decades of disregard for the African-centered effects of the Ebola virus: "Ebola has historically been confined to poor African nations. The R&D incentive is virtually non-existent. A profit-driven industry does not invest in products for markets that cannot pay."

The super-rich had better make sure their anti-chemical air filters are also anti-viral.

2. Terrorism (Because of Global Inequality)

In The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett document some of the most frightening effects of inequality: higher levels of crime and violence, impacting all classes of people.

Inequality is worst at the global level, and the victims of global greed are getting more violent. The World Protests report concluded that the most recent decade represents one of the most agitated periods in modern history -- comparable to pre-Civil-War days, World War 1, and the Civil Rights era. According to expert Scott Atran, terrorism primarily appeals to young men who are bored and underemployed; for them, "jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer."

The terrorism of the future could easily take the form of the viral killers mentioned above. As Dr. Khan notes, "A deadly microbe like smallpox — to which we no longer have immunity — can be easily recreated in a rogue laboratory."

3. Drought (Because of Their Denial of Environmental Destruction)

National Geographic's 2012 Greendex Survey reveals a remarkable human response to environmental damage: "[Those] demonstrating the least sustainable behavior as consumers, are least likely to feel guilty about the implications of their choices for the environment." Citizens of Mexico, Brazil, China, and India tend to be most concerned about climate change, pollution, and species loss, while American, French, and British consumers are more concerned about the state of the economy and the cost of energy and fuel.

Even worse than denial is the outright suppression of climate-saving technologies, as, for example, by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which wants to charge the "freeriders" who install solar panels on their roofs.

The result of this environmental contempt, according to a Columbia University study, is the prospect of "drought beyond the sub-tropics and into the Northern Hemisphere mid-latitudes, regions of globally important agricultural production."

The super-rich can while away the hours in their underground bunkers watching videos of the good old days when the earth was cool.

4. Atrophy (Because of the Debt-Induced Collapse of Innovation)

A Small Business Administration study found that only 2% of the Millennial Generation are entrepreneurs (self-employed or business owners), compared to 6.7% of Baby Boomers and 5.4% in Generation X. According to the Kauffman Foundation, 20- to 34-year-olds made up over a third of all new business startups in 1997, but less than a quarter of them today. The super-rich have manipulated the financial system to the point that would-be entrepreneurs, many of them young and deeply in debt, are unable or unwilling to take chances on new startups.

Yet on a global scale youth entrepreneurship is on the rise. America is exceptional in its entrepreneurial decline.

5. Decay (Because of Their Disregard for Our Crumbling Infrastructure)

The corporate elite may face further business collapse if they continue to ignore the breakdown in our nation's infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that every American household is losing $3,400 per year in disposable income due to infrastructure deficiencies.

The tens of billions of dollars already being paid for additional transportation and storage costs may not kill the capitalists, but the losses to China and other fast-developing nations will surely deflate their stock prices and their egos.

How the Super-Rich Could Help Themselves

Amidst all the talk of unity and prayer and peace, a solution exists: job opportunities and affordable housing. The super-rich could prolong life for all of us, including themselves, if they recognized the need to support a strong society. If not, they'll be ensconced in their bunkers with their children at their sides, with nowhere to go and nothing to do.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit is an advocate for social and economic justice, and the author of numerous papers on economic inequality and cognitive science. He was recently named one of 300 Living Peace and Justice Leaders and Models. He is the author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (2008) and "Disposable Americans: Extreme Capitalism and the Case for a Guaranteed Income" (2017). Contact email: paul (at)

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