Because more equal societies work better for everyone

A Bit Rich?

Tuesday, 9 May, 2017

‘Dozens…left school without a qualification to their name. Many others arrived in this country as refugees, fleeing war or despotic regimes….You will find former teachers and ex-soldiers…as well as those who have worked as tyre-fitters, coalminers, police officers and double-glazing salesmen.’

You might be surprised to discover that these words are being used to describe the Sunday Times Rich List -  those with over £110 million in wealth. Welcome to the annual focus on who’s got how much, who’s got more and who is dropping down the Rich List. If you despaired at David Cameron’s £25k Shepherd Hut, then look away now, as that was a mere trinket amount compared to those fetishized in the super-glossy Sunday Times Rich List.

The annual ‘celebration’ of the UK’s wealthiest was heralded as more diverse, with more women and more people from ethnic minority backgrounds - look even women and Black or Asian people can ‘join’ the Rich List. Isn’t this marvelous. The language of social mobility is being co-opted to justify excessive wealth.  

But this is a clue to a change in attitude.  We can detect in the 2017 publication, an attempt to normalize excessive wealth. The Sunday Times knows that many of the rich eagerly await the shiny supplement, to see who’s fallen out of the top 1,000, whether they have retained their own places or moved up or down. Polling for the pamphlet of for plutocrats found ‘by two to one, voters think that London having more billionaires than cities such as New York is something to be proud about [sic] rather than embarrassed.’ However, they also know that public opinion is shifting, hence the emphasis on polling findings showing that 61% admire those who have achieved their wealth through creativity (authors, musicians etc), 65% respect business leaders and 74% respect entrepreneurs. And nestling within the main magazine was ‘The Alternative Rich List’, described as an ‘enriched list’, featuring those who had made a difference and inspired others.

In the wake of public, shareholder and even political disgust and disquiet at excessive CEO pay in the UK, the bid to vindicate the Sunday Times Rich List, is concerning. The ST is trying to straddle both sides, taking pride in excessive wealth and yet telling us that the upper echelons have somehow become more egalitarian for being more diverse. It’s open to all now.

I’ll end with the lines that struck me most from the proud organ of the plutocrats.

‘When I hear Britain’s wealthiest people talk quietly about their worries for their children, or their struggles with work/life balance, I feel I could be having a conversation heard in countless offices, coffee bars or at school gates across the country – even if the detail is a little out of the ordinary…If you think that enormous wealth insulates you from the worries that millions of us muggles experience everyday, then you are mistaken. There are still stress, pain and difficult decisions to make – although often with a few more zeros on board.’ Indeed. 

Dr. Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director

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