Eight men, six of them American, own as much wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest people in the world.
“If that’s not insanity, I don’t know what is!” Bernie Sanders.
A good measure of the topsy-turviness of our political economy could be found at Davos today. As the billionaires gathered for the World Economic Forum, the toast of the Alps was Xi Jinping. The first Chinese president ever to address the summit, his speech this morning was bound to be a big moment. Just as striking, though, was what Mr Xi said. The general secretary of the Communist party of China launched into an eloquent defence of openness and free markets. It was, as several observers remarked, the kind of speech one might expect to come from an American president. Except the US president-elect, Donald Trump, will not be popping in to Switzerland this week and won his new job partly because of his protectionism. He was at it again this week, threatening BMW with swingeing import tariffs if it followed plans to build a new plant in Mexico, rather than America. It did not sound like an empty threat.
Extreme economics breeds extreme politics: the campaigns for Brexit and Mr Trump both harnessed anger at the vast gap between the super-rich and the rest of society. One of the ironies of this anti-elitist politics is that it has been spearheaded by people who would normally count as part of an elite. Mr Trump is a billionaire property developer, Nigel Farage is an alumnus of Dulwich college who worked in the City. These people are effectively squatting a space in forward-looking politics – a space that has gone almost unoccupied by the political mainstream.
Even after the fall of Lehman Brothers, mainstream politicians from Britain through continental Europe to America have continued to push the same old dead economics: a reliance on a bloated finance sector, a penchant for austerity (even when it is not working, as the Office for Budget Responsibility pointed out today about Britain’s budget position), and a hankering after the same failed economics. Consider: since the 1980s, the UK has taken the lead in slashing marginal tax rates and its corporation tax rate is in freefall. While ministers acknowledge the depth of anger against three decades of grotesque inequality, their attempts to do anything about it are sadly desultory.