“It has been a good week for billionaires,” wrote the editor-in-chief of MoneyWeek in the Financial Times on Saturday.
Merryn Somerset Webb was responding to the UBS/PwC Billionaires Report 2017. It says the combined wealth of the world’s 1,542 billionaires rose by almost a fifth last year to $6 trillion (£4.5 trillion). That’s more than double the value of all the goods and services produced in Britain in a year.
UBS/PwC says, “Despite a period of heightened geopolitical uncertainty, the world’s ultrawealthy are flourishing”. And they should know.
UBS/PwC help billionaires protest their wealth from grubby people such as tax collectors. There are arguments about how much it would cost to eliminate the most extreme elements of global poverty. But some say it is as little as $200 billion. The billionaires’ $6 trillion is more than 30 times that figure.
Further cheers could be heard from the rich last week. We learned that multinational firms avoided paying as much as £5.8 billion in British corporate taxes last year by saying their profits had been created in overseas entities.
This is a 50 percent increase over previous government forecasts, according to newly published estimates from British tax authorities.
More handouts are coming for the global rich. Donal Trump’s plan to cut their taxes passed through a stage in the House of Representatives last week.
Trump wrote an article (or at least it appeared under his byline) in USA Today saying, “We want you to spend your valuable time pursuing your dreams, not trapped in a tax compliance nightmare.”
The “you” are very wealthy people. Trump wants to cut the big business profit tax from 35 percent to 20 percent, and eliminate the equivalent of inheritance tax for multimillion-dollar inheritances. But there’s an upside. The last time global inequality was as great as this was in the run-up to the Russian revolution,
Josef Stadler, the lead author of the UBS/PwC report, said, “Wealth concentration is as high as in 1905.”
He added, “The problem is the power of interest on interest—that makes big money bigger—and the question is to what extent is that sustainable, and at what point will society intervene and strike back?”
The pressures that exploded at the beginning of the twentieth century are present today. Sometimes the far right siphon off the bitterness. There is no reason why it shouldn’t be the left that gains, and billions can fight the billionaires for a better world.