Richard Branson arrives by surf lifesaver boat at Bondi Beach on Wednesday, November 13, 2019. (Image: AAP/Joel Carrett)

Don’t you hate it when your airline collapses and you have to put your only private island up as collatoral to keep it going?

Richard Branson — both the closest thing to a likable billionaire and still completely insufferable — has written an “open letter” to his employees at Virgin Australia; although one suspects it’s more aimed at governments in the UK and Australia, both of whom have declined to step in and stump up the cash that would keep them airborne.

Branson says his airline needs government money to survive. Billionaires are surely the purest expression of capitalism, the clearest example of what an individual can achieve if the government just gets out of the way.

Except for all those times they need public money to stay afloat. Just as the global financial crisis did, the pandemic has really brought many such rugged individualists, cap in hand, to the surface.

Barry Diller

Billionaire owner of travel site Expedia Barry Diller told CNBC the United States government should bail out all companies that have suffered at the hands of the coronavirus, including, well, his. 

“The damage that is being done every day is enormous,” Diller said. “Everybody needs to be bailed out for this one time thing, and we’ll worry about paying the bills later.”

Diller said, unsurprisingly, Expedia is generating no revenue and in a race to to cut costs, and would likely spend less than a mere $1 billion on marketing this year.

Mark Anderson and Michael O’Leary

After the UK regional airline Flybe — in which Branson also had a stake — secured a government-funded rescue package in January this year, other airline bosses were extremely stroppy.

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary wrote to UK Finance Minister Sajid Javid, saying if Flybe gets millions of pounds, so should he.

However, Flybe boss Mark Anderson insisted it was a loan, NOT a bailout. Turns out it really wasn’t a bailout in the true sense — Flybe collapsed anyway less than two months later.

Harold Hamm

The name may sound like that of a loveable but untrustworthy Cockney butcher from a long-running but rarely amusing ’70s comic strip, but Harold Hamm is actually the founder of American oil company Continental Resources, and a big supporter of US President Donald Trump.

Trump’s administration is reportedly considering federal assistance for oil and natural gas companies during this crisis. Given this, Hamm and others can afford to be fairly coy.

Hamm told the Washington Post he had “reached out” to the White House but not made “direct” contact: “I don’t want to prescribe what the president would or shouldn’t do. He’s very capable of handling this situation.”

But Hamm said he wanted to discuss the number of jobs at stake and “how this could jeopardize those jobs and the economies in producing states and communities across America, from Pennsylvania to California and Texas to North Dakota”.

Nice economy you got there, Mr President. Shame if someone wrecked it.

Jamie Dimon

In amongst all this hypocrisy, it’s nice to see some billionaires stick to their guns. Back in 2018, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, worth just over a billion dollars, made a point of rejecting socialism in his annual report:

As Margaret Thatcher said, ‘The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.’ Socialism inevitably produces stagnation, corruption and often worse — such as authoritarian government officials who often have an increasing ability to interfere with both the economy and individual lives — which they frequently do to maintain power. This would be as much a disaster for our country as it has been in the other places it’s been tried.

JP Morgan received about $25 billion in bailout money from the US government in 2008.