Apparently 750,000 people are living in poverty in Ireland, according to Social Justice Ireland (SJI). This works out at one in every six people being officially poor. Poverty here is defined as living on under €218 a week. A figure like that might seem passable elsewhere in the EU but it is a guarantee of homelessness in Ireland due to the high cost of living here. Mind you, single people on the back-to-work scheme get the princely sum of €188 a week so if any of those have a roof over their heads then someone else must be paying for it. The Catch-22 here is that you can't get the €188 unless you have a home address and you won't get a job if you're living in a car.
Anyway, this week we were told that one in 40 people living in Dublin is a millionaire, according to a new survey. WealthInsight defines a millionaire as someone with net assets of $1 million (€902,000) or more – excluding their primary residence. In the same breath it says, "All told, there are almost 32,000 millionaires in Dublin, along with 4,473 homeless people, thousands of working poor, and ordinary families trying to get by." So for every homeless person there are seven or eight others in the Capitol who are worth a million, not counting their primary residence. The SJI found that all of, "Eighteen per cent of adults living in poverty are employed, and these are called ‘the working poor." You'd have to say that the miracle in all of this is that the millionaires are not constantly under physical threat from those around them.
Between those two extremes above there are many others teetering on the brink. Despite what we are told, prices of everything are creeping up while income remains relatively static. Most of us are just getting by on less and there is no such thing as the comfortable middle-class anymore. At one time that same middle-class was in the vast majority and represented the conservative stability of the State but that stability is now undermined. Good people are feeling a personal sense of insecurity but are quite helpless to change their circumstances. As if to top all of this, the Government has been heating up the property market for the last eighteen months and the effects are already being felt. It begs the question then as to whether there is some kind of unique insanity going on in this country.
Then I read that, "Eight men hold as much wealth as half the planet combined. Half the planet's population is three-plus billion souls and just eight people have as much as them. How in the name of God can that ever be justified? "People are tired of a system which seems rigged against them, where big business and the super-rich use their money and connections to ensure government policy works for them," to which I would add, this is precisely the source of the helplessness felt by most of us. The old saying that "Money makes money," has never been more true and big money makes even bigger money without the need to lift a finger.
But it occurs to me to ask, just what do the super-wealthy really want? A decent living wage will satisfy most of our basic 'needs.' A good salary offers comfort and security. An excellent salary brings luxury with dreams affordable and a Lotto win allows you to help others close to you as well. Beyond that though, what does one really want? This is a question for a psychologist rather than a scribbler like me but I'll have a shot anyway.
I would love a Rolls Royce or a Bentley but I know that my neighbours and friends would become quite reserved if they saw me swanning around in €200K's worth of motor. If I then bought herself a Ferrari to compliment the big car, the growling would soon begin around me. Shows of opulent wealth tend to induce jealousy and anger in the less well off. Even so, I would then be faced with the problem of what's even better than a Rolls Royce? Is it two of them, or seven, one for each day of the week? It quickly becomes pointless because you can only drive one at a time and I no longer enjoy driving anyway.
It must be the same for houses/homes or yachts, boats, private planes etc. Is there a point where the whole shebang becomes pointless and you say to yourself, "Ah, That's enough now." I'm thinking of those eight men who own half the planet's wealth. The reality is that if they do absolutely nothing then soon they will own two-thirds of it because that's our system in action. What do those people think when they hear of famine in other countries? Is there a shred of humanity in them that whispers, "I can solve that misery with my chequebook?" Or do they look on and gloat thinking, "That'll never be me?" Do those 32,000 millionaires in Dublin walk right past the homeless lying in doorways everywhere and simply not see them, or choose not to see them? What do you think?
You see, if it's true that the wealthy couldn't give a shit about the rest of us then that makes then different to the rest of us. By and large, most ordinary people are decent at heart and will reach into their shallow pockets for good causes, particularly so in this country. We tend to be generous with what little we have. In the main, we know right from wrong, good from evil and we do try to do our best. This, I believe, is true of most countries and civilizations. But if it is, where does it leave the wealthy? Viewed from a certain angle they are the blood-sucking leeches living and prospering on our efforts. If you presented four children with a whole apple tart and asked them to divide it between them, how would you react if one child took three crumbs and tossed them to the other three and then made off with the tart? Would you intervene? Would the bold child end up with no tart at all?
That example may appear facile at first viewing but imagine instead you were a survivor of a plane crash in the Sahara. There's seventy of you alive and well, twenty injured and only one person with all the water, insisting you pay him a huge amount for it by the drop because he found it. How long would the rest of you tolerate that? And yet that is the ridiculous situation the world is in. There has always been a level of inequality and I suppose that cannot be helped. We are not all born with the same ability or intelligence. But it is the level of inequality today that I cannot understand. It long ago passed dangerous levels where many die prematurely while a few hog the lion's share.
But the wealthy are also aware they need constant protection, (I wonder why?), and one can only assume it is from the rest of us, so they understand there is a problem. Instead of attempting to improve the lot of others though, they grease the palms of Government, create friction in order to divide and conquer and skew social norms to reflect and elevated position for themselves. At a glance they can come across as callous, cold-blooded, greedy sub-humans with a need for power over their fellow man. They are bullies, liars and cheats who desire to hog everything for themselves if only to look down contemptuously on the rest of us. Perhaps too they are mentally unbalanced? Which or whither, it is a situation that has only gets worse each year and I have no doubt that it cannot continue indefinitely.
In many religions we learn that we have free-will and the Good Lord will judge us on how we used it eventually. I'm sure the one thing that must drive the super-wealthy insane is that no matter what they have, we all of us die in the end. Seventy-seven years is the average in this country then it's clogs up. All the money in the Universe can only buy a temporary (medical) reprieve. No amount of undue influence on earth can change that. You cannot buy another hundred years to enjoy your wealth. That sort of makes the whole thing pointless to my mind.
I don't want to just bitch and moan about this so to add a bit of balance, I know a few very well off guys and apart from one of them, (who's an unmitigated prick), they are all nice blokes, fun to be with and generous with both time and money. And I like to see luxury cars on the roads, don't get me wrong. I admire people who get ahead and do well and always think, good luck to them.
But it's a comforting thought nevertheless that some day each of those eight richest men will snuff it like the rest of us. Here's hoping they die screaming!