Sunday, 25 February 2018

A Little Perspective On The Wealth Gap - Seen Through The Eyes Of Henry VIII


As you know, there is a lot of complaining about the so-called injustices of the wealth gap, with everyone from Oxfam to Jeremy Corbyn to Bernie Sanders complaining that the wealth of the richest people keeps increasing while the poor do not benefit much from capitalism.

This is obviously a foolish assertion - but more than that: even those who acknowledge the benefits of capitalism are often guilty of understating the extent to which the poorer people in the UK and the USA have enjoyed pretty much all the beneficial things the rich have. So much so that the further back in time you travelled, the narrower the difference between today's rich and poor would seem.

To see why, let me run this thought experiment by you. At the time of his death, Henry VIII's wealth was thought to be around 300,000 British pounds. Adjusted for inflation, that would make him worth about £250 million today.

Suppose we resurrected Henry VIII and brought him and his adjusted wealth into the present day to spend a week following round Richard Branson - a man worth about 16 times more (£4 billion) than Henry would be worth. We'd find something quite astonishing. The things about Richard Branson's life that would be most coveted by Henry VIII would not be the luxury goods that make Branson stand out from the average earner of today - they would be the multitude of things that even most low income earners have at their disposal. 
 
What would impress Henry VIII most about today are things like: having access to such a rich variety of food and drink; clean, uncontaminated water; an extremely low chance of mothers and babies dying in childbirth; modern medicine and healthcare; refrigerated food; microwave ovens; cars; high speed trains; computers; televisions; washing machines; global travel in under 24 hours; much shorter working weeks; welfare; access to the entire world's knowledge through the Internet; and all this (and much more) in a world that has seen the virtual eradication of smallpox, polio, diphtheria and tuberculosis.

That is to say, Henry VIII would find the difference between Richard Branson and a low income worker infinitesimal compared with the monumental difference in quality of living between himself and a low income worker in the present day. The most astounding part of present day living for Henry VIII would be the multitude of present day advantages that many people take for granted, and yet still consider themselves poorly off despite having.

Given the foregoing, I find it remarkable that there are so many narrow-minded, short-sighted, entitled people in society who are obsessed with banging on about the inequalities that capitalism creates.

You may say that, for those suffering economic hardship, life is a daily grind - and I will not disagree with you. But as soon as you take your eyes off disposable income, and focus on the way society has been equalised materially in just about every other way, you'll see that instead of bemoaning the gross wealth stratifications in society, a more pertinent reaction would be to feel amazed that after 200,000 years of human history when just about everyone who ever lived was equally poor, we find ourselves living in a time when the majority of us are equally very rich.
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