Sunday, 24 January 2016
Welcome to The Jungle
Jeremy Corbyn, in his efforts to show how much he despises Britain, has waded through the mud in Calais in a blatant photogenic festival of poverty. Poor them, he says, it’s not their fault and we must let more in. But what about France? Why are they not processed as refugees there? How have they been allowed to get as far as Calais anyway? And now that they are rioting, on what basis do we select the least violent to offer sanctuary. Of course Corbyn is simply riding on the Davos bandwagon, along with every other misguided ‘plight of the poor’ activist. I blame Oxfam.
Every year now, immediately prior to the meeting in Davos, Oxfam – that barometer of our conscience – publish an alarmist report to try and make you hate rich people. As if envy wasn’t enough, Oxfam feel that publishing meaningless comparisons will enrage the feeble-minded enough to... what? Rise up and overthrow the system that keeps even those on the dole here among the richest people in the world? The Romans knew a thing or two about bread and circuses and Oxfam are falling way short of their revolutionary aspirations by preaching mostly to the converted.
This year, they say, a mere 62 billionaires own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population. Good for them, I say, but let’s not fly off in a rage over the towering inequality of it all. Until I pay off my mortgage I’m worth less than a peasant in China who owns a hut and a goat. Because, make no mistake, wealth is no intelligent measure of privilege or even opportunity. Yes, yes, yes, it seems so unfair that some have so much and some have so little but I don’t think even the hard left actually despise success, per se; they just haven’t thought it all through; relative wealth, like relative poverty, is meaningless.
In pure monetary terms the total wealth of two billion poorest people on the planet are worth less than 50p. That’s their combined wealth. And it is because Oxfam’s metric determines wealth as ‘net worth’ which is the simple difference between assets and liabilities. So, like me, everybody with a mortgage which is more than they have in other realisable assets is in that world’s poorest group. Charles Dickens couldn’t have put it more clearly when he had Mr Micawber recite his recipe for prudent financial management: "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."
In the excellent Radio 4 show More or Less, it was calculated that if the wealth of those 62 billionaires was redistributed across the globe we would all be the princely sum of about £170 richer... which would still leave me and possibly you in negative wealth territory. The programme didn’t state the figure for the UK, but 25% of population of Germany have negative wealth; I imagine it is considerably higher in Britain. A Calais jungle migrant who owns a smartphone therefore, is richer than me, probably richer than you and certainly richer than many millions of people in Britain, by the same technique Oxfam uses to stoke your guilt..
But it’s worse than that. If the Calais migrants do get here they will be exploited by their own, or by organised gangs who will force them into debt they may never be able to repay. The western dream is an illusion. As for the demon inequality – the very perceived unfairness that the Corbynites seek to tackle – the irony is that it is being tackled; by capitalism. Poorer countries in Africa and elsewhere are developing at a faster rate than the declining and increasingly unstable west and global inequality is actually falling. Some of that is being driven by the assistance of those very billionaires who are turning their fortunes over to charity. But don’t let the facts get in the way of your oh-so-worthy crusades.