The problem for the rich: how to keep your wealth without losing your head



We are told that the big issue at this week’s meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland will be inequality.

This appears to be a consensus view of economists and insiders in the lead-up to the meeting which will be attended by more than 2,500 political, business, and academic leaders. Finance Minister Bill English will be attending from New Zealand.

The World Economic Forum is well named, not because it’s a democratically selected group, but because the invited guests are those who run the global economy on behalf of the world’s richest people – the 1%.

Inequality is the biggest global issue. According to aid and development agency Oxfam the 85 richest people on the planet have now accumulated as much wealth between them as half the world’s population. The agency says this tiny elite of multibillionaires, who could fit into a double-decker bus, have piled up fortunes equivalent to the wealth of the world’s poorest 3.5 billion people.

Just absorb that for a moment. Obscene doesn’t even start to describe it.

So why would the growing gap between rich and poor be seen as a problem by the 1% and their political servants?

It’s certainly not because the super wealthy are suffering pangs of guilt at the riches they have appropriated from the rest of us.

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Instead it’s the threat that this widening gap poses which is their problem. The issue is not how to reduce the gap between rich and poor but how to manage the threat to their lives and their riches from the social unrest which their parasitic behaviour brings with it.

Throughout history the rich have only ever changed their ways when threatened with insurrection and the loss of their heads. The problem is how to keep their wealth while avoiding a modern-day French revolution.

It’s all a bit of a worry really.

Oxfam is calling on the rich at Davos to promise to support progressive taxation and not dodge their own taxes, refrain from using their wealth to seek political favours and demand that companies they own or control pay a living wage.

Fat chance the super wealthy will agree to any of that without an uprising.

So what will our very own Bill English take to the meeting?

English is desperate to avoid any discussion of the endemic, structured inequality which has seen the gap between rich and poor in New Zealand become a canyon over the last 30 years and the lion’s share of the benefits of the global recovery going also to the super rich. So he’s sticking to what he thinks is safe ground – deny inequality is an issue but if it is then the answer is more jobs.

In other words it’s business as usual for National. They have no interest in reducing inequality – just a strong interest in maintaining economic injustice and unfairness as the rich screw us for even more.


  1. “Throughout history the rich have only ever changed their ways when threatened with insurrection and the loss of their heads.” About time we became world leaders again!

  2. John is spot on with his assessment that “inequality is the biggest global issue”. In fact, I would say it will be one of the Big Three issues of the 21st Century, alongside Global Warming and State Power vs Individual Privacy.

    As global communications reaches into every corner of humanity, those who are at the bottom will be more and more conscious of all the wealth around them – and very little of it “trickling” down to them through jobs and good wages. The wealth will continue to stream upward to the 1% and shareholders who have a “stake” in the system.

    This will create further tension and violence, resulting in the growth of State Power to counter violent dissent. The cost of maintaining the status quo will be increasingly authoritarian, intrusive governments and “democracy” will devolve into something which our forebears would not recognise as very much different from the fascism that was fought in the early/mid 20th Century.

    All because 1% want it all. And their aspirationist (predominantly middle class) supporters can’t see beyond their ideological noses.

    • Nice musings John. I’m constantly having to remind myself there is no limit to the criminal depravity the 1% will inflict upon humanity to increase the exploitation of our working class. Think of the ending of US emergency welfare two weeks ago, which immediately plunged 1.3 million Americans into absolute poverty, and their apologists, Barack Obama argued against the ending but signed it into law all the same! Their compassion can be summed up in four words ‘let them eat cake’ or the shortened capitalist equivalent ‘get a job’.

      Frank, No disrespect intended here but the three subjects you touch upon; inequality, global warming and state power/individual, are all aspects of inequality. You touch on this, when you point to the fact inequality must lead to increased oppression, payed for by those who are being oppressed no less a double injustice. But global warming as well and enviromental degradation are also aspects of inequality.

      Enviromental consequences of the process of production when they are not addressed but rather left and cause the suffering of those who have not profited from the process are also exploitative and thus lead to ever growing inequality. Take the example of a paper mill on a river. The paper mill during the process creates waste products which are dumped in the river. The river is poisoned and thus loses its utility to all who live along the river, value is lost. but the capitalist who owns the mill avoids paying for the cost of processing the waste which would require more machinery and wages reducing the profit his capital yields per dollar invested. thus those who live on the river and rely on it subsidise the capitalists profit.

      Global warming is much the same, technologies exist which would severly curb or reverse global warming but to employ them would require massive investments which would essentially wipe out profit and substantial unemployment. or all things remaining equal, addressing climate change, like income inequality cannot be addressed without the complete re-alignment of the productive forces away from production based on reproducing capital, and end to profit and (productive) property.

      I hope that’s a fairly rational argument for your consideration.

      All history hitherto has been the history of class society, so John, like you, I’ll continue fighting such a society till the end of history!

