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Another unmentionable word in the Queen’s Speech: wealth

Apart from assuring us that the government’s main objective was economic stability – the stability of the graveyard it seems in this government’s case – the only other significant things in the Queen’s Speech were what it didn’t contain, not anything it did contain. Nothing about housebuilding, an infrastructure bank, reviving manufacturing, boosting capital investment, QE to bolster youth employment rather than the banks, or anything that really needs doing. And nothing about 1% versus the 99%. The inequality in wealth in Britain today is on a staggering scale, and it’s not even mentioned. So let’s start with the facts, grace of the Sunday Times Rich List rather than Treasury data – even the evidence of the distribution of wealth has been privatised.

The richest 100 people in Britain today own £231bn – nearly twice the size of the entire UK budget deficit. Are they contributing to paying down any of that deficit (which many of them had a major role in causing)? Nothing at all: there is no wealth tax, no land value tax, no mansion tax, no special capital gains levy to meet the current financial emergency, though there is a non-domiciliary tax loophole to let them off the hook. This group includes 73 billionaires. To be part of this top 100 financial elite, you need to possess wealth of at least £750m. To get into the top 50, you need to own over £1.4bn.

The usual argument against taxing these hyper-rich individuals is that they are the ‘movers and shakers’ on whom the nation’s prosperity rests, and they should therefore be given incentives and not subject to any discouragement like taxes which are confined to ordianry mortals. It is instructive to look at the list of the fastest growing 20 fortunes which stretch from £12.3bn down to as low as £3.4bn. Of these 20, 4 made their wealth from property, 3 from finance and hedge funds, 3 from oil and commodities, 3 from the internet, 2 from investment, and 2 from mining. Only 3 made their wealth from industry.

In other words, nearly half of them made colossal fortunes out of property and financial manipulation which does not increase the wealth of the nation as a whole, and another quarter from extracting and distributing the Earth’s resources which they did not create. Only a quarter of them actually ran businesses that made things. The case for taxing them proportionately to make a fair contribution to rescuing the country from the dire straits into which some of them cast it, including by massive tax avoidance and evasion, is overwhelming. So why does the political debate not say a single word about it?

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