There are these days murmurings of billionaires and super-billionairs in the air. These are people with such extreme wealth that you and I cannot comprehend what that feels like. There are only so many 100 million dollar yachts these poor wretches can buy. And then what? They cannot broadcast their wealth, they cannot live forever in their reclusive communities. They do venture out and pretend to be normal people but with so much money at your command, you become a freak. After the initial high of acquiring such wealth is over, the rich seek out means of wriggling out of their tight cocoon. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century there were large wealth owners who were openly philanthropic. In today’s world when there is a large aspiring class waiting to get themselves on the ledge of wealth, it is not prudent to openly advertise that you are rich.
So I find the rich are giving their money away. Quietly. They are funnelling their wealth as aid to poor countries or setting up organisations to help the poor in their own countries. A lot of the money goes towards political lobbying so they can continue to enjoy their wealth and the means of acquiring it. But there has been a sea change in the thinking of the super-rich. Their motives are not always altruistic of course. Extreme income equality is nothing new. Throughout history there has been extreme inequality of wealth distribution. But since the industrial revolution and now the Silicon Valley AI revolution, inequality of wealth is much more visible in a global world and is much more talked about. Besides,the poor in the twenty first century are educated and hopeful of acquiring a piece of the pie for themselves.
Capitalism is a system in which Capital and Labour are partners. Without Labour, Capital by itself cannot work as a system of government because without Labour there is no one to produce the goods, consume it and pay taxes. Say robots did all the work. Who is going to buy the goods? Either people have to be put to work and paid or they will have to be given free money so they can buy the goods that Capital by itself produces and pay taxes so governments can do their job. Silicon Valley and the burgeoning Artificial Intelligence is taking the place of what used to be labour. The shortage of work is not a question of immigration, nor is it a question of job exports. Wait till China gets robots to do all their labour. Jobs are going to disappear firstly in what is called the First World and then in the Second and Third World. You want progress? You got it with a vengeance. Those dream fantasies we had in the 1950s of leisure for all while the machines do the jobs is coming into fruition in a nightmarish fashion. To put it down in bald terms, while the super-rich enjoy their leisure in obscene binges of shopping and yachting, the not so rich have to be satisfied with eating their suppers in front of the TV and signing on every week for their benefits. That is not going to last much longer. Hence of course, Brexit and Trump. This is just the beginning. The rich, despite the impression they give of not being very bright, have worked out that the anger and frustration of the not so rich will end with pitch-forks and torches.
This is where the sea change in the thinking of the rich comes in. The existing Philosophy on which the wealth of the Western World was built said that you do not get anything free. You have to work for your rewards, even if it is digging useless holes in the ground. But…but…there is no work! Digging holes endlessly would lead to climate change! Aid to poor countries was given on the principle that instead of free hand outs the people needed to be helped to grow their own produce, by digging wells for them or by issuing them with ploughs. Laughable as it is, Monsanto and co. probably own half the cultivable land on this earth. The poor farmers are left with arid deserts and marshy lakes. We have tried giving them ploughs for nearly a century. That does not work. And all the time the anger is rising out of the earth. The rich want to enjoy their feeble life on earth with a somewhat mollified conscience.
So, they have to give their wealth away free. An organisation called GiveDirectly is doing just that. It has chosen some villages in Kenya for an experiment and is giving the money, in cash to the people. The cash is paid weekly, through their mobile phones. It has been found that this is a much better way of providing aid directly to the people than by funnelling it through governments where money tends to get caught up in the arterial walls of the political elite. After all, Western governments have given cash free to their own poor for decades in the form of benefits. What is so revolutionary about giving it to the poor in other countries in a global economy? I might add that we do not give the money entirely free. We continue to truck in container loads of their resources into our countries and have done so for centuries. Those resources are the source of our present wealth. And may I add, at the expense of being thought revolutionary, the fact that we have acquired all those resources maybe the reason why the people in those countries are poor. The rich of this world have worked out that it may be a fair exchange that the poor individuals of those lands get a free handout, unencumbered by red tape and hoops to run through.
It has been the accepted wisdom that you cannot forever give cash away. But that is absurd considering the unused wealth that is kept in storage in the whole world. There are an estimated 15 million dollar millionaires on this earth. If each of them gave away $100,000 that according to my calculation is $1,500,000,000,000. That would be a start. A very cheap price to pay if the super-rich are to remain safe from pitch-forks.