Sunday, December 17, 2006
'The Haves and the Have Yachts' are not good for the Health of Society
An article in The Observer today [sorry, still can't establish links] deals with a subject I addressed a few months ago: the super rich. We learn that since 2000 the wealth of Britain's richest 1000 individuals has increased to £250 billion; city bonuses regularly top £1 million and often several million more; 'personal worth of £500 and above is common'. The 'new rich' have no sense of vulgarity and spend to impress. So we read of £30K being spent to build an exlusive cat pen for two Bengali cats or a businessman hiring a Premiership footballer to play a game with his son.
The big difference at this end of the wealth spectrum is that between the rich and the super rich, or as one wag put it: 'the haves and the have yachts'. Amelia Hill talks of the 'Marie Antoinette' syndrome, a world of riches reminiscent of the French court just before the revolution. An ominous comparison? Maybe. It's true that the gap between rich and poor has never been greater. The argument in favour of huge salaries is that they are set by the market to put the best people in the top jobs and that these good people will emigrate to America if they are denied their true worth. I doubt this. Also redistributing wealth to the poor would only provide a sop for those at the bottom. Possibly, but it would be a start.
My fear is that such huge differentials are fuelling negative attitudes in our society in which the very rich symbolize a society which cares little or nothing about the poor who will gestate a mounting socially divisive anger. When the minimum wage is not enough to keep a working man and his family, these huge remunerations are, in my view, not without their dangerous resonances. Maybe it has to do with the politics of envy, but is has also to do with social justice. I'm sure I'm not the only person who feels things are running out of control and that some malign consequence is in store for us in consequence.
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