Heat the Rich (0.1): My Millionaires

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.

14 thoughts on “Heat the Rich (0.1): My Millionaires

  1. 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.

    But they all love these lyrics.

    Tax the rich, feed the poor, till there are no rich no more

    Not mentioning who’s left to tax (other than themselves) when there are “no rich no more”.

    https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/tenyearsafter/idlovetochangetheworld.html

    Like

  2. Hi Geoff you do know the Thatcher quote is both out of context and partial. And as used an almost total inversion of what she was trying to say? Otherwise fine

    Like

  3. BARRY
    No I didn’t know that. The quote seems in line with her policies and her admiration for Hayek and his school. What was she trying to say then?

    Like

  4. From a very long interview, worth reading in full..
    http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/106689

    “I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand “I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!” or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!” “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and [end p457] there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations, because there is no such thing as an entitlement unless someone has first met an obligation and it is, I think, one of the tragedies in which many of the benefits we give, which were meant to reassure people that if they were sick or ill there was a safety net and there was help, that many of the benefits which were meant to help people who were unfortunate—“It is all right. We joined together and we have these insurance schemes to look after it”. That was the objective, but somehow there are some people who have been manipulating the system and so some of those help and benefits that were meant to say to people: “All right, if you cannot get a job, you shall have a basic standard of living!” but when people come and say: “But what is the point of working? I can get as much on the dole!” You say: “Look” It is not from the dole. It is your neighbour who is supplying it and if you can earn your own living then really you have a duty to do it and you will feel very much better!”
    There is also something else I should say to them: “If that does not give you a basic standard, you know, there are ways in which we top up the standard. You can get your housing benefit.”
    But it went too far. If children have a problem, it is society that is at fault. There is no such thing as society. [end p458] There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate. And the worst things we have in life, in my view, are where children who are a great privilege and a trust—they are the fundamental great trust, but they do not ask to come into the world, we bring them into the world, they are a miracle, there is nothing like the miracle of life—we have these little innocents and the worst crime in life is when those children, who would naturally have the right to look to their parents for help, for comfort, not only just for the food and shelter but for the time, for the understanding, turn round and not only is that help not forthcoming, but they get either neglect or worse than that, cruelty.
    How do you set about teaching a child religion at school, God is like a father, and she thinks “like someone who has been cruel to them?” It is those children you cannot … you just have to try to say they can only learn from school or we as their neighbour have to try in some way to compensate. This is why my foremost charity has always been the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, because over a century ago when it was started, it was hoped that the need for it would dwindle to nothing and over a hundred years later the need for it is greater, because we now realise that the great problems in life are not those of housing and food and standard of living. When we have [end p459] got all of those, when we have got reasonable housing when you compare us with other countries, when you have got a reasonable standard of living and you have got no-one who is hungry or need be hungry, when you have got an education system that teaches everyone—not as good as we would wish—you are left with what? You are left with the problems of human nature, and a child who has not had what we and many of your readers would regard as their birthright—a good home—it is those that we have to get out and help, and you know, it is not only a question of money as everyone will tell you; not your background in society. It is a question of human nature and for those children it is difficult to say: “You are responsible for your behaviour!” because they just have not had a chance and so I think that is one of the biggest problems and I think it is the greatest sin.”

    Like

  5. Thanks Barry. The full text of Thatcher’s speech confirms my impression that she saw society as an agglomeration of isolated atoms, obeying simple physical laws of attraction and repulsion:

    It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations, because there is no such thing as an entitlement unless someone has first met an obligation

    After having stated for the second time that: “There is no such thing as society” She goes on to speak of a “living tapestry of men and women and people…” which is pretty, but a pretty static image suggesting something created according to a rigid pattern that can’t be unstitched.

    But she did unstitch it, when she sold off millions of council houses to their tenants, allowing many working class people to make huge personal profits without denting the government accounts, and providing a handy proof of her Hayekian belief (via a social experiment that cost the state hundreds of billions) that if you treat people like units of economic wants and needs, then that’s how they’ll behave.

    My image of society as a sandcastle is a serious one. I don’t know if anyone has studied the science of sandcastles, but I imagine their physics is pretty chaotic, like fluid dynamics. You can construct immensely impressive edificies out of simple randomly shaped bits of silicon plus dampness. Then they collapse, slabs fall off them. Brexit was one such slab. The failure of the warmist project will be another.

