The Age of Oligarchy – 7 September 2023


Robert Reich who was Bill Clinton’s Labor Secretary recently tweeted that “three multibillionaires now own more wealth than the bottom 90% of America”. The term bottom 90%  a strange way to describe the overwhelming majority of the population but it makes his additional comment that “this is what oligarchy looks like” ring true.

It’s over a decade since publication of “The Spirit Level” by Kate Picket and Richard Wilkinson was published. That book ably and detailing why more equal societies were healthier, wealthier, environmentally better and more sustainable, and even safer with less crime. On almost every indices these societies outscored, outperformed and were simply better places to live for all.

It caused a stir at the time, yet since then the situation has worsened. Austerity has been a cover to allow the super-rich to garner ever more wealth and for the plight of the poor to manifestly worsen. It’s not just that the working class, as such, has been destroyed but that the middle class is now under attack. The growing financial challenges brought about by a supposed property-owning democracy where millions struggle to pay their mortgage and countless others are denied that dubious pleasure and instead struggle to afford their rent.

It’s not just the USA, as despite Pickets and Wilkinson’s best endeavours the UK has become one of the most unequal societies in the developed world. The Office of National Statistics starkly confirms the direction of travel and a report earlier this year by Oxfam entitled “Survival of the Richest” detailed that in the UK the richest 1% now held the combined wealth of 70% of the population. We might behind the USA in the curve but we’re on the same trajectory.

It affects our daily life’s and not just in a plethora of superyachts and other ostentatious trappings of wealth amidst a sea of food banks, clothes banks and fuel poverty. It impacts on our society. Diseases we thought eradicated or belonging in Dickensian novels have returned to haunt us. Hunger and cold stalk the streets.

It impacts more widely as I recall as Justice Secretary the fears that crime would rise when the financial crash happened. It didn’t as poverty isn’t so much the driver, poor folk are after all more likely to be the victims rather than the perpetrators of crime. It’s inequality that fuels it and now we have Tesco giving body worn cameras to their staff.

Earlier this year I visited friends living in Palm Beach, home of Trump and symbolic for many of the American dream. Yet what I saw was gated communities, armed guards, a palpable fear of crime, and a deeply divided society, racially, as well as economically. An overwhelmingly white community other than for black folk serving in fast food joints and Hispanics tending the gardens.

Is that the society we aspire to be? That’s apartheid albeit delivered through economics but it’s coming here unless we act. It’s why Labours decision not to pursue a wealth tax’s quite astonishing. Rolling back on employment law and abolition of the two-child cap policy shameful enough but this is fundamental to the society we seek.

Schools racked or RAAC’d yet no funds apparently to fix them. Let’s tax the wealth of the superrich and create a better and more equal society.