The world’s super rich and their assorted gofers have been checking out of Monte Carlo this past week. The Monaco Yacht Show has just ended.
Thinking about sometime taking in this annual four-day extravaganza, maybe catching sight of a billionaire or two? You’ll have to pay plenty for that privilege. The daily entry fee: $635.
But pay that fee and you’ll get to see lots of big boats. Back in the late 20th-century, notes yacht broker Henry Smith, any yacht a mere 40 meters long would have been considered “gigantic.” A 40-meter yacht today rates as “midsize.” About two dozen of the “superyachts” currently on shipyard order run over 100 meters, about the full length of a U.S. football field.
How much can one of these monster yachts cost? The owner of the Jacksonville NFL football franchise had a mere 97-meter-long superyacht built a few years back. The boat recently sold for $157 million.
That $157-million price-tag would hardly raise an eyebrow among the billionaires that Forbes has just named as America’s 400 richest for 2023. This year’s Forbes 400 hold a combined fortune worth $4.5 trillion. They could all buy up three yachts at $150 million each and still have well over $4 trillion to spend on whatever their hearts desire.
Those hearts, Forbes details, seldom desire to do much that benefits other people.
“How generous are the super-rich, really?” asks Forbes analyst Phoebe Liu. “Not very.”
Liu and her colleagues have calculated an “out-the-door lifetime giving” figure for each of America’s current 400 richest and then calculated, based on current net worths, a set of individual “giving percentages.”
The absolutely appalling result of all these calculations: Some two thirds of America’s 400 richest have given away less than 5 percent of their prodigious fortunes to charities. Out of this top 400, only eleven have given away more than 20 percent of their fortunes.
And the richer the billionaire, the less of their fortunes they shell out. Tesla CEO Elon Musk sits first on the Forbes 400 list, Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison third, and Nvidia cofounder Jensen Huang seventeenth. All three each have given away less than 1 percent of their fabulous fortunes.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos sits second on the Forbes list, on top of a tidy nest-egg worth $160 billion. He’s given away less than 5 percent of his billions.
The dollars the rich do give away to nonprofits regularly flow to causes and concerns more near and dear to their pocketbooks than their hearts.
Billionaire Charles Koch, for instance, sits 16th on the latest Forbes 400 list. The 27 donor organizations that Koch and his fellow Koch Industries execs control, the Center for Media and Democracy detailed this past spring, spent a combined $657 million on contributions to nonprofits in 2021, on top of $525 million in 2019 and $639 million in 2020.
Only 6 percent of those expenditures went to nonprofits that the Center assesses as “selfless and altruistic rather than overtly supportive of Charles Koch’s own political or financial goals.” Over 93 percent of the Koch empire’s donations went to nonprofits “primarily focused on influencing American policy and politics” into directions that do align with those goals.
Overall, our nation’s richest are doing precious little to address the starkest challenges our planet faces, points out Alan Davis, a deep-pocketed activist with Patriotic Millionaires and the chair of the Excessive Wealth Disorder Institute. On climate change, Davis has just noted in Fortune, our “excessively rich” don’t seem to be “feeling the heat.” They’ve devoted a mere 0.04 percent of their considerable assets to addressing our climate crisis.
At the same time, add researchers at Oxfam, our world’s top 125 billionaires have an average 14 percent of their investments sitting in fossil fuels and assorted other pollutants. Adding into the picture the enormous personal energy consumption of our super rich simply compounds the environmental damage they’re doing.
Take all those superyachts, for instance. A little Mediterranean jog by a 50-meter yacht between Monaco and St. Tropez — around 85 miles as the crow flies — can easily “burn through $35,000 of diesel,” the Washington Post points out.
If we combine the impact of how much our super rich invest in fossil fuels with how much energy they personally consume, Oxfam has calculated, we end up with an extraordinary set of figures. Our billionaires are individually responsible for a million times more carbon emissions than one of our planet’s average people.
So what do we do? The simple response from the Excessive Wealth Disorder Institute’s Alan Davis: We all need to understand that we’ll only be able to “limit the power of the excessively wealthy” if we “stop the hoarding of excessive wealth.”