When I set out to write a billionaire romance with Boardroom Omega, I had a few goals in mind. One was that I wanted to end the novel with this obscenely wealthy person, to some degree, changing their ways and using that wealth to contribute to society instead of being a parasite.
The other goal was to showcase how utterly insane—and I do not use that term lightly—the existence of a billionaire class is in society.
Perce the Sociopath
There is actually some evidence that suggests CEOs—many of whom end up as billionaires, such as Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos—tend to score higher on sociopathic (or psychopathic) traits.
This makes perfect sense, if you think about it. Bezos’s mind-bending wealth is built on the systematic exploitation of Amazon workers, as well as the tax system. Elon Musk’s wealth originates from colonial exploitation of precious materials in African countries.
Now, many people will suggest that billionaires got to where they are fair and square, but it’s simply not true. Jeff Bezos would not be nearly as wealthy as he is if Amazon paid fair wages and enacted better worker protections. Jeff Bezos would not be as wealth as he is if he paid into the tax system proportionately.
The same is true of Elon Musk, to some degree: he and his family would not have such wealth if they had not been involved in exploitation of mineral resources.
And we can even point at Bill Gates—who often seems like the “least evil billionaire”—and suggest that even his philanthropy is merely a cover for how much he has failed to contribute to society. Yes, it’s nice that he and ex-wife Melinda started that foundation to donate goats to poor farmers in Africa. What would have happened if they paid tax? Would the US have better healthcare?
Why Sociopathy Is Encouraged Under Capitalism
We can point here to the capitalist system, in that it encourages people to be sociopathic. A good CEO is one who is logical. Good CEOs drive profit at any cost. A good CEO does not care about people—whether it’s their workers or society at large. The name of the game is making more dollars.
And we see this everywhere, not just with billionaires in particular. Billion-dollar brands whine and cry when minimum wages are increased just a touch. “We can’t afford that!” they cry. “Our profits!!”
Then they slash hours, fire employees, even close their businesses early. They invest in technology to replace “expensive” workers (like the self-checkout) and they increase prices to maintain their “profit margin.”
It’s Like They Want Me to Spend Money Elsewhere
My favorite case in point is Pizza Hut. Ontario raised the minimum wage to $14 per hour. Pizza Hut subsequently raised their prices and wrote a whining note to their customers, apologizing for higher prices and asking them to tell the Evil Government about how this was hurting people.
Here’s the stupid thing: Pizza Hut shot their long-term profit growth in the foot over this. If prices had remained stable, the minimum wage increase would have amplified the buying power of minimum-wage workers across the province—including Pizza Hut’s own workers.
Now the worker who can’t afford to buy a pizza from you and instead heads over to Little Ceasar’s or the grocery store to grab a frozen pizza does take home a pizza at the end of their shift. They’re tired. They’re hungry. The pizza is right there—and oh-so affordable.
Jack the prices, though, and you erode their buying power once more. Your pizza remains unaffordable, which drives your own workers into the arms of your competitors or the frozen pizza aisle at the supermarket.
In turn, Pizza Hut’s sales do not grow. Sure, you saved the “profit margin,” but you failed to grow it long-term.
And this is the problem: these businesses are so short-sighted, so concerned about the profit margin and maintaining it, they fail to see that, by changing what they do, they only stand to gain.
It’s a simple principle: when people have more money, they spend more.
Trimming the Fat Off the Lean End
Or how about this example? Metro, a grocery chain, reacted to the wage increase in Ontario by reducing their store hours, closing two hours earlier every night. They also installed more self-checkout stations, and they reduced staff hours. To “save money.”
They pay their CEO thousands per hour, but they argue they cannot afford to pay minimum-wage workers $15 per hour. You can get hundreds of minimum-wage hours for one hour of your CEO’s time.
Maybe tell the CEO to bugger off more often? Maybe reduce CEO compensation by, like, I don’t know—$100 an hour? Then, for every hour your CEO works, you can buy almost seven hours of minimum-wage time.
That’s 280 hours of minimum-wage time for every 40-hour work week. By scaling back CEO pay just $100 an hour. The CEO is still grossly overpaid, really, (and minimum-wage workers criminally underpaid), but the point of the matter is that these companies do have the money. The solutions to their profit margins are right in front of them, but they go on punishing minimum-wage workers instead of “trimming fat” where there’s actually fat to be trimmed.
The Math to Maintain Profit Leads to Erosion
And the same is true when they insist on raising prices—instead of looking within and finding solutions where they actually exist, they instead erode their own futures by insisting they must “hold steady.” Even a temporary loss—a slightly lower profit margin—could be tolerated for a year or two.
And keep that in mind: we’re talking about profits. Not “break even.” Profit. Profit is literally overage—you’ve paid for everything you need to pay for and profit is what you have left after that.
So these companies are crying about making $1.1 billion instead of $1.2 billion and saying they have to fuck over everyone else.
