This is a thank you to the many people who commented on my ‘doorstep answers’ blog post here, or on Facebook or elsewhere. The comments tend to fall into two categories – “they won’t believe it” and “here’s some better info”.
To answer the second point first – yes, thank you, bags and bags of figures and economic theories, most of them excellent – but not the kind of thing most people can carry in their heads, and a doorstep campaigner reading figures from a crib-sheet is not the most convincing of animals, so not much use in this context. To answer the “they won’t believe it” ones – yes, I know, that’ll be because the world is full of experts in suits number-crunching and telling people things have to be the way they are. Need I explain the reason for that? What we need is to get across the concept and scale of rising inequality, and its consequences.
Here’s a useful handbook, full of tables, facts and figures, which does that job for those who have the time and the inclination to read…
There have been many books like this in recent years – they are the academics’ contribution to the anti-austerity movement, the Occupy movement, the Sanders and Corbyn movements – all of those and more are really part of the same issue. It hinges on the fact that people as a rule under-estimate just how rich the rich are, and so are vulnerable to the idea that we can’t afford this or that, and the related idea that a person needs to be rich to be secure. Probably the key fact that needs to be digested better is the size of a billion. A few decades ago, the popular dream was to become a millionaire. The fact that that won’t do any more is not just about inflation. A billion is 1,000 million.
When we start arguing about banks, and countries’ debts, the conversation runs into trillions. A trillion is 1,000 BILLION. When we hear about averages – average income for example, those figures are hugely skewed by the presence of BILLIONAIRES. The average income of a household in the UK can sound perfectly acceptable if one or two of those counted are billionaires.
If someone is a billionaire – or a multi-billionaire – you can take 90% of their wealth and assets, fund yourself a chunk of NHS or whatever, and still leave them enough to be rich enough that the income from their assets will soon lift them back into stratospheric riches. You don’t have to take all their money to make everything alright for everyone – but you do need to take away the power they have to keep funnelling everything back into their own pockets. This isn’t even because they’re greedy bastards, necessarily. They probably don’t realise as they watch (as we all do) their bank balance and interest payments, that they are starving whole countries. Rather, they worry about the people who want to take their wealth away from them, and they think (as we all do) that if they had just a little more, they’d be safe. That’s why they can (if they think about it) justify all the ‘experts’ they finance to go around keeping government and media on side, telling us we can’t afford this and that.
And of course, they can afford the most convincing ‘experts’. I suggest you just keep explaining to people what a billion is, and let the consequences form in their minds, whilst you point out that at the moment, everything, absolutely everything – transport, health, finance, even government administration, is set up so that money and wealth flow into a few pockets.
If we should be lucky enough to get an honest government into power, they don’t need to magically whip up more trillions, billions or even millions of anything – they just need to change that flow, so that enough of that money and wealth go into supporting the things that everyone needs. Once that’s happening, you can reassure the doubter clutching his/her lottery ticket that it’ll be okay for millionaires to stay millionaires but, with a proper government and a proper welfare service, you won’t need to be a millionaire to be reasonably safe and live decently. You will have the support and resources you need to manage your life and provide for your household.