The Mayor of London would like you to be kind (and give thanks) to the next super-rich person you meet.
You will know them because, by Boris Johnson’s own description in a recent column in the Daily Telegraph, they never wear the same shirt twice, have servants to rub their temples with eau de cologne, and have the hard task of picking out the just-right McLaren supercar for their kids’ 18th birthday present.
As mayor, Johnson says, it’s “his duty” to defend the “put-upon minority – from the homeless to Irish travellers to ex-gang members.” And don’t those “zillionaires” we all envy deserve the same protection from prejudice and inequity?
After all, they aren’t any happier than the rest of us, Johnson claims. (Those private jets and personal chefs are so high-maintenance. Really, homelessness is just the simpler life.)
Rather than bash them, he argues, “we should be offering our humble and hearty thanks.” After all, they are feeding the rest of us with their tax contributions. “These are the people who put bread on the tables of families who – if the rich didn’t invest in supercars and employ eau de cologne-dabbers – might otherwise find themselves without a breadwinner.”
Who knew there was such opportunities for “eau de cologne dabbing” in England? Those of us who fall outside the definition of “super-rich,” can be excused for gagging at the notion of humbly offering our gratitude to our wealthy overlords (are we to get on our knees for that?). And with all the stories of corporate fraud and fat-cat-salaries, to say nothing of those families left jobless and homeless, the notion that we should reserve sympathy for people who don’t, as Johnson puts it, “pick up their own socks,” is cringe-worthy.
Needless to say, Johnson’s argument didn’t go over well with Daily Telegraph readers, who immediately began questioning his math about the amount of taxes the wealthy actually pay. “Do you have a few crumbs for me and the missus, m’lord?” a reader wrote online.
But the column does point to a more important discussion, one the Occupy Wall Street movement attempted to start: What is the responsibility of the super-rich (or the just average rich) in our society? How much should we worry about the growing gap between the rich and poor, and what it means for future generations? The Globe has been exploring the issue of income-equality with this multipart series.
Closer to Johnson’s privileged neighbourhood, former British prime minister John Major last week criticized what he called the “truly shocking” privilege of privately educated affluent people who dominate “every single sphere of British influence.” Major argued that for citizens with only a public education in Britain, hard work was not enough today to get them into places of influence of power.
Let’s see: social mobility, the long-term impact of poverty on children and families, the growing wage gap. Maybe, Mayor Johnson, after society has “humbly thanked” the poor little rich tycoon with a maid to clean his silver spoons, we might turn our attention to those issues.