- Christian Armbruester
Why everything is relative when it comes to our wealth.
In the middle of the 19th century, the British empire was at its grandest. All around the world, there were outposts, colonies, and endless riches that were syphoned off to the capital of this vast and great realm. London was the biggest and wealthiest city in the world with a population of many millions. In the streets of Mayfair and Belgravia, great personal fortunes were made, illustrious family dynasties were created and never before had there been so many rich with so much money.
Amongst all this glamour, it is rather surprising that more than three quarters of the London population lived in absolute squalor. There was disease, there was hunger and there was misery. One in five children born in London did not make it past the age of one and almost half of all deaths were children under the age of ten. The average life expectancy for a worker in the local mills, docks, or factories was 22 years (whereas it was more than double that for the rich). Crime was a huge problem in those days, which even the dead could not escape. Grave robberies were rampant, as cadavers were sold to doctors so that they could progress science.
Lest we forget, this was a mere 150 years ago. Today, London is a city of more than 9 million people, the rich still live in Mayfair and Belgravia, but there is much less squalor. We have put in place a system of social security and national insurance to protect those who cannot fend for themselves. No one needs to starve on the streets of London any longer, unless they choose to do so. That is indeed progress and we have seen the benefits of spreading the wealth across a wider section of society as hallmarks of a civilised country.
We still have some distance to go though, as there still seems to be a very unequal distribution of resources on a global scale. The top 1% of the world own about $150 trillion in wealth and the bottom 10% are living on less than $2 per day. Clearly, this gap needs to close for the world to become a more civilised place, however not everyone can have the same either. There has to be an incentive driven system that delivers more to those that work harder or take the risks, otherwise why do anything at all? It is the extremes that we must take away. Surely, there is nothing wrong with buying a yacht, as a just reward for those to whom money was bestowed in great measure, but why does anyone need three of them?