Poverty and the causes of wealth

Just before Christmas, the Herald columnist Lennie Pennie wrote a piece that looked at extremely rich people who hoard resources (heraldscotland.com, 23 December). She took particular aim at the royal family, who are apparently described by some as ‘thrifty’ and ‘down-to-earth’ because, for instance, they wear items of clothing more than once!

She wrote: ‘We should never look at an unequal society within which devastating poverty and extreme affluence are allowed to co-exist as anything other than a structural, governmental and societal failure which demands our immediate attention to resolve.’

Homelessness and food banks exist, while ever more people just cannot meet their basic needs. The UK government spent in one year almost as much money providing temporary accommodation for homeless people as it would apparently take to eradicate homelessness completely.

Unfortunately, Pennie’s approach puts far too much emphasis on celebrities, and the royal family especially, for posing with homeless people rather than really doing something about the problem. Better, she says, to ‘use more of the excessive hereditary fortune to redress the balance.’

The article is entitled ‘Poverty: We need to tackle the causes of wealth’. But it says disappointingly little about the real causes of wealth and poverty. Clearly the two go hand in hand under capitalism. It is not just a matter of the rich hoarding their wealth, but of how they obtained it in the first place and how that implies poverty and destitution at the other end of the scale.

Pennie quotes Oscar Wilde about making poverty impossible, but says little about how to achieve this. The rich, she says, might distribute as much of their wealth as possible to those they wish to help. But that is really not the point: let’s do away with money and inequality and establish a system of society geared to meeting human need.


Next article: What has capitalism ever done for us? ⮞

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