Rein in mega-wealthy be­fore it’s too late

Irish Examiner - - Life/Style - 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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.