With Rihanna’s wealth growing by the minute, Margaret Hartness tackles the question: are billionaires always bad?
Since the release of her first hit single Pon de Replay in 2006, and through the establishment and success of her cosmetics brand Fenty, Rihanna has never ceased to be a key figure in popular culture. Over the past 15 years, she has become a beloved icon and inspiration to many, but this love affair, for some, has faltered over the past month with this highly divisive announcement: Rihanna is a billionaire. Until this point, her cultural influence and worldwide love was indisputable; a style icon, a multi-talented artist, and an ambitious businesswoman championing inclusivity, at the top of her game in all her endeavours. In the wake of this news, and in considering the hold she has on all of us, a question results: is it always immoral to be a billionaire?
Some claim that her credits make her an exception to the demonisation of billionaires due to her accumulative wealth, stemming from artistic endeavours, from music to film to fashion. Fenty is regarded as a prime model of what make-up should be: inclusive of all who love it. As Rihanna told Refinery29 in 2017: “I wanted things that girls of all skin tones could fall in love with.” Such inclusivity also branches into her lingerie line, which is praised for its options for all shapes and sizes.
“Some claim that her credits make her an exception to the demonisation of billionaires…”
This argument, however, attaches a specific expectation of morality to the billionaire status; as mentioned, some claim that it is socially acceptable if the wealth was acquired through popular mainstream ethics of inclusivity and diversity, such as Fenty. This suggests that the issue is not so much with the mere existence of billionaires, but rather how their wealth grew; Rihanna’s status, therefore, is the exception.
The image attached to the “billionaire” (besides their tendency to ignore the practice of flaunting wealth through fashion) is cruelty, usually through the exploitation of their respective lower classes. Families working in sweatshops, both underpaying and overworking employees, the infamous Apple suicide nets in Chinese factories, and Amazon workers peeing into bottles. If such a grotesque image of the billionaire is taken at face value, one may assume that Rihanna has also contributed to this.
“The image attached to the “billionaire” is cruelty, usually through the exploitation of their respective lower classes.”
The billionaire is made possible through the technological changes in our culture, an element of the opportune circumstances Nobel Prize-winning economist Herbert Simon termed “social capital”. With the invention of the internet and ease of manufacturing, the billionaire business savviness has catered to our consumption of their products; no billionaire came into existence without willing customers. Their financial status is first secured by our patronage of them. The rich then get richer with their investments in their stock and portfolios. It’s worth noting with this that the number of billionaires has increased in recent years. In the first Forbes rich list in 1987, there were 140, Tatler explains. In 2019 however, this number is about fifteen times as large. Kerry A. Dolan, Assistant Managing Director of Wealth at Forbes, informed Tatler there were 2153 billionaires in existence in March of that year.
Can we universally call billionaires unethical when Rihanna has worked by these same social mechanics? Claims such as “billionaires should not exist” and “billionaires make their money off the backs of others” prompt this thinking. Yet Rihanna’s fortune was first made by our consumption of her music. Her partnership with LVMH to create Fenty was made possible through her own personal financing, off the back of her music career. Her achievement isn’t simply the product of a name-on-label hoard of wealth within an already affluent family (the Kardashian/Jenner clan, for example), it is down to her own hard work.
So perhaps, whilst we can’t “demote” billionaires, we should concentrate more on their journey to the top than their position there.