The scaffold that got us here

I’m a dyed in the wool lefty. I always have been, I always will be. It seems so absolutely natural to me that people who are in the lucky position (and that’s all of us, more below) of having more should help those who don’t.

When I’m faced with the rabid hell-scape of the sort of capitalism we’re now seeing in the current Tory party I tend to respond in exactly the same way normal people do when faced with a terrible racist: I struggle to engage on any level with their argument. It just seems so blindingly obvious to me – and totally backed by All The Evidence – that “trickle down” or austerity policies don’t work, have continued to fail to work and show no sign of working in the future. The very richest just go on getting richer and fuck the poor; who cares about those guys.

Here’s what I really don’t understand – who needs that sort of wealth? Like – I’m insanely wealthy compared to the vast majority of the world and pretty well off compared to a large chunk of the UK. We do ok and we’re very happy with what we’ve got. But we’re not millionaire wealthy or even hundreds of thousands of pounds wealthy, not even vaguely, remotely close. And yet some people who are millionaires continue to climb on up, some of them gaining wealth in the 10’s, 100’s or 1000’s of millions of pounds.

I see literally no reason for this. I suspect it just becomes a game. I’ve just completed Limitless Fortune on my phone (a sort of simple intergalactic trading game and the closest thing I could find to Elite) and it reached a point when playing that it became pretty much impossible to lose money. It’s probably like this when you’re insanely wealthy – you tick up a tenth of a percentage point on some investment somewhere and earn £30k without even breaking stride, and then through the miracle of growth and compound interest, it’s £300k the next time, £1m the time after that. Money probably ceases to become anything other than an abstract plaything. If you’ve got it, earn more of it, why the hell not?

Let’s talk about luck

Any sort of life is predominantly about luck. This sort of sentence echoes long and fairly deep philosophical conversations about whether Free Will exists (my humble opinion: it doesn’t, in the face of the fairly irrefutable evidence I’m about to sketch out below); but even if we don’t go down that rabbit hole now, I think we can universally accept a few things:

  • You’re alive. That in itself is a whole cluster of luck right there. You came to be alive in the first place, and (so far, anyway) you haven’t been hit by a bus / been fallen on by a piano / been struck down by some horrible disease.
  • You probably have some money – at least enough to be reading this on a screen that is connected to the internet, and probably in a room which has electricity, heat and something to sit on.
  • You’re probably safe – as in, right now (making some assumptions here about my readership) not being bombed, chased down by some appalling regime, or otherwise living in fear for your life.

Now if we extend this a bit and ask those who have jobs, or work for themselves, how – exactly – they managed to get to where they got to, we can probably go a bit further. Let’s use me as a case study as I’m probably reasonably typical in many ways. I work for myself, I run a successful business working with UK museums, I make enough money to be comfortable.

So – did I get here via my own hard work? Yes. And no.

On the one hand: of course I’ve bust my balls for 10+ years, I’ve made some good decisions, I am pretty reasonable at maintaining and winning work, I have nice relationships with my clients, and I haven’t pissed away all my profit in some terrible cider or drug habit (not yet, anyway…). I can take some credit for all of this.

On the other hand: getting anywhere at all in work and life has been entirely about having a scaffolding of support underneath me at every single step along the way. These include but are absolutely not limited to…

  • Educational organisations, from school to college to university (and I’m so old that all of my education was free to me, even given the immense amount of fannying about I did when trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do)
  • Libraries, museums and other cultural organisations – most of which have been free or pretty much free all the way through
  • Solid and reasonably dependable infrastructure including roads, rail, internet, etc
  • An NHS which has supported and saved family members and me from all manner of nasties along the way
  • Some astonishing connections that I picked up from friends, family and others – people who enabled, who connected me to others, who supported, who gave free advice, who thought of me when they needed A Thing doing, etc
  • Family support – both in terms of providing a financial safety net and some inheritance

Of course some people work hard(er) than others and some people genuinely do appear to crawl their way up from “nothing” to the heights of success.

But – it’s startlingly clear to me that literally everyone who manages to Make Things Happen (whether in business or life or whatever) has got much more to thank than just their own, solitary skill. They – we – are all of us dependent on a large portion of luck together with this scaffolding, and it is only right and proper that we support this scaffolding and those who need help as much as we possibly can – because we have all of us had this support ourselves.

This is why the right wing vision of “small state” or “individual done good” is such a fucking nasty little lie. Once you’re a gazillionaire you may not need the NHS or free education or access to free art and free cultural organisations because now, woo, you can just buy all that stuff – but you can bet your fucking life that you leeched the shit out of that scaffold on your way up.

What makes this so nasty is that this pretence that we somehow don’t need a state or that everything has got to earn its way is happening right in front of our eyes. This tiny cabal of well-connected and already-rich wankers is hoovering up everything that they see, hiding their luck under the guise of “life skill” and ignoring the increasingly life-threateningly dangerously grinding poverty that is hitting real people every single day. Make no mistake – every. single. one. of those people in the tory cabinet (and fuck me, the fucking WEALTH – Sunak alone has a fortune of £730 million quid which’ll earn him a measly £14m a year on a 2% savings account…) has relied upon their luck and a huge scaffold of support to get them to where they are now.

This, dear reader, is why – even without considering the fact that it is morally right and just to support and help those who need help – we need a state, we need money in the state, and we need to be willing to pay extra taxes in order to support this state.

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