Personal Wealth: An Outdated Idea that’s Destroying our World?
I would like you to take a moment to think about how many people you could fit in your house. If you live in shared accommodation or anything larger than a 2 bedroom, it’s a fair bet to suggest that you could manage 85. 85 people really isn’t that many. It’s tantamount to a thriving house party, a small local gig or mildly popular university course. It’s also the number of people that collectively own as much money as the 3.5 billion poorest people on the planet. I’d wager you can’t fit that many people in any house, hall, stadium or TARDIS.
The more you think about that information, the more shocking it is. 3.5 billion is half the population of the planet. Specifically, it’s the half of the population most severely subjected to the horrors of homelessness, violent crime, starvation and disease, the people that the rest of us are leaving behind. It becomes even more shocking still when you take the time to remember that the entire concept of money (and thereby wealth) is a human creation and that it’s entirely figurative, it doesn’t actually exist in any tangible way. For the record, the figure mutually shared by the richest 85 and the poorest half of humanity is roughly one trillion pounds. When you scale up to the richest 1% of the population the figure rises to £60.88tn, so even at that level, you’ve already got 60 times more money than the poorest 50%.
But those are just numbers, right? They don’t mean anything until you place them into a workable context. Well, let’s do some maths with this, if you divide £1tn between 85 people you get just over £11.7bn per head. There are a lot of things you could do with that sort of money without it making any kind of measurable dent. You could spend literal years in the penthouse suite of the Hotel President Wilson in Geneva, you could buy enough of these ridiculous watches to cover every limb, you could fuck over insure.com by buying out their domain name, or for just a little more, you could become instrumental in stamping out the Ebola outbreak.
According to a statement issued by the UN, it will cost approximately £628m to get the upper hand on the rapidly spreading Ebola outbreak over the next 6 months. Currently only 24 nations have donated anything more than $1m, whilst some nominal donations have come in from elsewhere, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife donated $25m, for example. The current death-toll is within reach of 4,500 at present, with more than double that infected. Bearing in mind these figures, think how much good a £1bn, £5bn or even £10bn donation would do, the possibilities are almost endless and any members of the ’85 club’ could easily pool their resources in order to donate such a princely sum and still have enough of their own money left over to last hundreds of lifetimes.
These people won’t do that though, nor will the lion’s share of that money be spent on anything, be it extravagant, generous or exaggerated, it will be hoarded. That’s the ultimate insult of the richest 1%, they don’t even have to decency to spend their vast sums of money, they just keep it and hide behind the massive figure they’ve accrued like an avid WoW player unreasonably flaunting their character level. The notion of influence or stature being guided by wealth is hopelessly outdated and it needs to go far, far away. It’s hardly a coincidence that almost everyone you encounter with critical views towards environmental action or equal rights movements would stand to make a financial loss if these things gained any further traction. Here’s an example: wealthy colonists from England who arrived in Australia quickly discovered two things about it: firstly that the ground was rich in valuable minerals and fuels and secondly that the indigenous people regarded the ground to be sacred. The solution? Systematically wiping them out, a process that is still going on today, sickeningly.
In the time when aristocracy was still relevant and widespread, it was seen as a matter of responsibility to guide and govern such massive amounts of wealth, back when Agrarian capitalism was still in its infancy. The largest accumulations of money built empires, marched armies and removed arses from thrones. Now, the largest accumulations do the square root of fuck-all, they just sit there, hopelessly out of reach like a black-forest gateau at the tip of the Space Needle. I’m not necessarily suggesting that things were better back then, it was a broken system in the 16th century and it’s a broken system now, but after 500 years we should at least be able to say things have improved, shouldn’t we? Our wealthiest figures shouldn’t be equivocal to fucking Smaug at this stage in our development. Have we not evolved?
The fact of the matter is that personal wealth has infected every facet of global concern. If you ask me, environmental conservation should be the number-one priority of every single nation on the planet with healthcare not far behind. This isn’t the case anywhere in the world. The USA is one of the wealthiest nations on the planet and their healthcare system is considered inferior to places like Dominica and Colombia. Things are improving with the advent of Obamacare, but lest we forget that the republican party (many of whom have strong financial ties to both medical insurance firms and drugs companies, who stand to lose from this movement) threw the most powerful nation on the planet into indefinite lock-down because they refused to play ball. Leaf-cutter ants do a better job of looking after each other than humans do.
This is the issue of relying on a system founded on figures, accumulation becomes everyone’s goal in life, often to the detriment of common decency. At the core of it, all anyone’s actually doing is trying to build something that will be gone long after they’re dead. Epicurus once said: “It is better for you to be free of fear lying upon a pallet, than to have a golden couch and a rich table and be full of trouble.”
It’d be nice if the people with all the power and influence in the world weren’t quite so fearful.