Wealth distribution


My brother-in-law left school at 16 and started an apprenticeship on the factory floor of a big engineering company. After finishing the apprenticeship he was taken on at the small engineering company jointly owned by his dad. He worked there for a couple of decades and learned pretty much all there is to know about machine tooling.

When his dad and partner retired my brother-in-law and the foreman bought them out and took over the company. The foreman was good at selling and pricing while my brother-in-law was good at engineering. Both put in very long hours and were always the first to arrive and last to leave. Manufacturing industries were struggling in Britain and many engineering companies went bust but they managed to keep their small company going and even build it up.

My brother-in-law’s partner, the ex-foreman, was older than him by about 10 years and when he decided to retire my brother-in-law, though having no desire to run the company on his own, was pretty much forced to buy him out and run the business since he was still too young to retire. When work was short he worried that there wouldn’t be enough to keep the men busy and he might have to lay one or two off. He had several sleepless night.

Now in his 60’s he recently sold the business to a young Indian businessman and they now run the company together, even though my brother-in-law is just an employee. He would like to retire but feels the new Indian owner wouldn’t be able to cope on his own. The owner feels the same!

My story is very different. I went to the same Comprehensive school as my brother-in-law and left at 16 like he did. Instead of learning a trade I went on the dole for a couple of months, then became a sales assistant in a sports shop, got bored with that after a couple of years and then went to London and worked as a hotel porter for a month, after which I applied for a job as a trainee Quality Controller in a shoe factory, a job I quit after just two months.

Still only 19 I went to Germany where I worked for half a year in a car factory and then for 18 months as general dogsbody for the Students Organisation. I then went on the dole for a year in Germany before returning to England where I became a Postman, a job I did for 7 years. Age 30 I went to Leicester University for 4 years where I studied English Literature and German Language and after graduating went back to being a postman for a year while I trained to be a TEFL teacher. This involved attending two evening classes a week and then teaching half a dozen classes near the end of the course.

After getting my TFEL certificate I went abroad and worked as a teacher in Macedonia, Poland, Spain and Japan. TEFL teaching is an easy job and fun. The qualification is easy to get and you get to travel as much as you want. The drawback is that the pay is not great (it depends where you teach) and usually there are no paid holidays. This is fine with me because I’m not married, have no children, don’t own a car and have no taste for costly things: I just like reading and walking. I therefore only work as much as necessary, just to keep my head above water.

So while I have travelled more widely and read more novels than my brother-in-law, he can fix practically anything you throw at him. I am good at pub quizzes while he is good at useful things.

Now, you won’t be surprised to learn that my brother-in-law has more money than me, as well as a bigger house. It would be silly for me to complain about this since both of us chose the lives we led and no one held a gun to my head and forced me to live the way I did.

My point is that there are often good reasons why one person is wealthier than another and though there might be a lot of financial inequality in this country there is much less unfairness. To my mind, what would really be unfair is if my brother-in-law were forced to give me some of his wealth just to make things more equal.

Yet some people, without ever bothering to look into why one person has more money than another, often view such differences as a moral outrage. They assume that the richer person must have been privileged from the start, exploited others, or was simply ‘greedy’, whatever that might mean. Usually the richer person was just good at what they did and hard-working.

So I don’t feel entitled to other people’s wealth; not to Richard Branson’s, nor Wayne Rooney’s, nor Mick Jagger’s, nor my brother-in-law’s. I personally think that Rooney and Jagger are vastly overpaid but that is for the market to decide, not me or bitter people who always believe others are paid too much and they themselves too little. If 60,000 Everton fans are prepared to pay £60 a ticket to see Rooney and co., and millions of people worldwide are willing to buy Rolling Stones CD’s at £10 each, who am I to say they are wrong?

Neither do I understand, unless these rich people use public services more than others, why they pay higher taxes. Do they use the roads more, call in the army, ring the fire brigade and police more often than the poor? If they don’t, why do they pay such high taxes? Because they can afford to? That strikes me as a poor reason. If anything they should actually pay less since their children rarely attend state schools and they use private hospitals rather than the state-financed NHS.

Nor do I see why children shouldn’t inherit all their parents’ wealth, even if the children have done nothing to deserve it. If people were made to hand over all their money to the government when they died rather than to their children oldsters would fritter the whole lot away on luxury cruises and Las Vegas casinos, almost anything to stop the taxman from getting his hands on it. As it is old people save their money and invest it in banks from which new and growing businesses can borrow it. This is capitalism and I’m damned if I can see anything unfair about any of the above.

3 thoughts on “Wealth distribution”

  1. Thanks for the interesting article. Incidentally, I assume you normally need a degree to teach English as a foreign language in places like Japan, since otherwise they’d have too many people trying to do it as a way of entering the country?

    1. The school I work for requires a university degree (in any subject) and a TEFL certificate. Most people do an intensive TEFL course over about 6 weeks but I did mine part-time over one year. I’m told that in the 1980’s any native English speaker, with or without qualifications, could turn up in Japan and start teaching. However, that bubble burst long ago and all the good schools, and possibly even the bad ones, ask for qualifications. Every year before I leave for Japan I have to get a working visa from the Japanese embassy in London which allows me to work there for, I believe, up to one year. To get the visa you already have to have a job lined up (again, I think). From all the people who apply to my school only 3% are accepted.

  2. Another great article. I agree with all your points. I feel strongly that the state has little right to any of its citizens’ wealth, whether that be in the form of income tax, VAT, or inheritance tax. Also, like you, I often wondered why progressive taxation rates are considered fair? maybe if people took more responsibility for the choices they’ve made in their lives, there’d be less envy about what others have and calls for automatic redistribution.

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