    Superman comics in my childhood were full of ads for bodybuilding courses so that you wouldn’t be the weakling on the beach who let the bully kick sand in your face. That’s what Cliscep is about – bodybuilding courses for weaklings.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Barry. I have never read Thatcher’s words and lived abroad when she spoke them – so have only seen or listened to tiny extracts. Reading the text now I am interested to note that whereas “there’s no such thing as society” got considerable traction, her “no such thing as an entitlement” did not. Odd because I judge this was the more important of the messages she was trying to convey. Odd also because within a few paragraphs she completely demolishes this message with regard to children.

    Like

  7. Alan/Geoff clearly it has to be taken in context of the time it was written…

    Would anyone remember that interview differently now.. if all the people that hated her had not seized on the society quote.. and we remembered this quote instead.

    “It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour”

    Which seems to at the heart of different thinking between the left and right. If you success you can help more people.. acn analogy the equivalent of always putting your oxygen mask on yourself,plane depressurising. Before you help the more vunerable person put their mask on… As in this is the best approach to help both people.

    Like

  8. ALAN
    I think her views on entitlement certainly did get traction at the time. On the other hand the way “within a few paragraphs she completely demolishes this message with regard to children” wasn’t noticed much. Note it’s only mistreated children.

    I’m afraid a lot of the leftwing criticism of her at the time was ad feminam sneering at her lower middle class methodism. It was as stupid as Clinton’s remark about “deplorables,” since the stuff about “looking after yourself first” which Barry highlights and “life is a reciprocal business” is the kind of sound common sense which appealed to her fervent supporters, while the people who hated her just as fervently heard the dog whistling about lazy working class spongers.

    And that’s why her “no such thing as society” was so daft. Society is always about the clash between different social groups, and politics is about mitigating and arbitrating the clash, while Thatcher was about provoking the Clash. She thought she could create a perfect Toytown world where everyone would mind their own business and the state could wither away as Marx intended. Then in her muddled mind she thought of the kind of exception that proves the rule – mistreated children, and added it as a footnote, as an example of the kind of thing the government should intervene about.

    But I’m not trying to argue a socialist programme here, merely pointing out one of the ways Society acts blindly in unintended ways: in this case, by creating, over the past few decades, a caste of the super-rich who escape our imaginative abilities. They may colonise Mars or invent immortality, or they may content themselves with less ambitious plans, like telling our elected leaders at Davos how to run the world, and what energy sources we can use. They need monitoring.

    Like

  9. Geoff. I vaguely understand what Thatcher meant by there being no society, and even as a confirmed “lefty” can understand and support what I perceive to have been her intent.
    I like your interpretation that Thatcher’s view of society was an atomized one. Like you I cannot agree. It’s a matter of the sum being greater than the parts. It’s as if she were saying there’s no such thing as an orchestra, only individual musicians. Or recognizing individual termites, but not the mound they built.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Isn’t a neonate entitled to free board and lodging despite being several years too young to meet any obligations worth mentioning?

    Like

  11. “One offered me tea and crumpets and asked if I’d like to see the Rubens;”

    Geoff, I may have mentioned this before, but I am very much looking forward to reading your autobiography.

    Like

  12. Paul
    It’s quite boring really. A friend asked if I’d like to go and meet granny. He didn’t mention that granny had just married a duke. With age you learn to hone your lifestory down to a few intriguing soundbites. Blogging on climate is really one of the most interesting things I’ve ever done.

    Like

  13. The idea that there was once a society where everybody helped each other and there was no crime is just as much an abstraction as the deplorable statement about “no such thing as society”. I remember an oap telling me about the Blitz… Sirens.. Everyone in the shelters and the ARP would help themselves to some tea while no one was around. Similarly, I stayed in a place outside Los Angeles, 5 years ago, and no one locked the car, truck nor front door. London in the Blitz is surely the epitome of everyone in it togevver while LA is atomised anomie. The diagnoses are as nonsensical as climate science. Is string theory better or worse than climate science? They are about equal in age, but despite lack of evidence, one is batshit and the other is canonical

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s