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Batman’s superpower? He’s rich, but not as rich as Jeff Bezos

The Caped Crusader's superpower was an ability to buy what he needed to help the world -- let that be a lesson
Batman TV series stars Burt Ward (left) and Adam West (right), as Dick Grayson/Robin and Bruce Wayne/Batman, respectively. 1966 (Cc via Wikipedia)
Batman TV series stars Burt Ward (left) and Adam West (right), as Dick Grayson/Robin and Bruce Wayne/Batman, respectively. 1966 (Cc via Wikipedia)
Batman TV series stars Burt Ward (left) and Adam West (right), as Dick Grayson/Robin and Bruce Wayne/Batman, respectively. 1966 (Cc via Wikipedia)

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 a 2015 article in Money Magazine, Batman’s estimated net worth was $9.2 billion dollars, adjusted for inflation. Under Forbes ranking for that year, that tied him with retailer John Menard Jr. as the 49th richest person in the United States and, 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, the wealthiest person in the world today, has a net worth of $121 billion—over 12 times that of Batman.

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 The Giving Pledge’s website: 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, is based. Mike 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 U.S. Census figures, and median household income was $59,000. The new tax plan 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 when 40 percent of 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).

About the Author
Aaron Keyak is an experienced publicist and a leader in fighting for both the progressive and pro-Israel communities, in political campaigns as well as on Capitol Hill. Aaron previously served as the communications director for Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), a leading pro-Israel progressive who represented the highest percentage of Jewish Americans in the United States. Aaron also advised the congressman on Middle East policy, and led the messaging strategy around the congressman’s top priorities including on issues ranging from a woman’s right to choose and the fight for LGBT rights to strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship and fighting anti-Semitism. Aaron also spearheaded the drafting, coalition building and legislative negotiations surrounding a timely congressional resolution condemning the rising tide of anti-Semitism throughout the world in 2014, which passed the House unanimously. Immediately following President Obama’s re-election in 2012, Aaron became the interim executive director for the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC). During the election he headed the campaign media Hub, a rapid-response research and media outreach team that promoted President Obama’s message around foreign policy issues and to the Jewish community. Prior to leading the Hub, he served as the communications director and top Middle East adviser for former Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.), also serving on the congressman’s campaign – including a multimillion-dollar, nationally targeted primary campaign. When he started with Congressman Rothman, Aaron was the youngest communications director on Capitol Hill. Aaron led the messaging, press and political strategy in support of Congressman Rothman’s early championing of Israel’s lifesaving defense program, Iron Dome, as well as the congressman’s outspoken advocacy for U.S.-Israel joint missile defense programs, David’s Sling, Arrow 2 and Arrow 3. Aaron also helped assist the congressman in his role as a member of the House Appropriations Foreign Operations and State Subcommittee, which appropriates all U.S. foreign aid. During the 2008 election and for the first year of President Obama’s term, Aaron led NJDC’s press operations. While at NJDC, he was recognized as one of the top political pundits on Twitter by The Hill and was named a leader in “steering conversation about Jewish life on Twitter” by JTA. Aaron got his professional start in Washington as an associate at Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications. Aaron received his bachelor’s degree with honors from Washington University in St. Louis and is a Truman National Security Project scholar, trained in defense, foreign policy and national security issues.
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