“Wealth is so concentrated that a large segment of society is virtually unaware of its existence.” Thomas Piketty, Professor, Paris School of Economics
Capitalism is a sustained process of creative destruction. True?
It is generally accepted that the rise of popular prosperity depends on the vibrancy of wealth-creating entrepreneurs. After all, capitalism has triumphed over socialism. Correct? The critics argue that the existence of rich alongside the poor is immoral. For others, life is inevitably a zero-sum game: More riches for the few must, by definition, mean less wealth for the many.
On Saturday 26 September 2015, so-called ‘anti-gentrification activists’ attacked a café specialising in breakfast cereal in the fashionable east London area Shoreditch. Yes, it used to be a ditch when Pinkers moved to London 25 years ago… but now it’s all “hipster”… i.e. super-trendy and, not unlike in many other religions, beards for the ruling apes are compulsory. The ‘Cereal Killer Café‘ appeared at the centre of the activists’ rage after criticism about whether local people in one of London’s “poorest” areas could afford £3.20 for a bowl of porridge. Versace, located just around the corner, was left untouched. Very clever, the anti-gentry brigade… now that Versace has moved to Vauxhall (but not yet bought one!), the brand has become mainstream and simply irrelevant. The new type of gentrification in London is driven by the offspring (or descendants?) of the CND set. “Soon the City will be an unrecognisable, bland, yuppie infested wasteland…”, it says on the Facebook page used to organise the protest.
Well… Lord Alan Sugar begs to differ. Asked about the gap between the rich and the poor, Sugar told The Times Magazine: “Who are the poor these days? … they have all got mobile phones, being poor, and they’ve got microwave ovens, being poor, and they’ve got televisions, being poor.”
Meanwhile, billionaire investor Nicolas Berggruen, has quietly set up his new ‘Institute of Philosophy and Culture’, aiming to be the “midwife” to new conceptual frameworks that can rank alongside the Reformation and the Enlightenment; a kind of “secular monastery for debate and contemplation” as he defines it in a nutshell. Melinda & Bill Gates eat your heart out: Berggruen may not be as rich as you but he is a hell of a lot more ambitious; indeed, as opposed to the conventional ‘Giving Pledge Billionaire’, the man has vision and he clearly understands that true entrepreneurship transcends the material.
Is this really just about distribution of material wealth? No. It cannot be that simple. Perhaps the dawn of a new Kulturkampf?
© Magda George
PS: A day after this article was published, the British-born Princeton professor Angus Deaton was awarded the Nobel prize in economics for his work charting global developments in health, wellbeing and inequality. In an interview with The Times, Professor Deaton stated that he is acutely concerned about the potentially insidious effects on society of the rapid accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few at the top, while the the middle-class incomes stagnate: “What I’m worried about is that people who make these huge sums of money turn round and start undermining the wellbeing of poor people”. He is especially concerned that the rich have captured the political process in America by pouring money into the campaigns of politicians who support low-tax agendas. However, he is cheered up by by the fact that Donald Trump has disrupted this cosy relationship between candidates and wealthy donors: “A crass multibillionaire on his own, who is out of the control of these vested interests, is disrupting the smooth process that all these rich people have been working on for years to buy and groom their favourite politicians. I love it.” Magda George agrees!