On the contrary, the latest data suggest that we should be offering them humble and hearty thanks. It is through their restless concupiscent energy and sheer wealth-creating dynamism that we pay for an ever-growing proportion of public services. The top one per cent of earners now pay 29.8 per cent of all the income tax and National Insurance received by the Treasury. In 1979 – when Labour had a top marginal rate of 83 per cent tax after Denis Healey had earlier vowed to squeeze the rich until the pips squeaked – the top one per cent paid only 11 per cent of income tax. Now, the top 0.1 per cent – about 29,000 people – pay an amazing 14.1 per cent of all taxes.
Nor, of course, is that the end of their contribution to the wider good. These types of people are always the first target of the charity fund-raisers, whether they are looking for a new church roof or a children’s cancer ward. 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. And yet they are brow-beaten and bullied and threatened with new taxes, by everyone from the Archbishop of Canterbury to Nick Clegg.
The rich are resented, not so much for being rich, but for getting ever richer than the middle classes – and the trouble is that the gap is growing the whole time, and especially has done over the past 20 years. It is hard to say exactly why this is, but I will hazard a guess. Of all the self-made super-rich tycoons I have met, most belong to the following three fairly exclusive categories of human being:
(1) They tend to be well above average, if not outstanding, in their powers of mathematical, scientific or at least logical reasoning. (2) They have a great deal of energy, confidence, risk-taking instinct and a desire to make money. (3) They have had the good fortune – by luck or birth – to be able to exploit these talents.
So we are talking about the intersecting set in what are already three small-ish sets of people. It is easy to see how, in an ever more efficient and globalised economy, they are able to amass ever greater fortunes.
The answer is surely not to try to stop them or curb them or punish them – but to widen those intersecting circles that they inhabit. There are kids everywhere who have a natural, if undiscovered, flair for mathematics and the mental arithmetic that business needs. They just don’t have the education to bring out that talent – which is why Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is so right to be conducting his revolution in schools.
There are loads of kids with the chutzpah to be kings of the deal, and there are plenty of businesses that could be the billion-pound companies of the future but are currently being held back – either by the weediness of the venture capital industry in this country, or else by something as simple as excessive business rates – the single biggest issue that is raised with me by London businesses.
There is no point in wasting any more moral or mental energy in being jealous of the very rich. They are no happier than anyone else; they just have more money. We shouldn’t bother ourselves about why they want all this money, or why it is nicer to have a bath with gold taps. How does it hurt me, with my 20-year-old Toyota, if somebody else has a swish Mercedes? We both get stuck in the same traffic.
We should be helping all those who can to join the ranks of the super-rich, and we should stop any bashing or moaning or preaching or bitching and simply give thanks for the prodigious sums of money that they are contributing to the tax revenues of this country, and that enable us to look after our sick and our elderly and to build roads, railways and schools.
Indeed, it is possible, as the American economist Art Laffer pointed out, that they might contribute even more if we cut their rates of tax; but it is time we recognised the heroic contribution they already make. In fact, we should stop publishing rich lists in favour of an annual list of the top 100 Tax Heroes, with automatic knighthoods for the top 10.