The Slatest

Billionaire Howard Schultz Would Like Non-Billionaires to Stop Calling Him a Billionaire

Howard Schultz speaking at a Q&A.
Billionaire Howard Schultz, who has more than a billion dollars. Johannes Eisele/Getty Images

Billionaire Howard Schultz, who accumulated billions of dollars during his time as the CEO of Starbucks, attended a Q&A last month with CNBC host Andrew Ross Sorkin, who—unlike billionaire Howard Schultz—does not have a billion dollars, let alone billions of dollars. The conversation between billionaire and non-billionaire took place in front of an in-person audience of almost entirely non-billionaires and an online audience of mostly non-billionaires plus a very small number of billionaires. Although it’s unclear how billionaire Schultz’s appearance played with his billionaire peers (people who, much like the Starbucks billionaire, have net worths of at least a billion dollars), non-billionaires were appalled by the billionaire’s apparently sincere belief that the word “billionaire,” when used to describe people who have more than a billion dollars, is offensive to billionaires like himself. Instead, the billionaire said, billionaires like him would prefer that billionaires be referred to as “people of wealth” or “people of means,” phrases which vaguely suggest that billionaires possess great wealth without referring to the actual mind-numbing figure of one billion dollars. If you’d like to spend an hour listening to a billionaire’s political ideas, here’s the entire Q&A:

If you’re mostly just interested in billionaire Howard Schultz’s jaw-dropping idea that “billionaire” is some sort of slur, rather than a straightforward description of someone whose personal wealth is more than one thousand thousand thousand dollars, here’s the clip. Sorkin asks the coffee billionaire an open-ended question sent in by non-billionaire Anand Giridharadas, whose book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World argues that billionaire philanthropists will never allow their billionaire philanthropy to threaten the privileges of billionaires. Let’s see how the Starbucks billionaire handles it:

The weirdest thing about this very weird video of a billionaire asking non-billionaires to stop calling attention to the fact that he is a billionaire is that the thrust of the billionaire’s argument is that billionaires have too much influence. Any good feelings engendered by the substance of the billionaire’s answer disappear, however, as he nose-dives his plane to a crash landing on the consultant-tested phrase “walk in the shoes of the American people.” (There’s a way for a billionaire to do that, but the first step involves not having a billion dollars anymore.) It would undoubtedly be nice for billionaires if they could have it all: more than one billion dollars and the love and respect of the American people. It must be unpleasant to face disrespect or ridicule from non-billionaires, simply for the morally neutral act of acquiring more than one billion dollars. But as another rich man once said, that’s what the money is for. You don’t have to run for president about it.