Inequality, Ideology and Independence
‘I’ve never seen such a phenomenal rise in personal wealth as the growth in the fortunes of Britain’s 1,000 richest people over the past year.’ These are the words of Phillip Beresford who has been compiling Britain’s rich list since 1989.
But no one is really surprised. We hear on what feels like a monthly basis a new statistic and a fresh outrage relating to the dominant feature of our time: massive inequality, globally and within individual countries. Never the less the figures from this years Rich List are staggering.
The combined wealth of the listed 1000 individuals now stands at £518.975bn. That’s risen by 15.4% in just one year. That’s a huge rise in such a timescale. Remember this list is composed of publicly identifiable wealth, and does not include analysis of the wealth amassed in private bank accounts. In truth it is probable that even this list of the super rich is not representative of an even higher rung of the mega wealthy.
The Queen has seen her wealth rise to £330m after putting on an extra £10m in the last year alone. Of course the wealth of the royal family is far higher – this is only what is publicly available to report. Joining the British elite are 104 billionaires who in combination muster a total of £301bn. The number of billionaires choosing London as their playground stands at 72, the highest number of billionaires to inhabit any city, anywhere in the world.
The rich are not just getting richer, they are sitting on fortunes of historic proportions. Of course at the other end the picture is getting more miserable. Over a quarter of the population of London, the billionaire city, live in poverty. In the same year as the wealth of the richest 1000 we know about grew so massively, over 900, 000 people required emergency food aid.
Britain is a low pay economy, and millions struggle by on poor wages. It is a profoundly sick ideology that says in the context of this rich-poor divide, workfare should be introduced, benefits of disabled people cut, and the elementary services which the majority rely on slashed and privatised. Inequality is going to grow, rapidly, over the coming decade as a direct result of this. Far from their being an attempt at addressing the issue, a process of entrenchment is well underway following the logic of the last three decades of an upwards distribution of wealth and power. This Tory government have acted as an accelerator for this process, and a catalyser for policy more radical than Thatcher.4
The ideology of inequality
Some have argued that the richest of the rich are a key component of the economy, and should be encouraged. But in reality they are the product of an economic system that necessarily leads towards gargantuan divergence between the rich and poor. The right-wing claim that while the rich have an evidently superior standard of living, their riches benefit society as a whole. But this is not in evidence. The tightly knit political and economic institutions and structures working towards the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, and intensifying the transfer of both wealth and power from the public to the private sector are not accidents.
The right promote the idea that opposition to this state of affairs is extremist, fringe or immature. But the situation is now so bad, that the demands are not even that radical. Everyone with a shred of human decency is speaking out, and you don’t have to be a revolutionary to stand up to what is going on.
Take Oxfam for example:
‘..the government needs to re-balance the books by raising revenues from those who can afford it – by clamping down on companies and individuals who avoid paying their fair share of tax and by starting to explore greater taxation of extreme wealth – rather than relying on cuts to services that have a disproportionate impact on the poorest in society, some 13 million people who are currently classed as living below the poverty line.’
Added to the armoury of the status quo is debt. Debt is being deployed not only as a prison on the movements of the individual, but as rationale at the level of the state to carry out the austerity agenda, leaving the very top off the hook.
Academic and activist, David Graeber who authored ‘Debt: the first 5000 years’ says:
‘…the ideology of debt is one of the most powerful tools ever created to justify situations of violent inequalities and not only make them seem moral, but also make them seem as if it is the victim who is to blame.’
What is often missed is that this level of inequality has negative social outcomes, as well as economic. It is because there is a scramble for resources and wealth, rather than a plan of investments and social security, that toxic politics can take root. Because we live in a divided society between the rich an poor, the ideological infrastructure must make a reckoning with how it can justify poverty. Instead of taking aim at the root of the problem, it seeks to identify vulnerable, often voiceless sections of society, to scapegoat. Don’t look here, look over there at the immigrants taking your job. That formulation represents a most intellectually dishonest position, but it is necessary. A system based on massive economic inequality, cannot at the same time .allow itself to become the focus for peoples frustration.
So, for all the stoked hate, and after doing everything possible to commend the super rich to us as part of a strategy to generalise increased wealth across the whole of society, Britain has failed its people in favour of buffeting a tiny elite. It didn’t have to be like this. Professor Danny Dorling explains:
“The super-rich compare themselves to a global elite and sterling’s depreciation has meant that compared to their peers in Europe or the US they are losing ground. Hence we see bankers and top CEOs getting big pay rises. It does not have to be that way because in Switzerland and the Netherlands the top one percent take 6% of national income not 15%. It’s our elites that are greedy.”
Take the power back
It does not have to be like this in the future. It is possible, and necessary, to build a sustainable society that puts the people first. But like anything that has ever been worth having, it is going to take hard work, focus, dedication, ideas and action. We need to redirect not just our own lives, but of our society as a whole.
World renowned economist Joeseph Stiglitz writes:
… I see us entering a world divided not just between the haves and have-nots, but also between those countries that do nothing about it, and those that do. Some countries will be successful in creating shared prosperity — the only kind of prosperity that I believe is truly sustainable. Others will let inequality run amok. In these divided societies, the rich will hunker in gated communities, almost completely separated from the poor, whose lives will be almost unfathomable to them, and vice versa.’
This is the choice we face. Britain is going only in one direction, and there is no challenge to it coming from any of the Westminster parties. The British establishment have bought a one way ticket to their own gated community. The rest of us will be left on the low pay scrap heap, while we pay for services that were once free universally. There is no point in denying it: the future of Britain is for the rich. No one else will matter. That is why sections of London are being economically cleansed: to make way for the billionaires and their millionaire entourage. That is why 70% of workers in Scotland live on less than £25k a year. Low pay, temporary contracts, unemployment and privatised services. Welcome to Britain.
To win independence and the chance to rebuild a society that works for us all, we need to get this basic message out far and wide, and we need to mobilise the dispossessed who for once can be the masters of a better future. On September 18th, the people are sovereign. Do not give that sovereignty back to the people who have left us behind in the wake of the opulence of the super-rich. In these times, the economic case for Yes could not be more stark.