These billionaires get rich on the back of our taxes, but they give nothing in return.
The news this week that a bank helped wealthy customers to dodge taxes should not come as a surprise to many. The super-rich have long held some profoundly distorted ideas about the world. They are more than averagely likely to believe their achievements are the product of their superior brains and hard work. They may believe the Selfish Gene rhetoric that those with the best genes rise to the top of the pond, and at the bottom is genetic sludge. They are oblivious to any evidence to the contrary. They have no idea that had they been born on a sink estate they too would have sunk.
This is partly because the super-rich are no longer exposed to data and experiences that contradict their worldview. Flitting between their various homes around the world, they know nothing of our lives. They have never, ever had to sit on the phone waiting for the next available customer support agent – “your call really matters to us” – to try and fix their phone/Internet/energy bill issue.
Of particular concern is that they only consume media that support their worldview. Recently, an Oxbridge-educated CEO in all seriousness told me that there has been no increase in inequality in this country. My jaw was slack with amazement when another told me that “inner London secondary pupils have the best exam results of any in the world.” They are living in the la-la land Polly Toynbee and David Walker painstakingly exposed in their book Unjust Rewards.
Consider your response to the following information. About 15,700 under-two-year-olds live in a family that is classed as homeless, according to a new report. Homelessness adversely affects parental responsiveness, and early responsiveness has been proved to affect the capacity of the brain to process positive experiences.
My response to this would be: “Since early care profoundly affects the size and content of our brains and subsequent mental health, government should act to eradicate involuntary homelessness. If Thatcher had not sold off the council housing stock this problem would be far less. A Labour government should reverse that policy.”
When I put that to a super-rich man whom I know, he said: “It’s a shame there are so many babies with homeless parents but it is not the role of the state to house them. My charity does not directly address this issue but I am sure there are others that do. The role of government is to leave people like me free to create jobs which will enable those parents to earn enough to pay rent and live in decent accommodation.”
After his privileged private education, this man inherited substantial sums of money and has increased its value through a hedge fund. Mostly, that fund plays the global casino – moving its capital around the world between currencies, shares and various financial instruments. On the rare occasions it buys businesses it is in order to introduce “cost savings” – what used to be called asset-stripping. It fires as many employees as possible, outsourcing the work to companies with casual, low-paid workers, and sells off any assets that can turn a quick profit. It then sells the company on to another hedge fund, at a further profit. This does nothing to provide employment for homeless parents and their babies.
Needless to say, my super-rich man does not pay tax in this country: his domicile is a tax haven. This is despite the fact that the CEO of a commercial law company recently described London to me as a “tax haven” – my man is not even prepared to pay the low rates that George Osborne (and before him Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown) is so proud to herald. He (or his company) owns several expensive London properties, unoccupied. When I suggest that some of the homeless babies could live there, he just laughs that it would be “inappropriate”.
Likewise, he compartmentalizes off the crucial role that the state plays in enabling him to thrive. His children live in London. If one of them became acutely ill, they would be rushed to a state-funded emergency ward in a state-funded ambulance, driven along state-funded roads. The infrastructure that his business depends on – such as transport, telecoms, water, energy – is massively subsidised by taxpayers. That he contributes nothing at all to this is rationalised by the idea that he is simply cleverer than the rest of us, so more fool us for coughing up. If we were as clever as him, we too would not pay. He is part of the Ayn Rand elite, the ones who grasp that we were put on this earth to be selfish, to look after ourselves and our kin ahead of everyone else.
The super-rich are only one subset of our ruling elite in general. Like the MPs withtheir duck ponds and the menagerie of slimy creeps on show at the Leveson inquiry, they are self-focussed plutocrats who are no longer fit to make the rules. Their lack of social obligation and ignorance of the most simple realities means they will inevitably be superseded by something else, hopefully something better. If in no other respects, Russell Brand is right about that.