It’s that time of year when Britons are presented with the opportunity to drool over the wealth of the nation’s richest citizens at the breakfast table once again.
Yes, The Sunday Times is preparing to publish its annual Rich List, which is inevitably one of the biggest and most widely discussed stories on the day on which it lands.
The Playboy of money porn has yet to show any sign of hitting the buffers, in stark contrast to the (in)famous magazine.
It rarely generates much in the way of negative coverage. The winners are gushed over while we’re invited to indulge in a little schadenfreude at the expense of those who fall down the rankings.
So it’s: “Ooh look at Sir James Dyson’s net worth, that’ll buy a fantastic new apartment now he’s moving the company’s HQ to Singapore, but poor Sir Philip Green has lost a few more places on the league table. The family might have to wait a bit for the next new yacht!” Or something like that.
What’s that? You’re worrying about the poor schmoes working at Sir Philip’s creaking Arcadia empire? Didn’t you realise you were supposed to park your bleeding heart at the door? This is a celebration of success! And of excess!
It’s there for the little people to cheer on the wealth creators, the kingpins of trickle-down economics. So you at the back complaining about how they’ve all done a bunk for Monaco, where the Green family resides, or one of the other places where the tax authorities let people park their cash for the price of a McDonald’s Happy Meal every year, just you pipe down.
Actually, no. It’s time we stopped piping down and joined forces with Rutger Bregman. He’s the Dutch historian who made a splash at the World Economic Forum, the annual talking shop for the world’s rich and powerful, when he took aim at their “stupid philanthropy schemes” and said it was time to talk instead about tax and their largely successful efforts to avoid it.
And yes, it is time to talk about that. The avoidance of tax by people who can afford to pay more contributes greatly to the crippling of social programmes and other beneficial government activities such as education and the NHS.
Few of the businessmen and women on the list can report the sort of growth that the food bank “industry” is currently enjoying. But “enjoying” is not really the right word. Those running the food banks would rather they were a little less successful through fewer hungry people being forced to rely upon them.
There would be fewer queueing up if tax revenues were higher; if the nation’s plutocrats weren’t falling over each other to Corbyn-proof their holdings.
I’m no fan of the Labour leader, but if you take a look at the supposedly Marxist plans he and John McDonnell have put forward, they’re not exactly planning to tax the rich until the pips squeak.
Their proposals would increase the top rate to 50 per cent, from the current 40 per cent, for those earning above £123,000, with the aim of boosting Britain’s threadbare social safety net, among other things.
An extra 10p in the pound for those positively tripping over their cash holdings isn’t all that much to ask in a nation in which too many kids go to school with empty stomachs.
Those who can afford to pay a bit more absolutely should. And those on the Rich List can absolutely afford to pay more.
This isn’t to denigrate the effort of the journalists and researchers that compile it. They do some impressive work.
But we shouldn’t so much be celebrating the wealthy as we should those who put their wealth back. A UK chapter of the Patriotic Millionaires, the American organisation of uber-wealthy “traitors to our class” which recently ran a conference that “cordially invites you to tax the rich”, would be a most welcome development.
The publication includes a giving list, to celebrate philanthropic endeavours, and that’s great. But it’s the tax list, which earlier this year revealed the top 50 taxpayers into the exchequer, where the money can be utilised by politicians accountable to the people, that should be the more celebrated publication.
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