2015 must be the year we address wealth inequality

When the Economist asks “Why aren’t the poor storming the barricades?” something has gone badly wrong.

When the Economist asks “Why aren’t the poor storming the barricades?” something has gone badly wrong

If 2014 is the year that wealth inequality finally came onto the radar, then 2015 must be the year that talk turns to action.

Politicians in the United States have taken to the issue far more brazenly than those here. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders along with the Mayor of New York and even the President himself made wealth inequality the centrepiece of their campaigns in 2014.

It’s time we in the UK caught up with our cousins across the pond.

Whilst there are those that have been crying out for attention to this issue since well before the financial crisis of 2008, it must be the publication of Piketty’s seminal work, Capital in the Twenty-First Century that finally brought the topic to the fore.

Wealth inequality is the single biggest issue of our time. And while it has been talked about a great deal, very little has actually been done. The importance of this cannot be overstated; those who once believed that working hard would inevitably lead to a better life increasingly feel they live in a system that favours only the wealthy.

If this hope continues to be eroded the disenfranchised, the disillusioned and the hopeless will feel that the social contract which has held society together since the 1950s has been broken. They will feel that revolt will be the only means by which to right a terrible wrong.

I am not the only one to fear this. Robert Reich, former secretary of labour during the Clinton administration, warned that the “the working class and the poor as we used to call it, will increasingly become vulnerable to demagogues who come along and take their frustration and anxiety and turn it into and divert it toward targets of animosity. We have seen this before in history. I don’t have to tell you”.

Reich, a long-term Cassandra on the issue of inequality, made this warning not after the financial crash but well before it, in 2005.

Nick Hanauer, billionaire and campaigner on wealth inequality, said: “And if wealth, power, and income continue to concentrate at the very tippy top, our society will change from a capitalist democracy to a neo-feudalist rentier society like 18th-century France. That was France before the revolution and the mobs with the pitchforks.”

It may be time his fellow plutocrats listened up before anger and anxiety boils over.

To accuse these critics of demagoguery and populism themselves is to dangerously miss the point and to shoot the messenger. Wealth inequality will only grow in 2015 as it has grown over the past 40 years.

If democracy is to continue to work in favour of the majority and not the privileged few, then extremely modest proposals like a wealth tax cannot be continually shot down as mad or unworkable. To say otherwise is to assume that the current situation is workable. It isn’t.

It is a travesty that anyone living in the fifth largest economy in the world is struggling to feed themselves. If you disagree, try listening to a 35-year-old man describing in detail how he cannot afford to eat. The number of homeless young people on the streets of London has doubled since 2010. The number of billionaires worldwide has doubled since the financial crisis. Let that sink in for a moment.

The old maxim about society being only three meals away from anarchy looms large.

When those great bastions of socialism, the IMF and the OECD, warn that not only has wealth inequality grown, but that it hampers growth and that redistributive policies may actually make society richer overall, it is time to listen up. When the Economist asks “Why aren’t the poor storming the barricades?” and Forbes ponders “Could America’s Wealth Gap Lead to a revolt?” something has gone badly wrong.

So, let’s make wealth inequality the issue of 2015. And let’s actually do something about it. It is not enough now to merely talk about it. Wealth inequality, whether in the UK, the United States or globally must be tackled via democratic, peaceful and prudent means. If not, the pitchforks are coming.

Zaheer Rayasat is an activist and social commentator

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today. 

33 Responses to “2015 must be the year we address wealth inequality”

  1. CGR

    Most of us want the opportunity to work hard and not have our hard earned dosh taken in high taxes to pay for lardy-arsed benefits scroungers and illegal immigrants !!!

    If people have earned high salaries by hard work and enterprise, then good for them.

  2. Train Dragon

    Jesus wept lad, you’ve clearly got your finger on the pulse…

  3. wj

    Seriously – who are the poor going to turn to to fight this inequality.

    I live in a Labour-run city that has built up a massive bureaucracy, awash with CEOs and Directors who’s salaries rival that of our Prime Minister.

    As far as we plebs on the street are concerned the very people who rant on about inequality are part of the problem and articles such as the one above are taken with a sack-full of salt.

  4. Guest

    Insulting plebs by trying to paint yourself as one, as you call allowing people to talk about equality as part of the problem you see, as you demand your view be taken as gospel…

  5. Guest

    Your rich. Who work “hard” to rip off workers (i.e. collect your corporate welfare).
    As you decry the UK’s hardly excessive tax levels, as you scream hate the poor as usual.

    Yes, good for them – they’re completely different to you and your hate for Britain and the British, as you speak so eloquently for your 1% in your attempt to crush them.

    No, you should be paying tax.

  6. Leon Wolfeson

    No surprise some of the right is here to glory in starvation and misery for the peons.

    And Zaheer, that’s why the government is demanding ever-more powers for the secret services and police.