If they didn’t, they might make $1.3 billion or $1.4 billion. (We can look at Dan Price, who cut his pay to $70k and ensured all his workers were getting that as salary; his people are happier, healthier, have better lives, and the company is thriving. Hm!)
The long and short of this is that capitalism is so driven by “profit”—and short-sighted about profit—that it encourages people who act like sociopaths. These people are willing to make “tough choices” about firing people. They’re more concerned about profit margins than they are about worker quality of life.
So this is where I situated Perce when I was setting out to write my billionaire romance: the man is a sociopath, to some degree.
The Myth of Billionaire Hard Work and “Earning It”
There are many people who will defend billionaires: they earned it; they deserve it; it’s their money.
This is an interesting phenomenon, because CEO pay is grossly out of step with wages more generally. In the last three decades, minimum wage has stagnated and middle-class earnings have eroded, while CEO earnings have skyrocketed to be hundreds of times the minimum wage.
Capitalism encourages us to buy into the myth that billionaires got insanely wealthy by “working hard.” If it wasn’t hard work that got them where they are, then it’s something to do with how smart they are.
Actually, none of them got where they are by any merit of their own. Bezos got a loan from his parents. Musk has generational wealth coming down through colonial violence. Bill Gates may see the odd one out here, but his wealth is still built on a history of exploiting other people.
Yet so many of us believe that billionaires and other wealthy people must have somehow “earned it.” They deserve what they have. Somehow. We believe they have special talents or are super smart or something.
About the only thing they’re good at is systematically exploiting the system and other people. So, yes, we can say that’s a kind of smart—but a sociopathic smart, if you will.
They’re sociopaths. Why are we lauding sociopaths?
John Calvin and the Divine Right of Billionaires
This line of thinking is what I call “the divine right of billionaires.” We believe, somehow, that billionaires are “chosen people,” that they got where they are because they are supremely deserving (good) people.
And that line of thinking can be traced all the way back to the 1500s, the Protestant Revolution, and a fellow named John Calvin.
Calvinist thought holds that everyone is predestined to go to heaven or hell. That is, from the time you’re born, you’re already sentenced to one or the other. Nothing you do on Earth can change your fate.
Of course, you don’t know if you’re going up or down in the great afterlife elevator. And to try and figure it out is blasphemy, because that would be trying to know the mind of God.
Calvinists suggest that one can demonstrate their predestined fate, however, through their acts. And one of the acts someone predestined for heaven can demonstrate is getting rich.
How does this demonstrate that you’re destined for heaven? Well, if you’re going to heaven, that means God likes you. You’re one of his favs, so to speak. So it’s likely that he’s bestowed on you all these “gifts” and favors. You’ll just kind of coast through life, like it’s charmed or something. You’ll probably be really smart, really talented, really pretty, and getting rich will be easy.
You see where this is going?
Exploiting the Protestant Work Ethic
This obviously links up with the famed “Protestant Work Ethic”—work hard and you’ll be rewarded. So the Calvinists didn’t really believe in sitting on your butt and just letting wealth come to you. But they did believe that, if you were bound for the upstairs, wealth would naturally follow. So anyone who got rich was probably God’s chosen one.
This bleeds into the myth that the wealthy are wealthy because God likes them. And if God likes them, he bestows favor, which means they’re likely going to heaven. Thus the wealthy are divine sorts of creatures—innately good.
Compare this to how we view billionaires today. Of course, we may not suggest they’re going to heaven or that they’re God’s “chosen people,” but we do see wealth as a marker of intrinsic goodness (even though we know that wealth—and disproportionate wealth—distorts one’s ability to sympathize with their fellow humans). We believe that the wealthy have somehow “earned” what they have, through being smart or working hard. And we believe they have merit and we want to mimic them. More often than not, we believe they’re “good” people.
The Good Are Rich; the Poor Are Damned
This is a demonstrated psychological effect: we tend to believe rich people are more worthy than others.
Interestingly, Calvin’s theory also explains why we treat the poor so badly: if you’re poor, God hates you. You’re going straight to hell.
Thus we believe poor people are intrinsically bad. They’re criminals, liars, and so on. They’re lazy. They deserve to be poor, because they are bad people.
Oh. Suddenly, capitalism makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? The rich deserve to get richer because they’re “good,” and the poor masses deserve to be treated like shit because they are intrinsically bad.
And even though we’ve decoupled this rich = good/poor = bad myth from its Christian Calvinist roots, it is pervasive. It has become secularized in the myth of “merit.” We believe CEOs and billionaires end up where they are because of their own personal merit. If someone is poor, it is because they lack merit—they thus deserve to be poor.
Divide and Conquer
This is a very convenient myth for capitalist society, which requires masses of impoverished workers to be exploited. People with financial security are not desperate, so they are not as easy to exploit. And thus capitalist society drives forward punitive policies that punish the poor and favor the rich, in order to perpetuate poverty. And it uses this myth of “merit” to keep most of us voting against our own interests.
