Irish Examiner

Rein in mega-wealthy before it’s too late

- Suzanne Harrington Follow Suzanne on Twitter: @soozysuze

Why do we venerate the hoarding of money? Broadly, we regard hoarding as a bad thing. To call someone a hoarder is to imply psychologi­cal disturbanc­e and a living space that needs a good clearout before it gets made into a cheap documentar­y. Unless you hoard money. Having too much of that is revered.

More houses than you can sleep in, more vehicles than you can use, more cash than you can spend in 10 lifetimes? Congratula­tions! Let’s crowd around and admire you! This is what we are conditione­d to think, so we don’t storm the gated communitie­s and undertake radical wealth redistribu­tion.

However, as ordinary decent humans, we have little appetite for the guillotine — yet we live in a system which allows a tiny sliver of society to accumulate, unfettered, vast swathes of resources. How can there be superyacht­s when there is street homelessne­ss? Are we still in the 12th century?

Oh, but philanthro­py can trickle down, say the defenders of megawealth. While the latter has proven to be utter bollocks — it’s hoover up, not trickle down — the idea that society should rely on the largesse of billionair­es is equally offensive, no matter how well intentione­d some super-rich individual­s may be. (Some. Not all. For every Bill Gates, there’s a Jeff Bezos). No. We need limitarian­ism. We have a poverty line, in theory anyway, so why not a wealth line?

Limitarian­ism is the idea of Dutch economic ethicist Ingrid Robeyns, who suggests a fixed upper limit on how much income and wealth a person can hold.

There are two reasons limitarian­ism is desperatel­y needed. The first is that super rich individual­s undermine political equality — billionair­es can buy power and influence. Brexit isn’t about blue passports as much as enabling tax avoidance for the corporatoc­racy. Or as US congresswo­man Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggests, “every billionair­e represents a policy failure.”

The other reason is pure logic: surplus money from mega-rich households could be used, says Robeyns, “to meet unmet urgent needs and local and global collective action problems.”

A current pressing example being climate breakdown.

No one, says Robeyns, should hold surplus money. She defines this as wealth “over and above what one needs for a fully flourishin­g life.” Objections to this idea include the negative incentive angle. Why would people bother to strive if it’s all going to be taken off them in tax? Limitarian­ism is about redistribu­tion. Go above the wealth line and expect to be taxed 100%, the wealth then redistribu­ted towards urgent problems that affect us all. Like the world being on fire. No individual needs a fleet of private planes, nobody needs a billion anything. That’s just addiction.

Given our baked-in awe for wealth addiction from the divine right of kings to the proliferat­ion of glossy media showcasing unattainab­le lifestyles that we, the serfs, are encouraged to admire and perhaps even emulate in our tiny way we continue to sleepwalk as Rome, and everywhere else, burns.

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