“How can Taylor Swift being a billionaire possibly be unethical if all she does is sing and have concerts?” a fan asked on TikTok.
“Taylor Swift is the only billionaire who is allowed to exist,” said another fan.
“Billionaires are literally wealth hoarders,” replied another.
It’s a debate that has been going around and around since Forbes made the big claim that singer-songwriter Taylor Swift could join the three-comma club with her ‘Eras’ world tour this year.
Swift is currently worth US$570 million ($824 million) according to Forbes, and estimations by Billboard say that she stands to gain about the same amount from the upcoming tour.
Even if the estimation is an overprojection, Swift only needs a fraction of the calculation to pass the milestone (at least if you’re counting in AUD).
Now the debate is trending, and fans – known as Swifties – are wondering if they can continue to support a star sitting on that much money.
A rift among her fans
Since the prediction was made in late December, fans have been fixed on how making a billion dollars could be ethical at every step of the way.
Questions in comments and in videos ask about who is making the merchandise. Are they working reasonable hours and paid appropriately?
Did she really need to release that much merchandise? Are her tickets being sold to fans at a reasonable price?
The comment section of a TikTok video discussion Taylor Swift’s wealth. Credit: TikTok
The discussion gets murkier when you note there is a Facebook group with thousands of members called ‘Broke Swifties’ to help resell items for “reasonable prices”.
Many people online are quick to note Swift’s history of philanthropy with donations made to a long list of causes. Others note the monumental milestone it would mark. It would make Swift the first female to become a billionaire solely from being a musician. Rihanna’s billions (an estimated $US1.4 billion ($2 billion)) are mainly from business ventures.
Jacinta Bailey, an Australian fan of 12 years, said the news has been weighing on her mind since fans jumped onto TikTok to share where they stood.
A collection of Jacinta Bailey’s merchandise, with multiple editions of the ‘Midnights’ album. Source: Supplied
“Obviously, we don’t know her as a person even though part of the brand is making you feel like, [she’s] the girl next door, she’s your best friend.”
But the “girl next door” might be on the cusp of a billion dollars – and that changes things for Jacinta.
“I think I will continue to support her as a fan, but I don’t believe billionaires should exist and I believe it’s impossible to be an ethical billionaire…
“At that point, I believe it becomes an act of theft from ordinary people to hoard wealth without using it to better one’s life and simply accumulated wealth for the sake of wealth.”
She adds: “But then again, there are lots of conversations about exactly how much control artists do have over that sort of stuff. Can we be mad?”
Jamie Dubois, 40, is another long-time fan from Queensland. She said Swift deserves the monetary milestone, saying: “she earnt it, it didn’t fall into her lap.”
Australian fan Jamie Dubois said the singer has worked hard for her success. Source: Supplied
She is also doubtful that such questions would be asked of her male counterparts.
“She’s had to continually reinvent herself and prove herself over and over again to get where she has.”
Can the ‘ethical billionaire’ exist?
Hoping to set an example, billionaire Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard gave away his hugely successful outdoor clothing brand to a uniquely structured trust and non-profit. It’s designed to pump all profit into saving the planet.
“As of now, Earth is our only shareholder,” the company announced. “ALL profits, in perpetuity, will go to our mission to ‘save our home planet’.”
Patagonia billionaire Yvon Chouinard gave away his entire company to fight against the Earth’s climate devastation. Credit: Jean-Marc Giboux/Getty Images
Last July, billionaire Bill Gates pledged again to give his wealth away, adding that he will eventually “drop off” the world’s rich list. The
said he had an “obligation” to return his resources to society.
Australian billionaire and co-founder of software company Atlassian Mike Cannon-Brookes pledged $1.5 billion with his wife to help curb global warming, according to a report in the Australian Financial Review last August.
Greens Senator Nick McKim, who holds the portfolio of economic justice and treasury for the party, said the concept of wanting to stay a billionaire and be ethical can’t really coexist.
“People don’t become billionaires because they need the money,” he told The Feed.
“They become billionaires because it either satisfies their greed, it stokes their ego, it feeds their lust for power or a combination of those three things.”
Greens Senator Nick McKim said the “ethical billionaire” doesn’t exist, with many relying on unethical methods to obtain such wealth. Source: AAP / Mick Tsikas
He said while not all billionaires are equally culpable, they are still culpable in any case.
“All billionaires have relied on social and economic structures that are based on colonisation, displacement, exploitation of workers, destruction of nature and cooking the planet,” he said.
“And most billionaires have actively contributed to those outcomes.”
a UK-based sustainability marketing agency, alleged that Swift was the biggest celebrity emitter, thanks to her private jet. They said Swift’s jet was responsible for 8,293.54 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions in just the first six months of 2022 —
Swift’s representatives have since denied the claims, saying the jet had been loaned out to others.
Even if Taylor Swift has been a trailblazer in the industry, and found herself a billionaire by accident, Mr McKim said the moral thing to do would be to donate until she is no longer in the billionaires club.
That amount of money also needs to be put into perspective, he said. On an annual salary of $100,000, it would take you 10,000 years to make $1 billion.
“No person or even family can spend a billion dollars in their lifetime, even on a lifestyle of extreme luxury,” he said. “It’s an obscene amount of money.”
Taylor Swift at Kensington Palace for the Centrepoint Winter Whites Gala in 2013 with Prince William. Source: Getty / WPA Pool
With just a small percentage of that money – an extra six per cent each year under the “wealth tax” proposed by the Greens – the money could be reinvested into the public sector and lift many out of poverty, Mr McKim said.
Australian billionaires are in the top tax bracket – for people earning $180,000 a year and over. They are taxed $51,667, plus 45 per cent on every dollar over $180,000.
“Governments should tax billionaires out of existence and invest the revenue into public good … that money would raise nearly $70 billion over the next decade, which could be used to fund things like wiping student debt, and putting dental and mental health into Medicare.”
“No one is guilt free here, and there are no ethical billionaires.”
Australia’s billionaires have also become way richer
For the first time in 25 years, extreme wealth and extreme poverty are simultaneously increasing, according to a
released by anti-poverty organisation Oxfam this week.
Australia now has 11 more billionaires than it did before the pandemic.
Oxfam Australia’s Director of Programs Anthea Spinks told The Feed it shouldn’t be left to individuals to become philanthropists when they become billionaires. Instead, greater intervention needs to be taken to slow down or close the widening wealth gap, she said.
Similarly, the organisation’s criticism lies with the tax system which allows the super-rich to generate that kind of wealth.
“We’re seeing a poly-crisis, with COVID impacts, the climate crisis, the cost of living, inflation, all of those things, meaning millions of people being pushed back into poverty,” Ms Spinks said.
“There’s a solution to that, though, an economic solution, which is around reforming our tax structures and systems.”
Oxfam estimates predict a harsher tax scheme for the ultra-rich could add $29 billion a year to the public purse.
“One of the biggest things that we’ve been calling on the Australian government to do, and particularly in the lead-up to the May budget, is to scrap the stage three tax cuts that have been proposed because we know what that will do is put more money back in the pockets of the wealthy.”
The Albanese government has
reversing the Morrison government-designed stage-three tax relief for wealthier Australians, which were legislated in 2019 with the support Labor, and are due to come into effect in 2024-25.
“Eat the rich” – a chant used to oppose wealth inequality – is one comment that often makes an appearance in the Taylor Swift wealth discussion. And as one fan put it: “Sorry, Ms Swift is still on the menu”.
“She’s a palate cleanser between the tech bros,” said another TikTok user, in agreement.