The fifth of January this year was a special day? Why? Because it was the day by which a top 100 chief executive would have earned as much as the average worker in their firm would bring home in a year. Ever helpful and moderate, (I’m being ironic), someone from the Adam Smith institute argued that these top chief executives still aren’t being paid enough.
I read in a newspaper today the words “Wealth Gap shows that Capitalism is failing.” It wasn’t the Daily Star and it wasn’t Jeremy Corbin. It was the ex Thatcherite M.P. Mathew Paris writing in the times. He cited that fact that 62 people owned as much wealth as 3.6 Billion people as evidence that the trickle down effect is simply not happening and that one of the principle moral justifications for a free market is no longer applicable.
People often place a blind faith in the invisible hand of the market to make everything right. That belief was first set out by the Economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith in his book “The Wealth of Nations.” Published in 1766. But what the Adam Smith institute and many who claim to be his heirs today forget is that he also wrote another book, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments.” published in 1759 in which he argued that for a free market to function properly everyone involved from the top to the bottom needed to be able to relate through real relationships so that they might deal with other with sympathy. (By which he meant what we would call empathy).
But in a modern global market there are no relationships, there are simply cold unemotional transactions, often decided and carried out by computers that can wreck lives.
He also wrote “The rich only select from the heap what is most precious and agreeable. They consume little more than the poor, and in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity, though they mean only their own conveniency, though the sole end which they propose from the labours of all the thousands whom they employ, be the gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires, they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species.”
Well anyone can see that when 62 people have as much wealth as 3.2 billion that those words are no longer true and what Adam Smith saw as the invisible hand does not exist as a market mechanism.
Is capitalism failing as one Thatcherite M.P. now a journalist suggests? Well I’ll leave that judgment to people better qualified than me to assess.
But one thing can be said with absolute clarity and certainty. That the rich are getting richer and the poor (in global terms), are getting poorer.
Of course we often think, there is nothing that I can do. But that is simply not true, there is much that ordinary people can do to change for the better the lives of those who are poorest.
Firstly, we can buy Fair Trade food products. When we do this, people who are producing the food are guaranteed a fair price and because of this they often have opportunities that the market prices would never give them. More than this. By giving a fair price, as more and more people buy Fair Trade products the market can be manipulated to give a better deal to those at the bottom of the pile. So buying Fair Trade is not marginal “do Gooding,” it is giving ordinary people the power to manipulate the market for the benefit of the poorest in a world system that is simply adding to the inordinate fortunes of the richest.
Secondly, many people can afford to give twenty-five pounds a month. For this, you can provide a brighter future for third world children by providing them with an education. If you go to the Compassion UK website, <compassionuk.org> you can see how to do this.
“Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God, Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now for you will laugh…. But woe to you who are rich, for have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry, Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.”
In other words, those who are indifferent to the plight of the poor will have the tables turned on them by God.
Of course if you only believe in this life, you might not take any notice of this warning, you may believe that you can laugh all the way to the bank with impunity.
But personally, I’m not taking that risk.