Where is the anger at the rich? - By Ian Jack - Monday, February 14, 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/02/14/where-is-the-anger-at-the-rich.html

THE lack of resentment against the rich is one of the peculiarities of modern capitalism. You might argue that in many countries, including Britain, it has never been very strong.

If poor people are touched by hope and small comforts — Orwell stressed the importance of sweet tea in the 1930s — life can be endured, and the still-common mantra accepted that “you don’t make the poor richer by making the rich poorer” — by which logic the poor should want the rich to be even richer.

But this isn’t 1900, when deference kept the social classes in order and the wealthy could be glimpsed only rarely cutting the ceremonial cake at the village fete. The rich are highly visible, and the details of their wealth and lifestyles well known, from Wayne Rooney’s salary to Roman
Abramovich’s yacht. The rich, in fact, want to be noticed.

Thanks to the media in all its forms — traditional and social — we know where they live and where they dine out, what clothes, cars and resorts they
favour, and all the other huge extravagances that are based on their often dubiously won fortunes. In this way we’re more intimate with the rich than we’ve ever been, more able to compare our own incomes with theirs and gauge our own sorry place on the financial table. Given a sense of curiosity and access to a public library desktop, the poorest person in Britain can be better informed of inequality than ever before.

And yet … nothing. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. In India, where I was a reporter in the 1980s, the Marxist speculation was that when the poor understood their situation — as literacy and television would one day teach them — the ensuing ferment would reshape the social order. “How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree?” and so on. It was an unsophisticated prognosis and I don’t know how widely believed, but among the better-off it translated to a vague fear of violent insubordination.

I remember a company executive sitting in the garden of his bungalow in Bihar, drinking his rum and saying he knew that at some point in the future there would be men “climbing over that wall with guns, wanting to kill me”.

More than a quarter of a century has passed since then. Many millions of Indians have prospered, but the disparities in wealth have reached incredible proportions: the most spectacular example to set against the average field worker’s dollar a day is the new home the industrialist Mukesh Ambani has built for his family in Mumbai, which cost $1bn, stands 27 storeys high and is equipped with a cinema, a ballroom and three helicopter pads.

Not even America’s Gilded Age, will all its steam yachts and seaside villas, registered such a gulf between the richest and the poorest, but in India, as on the streets of Cairo and Tunis, the word ‘equality’ is hard to find among the slogans. And the rich, so far one can tell, are hated only when they happen also to be politicians or their hangers-on. A whole global system, after all, is very hard to beat.

Anger at the way one lives relative to others needs a narrower focus, and it can seem incomprehensible when it breaks out.— The Guardian, London

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