      • What rot. How do you explain the fact that in societies where profit was supposedly not the motivating fact (e.g. the former Soviet bloc) environmental degradation was in many places worse than in capitalist based economies?

        • Profit was the motivating factor of the Soviet Union, especially its privileged elite, the only real difference was that all profit was appropriated by the state as supreme capitalist. They and the west then squadered huge resources on the Cold War. Resources from profitable industry ploughed into unproductive, twice the insult. Isn’t China also capitalist despite its insistence to the contrary?
          Neither Washington nor Moscow, Gosman.

          • The Soviet Blocs problem wasn’t profit but production. The countries that were part of it simply produced goods based on a quota not on the market. You just need to look at the difference between West and East Germany to see that.

            Leftists seem to do this when presented with examples of the failure of their ideology. They try and equate a living example of how left wing ideas fail to capitalism but all they do is expose their ignorance of economics.

            • Gosman, the point of contention was wether there is a relation between profit and pollution or environmental exploitation. I’ve already explained the way profit was centralised within the former Soviet Union. Thus supporting this relationship. But you constantly shift your argument now from profit to production? while flinging insults at the left in general which holds a vast array of economic ideas many of them marginalist (mainstream bougoise theory). It is clear you refuse to engage in frank and honest debate.

              • No, you basically explained how the concept of production was centralised in the Soviet Union. The idea of profit was foreign to them. Unless of course you care to explain how you equate centralised planning with profit.

            • Talking about ideological failures, Gosman, I’m still waiting for you to explain how your capitalist, economical growth model will continue to work in a world of finite resources.
              To maintain a growth rate of 3.5 percent would
              require doubling the amount of resources used every twenty years. I would argue that this model cannot be sustained indefinitely.

              • The amount of resources we use are infinitesimal compared to the amount of resources available to be used. All it requires is sufficient technological development to enable them to be unlocked for use. Luckily capitalism provides the incentive for this development.

                • It would seem you don’t understand the concept of an exponential growth rate.
                  A famous example being the monarch who was asked to repay a favour by simply starting with one grain of rice on a 64 square chess board and doubling the amount of grains on each square…1,2,4,8,16,32,64,128,256,512,1024,2048,4096,8192,16384,32768,65536,131072,etc.,etc., to an impossibly high number.

  3. “The World Economic Forum is well named, not because it’s a democratically selected group, but because the invited guests are those who run the global economy on behalf of the world’s richest people – the 1%.”

    All nice and good for Oxfam to come out with their report on inequality and wealth distribution on a global scale, but like other “do-gooder” organisations, they are nothing more than modern day beggars for the families of the poor.

    Some info here:

    As John suggests, the ones meeting at the World Economic Forum are not democratically selected and not voted for to talk about the world economy, about socio economic, environmental and other issues, they are the ELITE. Some are of course from voted governments, the rest are the members and representatives of the “who knows who” club. The academics will also be paid by private and government research institutes, so they will not want to bite the hand that feeds them.

    It is a leisurely conducted forum, or perhaps “circus”, where they chat and entertain each other, and dare to become a bit philosophical, possibly suggesting some things that may be done better. But with the worst of the GFC and the fallout from it having passed, they will not come to much in the way of serious solutions, and it will just be another chat round of some of the world leaders and “rich pricks”, making themselves feel yet more important.

    The incredibly serious and challenging issues facing the global population will NOT be solved by these talks, will also not be solved by single governments in the various countries, they actually need a true, robust, decisive and firm revolution from the affected to bring about true change.

    But as the populations all over the places, which certainly includes New Zealand, get dominated, manipulated, misled, lulled into false securities or certain vague hopes for “improvements”, not just by their political leaders and governments, but also by the bulk of the old and newer (mostly commercially focused, private) media, there is sadly no sentiment for daring to challenge the existing systems.

    That exactly is needed though.

    I see no significant, united, convincing and well led social movement of the affected, and just looking at the worst affected in New Zealand, the beneficiaries and working poor, they are nowhere to be seen to protest or challenge. It is rather every one to their own, and trying to “fit in” and “adapt” and “survive” somehow, as best possible. Political awareness is for most non existent, and the modern administration and communication systems have turned everyone into virtual numbers, and they are reminded of this every time they move, act, read, hear, listen, see and feel. Freedom is restricted to “consumer choices” for those that can afford to consume, for the rest, it is an empty word.

    The modern day Orwellian society is working smoothly, that is what I see, and it is immensely depressing.

    Stop the this ridiculous begging for donations and support, Oxfam and others, take action, seize, occupy and take over the control, and appoint true leaders, that will deal to the challenges! That is if you (as individuals) can get away from your 24/7 slave work, study, and the remaining activities of tweeting, texting, web surfing, chatting and ipod listening.

    The REAL world requires REAL ACTION, as it is a physical world, that we all live in and are part of. Anything else is laughable and a waste of time.

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