This year’s Rich List, published by the Sunday Times, shines a spotlight on the reality under capitalism: whilst millions of ordinary workers and youth face a future of austerity, the super-rich continue to see their wealth increase. Felix Lighter reports on the latest evidence for the “trickle up” economics under capitalism.
“I’ve never seen such a phenomenal rise in personal wealth as the growth in the fortunes of Britain’s 1,000 richest people over the past year.” (Phillip Beresford, compiler of The Sunday Times Rich List)
The Sunday Times newspaper publishes each year a list of the UK’s richest 1,000 people. The Rich List, as it is usually called, is often viewed as an indicator of the way things are going economically in Britain. It is certainly an indicator of the way things are going for the wealthiest few. Anyone still silly enough to really believe that, under the current austerity regime of the coalition government, we are “all in it together” and all fairly sharing in the pain will be in for a rude shock when they see the list this year.
The rich get richer
The Sunday Times (ST) analysis of the 2014 list, published on 18th May, starts somewhat bluntly: “ Just six years after Lehman Bros collapsed, sparking the worst recession since the Great Depression, the world’s rich have never been richer – and more of them are based in Britain than ever before.” The number of billionaires in Britain has tripled over the last decade.
The article continues: “The wealthiest 1,000… are worth £518.0bn, up 13% from the previous high of £449.65bn last year. Their total wealth has reached one-third of UK GDP – the value of all the goods and services we produce.” According to government data, the UK’s richest 1% has as much money as the combined assets of the poorest 55%
This data again exposes the stunning divide between rich and poor in austerity Britain today. Far from tightening their belts, the rich have been coining it at unprecedented levels. The rule seems to be: the richer you are, the more you can grab – the top 104 billionaires have more wealth between them than the combined wealth of the other 896 people on the list.
Meanwhile the Labour Party review into low pay, also being issued at the same time as the Rich List, has revealed that 5.2 million workers are now classified as earning less than the living wage level – about one in five of all workers. The report also notes that rogue employers are still paying over 250,000 workers less than even the legal minimum wage. Britain may have a rash of super-rich, but we also have higher levels of low pay (and lower productivity) than many other major countries.
This data, together with the mountain of facts published over the last few years exposing the grim reality of austerity Britain, reveals the sharp contrasts of a capitalist system that rewards the rich at the expense of the rest of us.
Old money and speculation
Who are these rich few then? The ST explains: “While new sectors, notably tech and gaming, are creating new wealth, old money has been largely unaffected by the recession. The richest British-born people on our list are landed aristocrats: the Duke of Westminster…. Earl Cadogan… Baroness Howard de Walden… Viscount Portman… Viscount Rothermere…” In other words, all the old feudal rubbish of British imperialism.
One thing we should take up with the ST straightaway: the wealth of the rich was not “created” but stolen from the workers past and present in the form of expropriated surplus value. It is the labour of the masses that produces wealth, which in turn become the basis of the struggle between classes, between those who actually create wealth – workers – and those who seek to grab it for themselves – the bosses.
Let’s have a closer look at these super-rich masters of the universe. Top of the list are the Hinduja brothers with £11.9 billion to play with, “earned” through speculation, oil interests etc. Then we have Russian tycoon Alisher Usmanov, who like the rest of his ilk, nicked his wealth off the Russian masses in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Third is Lakshimi Mittal and family, who have been through tough times we are told, but has still seen assets increase by £250 million this year up to a mere £10.25bn.
Heading down the list the same themes start to emerge: speculation, property and land holdings, media, “services”, banking and so on – a totally parasitic class unable to even be directly involved in the real economy of production and industry. The gambling industry has contributed a few names to the list, proving that the house indeed always wins.
Capitalism: trickle up economics
The Rich List – and its international versions dealing with the rest of the world – holds up a mirror to the real face of capitalism. We see a system which has caused a crisis resulting in the pain of austerity for millions of people here and abroad, yet has taken great steps to ensuring that the capitalists do not suffer for it themselves – quite the reverse it appears.
One thing is for certain: these people will get ever richer if left to their own devices. Forget the free-market fantasy about wealth “trickling down” to us mere mortals. The reality is that, under capitalism, wealth trickles upwards from us to them. That is why we need to fight for socialist policies.