the dilemma of wealth

This we already knew. That 1% of the global population (the wealthiest) own as much as the bottom 50% (the poorest). Formerly unknown inequality. We also now know that everyone in the Netherlands who earns about 27.000(still under middle-income) euro gross, belongs to that 1%. Middle-income here is 24 times the average income of the world. Whether you belong to that 1% can easily be found at https://ap.lc/embZw

People with money like to defend themselves with various arguments, some more valid than others. They say they’ve invested their money in companies that provide job opportunities and an income for many people. That buying a yacht, vacation houses, or a private plane will help contractors to a job. The system is also not helping to lessen that inequality. Tax evasion is no longer for fun but simply something you have to do to keep up with the other wealthy who are evading taxes. And where would the government money go? The political enterprise with its lowly paid top executives is probably the least efficient company there is. Of course its annoying that I, as a small entrepreneur, pay more taxes than Philips or Shell, but eventually it’s the consumer that’s really screwed. Because if Apple, Shell or Unilever have to start paying fair taxes, then phones, gas and daily necessities will become a lot more expensive so companies can keep up their record profits. Imagine that the government would take away all the money for the rich, then the economy could well collapse.

In short, there’s no easy fix. But there’s a growing moral compass among the rich that they at least need to spend part of their profits for public goals. Billionaires are changing into altruists, and are paying into charities. Some of them are in it with their heart, while others are just not getting the same satisfaction from their fourth Lamborghini.

But something more needs to happen besides a little redistribution of wealth. Combatting tax evasion (to start with the Netherlands) is only one thing. In the recently released essay by Ingrid Robeyns Wealth, how much inequality can be responsible?, they discuss important themes which indicate that change is sorely needed in the way we divide wealth. One of the major problems she presents is that money plays a large role in the decision making in our democracy. Not only because more and more of our legislators are coming from the private sector, and that election campaigns are becoming more and more costly, but also because of increasing activity by lobbyists to influence public opinion and legislators.

Robeyns also notes that the moral challenge to do something about inequality isn’t just limited to the super rich. It affects us all and it would be unfair to just look at the most excessive forms of consumption. We also need to look at ourselves. The average meat eater causes 2.4 tonnes of CO2 annually, 2 times as much as a vegetarian. Driving a car, flying, gas heating, we all need to get to work to give our children and grandchildren a liveable future. But also because all the pictures and videos we post on social media end up in front of every hut in poor countries, and therefore it isn’t weird that there are those who would rather drown in a rubber boat than live in poverty.

Should you then give away all your money and live a sober lifestyle? Robeyns says: “We wouldn’t be able to live our own life, with our own plans, ambitions and dreams.” And yes, socialism hasn’t had the strongest track record on art, humour, and fun.

You don’t become rich from working hard. Otherwise, firemen, cooks, and small entrepreneurs would be millionaires while those in suits who are behind desks should not be. Who doesn’t steal or inherit, will be working till they die, this is something I once read on the door of a toilet stall. The extreme rewards of top earners are in no way related to the work they do for it. You’ll reach something if you went to the right university, have the right connections, if you’re smart at investing in the work of others, or if you’ve just ‘earned’ your parents money after they died. Robeyns finds that the superrich from the private sector wouldn’t have been just that if they had paid a fair price for their resources (imported from poorer countries) and had respected the environment. But here too the case is that we will be footed the bill, because the user pays.

Luckily a new generation presents itself. One who strives less for possessions, doesn’t necessarily own a car, who has little trouble with eating less meat. It’s gonna be a while until they’re in charge and we need to take charge of this transition to a new economy now.

Fons Burger writer of the novel #2125 de winterslaper (the hybernator), Soon available in English.

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