A view from the top 1%
You gave a characteristically provocative and witty speech in praise of Margaret Thatcher last week and were rewarded by a torrent of press coverage. You remind me of the boy in Alice in Wonderland of whom the Duchess says:
Speak roughly to your little boy
And beat him when he sneezes
He only does it to annoy
Because he knows it teases.
One can imagine Thatcher as the Duchess and you bent over her knee but, unfortunately, we are not in Wonderland and you are serious when you promote the virtues of greed and envy.
I shall leave the politics of your speech to others. I cannot, however, let you get away with talking nonsense about philanthropy. Your justification for fostering greed and envy to spur economic growth is conditional upon this being accompanied by more philanthropy. You believe that the richest should be given automatic knighthoods and have interesting views about who is intelligent. The problem is that your vision is based upon a fantasy. When Margaret Thatcher halved the top rate tax, she hoped that the rich would follow the US example by establishing charitable foundations. Whilst a few have, the majority has not. Apparently, Thatcher was disappointed.
This disappointment is shared by the few who are generous and who worry that despite colossal growth in personal wealth in the last thirty years charitable giving appears to be falling in Britain. Moreover, inequality is increasing with the top 10% taking an ever -larger share of national income. This matters because there is proof that the most unequal societies are the most dysfunctional, unhealthy and violent. Inequality costs.
Please listen to the views of those in the top 1% who think differently. In interviews for my book Giving is Good For You, a leading hedge fund king told me:
'There is no moral case for not giving. People like...( two high profile business leaders and a rock star ) are c...s because they are so f......g mean. The fact that one of them transferred a billion overseas to avoid paying tax and was then given a knighthood should be a public scandal....I couldn't live with myself if I didn't give. I am not that much cleverer and I don't work that much harder than other people... I have been incredibly fortunate in life. People say they wont give because they are not sure about the worth of this charity or that. That is a pathetic excuse. You just do due diligence. What is money for?'
The chairman of one of the world's largest financial communications groups said:
'It is doubly frustrating that some of the wealthiest are not only not giving but not paying their tax. This is an extraordinary indictment of people who have no shame about opting out of society. Some of those who have been honoured are the worst...if you are going to be honoured for being successful, you must also show that you have been generous to others .'
A member of one of Britain's most philanthropic billionaire families told me:
'Our problem is that not enough people are committed to the common good. By not taking up the possibility of giving, some of the rich are generating a culture in which they are despised. If we continue to have a society that encourages unfairness and a lack of responsibility, if some of the rich fail to engage and to contribute, then we are heading for trouble'.
You now claim that you have been misquoted and agree that there is too much inequality. However, I have read your speech and it is unfortunate that you have expressed yourself in a way that comes over as exactly the opposite. Perhaps it might have been better, given the hardship that so many are suffering, if you had stressed that part of Margaret Thatcher's message about the importance of philanthropy (even though she didn't understand that true philanthropy is about giving self, not just money) and that it is giving that is good for us, rather than greed and envy.
John Nickson is the author of GIVING IS GOOD FOR YOU: WHY BRITAIN SHOULD BE BOTHERED AND GIVE MORE. He is giving his royalties to charity.