Why? We believe ourselves to have merit, and thus we align ourselves with our more virtuous peers in the upper echelons of society.
We don’t want to align with the “bad” poor people, even though we have more in common with them than the people at the top. Everyone wants to be seen as having merit, as being virtuous, so we seek to act more like billionaires. We laud the rich and punish the poor, and we blame the poor for their own “shortcomings.”
And in doing so, we create a sociopathic society, one where the masses attempt to mimic the actions of the sociopathic upper echelons, thus replicating sociopathy all the way down the ladder.
Billionaires Fail to Contribute to Society
The problem here is that billionaires do not care about their fellow human beings. They can’t; they’re sociopaths, so they lack the necessary capacity. They are driven by self-interest, and they tell us that is natural and normal. We internalize that, and society becomes increasingly sociopathic in turn, as we all seek to act in our own best interests because—well, everyone else is going to.
This is a nasty view of human nature: we had better screw over everyone else before they screw us over. It’s every person for themselves.
This ignores altruism and the fact that human beings tend to be, well, relatively enmeshed in networks of care. Capitalist society tries to cut us off from those networks to isolate us. Because isolated workers are, after all, easier to exploit.
Billionaires are perhaps the worst example of this, because they hoard wealth. In doing so, they cut off the redistributive effects of social order. By hoarding wealth, they keep it out of the hands of ordinary people, which in turn makes those people more desperate. It impoverishes every possible avenue we have for recourse.
If billionaires paid taxes proportionate with their income, for example, governments might not need to choose between funding healthcare and funding education. We might be able to better provide for everyone in our society.
The state is, of course, not the only mechanism for redistribution. What if billionaires like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk or Bill Gates paid their employees more? They might not then be billionaires; their employees might not be rich, but they might not be struggling to get by as Amazon delivery drivers and warehouse workers are.
What if we worried less about whether we’re making $1.1 billion in profit or $1.2 billion in profit? Actually, what if we didn’t worry about profit at all?
The Leeches Are at the Top
We can see how the ultra-rich are actually a parasitic class, then, draining resources from society, hoarding them and impoverishing everyone else as a result.
In short, billionaires break the social contract. The social contract suggests that to take part in society, we all have to participate to some degree. Billionaires don’t want to participate the way the rest of us do. They exploit the system and fuck the rest of us over for personal gain.
You know how upset we get about “welfare queens” or people who might not need “government handouts” taking them?
Why are we not directing that rage at billionaires? Oh, right, because the billionaires are somehow virtuous people and the poor are demonic criminals.
So the “welfare queen” who takes your tax dollars is worthy of your ire, while the billionaire who could pay you a living wage, who could end world hunger, who could pay more tax and help fund education or give the “welfare queen” her social assistance check is … not evil. They’re good, even though they’re systematically screwing you over, much more than a hundred welfare queens could.
Reimagining the Billionaire Trope
Billionaires are thus difficult to write about. On the one hand, they’re attractive because they offer freedom from financial worry. That’s why most people fantasize about being fantastically wealthy or wooed by someone with a lot of money. It is an attractive fantasy. Sure, “money can’t buy happiness,” but it could pay my debts and buy me a nice house and then I could live with fewer material worries.
Money may not buy “happiness,” but it does buy better mental health, less anxiety, more security, better food, better physical health, and a whole host of things that might help you get to happiness.
So, writing billionaires is difficult, because there’s this tension. On the one hand, the trope is an escapist fantasy. On the other hand, the very existence of billionaires is a travesty, and setting them up as romantic heroes only furthers the myth that billionaires are somehow good people and not social parasites, sociopaths.
That’s Why Perce Is a Psychopath
That was why I wrote Perce the way I did. Perce is not, at the outset, a good person. He’s a fucking little psychopath, ready to screw everyone over at the drop of a hat.
Yet, underneath, as we unravel him—and the story—we discover that he is perhaps not as bad as he seems on the surface. And, as we continue through the story, he discovers that perhaps he doesn’t need to act like a sociopath. Instead, he discovers that he can be something else—caring. Human. Open and vulnerable.
This begins to echo in Perce’s actions later in the book: as Perce decries his former employer, he suggests he wants to build something else. He wants to re-envision what business can be. Instead of the capitalistic shitshow that exists at Utopico, which hurts him, Michael, and countless others, he wonders if he can make Lunex different.
At the end of the novel, we see something different taking shape here—how far-reaching it is, how much it rewrites the capitalist social script, remains to be seen.
The winds of change are blowing, and perhaps, perhaps billionaires can be redeemed yet by realizing the imperative to do good in this world to prove they are the “good people” we seem to want to believe they are. And the root of that starts with realizing hoarding wealth is wrong—that caring about people and helping us all get along better helps us all.