Like a death at a birthday party* the Sunday Times Rich List arrives, unwanted and unwelcome. This year we learn that some of its members have sustained losses and that, overall, their wealth is down 3.7% True, some have had the froth on their cappuccinos blown off but their cups still overflow. It is worth unpicking the comments of the List compiler, Robert Watts, who said:
"Ever since the financial crisis of 2008-9, Britain's wealthiest people have become richer and richer. Covid-19 has called time on their golden period. This year's rich list paints a picture of Britain on the brink of calamity - two months after lockdown and already billions of pounds have been wiped out. You may not like the super-rich, but it is hard to deny that our economy will need the jobs they create and the taxes they and their companies pay if we are to escape a prolonged recession that causes further misery to millions."
Where to start with this? First there is the bold admission that the 2008-9 financial crisis fired the starting pistol on “their golden period”. This will be of great comfort to the rest of the population who have suffered real-terms pay freezes and cuts to their public services. The next sentences are just risible echoing the tired old ideas of trickledown economics which absolutely no one of any seriousness believes any more. Wealth is created by working people. That a massively disproportionate amount of this wealth ends up in the hands of a tiny few is the very emblem of the economic, social and political failure that disfigures the UK and the wider world today.
A popular internet meme started by Melissa McEwan commented that:
"Billionaire isn't a qualification. It's the description of a person who is hoarding more resources than they could use in 100 lifetimes while other people are going hungry. It's the name for a human dragon sleeping on its pile of rubies and gold.”
This is strong stuff and, of course, many billionaires are involved with philanthropy and charitable works and try to give something back, but the essential point is valid. A world where we have a few billionaires alongside billions of people struggling and dying in poverty - or just above it - is a failing world. It is time we stopped celebrating the accumulation of extreme wealth and saw it for the collective human failure that it represents. The Rich List should not exist because multi-millionaires and billionaires simply should not exist in the midst of so much misery.
Every year that the UK Rich List and other lists like it are published means that every year we, as a species, are failing. We are permitting the continuation of an economic system that fails to provide for all of us when the means to do so are clearly there. What else, objectively, can we possibly call this except failure? We can and must do better. We can join The Equality Trust, we can join a trade union and we can get active in local or national politics. We can stop failing and we can change the world for the better.
Co-founder of The Equality Trust
*Hat-tip, John Cooper Clarke
This is a guest blog and the views of the author are not necessarily those of The Equality Trust