The following words in the current issue of the New York Review of Books caught my eye: “Today, the twenty richest Americans have more wealth between them than the bottom half of the US population – some 152 million people. In 1979, CEOs of America’s most successful businesses earned, on average, about thirty times as much as their workers. By 2013, they earned almost three hundred times as much. And in the thirty year period from 1979 to 2008, the top 10 percent of Americans received 100 percent of the benefits from growth in income, while the incomes of the bottom 90 percent fell.” (Article by David Cole, “Taxing the Poor” p.25)
With Donald Trump’s 2017 tax act things will only get worse, gifting the rich greater wealth and leading to a growth in the US deficit which will one day be paid for – you guessed it – by austerity targeted at the worse off. And this is the dream that the likes of Liam Fox, Jacob Ress Mogg and Boris Johnson want us to embrace. Contrast US inequality of wealth with that within the EU. According to an OECD report, wealth inequality is on the rise in the EU but remains far behind that of the US “The 10 % of wealthiest households hold 50% of total wealth; the 40 % least wealthy own little over 3 %.” (UNDERSTANDING THE SOCIO-ECONOMIC DIVIDE IN EUROPE, OECD 26 JANUARY 2017) It’s not an exact statistical comparison I know but just contrast ‘the top 10 percent’ with ‘the twenty richest Americans.’
Despite all its failings, the EU is still in many ways a redistributive project, although cases such as Greece do indeed beg to differ. But in whose hands are we to seek a less divided economic future?
Let’s remember that the growth in US wealth inequality over the last 30 years is a product of the American system, whether it’s nominally Democratic or Republican. Trump is merely the latest, albeit egregious iteration of a system that privileges wealth. Outside the EU we will be even more at the mercy of this model as we beg the US to help us out of our self-inflicted quagmire. There is surely a reason why both Trump and Putin would love to see the demise of the EU. I have yet to hear the phrase ‘EU oligarch’ – we may have Brussels bureaucrats, but they are a far less threatening species than those that occupy the White House and the Kremlin.