As we bid goodbye to the year 2020 and welcome 2021, it is for most of us a welcome change from a year unlike any other in our lifetime. Maybe that is true for one and all, but not everyone had such a bad year in 2020. Some people profited tremendously.
Elon Musk, he of Tesla and Space X and other such grandiose ventures, quintupled his net worth in the past year. Quintupled! He is five times richer than he was a year ago. And he was pretty well off then.
Jeff Bezos, he of Amazon, Blue Origin, and The Washington Post, did not do nearly as well. His net worth increased only seventy percent last year. Still, his wealth is mightier by a bit than poor Mr. Musk.
Bezos is now worth an estimated $186 billion; Musk comes in a distant second at a mere $159 billion. They comprise some twenty percent of the estimated $1 trillion haul raked in last year by America’s billionaire class. You can peruse the dazzling details here.
How did your fortunes fare in 2020? If you are vested in the stock market, perhaps it wasn’t so bad a year. After the plunge last March, the S&P 500 is up some 15%. Both it and the Dow Jones Industrial Average are at record highs.
Of course, only half of Americans own any stocks at all, and the wealthiest 10% of them own nearly 85% of the total value of shares here. Still, the year for them could have been worse.
Not so for millions of Americans, particularly in the service sector, who suffered through, and continue to suffer, devastating repercussions from the pandemic. Unemployment insurance, food stamps, a moratorium on evictions, and $600 stimulus checks are what they have to hold on to in trying to stay afloat.
When we go to an optometrist, 20-20 vision is a measure of excellent acuity. If any good comes from the year we’ve just put behind us, perhaps it will be a clearer vision of where we stand as a society and what we might do better.
If we recognize the inequities that the pandemic has made so fatally and financially apparent, and if we resolve to address them with the resources and the effort needed to bring a large measure of mitigation, 2020 metaphorically may be remembered for the acuity it provided us.
If, on the other hand, it was another year when the rich got much richer and everyone else just held on literally for dear life, the year will be a vivid signpost in the course of late stage capitalism like the virus itself allowed to run amok.