It’s Batman Day, and it’s time to give everyone’s favorite black-caped superhero serious consideration. (Especially given that his creators, Bob Kane and Bill Finger, were Jewish.)
I don’t mean earnestly arguing the relative virtues of Adam Scott’s campy, broad portrayal of Batman compared with Christian Bale’s subdued, grave performance. I don’t mean squaring him up in a fight against Superman and debating who would win, either. I mean it’s time to think about what Batman can teach us about the current political and economic climate. And that’s a lot: Batman is more useful in exploring inequality than any other superhero out there—and, maybe, about as useful as any other heuristic you can throw at the problem.
First, a key fact about Batman: He doesn’t have any superpowers. Not really. He can’t read minds like X-Men’s Charles Xavier, isn’t a hulk (like the Hulk), possesses none of Spiderman’s various spider skills and doesn’t have Superman’s X-ray vision or the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. He is, in all ways, resoundingly average. He’s really rich, though. That, it turns out, is superpower enough.
After all, who needs to leap tall buildings in a single bound when you can just buy a Batmobile? Who needs superhuman strength when you can pay for the best martial arts instruction in the world? Who needs invisibility when you’ve built yourself a Batcave? Batman’s incredible wealth allows him to bend the world to his will, and it’s therefore the one necessary attribute of the character.
So how rich, exactly, does a person need to be for it to qualify as a superpower? Surely, richer than anyone in the real world is—surely, since no superheroes walk among us.
According to Forbes Magazine, approximately the 137th richest person on earth. Batman is so wealthy that he can make anything happen—so wealthy it not only makes him super-powerful but also qualifies him to have superpowers—and there are 48 Americans richer than he is. Some of them much richer: Jeff Bezos, , has a net worth of $121 billion—over 12 times that of Batman.in Money Magazine, Batman’s estimated net worth was $9.2 billion dollars, adjusted for inflation. Under ranking for that year, that tied him with retailer John Menard Jr. as the 49th richest person in the United States and, according to
What can this teach us about the super-rich and, more broadly, about our current economic climate?
One could argue that unlike Batman, the world’s billionaires aren’t using their superpowers for good, but that would be disingenuous. Look at the Gates Foundation’s efforts to combat malaria, or simply visit: There, you can see the names of 175 billionaires who’ve pledged to give 99 percent of their fortunes to charitable causes.
What’s interesting, however, isn’t how the Americans richer than Batman use their money, but simply that 48 of them — likely more in 2018 — are richer than he is. Of course, Batman is fiction. It is the story of someone so fabulously wealthy that he can do just about anything he likes. The creators of the character were limited by only their imaginations. Yet they gave Batman a fortune worth $9.8 billion in today’s dollars. He wouldn’t even be the wealthiest person in New York—the city on which Batman’s hometown, Gotham, isMike Bloomberg could buy Batman more than twice over.
The wealth comparisons, though, don’t truly tell us anything about superheroes. They tell us, instead, about income inequality in our nation — and in the world. In 2016, 40.6 million people in the United States were living in poverty, according to the most recent, and median household income was $59,000. The will see those earning that median income get an average tax cut of less than $900, while those earning over $732,800 will see a cut of more than $51,000.
Ours is a nation in which wealth has become so concentrated in the hands of so few that just 48 people in America have superhero money.
We live in an era in which the super-rich are so rich that reality has outstripped the imagination of comic book writers, bringing us to a time whenof our nation’s wealth is in the hands of just 1 percent of the population.
On this Batman Day, let’s see all those 48 who have not yet done so become superheroes of a sort and join the Giving Pledge. To the super-rich of the world, let Batman’s generosity and righteousness be your guide.
Aaron Keyak is a managing director of Bluelight Strategies and a former senior adviser to Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY).