My first two articles in a series “Heat the Rich” were suddenly given relevance by Hurricane Irma. The first one, “Heat the Rich (0)” because it brought to light the thinking of an eccentric 19th century sociologist on the primitive habit of attributing sentience to impressive catastrophic phenomena, a habit which can be observed live and well in any TV report on the current climate event; and the second, “Heat the Rich (1)” because it described the life of a typical climate catastrophist millionaire, currently sheltering from hurricane Irma in the concrete wine cellar on his private island.
So here’s a sequel to “Heat the Rich (0)” which was written a while ago, but which suddenly seems relevant, thanks to a boring old tropical hurricane which has one of the leaders of the New World Order cowering with his servants among the racks of Chateau Lafite like a French arsitocrat mingling with his underlings in order to escape the ire of the revolutionary mob.
A principal of scientific social enquiry is that a cause, to be significant, must be limited in time and space. Thus an explanation of the current global warming hysteria must consist of factors limited to the period in question (the late 20th century) and the countries affected (principally the anglo-saxon world and Europe.)
One such possible cause I’ve examined here is the rise of a social class, educated and opinionated, to a position of power and influence. The conservative American social critic Thomas Sowell has examined their rise in several publications.
Their principal characteristic is that the wares they sell are opinions (which they purvey as facts) and their core membership is in academia and the media, stretching out to include advertising, public relations, marketing and the world of subsidised NGOs and thinktanks.
Another possible cause is the rise of the hyper rich. The gap between the rich and the poor in developed countries is not only greater now than at any time since the 1920s, but it is concentrated, not among the top 10% or 1%, but in the top 0.1%. This is important. You might meet one of the 10% or even 1% in your everyday life – your boss or your proctologist. I know a few, and they’re nice people. My dentist likes underwater photography in tropical locations. That costs. It’s an activity unthinkable for any but the hyper-rich even a few decades ago, and now any upper middle class professional can do it, and that means just about any person with a degree who’s willing to work hard at some recognised profession. And I don’t begrudge him his expensive hobby, because he treats my teeth with the same care and attention he devotes to photographing submarine flora and fauna.
But the super-rich escape all sociological analysis because they are effectively invisible, except when they choose to address us on Twitter or Instagram like the Wizard of Oz from behind his curtain. Call me a communist, call me Toto, but I feel like tearing away that curtain.
We’ve known for over 150 years (and have been trying to forget it ever since) that the driving force behind the tendency of the rich to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor is the power of capital to reproduce itself,
But for over a century the power of capital has been counterbalanced by the power of democracy, limiting the blind mechanism of capitalism and redistributing its wealth in the form of higher wages and improved health and education services in such a way as to benefit society as a whole. So why has the power of capital quite suddenly increased, enabling the rich to grab twice as much of the nation’s wealth over a period of just a few decades?
To come down to concrete examples, how can a CEO whose salary is measured in millions give himself a 20% pay rise in the wake of the biggest economic crisis for decades, at the same time as workers are being laid off or taking wage cuts? It’s not as if he were some modern Marie Antoinette, ignorant about what’s happening in the rest of society. After all, he owns shares in the supermarkets that sell the cake to the enraged masses, so he knows exactly how much he’s letting them eat.
The immediate answer is that the obscene increase in his paypacket (which is nothing compared to his share options and other perks) is voted by his colleagues who hope one day to occupy his position, and they in turn are surrounded by ambitious juniors who hope to… and so on. But it can’t be arselickers all the way down, can it? You don’t have to penetrate very far down the heap to find people who are outraged.
For a long time society was pictured as a solid pyramid. At the bottom were the peasants and workers, in the middle the educated classes, with the nobs at the top. Whether you saw the lower layers as loyally supporting their superiors or the superiors crushing the lower orders, the image had a certain appeal as a solid edifice, with each class standing firmly on the shoulders, or crushing the heads, of the class below.
Silicon Valley, faithfully following Thatcher’s declaration that “there is no such thing as society”, has replaced the image of a pyramid with that of a cloud or web of isolated atoms. But we’re not smooth frictionless atoms revolving billions of diameters apart in a social void. We’re rough, abrasive bodies, bumping up against each other randomly, like grains of sand on the seashore, but capable of being formed into sandcastles of great height, complexity and beauty. But however high and complex the sandcastle, it is formed of mere grains of sand, components which are indistinguishably equal before the law and the ballot box. As anyone who’s ever built a sandcastle knows, when such an edifice collapses, it tends to do so in an unpredictable fashion, not from the top down, but with random slabs detaching themselves willy nilly. I like to think that I and my fellow sceptics are part of one of those random slabs.
An anthropological study of the super-rich nowadays would not be easy. I’ve only ever met three millionaires in my life. One offered me tea and crumpets and asked if I’d like to see the Rubens; one chatted for half an hour, wrote me a cheque for a couple of thousand – no questions asked – and offered me a line of coke. The third was a famous rock star who hired our rather odd folk band to play at his birthday party. He paid us reasonably, and he treated us exactly as you’d expect a mediaeval baron to treat a band of strolling minstrels – like peasants. The odd thing was that while the first two demonstrated their difference with every gesture or intonation, the third millionaire and his friends wore the same jeans and spoke with the same accents as us peasants. What separated us – by several orders of magnitude – was our bank balances.
Three is hardly a significant sample on which to base any conclusions, but I keep on bumping into the stinking rich in my exploration of the nether regions of the Green Blob: financing trips to the Arctic for poets to chant odes to polar bears, Carrying On Up the Amazon to persuade the indigenous to stay indigent,
brainstorming on tropical islands in the company of starlets, devising money-making schemes to extract profit from their good deeds, and making films to persuade us to entrust them with the care of the planet while we stay at home snug, smug and carbon-lite.
The rich are a varied lot, but if there’s one thing that links Al Gore; Richard Branson, Leonardo di Caprio, Zac Goldsmith, Susan Rockefeller, Cher, Vivienne Westwood and Their Highnesses the Prince of Wales, Prince Albert of Monaco, and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands (apart from loot) it’s concern for the environment and a desire to protect it in all its pristine glory from the greatest threat to the planet since the dawn of time – us.
In a world where the rich can live anywhere and nowhere, where a private jet eliminates the last egalitarian factors of seasickness and queues at the landing ramp, it makes no sense to try and impress the masses by showering gifts on the lower orders by founding universities or art galleries. And who wants to inherit Charles Saatchi’s collection of putrescent half-sharks anyway? I can buy half a shark on e-bay if I want to, thank you very much.
The rich impress or disgust the readers of Hello! in the doctor’s waiting room, not by their sophistication or largesse, but simply by the size of their divorce settlements. The people are too insignificant a target market anyway. Branson’s Virgin Trains exists for its shareholders, not for its passengers. It’s a long time since Vivienne Westwood made clothes for you or me. (Well, for you perhaps, not me.) When it comes to finding a worthy recipient for their benefacting, Only The Planet Will Do.
And so they shower their largess on groupthink tanks and zombie blogs, churning out reports unread except by churnalists who faithfully repeat their fantasies as if their future careers depended on it, which they do.
But the Planet is dumb. It won’t say Thank You. And the people are dumb too, because they’re not paying attention. Poor Little Rich People.