Blockbusting news: the rich have more money

Have you recovered from the initial shock? Well then, you must be eternally grateful to the Office for National Statistics for breaking the news.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the ONS has vindicated Ernest Hemingway who reported this dialogue. Scott Fitzgerald: The rich are different from you and me. Hemingway: Yes, they have more money.

This exchange never actually took place but, even so, it’s hard to argue against its main thought. After all, its veracity was presaged by that well-known proto-conservative: “For ye have the poor with you always…”.

Implicitly ye also have the rich always – or at least that’s the conclusion to which ye are led by the subsequently developed dialectical method.

The ONS confirms: just 10 percent of the Brits own – are you ready for this? – almost half the country’s wealth! Now if that isn’t an outrage, I don’t know what is. And that’s not all (make sure you have a cardiac arrest unit standing by):

Only a meagre 10 percent of us are millionaires, with barely more than that owning a second home. That’s disgraceful. Just spare a thought for all those who own less than £1,000,000 in assets and have to make do with a single residence. Think of their plight. Think of the inequality!

Rachael Orr, Head of Oxfam’s Poverty Programme certainly does: “This is another shocking chapter in a tale of two Britains… We need politicians… to make the narrowing gap between the richest and the poorest a top priority.”

Miss/Ms Orr probably meant ‘narrowing the gap…’ for, the way she put it, one may get the subversive idea that the gap is actually narrowing already. But let’s not pick any nits. It’s the thought that counts, and I second it with hear-hear enthusiasm.

Moreover I can go even further than my new friend Rachael by making a concrete proposal. Let’s start by cutting, or ideally eliminating, the salaries of Oxfam executives, most of whom, including my new friend, are comfortably within the top five percentile of the income scale, and some in the top one.

While we’re at it, let’s perform a similar surgical procedure on the salaries in all other top charities… Forget I said it. Didn’t the same proto-conservative I quoted earlier teach that charity begins at home?

Our charity bosses are therefore theologically justified in using donations and huge state subsidies to pay themselves at the top of the scale. Mind you, Oxfam’s charity both begins at home and practically ends there, but at least they’re halfway to the summit of virtue. Who of us can make the same claim?

The report follows in the footsteps of another exercise in the economics of envy, the book Capital in the 21st Century that’s likely to earn its author, the leftwing French economist Thomas Piketty, the Nobel Prize.

Isn’t it dommage, complains Piketty, that capitalist Western democracies tolerate, and can’t reverse, the inequality of wealth? The implication is that other forms of government have sussed out how to make everyone equally rich, even though the evidence for this finding is somewhat limited.

But evidence-schmevidence, as New York economists would say – it’s like the simian origin of man. Yes, there’s a missing link, but that’s only because we haven’t discovered it yet. A few more grants to Richard Dawkins’s fans, and we will. After all, we know it must exist for, if it doesn’t, there goes a beautiful theory and we can’t have that.

So give us time and we’ll find a way of creating a paradise of equality on earth. So what if no previous generation has managed to do so? We’re much cleverer. Time is all we need.

Implicit in all such animadversions is the presumption that equalising wealth across the board is a goal that’s both achievable and desirable. It isn’t, on both counts.

Count 1: Those who hold this view are typically atheists who worship at the altar of reason, understood in a most primitive, empirical sense.

Operating within their own pathetic system of values, one should point out that empirical evidence is absolutely unequivocal: a state making economic egalitarianism its ‘top priority’ never enriches the poor. It murders many and impoverishes all, with the exception of the loyal servants of the state, especially those who do the murdering.

Count 2: A government economic policy is only ever desirable when it brings out the best in people by discouraging cardinal sins and encouraging cardinal virtues.

These notions have Judaeo-Christian antecedents, but then so does our whole civilisation. So let’s humour those who justly feel they have 2,000 years of history on their side, shall we?

The cardinal sins are lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. I maintain that economic egalitarianism aggressively caters to at least six of the seven, with gluttony being the possible exception and envy taking the pride of place.

Prudence, justice, temperance and courage are the cardinal virtues, and our economic Robin Hoods shoot arrows through each of them, especially justice.

Descending from the dizzying theological heights to the ground level of common sense and decency, one would suggest that the figures riling the egalitarians so ought to be juxtaposed with those of tax contributions to the Exchequer.

These are telling: even though the top 10 percent only own 50 percent of the nation’s wealth, they contribute 91 percent of income-tax revenue, and the top one percentile fill 30 percent of the country’s piggy bank. Are we going to be worked up about this glaring inequality as well?

By any historical standards most of our ‘poor’ are rich beyond the imagination of most earlier generations. And only a wicked man would resent his neighbour’s wealth, especially provided he himself isn’t deprived of what Dr Johnson called ‘the necessaries’.

The real problem we face isn’t economic but spiritual poverty, which our egalitarians don’t understand. But they do exemplify it.

















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