Howard Schultz, founder and CEO at Starbucks for many years and in 2019 a prospective candidate for the presidency, has made billions of dollars in income and was reported to have a net worth of $3.4 billion. He has objected, however, to the label “billionaire.”
In February 2019, he was quoted in an interview with journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin: “The moniker billionaire now has become the catchphrase. I would re-phrase that and I would say that people of means have been able to leverage their wealth and their interests in ways that are unfair. And I think that speaks to the inequality, but it also directly speaks to the special interests that are paid for by people of wealth and corporations that are looking for influence. And they have such unbelievable influence on the politicians who are steeped in the ideology of both parties.”
Up until then, of course, the word “billionaire” had been widely accepted in common usage (where accurate, in referring to people with a net worth of $1 billion or more) and had not been in dispute. The pushback occurred solely because it was people with such extravagant wealth were no longer being viewed, widely, nearly so favorably.
Someday before long, we’re going to be witness to the first trillionaires – which, considering the immense slice of global wealth such a person would hold, would be a scary prospect for many people. (Remember, there was no such thing as a billionaire until just about a century ago, when in September 1916 a gaggle of newspaper reports declared that stock and other holdings had boosted John D. Rockefeller above mere millionaire status; some other estimates give the first-B status to automaker Henry Ford around 1925.)
As a presidential prospect, he understandably wanted to try some reframing.
That may not be especially easy.
In one of its weekly reader contests, the news magazine The Week asked, “Please come up with a catchier term to describe billionaires who’d rather not be called billionaires.”
Third place: “The fun percent.” Second place: “The gilt-ridden.” First place: “The affluence burdened.”
You can try to change the words, but the underlying facts remain.