Ireland's Richest 300 Doubled Wealth in the Crisis (300 of Us on €30k Would Take 11,000 Years to Make the Same)


Welcome to the land of saints and hoarders. The richest 300 people in Ireland have doubled their wealth from €50Bn to €100Bn in the last 7 years. That means the number of people who’d fit in a large pub have enough money to have paid the original bank bailout of €64Bn outright (and still be so rich they wouldn’t have to work a day).


The Irish Independent have released their annual Greatest Hoarders List ('Rich List') for 2017. Tallying up the numbers, the 11 richest people in 2017 hold the same wealth which the top 300 had in 2010 - about 27 times more concentrated wealth among the super-rich in 7 years. And yes Denis O’Brien is in the top 11. Man of the people Michael O’Leary is just outside with a modest €1Bn. It's not unique to Ireland by any stretch either - the richest 8 hoarders on the planet own as much as the poorest 50%, or 3.7 billion people, and wealth is actually becoming more concentrated each year.

It goes without saying that the wealth of the vast majority of us has not doubled in the past 7 years. We have been living in another world entirely. Indeed we are just little ants with pocket money to these people, left to suffer to consequences of the schemes made in their private jets and penthouse suites. The fact that such insane wealth can accrue to so few people is a sign that this economic system is irretrievably flawed. What kind of bizarre glitch could allowed this to happen for centuries? How can this be tolerable when the starving hand is denied food and the freezing body is denied shelter? It reminds us that it is a lie to say there isn't enough wealth to go around. There's enough for all of us to live a good life, but this wealth is congealing in an elite like a clotted artery. And it makes you question how anything resembling democracy is supposed to work with this amazing inequality.

It's hard to fully grasp these ludicrous numbers. To put this wealth into some context, consider the following. There are 2 more billionaires on Ireland's Wealth Glitch list than last year. A billion is €1,000,000,000. A billion euro coins weigh as much as 20 Boeing 747s, and would stack as high as 20 Spires. A billion in ten euro notes would create a red carpet which would run the length of the Great Wall of China and still have enough left to bridge between Galway and Nova Scotia in Canada.

But that's only one billion. The richest 300 in Ireland have 100 of these. 100 billion is 1 with 11 zeroes. €100 billion worth of tenners would make 17 return trips to the Moon laid end to end. Yes, the Moon. Truly this wealth is astronomical. The smallest legally allowable apartment in Dublin & Cork is 45 metres squared. 100 billion in ten euro notes would cover the floor space of 19,000 of these apartments. It would take about 14 years and 6 months of constant 14-hour shifts to count 100 billion euro coins. Meanwhile 80% of humans on Earth survive on less than 10 euro a day.

It would take 300 people on €30k/year 11,111 years to make it to €100 billion. If we started during the agricultural revolution, when agriculture was first discovered and used by humans, we'd be finished now. Just 11 thousand years of elbow grease and keeping the head down until the top!

Naturally the phrase ‘self-made’ appears in this list, to which we suggest sending a few billionaires onto a desert island and seeing what great fortunes they concoct out of thin air without an army of wealth creators, A.K.A. employees. And of course each billion that those at the top of the Game of Life scoreboard get means less money in our pockets, as capitalism is largely a ‘zero-sum’ game, a game of winners and losers.

Often we assume that year by year, the further we step into the modern world the better things will get. This is the idea of 'linear progress', like a straight line on a chart moving up. Sometimes this can be true, by accident. For instance in the case of the steady and rapid decline of the Catholic Church's power in Ireland over the last 30 years. Contraception, divorce, decriminalisation of homosexuality, widespread disgrace at child beating and raping (and the cover up), passing marriage equality, legal gender recognition, ever fewer believers, and the abortion ban hanging on by its fingernails. Although it is absolutely driven by the tireless work of thousands, it's a trend we've become so used to that it almost seems like a natural process which happens by itself.

In the case of economic inequality, that illusion is easily shattered. Year on year the wealth divide is increasing, and our societies further come to resemble the savage 19th century rather than the progressive 21st century, as it is branded. This is especially unsurprising given that while our high technology is cutting edge, our social institutions are the same as those of the 19th century, and before, for example parliamentary 'democracy' which developed as a fudge between absolute monarchy and actual democracy.

As innocuous as this idea of 'linear progress' might sound, it's crucial that we believe this in order for this society to stay the same - for instance, to keep the same economic model of private ownership, wage labour, and profit. It’s a crucial ruse. The only real way of defending things as they are - apart from crying 'there is no alternative' - is to make the majority believe that ultimately life is improving. Each year society becomes more advanced and good - the story goes - progress continues, and so there's no need to fundamentally change anything. Gradually all these problems will work themselves out. It's very similar to the often ridiculed 'Invisible Hand' idea.

One clear lesson to be learned from this is that linear progress is a myth. In many ways in 2017 the leaves on the trees are turning yellow and dying rather than sprouting to new heights. This is only surprising if we see progress as a function of time rather than of the balance of power between the exploited and exploiters. Indeed there's no law of nature which says that history cannot go 'backwards', as we are seeing with the recent rise of the far right in several countries.

The point being that if we at all expect society to gradually become fairer of its own accord, by centrist, or even left, governments tweaking things here and there, we will constantly be surprised. It's in the basic nature of this economic system for property to gather into fewer and fewer hands. The only thing which has ever reversed this is people like you and me banding together so that the rich and mighty can’t pick us off one by one, particularly in trade unions. And even then, big business swung back when the union movement declined because while the balance of power had changed, the system underneath it all was the same all along.

How long until one person in Ireland owns as much as the top 300 did? How long until 1 person owns as much the poorest 50% on Earth? We can expect to be in the dark ages of 2200 if we, the wealth creators, don’t take charge of our destinies together.