Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

This #GivingTuesday, whatever is your first priority, your second priority has to be independent media.

2021 has been one of the most dangerous and difficult years for independent journalism that we’ve ever seen. Our democracy is facing existential threats including the climate emergency, vaccine apartheid amid deadly pandemic, a global crisis for biodiversity, reproductive freedoms under assault, rising authoritarianism worldwide, and corporate-funded corruption of democracy that run beneath all of this. Giving Tuesday is a critical opportunity to make sure our journalism remains funded so that we can stay focused on all your priority issues. Please contribute today to keep Common Dreams alive and growing.

Please Help This #GivingTuesday -- Though our content is free to all, less than 1% of our readers give. We’re counting on you. Please help Common Dreams end the year strong.

"As the climate crisis worsens and the surging global population overruns our depleted living spaces," writes Buchheit, "the world's super-rich will increasingly become the targets of undervalued and desperate human beings." (Photo: Unsplash/Pixabay/CC0)

The Protests We Should Be Having to Make the Super-Rich Very Afraid

If we understand our history and consider strategies for the present that might combat greed in a practical way, perhaps we can anticipate what is possible if the super-rich refuse to step away from their yachts, bunkers, and lofty Wall Street pedestals.

Paul Buchheit

600 Americans, enough to fill a high school auditorium, own as much as a full 60% of Americans, or 200 million people. About half of the billionaire wealth has accumulated from passive stock market gains over the past ten years.

Protests in the streets don't impact the people who have taken so much while doing so little. Instead, the often-destructive uprisings usually target small businesses that are themselves part of the victimized lower- to middle-income segment of our nation.

That 60% of Americans whose wealth is matched by a roomful of billionaires should be working together to fight economic injustice. But whenever there's talk of public banks or public health care or public schools, the wealthiest Americans use their media power to try to convince us that working together as a society is a step toward communism.

The protests that seem to work, such as Occupy Wall Street, are temporary solutions to a systemic pattern of greed that seems to have no beginning or end. But there's hope. We can study the effectiveness of past protests, and we can consider strategies for the present that might combat greed in a practical way. And we can anticipate the dangers that await the super-rich if they refuse to step down from their yachts and bunkers and lofty Wall Street pedestals.

The Past: Protests by Plunder

In his People's History, Howard Zinn described colonial opposition to inequality in 1765: "A shoemaker named Ebenezer Macintosh led a mob in destroying the house of a rich Boston merchant named Andrew Oliver. Two weeks later, the crowd turned to the home of Thomas Hutchinson, symbol of the rich elite who ruled the colonies in the name of England. They smashed up his house with axes, drank the wine in his wine cellar, and looted the house of its furniture and other objects. A report by colony officials to England said that this was part of a larger scheme in which the houses of fifteen rich people were to be destroyed, as part of 'a war of plunder, of general levelling and taking away the distinction of rich and poor.'"

That wouldn't work today. The super-rich have fortified themselves in secure bunkers, as far away as New Zealand. But there have been many people's protests, in the U.S. and around the world in the last sixty years, from Martin Luther King's March on Washington to the Berlin Wall to Tiananmen Square to the 2017 Women's March on Washington. That brings us to the present, with Black Lives Matter, and the protests are not slowing down.

The Present: Protests We Should Be Having

Guaranteed Income

For 75 years the U.S. public has been subsidizing the tech and pharmaceutical industries, only to face robot automation and outrageous medical costs. Protesting for a guaranteed income started with Martin Luther King; now we're beginning to see results. Mayors for a Guaranteed Income is a coalition of eleven American mayors who are committed to a guaranteed income in their cities. They understand that the pandemic has made it impossible for millions of people to support their families.

Can it work? A four-year trial in Canada in the 1970s "saw rates of hospitalisations fall, improvements in mental health, and a rise in the number of children completing high school." When the trial was discontinued these measures of success gradually faded away.

How do we pay for it, and how will it hurt the super-rich? It will bruise their egos, but no more than anyone else with a stock portfolio. Just a 2% tax on total financial wealth would generate enough revenue to provide nearly a $14,000 annual stipend to every American household (including those of the richest families).

Public Banks

Another area of protest would directly address Wall Street greed. The establishment of public banks would restore some of the integrity of the post-recession Volcker Rule and the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, which separated investment banking from retail banking. Right now, the state of New York is considering a bill which would support the creation of public banks and public ownership of their stock. California recently passed a law that would allow local counties and municipalities to create public banks.

Opposition from the banking industry in New York is expected to be formidable. In recent years they've donated more than $3.5 million to their own candidates for local and state office. But public banking works. For over a century the public bank of North Dakota has focused on small business loans, often those unlikely to be issued by larger banks, except at prohibitive rates of interest. The North Dakota bank had an equity return of 23.4% before the state's oil boom. US News and the Mercatus Center rank North Dakota 13th and 19th, respectively, for financial health. The normally privatization-minded Wall Street Journal admitted that "The BND's costs are extremely low: no exorbitantly-paid executives; no bonuses, fees, or commissions; only one branch office; very low borrowing costs."

The Future: Protests by Drone

Future billionaires might want to keep their images off the Forbes Billionaire List. The rapid evolution of intelligent machines, with the ability to make decisions that can impact human life, is bringing us closer to a man-made revolution that the wealthy elite won't be able to control. A microdrone, like a nearly invisible gnat in the air, could be equipped with a tiny but lethal dose of an injectable poison, programmed with facial recognition software, and released in the general vicinity of its target, where it will be instructed to wait patiently as it remains charged by the sun, and finally to sweep in to its target's head or neck to complete its task. Silent and unseen, unidentifiable and untraceable, it will then self-destruct in the final act of its perfect mission.

This could happen anywhere, even in the secluded island bunkers of the most isolated and seemingly well-protected billionaires. As the climate crisis worsens and the surging global population overruns our depleted living spaces, the world's super-rich will increasingly become the targets of undervalued and desperate human beings. Reducing inequality is in their best interest.


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) youdeservefacts.org.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

New Climate Study Predicting More Rain Than Snow in the Arctic 'Rings Alarm Bells'

"There are huge ramifications of these changes," said the lead researcher, "all of which have implications on wildlife populations and human livelihoods."

Jessica Corbett ·


Durbin Introduces Amendment to End 'Legacy of Cruelty' by Closing Guantánamo

"It's time at long last to face reality and... close the detention facility at Guantánamo. Let's put this dark chapter behind us once and for all."

Brett Wilkins ·


As Executives Hike Prices, US Corporations Rake in Biggest Profits Since 1950

"Prices are high," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, "because corporations are raising them—so they can keep paying themselves with ever-larger executive bonuses and stock buybacks."

Jake Johnson ·



47 Groups Urge Congress to Avert 'Human Rights Failure' by Blocking Biden's Saudi Arms Sale

"The Biden administration in its very first weeks committed both to center human rights in foreign policy and to end U.S. complicity in the war in Yemen. Allowing this sale to stand breaks that commitment."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo