Its the Rich Wot Get the Pressure

Friday, 01 April 2011 17:31

The Guardian

8th October 1997

It's the Rich Wot Get the Pressure

The rich are selfish. Those who become philanthropists do so only when they feel the need to consider the future of their soul and their reputation. Will Hutton in his book The State We're In blamed the privileged elite for the parlous state of the British economy. He saw the cure for the country's ills as the privileged people giving up their privileges. The privileged have never done so without a gun pointing at their heads. If they are annihilated, another group soon takes their place. Russian royalty was quickly succeeded by the Communist elite.

The rich have never seen it necessary to be concerned about the welfare of the non-rich because the rich could always keep themselves healthy and safe, no matter what was happening to the rest of the population. However, we now live in a world where not even the greatest wealth can ensure good health and safety.

The list of the dangers from which wealth is no protection runs to three pages in my book The Real Meaning of Money. Here are just a few.

First, the danger from the environment. There's the hole in the ozone layer, which leads to an increase in melanoma, the fatal form of skin cancer which affects the rich more than the poor. Earthquakes are expected in Tokyo and Los Angeles. As the fires following the Kobe earthquake showed, a lack of preparation for such a disaster causes even greater disasters. The whole of the world is affected by pollution. Much of the vast industrial pollution of eastern Europe and the old Soviet Union is moving westward.

Then there's terrorism. Terrorists aim to effect destruction in places that represent wealth and power. Hence the IRA bombed Canary Wharf and Harrods, not Job Centres. In cities where the poor are very poor and the rich are very rich, the poor, seeing the State as the enemy, are at war with the city. As Johannesburg and Moscow show, no amount of high security enclaves and body guards can keep people safe.

And lastly, health. Asthma used to be comparatively rare disease. Now it is common, equally prevalent amongst the rich and the poor, and linked to pollution. Rich Victorians died of tuberculosis because it is a highly infectious, droplet borne disease. Now a drug-resistant form of the disease is spreading rapidly through the world and, according to the World Health Organization, killing more people than at any time in history. The diseases of syphilis, cholera, diphtheria and polio, once thought to have been defeated, have now re-appeared due to the breakdown of the economies in eastern Europe and the old Soviet Union. A drug-resistant form of malaria is increasing and extending its geographical distribution with global warming. A new hepatitis virus, Hepatitis G, is now being carried by a million people in Britain and can be transmitted through blood transfusions and blood products, as is Hepatitis C which can lead to cirrhosis or cancer of the liver. New viruses will continue to appear while people have exotic holidays, foreign travel and sexual freedom, thus increasing the risk of becoming infected with viruses living in small populations. New diseases like ebola and CJD have crossed from one species to another. The potentially fatal diseases of salmonella and listeria remain a threat to anyone who eats eggs, chicken and soft cheeses.

Male fertility, as measured by sperm count and abnormality, is declining at a rate which threatens future generations. Even extremely low levels of radiation can be very harmful. Everyone in Europe lives within 500 miles of a nuclear reactor.

To this list can now be added a drunken chauffeur.

The ultimate cause of these dangers is the despoiling of the planet in the search for riches and the great divide between the rich and poor. The rich need to discover that the only form of selfishness which can ensure health and safety is to be unselfish.