Editorial: News about millionaires

The number of very wealthy people in Britain, including millionaires, is well below what it was before the war but it appears to be picking up again now. This, at least, is the conclusion of Mr. Marshall Pugh writing in the >em>Sunday Chronicle (5/9/54). He has provided himself—at a cost of ten guineas—with a published list giving an estimate of the present number of millionaires and he finds it to be 50. A list similarly compiled in 1946 gave only 28. Mr. Pugh concludes that “Britain is slowly recovering from her post-par shortage of millionaires.” He doubts if the list is complete and adds a few likely names. This doubt about the exact number is not surprising because there is no record of millionaires published by the Inland Revenue authorities, though they must certainly have a good idea how many there are.

There is, however, official information in Inland Revenue Reports about the numbers of people in various ranges of income. In 1938-9 there were 99 people, each with an income (before being taxed) of over £100,000 a year. By 1950-51 the number had fallen to 38; and the number of persons who had more than £6,000 left to spend, after paying tax, had fallen from 6,600 in 1938-9 to about 500 in 1950-51. The fall in the number and size of very big incomes is exactly what was to be expected. Contrary to the muddled view held by those who have never understood what capitalism is and how it works capitalism’s wars are paid for by the only class that can pay—the capitalists. The destruction of capitalist property and loss of overseas investments fell on the British capitalists, but now that war-time destruction has been made good accumulation is going ahead once more and we may expect to see a change some way towards the pre-war pattern again.

This will surprise those who have swallowed the nonsense about poverty having been abolished under the so-called Welfare State. Apart from an unusually long period with unemployment at a very low figure nothing has happened since the war to change materially the structure of capitalism. Neither the Labour Government’s social reforms nor its Nationalisation schemes have touched the permanent capitalist inequalities of income and capital. It is still true, as it was in 1918, when the Labour Party plugged it in its election address that about 90 per cent, of the accumulated wealth of the country is owned by a 10th of the population. Yet we have the fatuous organ of Mr. Bevan, Tribune, in its issue for 2 July, 1954, publishing some figures about “the flagrant contrast between poverty and wealth in Britain,” and calling them “discoveries!” Tribune’s comment is that these “appalling facts” “will shock those who believe that the welfare state has eliminated poverty in Britain—or that there is no case for a drastic redistribution of wealth.”

Of course outstanding among those who deceived the workers into believing that the welfare state would abolish or had abolished poverty are the people who run Tribune.

And now that Tribune—about a century and a half late—has discovered that under capitalism there is flagrant contrast between poverty and wealth in Britain, their remedy is to seek redistribution of wealth. Socialists, of course, are not seeking anything of the kind. Trying to seek redistribution of wealth under capitalism merely perpetuates the notion that capitalism would be all right if there were fewer millionaires and more capitalists with investments of a moderate size. But this, assuming for the sake of argument that it could be achieved, would not at all remove the evils of capitalism. It is a matter of no concern at all to the cow whether she is milked to make profit for a farmer, a co-operative society or a millionaire dairy combine. The worker, if he understood his own interest, would perceive that capitalism is a system that functions by milking him for the benefit of the capitalist class and it is not his worry if some capitals swallow up others and produce millionaires. Their multiplication or their elimination will make no difference to him. It is not the redistribution of the property of the capitalists that will solve the workers’ problems but the abolition of capitalism.

Tribune, however, knows of other “solutions” of the poverty problem for in September a contributor, Mr. Ian Mikardo, went to Hungary and made the discovery that “there’s very little real poverty in Red Hungary.” But there must be a catch in that word “real” for he also discovered that the Hungarian workers’ living standards

“are about 30 per cent. below ours, even when one allows for a very much higher ‘social wage’ than we have in Great Britain.” (Tribune 17th September 1954.)

It is all rather confusing. The poverty in Britain, says the Tribune is appalling in spite of the “welfare state and in Hungary living standards are 30 per cent. lower than in Britain in spite of having an even better welfare state (“social wage”); but nevertheless they are not “really” poor.

In the meantime here is a comforting thought about millionaires and the way they spend their money, from Noel Barber’s column in the Daily Mail (11 Sept., 1954).

“Being—like all millionaires—a true lover of the arts. Onassis, the uncrowned king, Monte Carlo recently commissioned the French artist Verges to do four big murals for the spacious saloon of his big new yacht.”

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