  7. wj

    Yes, all very well – but who is going to lead this fightback, all three parties are the same.

  8. Just Visiting

    Hi Zaheer

    > Wealth inequality is the single biggest issue of our time.

    I see you have commented here and elsewhere on a range of issues.

    I couldn’t see you cover wealth inequality before – did I miss something?

    Personally, I’m not sure I agree with your claim that it is the single biggest issue.

    I liked what you have written about before on topics, such as Pakistan, and Islamism.

  9. Guest

    They’re the same to you because you’re so far away from them to the right. They don’t have major differences, but they’re not the same.

    And you don’t believe people can work outside parties. Unsurprising…

  10. Peter Martin

    Those of us on the left who’ve taken the trouble to learn how capitalism functions are often dismayed by the economic backwardness of those, who claim to be on the left, who haven’t.

    Bill Mitchell, who I’d recommend as an authority, has a special file called “with friends like this”!


    Happy new year!

    PS Leon. Please don’t reply to this post! You’re a PITA !

  11. swat

    Good God! This has been on the Agenda since 1789! It keeps cropping up every year, like a New Years Resolution, that always gets kicked into the long grass after after a couple of days, by one and all. The fact is the ‘poor’ will always be with us.
    Was it H who said that when the Revolution comes .. ‘ we’ll all all have servants like these flipping aristos!’ Plus ca change!
    ‘Activists’ need ‘the poor’ otherwise they have no raison d’etre.
    What they should be discussing is raising puniticve taxes on the filthy rich and re-distributing the proceeds to the rest of society, equitably, so that ‘the poor’ get a a bit; but they’ll still be poor. C’est la vie.

  12. Keith M

    Democracy is at a cross roads, it has already been seriously undermined by Tory and Labour governments kow towing to the bankers and multi nationals – time to take our country back. A wealth tax on the rich would be a start but what really needs tackling is tax avoidance by multi nationals. If they want to trade here then they must pay all taxes on what is earned here. 2015 should be the year in which we start to stop the rot.

  13. littleoddsandpieces

    The working poor are the ones losing from pension and welfare reform.

    Pension reform just means the Coalition denying the state pension payout from 2013 for
    7 years, whilst then denying these poorest amongst the 20 per cent lowest income and below ANY STATE PENSION FOR LIFE and LESS NOT MORE state pension for bulk of rest


    This money is denied the poor, overwhelmingly in work or disabled/chronic sick, 60 and over, equally liable to Bedroom Tax and the 1 million benefit sanctions causing starvation, even though the money is sitting pretty in the ring fenced and full National Insurance Fund since 2013 and wrongly called a surplus.

    The working poor and poor pensioners are 97 per cent of benefits bill, but which is going less and less to the poor and more and more spent on benefits admin on less and less money going to the poor and more on admin, both DWP and private contracts.

    The Greens have not put into The Greens’ 2015 general election manifesto, policies which are on The Greens’ policy website, so are not offering those permanent solutions not just to Inequality, but to the life threatening Austerity that has killed the poor and most vulnerable whenever this theory has been applied on nations.

    The Greens on their website, deeply hidden, offered but not for their 2015 generale lection campaign:

    – Replacing all the cruel benefits regime that is causing the massive rise, according to doctors, of malnutrition hospital admissions, and starvation by benefit sanctions to a heavily pregnant woman, young mother with new baby and someone 60 and disabled / chronic sick equally.

    – With giving all citizens an automatic and universal Citizen Income, in or out of work just the same, not requiring anyone to be actively seeking work, and equally to those in work, to the level of the basic tax allowance.

    – Full State Pension to all citizens, irregardless of National Insurance contribution / credit history, to the same amount as the Citizen Income or even bettered.

    Both of the above are listed to have a supplement for those living alone and for those who are disabled.

    Mebyon Kernow, a small party in Cornwall, solved inequality in the workplace at least in the public sector, by trying to get elected (without media help for small parties as is being done to the Greens) with their policy pledge to reduce management pay and so be able to afford a living wage for all their staff.

    A living wage and capping rents would mean an end to Housing Benefit, that does not give money to those on benefit (most in work) but to wealthy landowners.

    The Citizen Income would mean an end to the 750 Jobcentres and all the benefits admin work of the DWP, but more important no private welfare admin contracts costing billions.

    With the Citizen Income being automatic, the admin would be minimal and probably within the tax office, where basic rate staff from the DWP could be redeployed.

    The full state pension would save councils from pauper funerals that also impact the budgets of Police and HM Coroner, as well as the NHS in removing the departed to places of rest.

    Because without benefit and without state pension, someone does not access to Winter Fuel Allowance.

    So The Greens hold the key to Money Equality, that is more about the poor not dying from food and fuel poverty, if only they would have the moral courage to bring their new and unique policies of the Citizen Income and Full Citizen State Pension for the general election in May 2015, and start putting those policies up on billboards today.

