The thought-provoking and slightly hysterical BBC documentary series, The Super Rich and Us reached its climax on Thursday 15th January with a chilling warning of possible REVOLUTION if the divided society continues to widen. With 85 individuals owning more than half of the personal wealth of the World, things have simply gone too far, and the super rich are now starting to fear a backlash from the disenfranchised majority.
The overriding theme of the new millennium has been a widening divide between the super rich 1% of the UK and USA populations and the rest, with Britain becoming a haven for the World’s richest people in higher concentrations than any other country due to successive Government’s covert policy of allowing tax avoidance. This is done in the belief that the richest people generate wealth for everyone, with a trickle-down effect putting money in the pockets of the rest of us – a kind of return to feudal patronage in a society based on greedy exploitation and misinformation.
The stark warning of the programme makers is that we are heading for a crash, with 1% of the population having most of the wealth and charged with the task of growing the economy through capitalist and consumerist activity. It is unsustainable and the cracks are showing. The mouthpiece of the super rich in the UK is Chancellor George Osborne, who is ruthlessly driving through an austerity programme aimed at taxing the poor to subsidise the rich. The middle classes are suffering as never before, with declining income and a growing cost of living. Those interviewed on the programme give the impression they now realise that they are being excluded from the orgy of excess being enjoyed only by the super rich elite.
The programme charted the history leading up to the financial meltdown of 2008, starting with a nostalgic description of the 1970s as the most egalitarian decade ever. Wealth was more evenly shared with a relatively modest gap between workers and bosses wages. But wait…wasn’t the 70s the decade of power cuts and strikes? Yes, it all went horribly wrong for Ian Callaghan’s Labour Government, with an oil crisis leading to recession and striking workers bringing the country to a standstill.
This opened the door for Margaret Thatcher’s capitalist revolution in the 1980s, and the age of greed and borrowing was ushered in. Britain’s bankers mimicked their American counterparts, who were making millions on Wall Street gambling on stock futures and the securities market – creating massive wealth which eclipsed the value of all manufactured goods worldwide. Thatcher cheered it on, encouraging the cynical asset stripping of British businesses and the cheap privatisation of national assets. Fortunes were made and ordinary people were encouraged to get on board the consumer boom by borrowing beyond their means.
It was unsustainable and reached a peak in 2008 when the securities market gave way under the weight of too many defaulted mortgages, causing a domino effect across the banking sector, collapsing the property market and triggering a global recession. What have we learned from this? Not much it seems, as the same capitalist greed model remains in place, and the programme presenter solemnly reported that the super rich made profit from the big crash. Most Government bailout payments ended up in the pockets of the wealthy elite who saw opportunity in disaster, and the gap between the wealthiest and the rest has continued to widen over the past five years.
The last five minutes of the excellent documentary deals with stark warnings from a UK military chief and a US IT billionaire, that our two societies are reaching a tipping point. Already austerity protests in the West are hinting that the people have had enough. If you exclude the majority to the extent that they feel they have nothing left to lose then watch out. President Obama talks about the “Great Divergence” being the “defining moment of our times.” “A highly unequal society is a recipe for revolution or a police state”, says a wide-eyed billionaire, who is already thinking of ways to increase security on his mansion.
The programme concludes with a piece on exploitation of workers through zero hours contracts, and an increasingly dog-eat-dog society where people must scavenge to survive. The super rich have made money out of both ends of the market – luxury goods as well as pound shops, gambling and pay day loans. We live in a modern capitalist culture that encourages people to aspire and better themselves, but is now seen by many as unattainable as the reality of inequality leads to increasing frustration and anger.
The solution lies with a re-balancing of values in our society, before our weak and easily manipulated politicians lead us blindfolded into a police state. We are losing not only our jobs, quality of life and self respect, but also our hard-won freedoms. Obama is right – it is a defining moment, and we need to fight for our rights if we want a better life.