What Bloomberg's $500m could have bought instead

The former New York mayor could have paid off student loans for 150,000 people or bought houses for 2,200 homeless people

There wasn’t much good news on Super Tuesday for the more progressive wing of the Democratic party, save for one lesson: money on its own, mercifully, cannot, as of yet, buy an entire election.

That’s the lesson many drew from the failure of billionaire Mike Bloomberg, who had hoped spending a half billion sliver of his massive fortune on an ad buy and staffing a national campaign might make inroads against former vice-president Joe Biden for the battle of the centrists.

But Bloomberg’s announcement today that he will be dropping out means the more than $500m he spent was wasted on nothing. Unless you count his sole win in American Samoa.

Wasted is a relative term of course, because for a man reportedly worth over $60b, $500m to him is practically nothing. For everyone else it’s still, well, $500m, and that has prompted some to wonder what good that kind of money could have done spent elsewhere.

Here are some places he might have better spent the cash dump:

Clearing medical debt

According to RIP Medical Debt, a group who purchases medical debt in bulk, every $100 donated can alleviate $10,000 in oppressive medical bills. 66% of all US bankruptcies are tied to medical debt issues they say. So far they’ve eliminated around $1.3bn in medical debt, but doing some quick math, if Bloomberg had chipped in what he spent on the campaign that might have alleviated … $50bn in debt. Sadly and sickeningly that’s not enough to clear everyone’s tab in America, but it’s pretty close, and good enough to change hundreds of thousands of lives over night. Alas.

Cleaning up Flint

For around 1/10 of what he spent on getting embarrassed in front of the world, Bloomberg also could have replaced all of the old lead pipes in Flint, Michigan, then had hundreds of millions left over to pull every citizen there – or in many other cities – out of poverty. It’s a point that many made when the campaign complained about their headquarters there being lightly vandalized last month.

Pay off student debt

While $500m might be a drop in the bucket of the $1.4tn owed in student loan debt in America, with an average outstanding loan of around $37,000, that’s roughly 150,000 people whose lives the former New York City mayor could have transformed for the better. Think about all the good all those people unshackled at once from their predatory student loans might go on to do.

House the homeless

With a reported 60,000-80,000 people living unhoused in New York City, his hometown, Bloomberg certainly would have had to lay out a bit more than $500m to give them all homes, certainly in one of the most expensive cities in the country, but with an average home price across the US of about $226,000 that’s well over 2,200 people he could have simply purchased a home for. Just like that. Here’s a house. It’s all yours now. He’d barely even notice the money was gone.

Restore voting rights to felons

As an ardent believer in democracy, Bloomberg is no doubt aggrieved by Florida Republicans’ efforts to reverse engineer a poll tax against the will of the voters, making it harder for felons to vote. Bloomberg could make a huge dent in the hundreds of millions outstanding, restoring the right to vote to thousands, or alternatively, he might have funded any number of campaigns against Republicans in the state actively working to disenfranchise its own citizens. His call, really!

• This article was amended on 5 March 2020. $500m could be used to clear approximately $50bn of medical debt, not $500bn as we said in an earlier version. This has been corrected.


Luke O'Neil

The GuardianTramp

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