The rat race. It begins with your alarm jolting you out of deep sleep. You crawl out of bed and wince as you’re blinded by lights your eyes weren’t prepared for. You get blasted by a cold wind as you open your front door onto a cold, dark morning. You battle to get onto a packed train. You get into work and have the same dreary conversations with people you don’t like. You do the same meaningless job, over and over again.
No one wants to be part of the rat race. And yet, no one can live without it. The reason you choose to get out of bed, get crushed on a train, and have those dreary conversations is the fear of the consequences of not doing so. If you don’t work, you can’t afford to pay rent. Maybe you’re locked into a 25-year mortgage. You’ve got bills to pay, a family to provide for, you get the idea.
People don’t work because they want to. They work because they have to. This is the cage of necessity we all live within. You can choose not to do all the things you don’t want to do, but the consequences will be a life of poverty and desperation.
No one wants that.
You would imagine a way to escape the rat race is to get rich. Having enough money to live comfortably for the rest of your days is a ticket out of the humdrum of the cage of necessity. It frees people from the fear of the consequences of not working.
Rich beyond their wildest dreams
There are now 2755 billionaires out of a population of nearly 8 billion people. Billionaires are the richest 0.00003% of society. They are a rare breed indeed. If they were an animal, they would be an endangered species.
So unique this breed of people are that they have ascended to some promised land and are treated like deities; gods amongst mere mortals.
Because social success is defined by having more money and possessions than anyone else, billionaires are by default considered some of the most important people in the world.
To put their wealth into perspective, if someone had $1 billion (a pittance in this club) and spent $50,000 every day for the next 50 years, they would still have a fortune of $88.5 million, and that’s ignoring the huge amounts of interest they would earn in that time.
Put simply, they can’t run out of money.
Surely then billionaires are free from the rat race? After all, as the richest people in the world, they can do whatever they want and buy whatever they want, whenever they want.
And yet, billionaires are just as trapped as anyone else. Why?
It’s their wealth that makes them important, and they know this. Just like everyone else, then, billionaires are driven by fear—the fear of losing their billionaire status and everything that status provides.
Trapped in a cage of necessity
To maintain their status and the respect it provides, billionaires must maintain their status as billionaires.
Donald Trump provides a perfect example of the dilemma facing the billionaire. In the Art of the Deal, Trump boasts triumphantly that he doesn’t make deals for money;
“I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it.”
Now, upon reading that sentence, it doesn’t make all that much sense. What’s the point of doing something if it has no meaning? Trumps boast hides a crucial feature of the desire for more.
Imagine upon writing The Art of the Deal, Trump reflected on the meaninglessness of making deals for the sake of it. If it’s all for nothing, the 1986 Trump may have thought, maybe I should stop making deals?
But as soon as Trump stopped making deals, he would begin having less than those around him. And so, rather than freeing him, his wealth compels him to continue making deals because success and social status are defined by having more than others.
He doesn’t make deals for the sake of it. He makes deals because that’s the way he stays ahead of the pack.
If they stop, then the value of their wealth will soon diminish compared to others who are still hooked onto the treadmill. Once their wealth diminishes, so does the identity and social importance that the wealth provides.
Billionaires are driven by greed and a desire for more, not because they need to earn more money. They do so to maintain their social status and the feelings of importance that it provides.
They are just as trapped as everyone else.
Only they are trapped out of choice, not out of necessity. This is the pathology of capitalism. It requires the never-ending pursuit of more money, more possessions, more of everything because success is wrapped up in having more than those around us.
A vital social purpose
What never gets acknowledged is the vital social role that the billionaire club plays to the rest of society. There is a reason why Forbes release an annual rich list There is a reason why the wealth of billionaires is obsessed over, and people get news updates letting them know who the richest person in the world is.
Firstly, the celebration of billionaires by the media normalises massive wealth inequalities and makes it appear as if billionaires are your average joe. Clearly, that’s not the case.
Secondly, it’s to make people aspire to have what they have, to dare to dream of becoming billionaires themselves.
Forget about the fact that inequality has a deeply corrosive social impact, and societies are far better off when there are lower levels of inequality.
As long as our identities and feelings of success revolve around having more than others, everyone will continue being trapped by the rat race and chasing more for the sake of having more. The endangered species that is the billionaire is no different to anyone else — they are just as trapped by the cage of necessity.