    Because if The Greens told the poorest people that the flat rate pension is more about NIL STATE PENSION FOR LIFE, and that only The Greens offer these people any hope against a starving penniless old age, then The Greens will gain the SY.RIZ.A moment, who are likely to win the Greece election at the end of January.


  14. ForeignRedTory

    When you’ve got friends like this – Part 11

    ‘Further, why should the progressive side of politics be wanting the
    Party to be “focused on maintaining government solvency” when, by
    definition, the Australian government never faces insolvency. It issues
    the currency, stupid!’

    He repeats the point in http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=24850

    1. Is the nation sovereign in its own currency and floats it on
    international markets? If yes, we immediately know that the practice of
    issuing public debt (post 1971 when the Bretton Woods system collapsed)
    is an unnecessary (etc).

    That works so well in Venezuela. Public debt has a political cost – in addition to the cost of interest-payments.

    ‘and, thus, voluntary arrangement that the currency-issuing government
    pursues to satisfy various neo-liberal constituencies which have
    dominated public policy and caused unemployment to remain persistently
    high for decades.’
    That is of course the political cost I am referring to.

  15. Guest

    No, there’s absolutely need need to have “the poor”. I support a Basic Income.

  16. Guest

    Silence, you scream, don’t comment. Be like you, frantically fighting other views, which you must not allow.

    You’re not on the left, stop pretending, as you lie about your wishes for the new year for the peons you evidently hate so much. You’re a good 1%er.

    (You asked for this post, obviously)

  17. Guest

    No surprise you try and use Venezuela, an example of Dear Leader syndrome.

    The reality is that the cost of borrowing is inflation. And…oh, right, the UK is looking at possible deflation.

  18. ForeignRedTory

    ‘The reality is that the cost of borrowing is inflation. ‘
    Source required.

    ‘ you try and use Venezuela, an example of Dear Leader syndrome.’

    Venezuela is a great example of what happens when you deviate from strict orthodoxy. Ditto for Argentina of course.

  19. Gear Mentation

    Wish you all the best….

  20. Gear Mentation

    Dang, as an American, that is rhetoric we’ve been hearing from the Tea Party and other radical Republicans for years now. But it’s beginning to sound so dated and out of touch. Not that it didn’t always sound out of touch to anyone paying attention.

  21. Guest

    So you deny the basics of fiat currency.

    And then talk about deviation from from *neoliberalism*. Never mind they’re prime examples of Dear Leader syndrome.

  22. Leon Wolfeson

    Fortunately your economic nuts got held off and you didn’t plunge like we did. When America’s considerably to the left of Britain in economic policy, something has gone wrong here.

  23. Gear Mentation

    I truly did not know that… I didn’t know any major nation was right of the USA.

  24. ForeignRedTory

    ‘The reality is that the cost of borrowing is inflation. ‘
    Source required.

  25. Leon Wolfeson

    Oh, not on everything, but the hardline neoliberal path of austerity we followed? Pretty much exactly what the Tea Party called for. We were recovering from the recession…but said economic policy plunged us into a depression which we’re yet to leave.

  26. Guest

    Economics 101. Learn the basics.

  27. ForeignRedTory

    Quote a reputable source that agrees with your preposterous suggestion.

  28. Gary Scott

    Britain has decided to address symptoms rather than causes. Whilst we know that there have been large turnouts for anti austerity protests, anti GMO protests, anti bias protests etc we find that the press seems, over the past few years, to have developed a permanent blind spot to public protests. This when taken together with the excessive force used to break up smaller demos and the purchased, by Boris, of water cannons to cope with the protestors (and only a week or two after shutting fire stations – sick irony) is moving much further away from representing the people of the country towards keeping power at any cost. The introduction of FTAs, gagging laws and very vague anti terror legislation serve only to prevent charities, bloggers and individuals from exercising free speech. The revelations on PRISM etc only seem to confirm that we live in a state where there is no free speech, where we are heading towards what we called in other countries, fascism.

  29. Nick London

    Leon up to his tricks? Fyi we got him kicked off labourlist for stalking a bunch of people with bizarre and increasingly scary emails

  30. Guest

    Ah yes, your multiple accounts all whined. But sadly for your paranoia, it was a mass purge of non-right wing accounts.

    Keep screaming that replying is stalking, and slandering people with “emails” which do not exist – as you call anything outside your right wing “bizarre and increasingly scary”, when you’re the one who has issued multiple threats.

    This account of yours, LordBlagger, exists only to post hate against a few people. Keep up your Jihad for your far right politics, and your admitted campaign of censorship of all other views.

    No surprise you’re defending one of your own there.

  31. Guest

    Given I didn’t make any preposterous suggestions, I can’t help you. Perhaps you need to look at your denial of economics 101.

  32. Nick London

    Keep well leon, keep on truckin’.

  33. Guest

    And you start the same old things again, Lord Blagger.

Leave a Reply