As I explored the streets of Brussels - or one area of it anyway - yesterday afternoon, I listened to a podcast of Start the Week. It ended with Russell Brand claiming that:
"The important question is which political organisation cares that there are five families in Britain that have as much wealth collectively as the twelve million poorest people in Britain? Who is it that speaks for those people? What democratic recourse do those people have? What can they do - and, if the system cannot help them, then we need a revolution."
Having lived in several countries in Europe where the result of Brand's odd illogical kind of, for want of a better term, 'reasoning' was decades of repression, plus terrible environmental and cultural vandalism (and no systems have been so good at destroying the environment as socialist ones, no matter how many Erin Brockovitch type movies try to argue that capitalism is the great enemy of clean and green), I found this little clarion call pretty disturbing.
Clearly, Brand - like so many before him - proceeds from the belief that equality is both achievable and desirable in human society. I think equality is impossible - and, given this, whether it is desirable is not really something worth having an opinion on. The poor are always with us, as Jesus observed. By implication, the rich are too. The real question to ask about the existence of the rich is: is it necessarily a bad thing?
What actually is wrong with five families in Britain having as much wealth collectively as the country's twelve million poorest - provided they are not actually taking that money directly out of the pockets of the poorest?Is the very fact of being rich a sin? Leaving aside the fact that most of the world's great artistic treasures were only made because the wealthy commissioned them - for example, would we have Haydn's music if the Esterhazys hadn't been on hand to pay for him? - is there anything intrinsically wrong with owning stuff? Must we assume that the five rich families Brand is getting so worked up about never generate any kind of business or employment, pay no taxes, provide no opportunities, generate zero economic activity, give absolutely nothing away? If in fact they do all these things but still remain wealthy, must we tear them down anyway, just because we aren't as rich as they are? Is that sensible? Is that just? Or is that just jealousy?
And what about the twelve million poorest inhabitants of the nation - are they actually poor or simply poorer than others, (and bear in mind that inevitably someone always will be at the bottom of the heap)? Is their poverty - if it is poverty as such, rather than mere relative poverty - a direct result of the five wealthiest families' wealth accretion or are the two things separate? Are the twelve million poorest inhabitants of the nation lacking for food, education, health care, housing or are they merely fed up because they are not extremely rich too? Would the destruction of the wealth of the five richest families do anything to ameliorate the situation of the poorest families? Or would it simply be a case of pandering to jealousy?
When Brand talks about democratic recourse, I ask myself what he means, (particularly as he is talking about a nation that is already a democracy). Does he mean that no-one should be wealthy, that everything should be spread out evenly between all members of a population? Possibly he does, and if so, for the first time ever, I find myself wishing the Soviet Union still existed - purely because a single visit of only a few days almost invariably enlightened those people too naive, (or dim?), to understand that attempts to create equality in human societies end up creating hell on earth.