There is no Wealth But Life
One of the main sources of inspiration for Mahatma Gandhi apparently was John Ruskin's book 'Unto This Last' in which he talks passionately about 'fairness' and 'just-ness' particularly in relation to fair and just payment for workers.
Ruskin's outspokenness, particularly about the appalling conditions of the industry workers and the despicable greed of his Victorian wealthy contemporaries, should surely not be neglected in current debates that centre around growing inequality in the UK and elsewhere in Europe and the Unites States.
I watched again with renewed interest the short tv documentary series on 'status anxiety' aired in 2004 and presented by Alain de Botton, based on his book of the same title. Interestingly this was written and aired before the economic crisis that hit us in 2008 and yet all the warning signs were there. He made reference to Ruskin who, as he said, had wanted green spaces in all cities, places to contemplate that had a closeness to nature. For Ruskin wealth not only meant 'financial' security but also a realisation that happiness lies in the realisation that one has enough - not too much and not too little - so that one has time to enjoy what God has given i.e, the beautiful natural world.
I have also been watching with great fascination the recent tv series presented by Jacques Peretti called: The Super Rich and Us. It may as well have been called The Super Selfish or Super Ignorant and Us. In this series Peretti presented arguments against the notion of the 'trickle-down' effect - a phenomenon that that made us believe, since the days of Margaret Thatcher, that having very rich people with lots of money living in our country is of great benefit to everyone as their wealth would trickle down due to their ability to spend, spend and spend - filling the pockets of those less rich. It was alleged that the very very rich spend their money on luxery goods and eat in restaurants and have maids and secretaries and they run businesses that employ lots of people and therefore many people benefit from all this spending. However, in reality the relatively few very very rich can only spend so much on their dinners and their staff and their luxery goods. They do employ people ofcourse but these people don't receive more pay than anyone else in employment. Instead, they evade paying the tax they should and can pay and everyone for a long time turned a blind eye. If they had paid the tax they ought to have paid, the rest of us would have benefited much more.
Recently much has been said about the sad fact that now 1% of the total world population have more money than the remaining 99% have together. Will Hutton in his new book looks at this unequal distribution of wealth and wonders how this happened.
What always puzzled me is the fact that there are people who run banks and companies and yes, frequently also public institutions, who earn such high salaries - often 40 to 50 times more than their lowest paid employee. The fact that they earn more doesn't surprise me, I don't even think it is wrong that higher wages are linked to greater responsibility or hard work - but the fact that they earn that much more I find weird and quite ... disgusting. What on earth does that person have in their brain or genes that has made them so much better, so much more special that they 'deserve' this. Where does that idea of 'more deserving' even come from? Are we dealing with a different species? Are there really people who can't fail? Do they really work so much harder? There are only 24 hours in a day, who can work that much harder than an average full time worker who does a bit of overtime now and then? What is it? Can this just simply be a case of 'supply and demand'? Will Hutton writes that a bonus of 200%, on top of an already ridiculously high salary, is just a made up figure and linked more to what others in similar positions in similar industries are getting paid than linked to any 'effort' or 'spectacular achievement'. It just an agreement between those who are super rich. And the rather poor are paying for that.
A healty society is made up of a community who believe that we should all have access to what we most need. There is nothing unfair or unjust about that. It is really very very simple.
Ruskin lived in his Victorian enclave - a time with very little social mobility and where people were accepting of their place. Inequality existed, not just because some were rich and some were poor but also because the poor were not able to escape their situation by working harder or performing better. My big criticism of English society is that it has allowed for a two tier societal system to continue - private schools and private care are seen as normal. It has therefore also been more accepting that there is a gap and a difference between people. Those who can pay for better schools and care will have better schools and better care. This feels wrong to me, fundamentally wrong (I don't choose the word lightly).
I have began to look at ways in how to depict the contemporary views on inequality and use different craft forms and images to explain this. I have started again to cut up images in papers and headlines and re-arrange them. Poetic descriptions start to appear and isolated pictures juxtaposed with different backgrounds begin to feel as if they could start to utter something profound although, I am never sure. Let's see where this leads me.
(Image: 'When all around us heads are rolling' - bureaucrat wallpaper January 2015)