Green Tau: issue 38

29th March 2022

Am I Wealthy?

When we think of wealth our first thoughts are probably of piles of money – and if not actual notes and coins, them lots of zeros on one’s bank balance. When we talk about someone’s wealth, we do so in terms of pounds. According to The Times Rich List the wealthiest person in the UK for 2021 was Sir Leonard Blavatnik, with a wealth of £23 billion. The wealth of nations is also typically measured in pounds/ dollars etc. The wealthiest nation in the world is the United States with a gross domestic product of  $18.62 trillion. The UK stands in 5th position with $2.65 trillion. 

Although we talk in terms of pounds and dollars, these examples of wealth are not piles of money (whether as cash or bank balances). Rather they are investments in stocks and shares, investments in property, luxury yachts, art works etc – all of which can be expressed in monetary terms and could in theory be sold/ liquidated to provide cash. 

But are there other forms of wealth? 

Wealth has in the past had the meaning of happiness as well as financial riches, and the word developed from the Middle English ‘wele’ or ‘weal’ meaning well-being. 

As a resident of Richmond in south west London, many things have and do contribute to my well-being. They are a wealth that I have inherited through being a citizen of the UK.

  • I was born into stable middle class family. My childhood was happy with no traumatic events. My parents were supportive and encouraging. I had a happy extended family of grandparents, aunts and uncles. 
  • I spent my childhood in a rural part of the country where I learnt to appreciate the natural world.
  • Growing up I had the benefits of free health care (including dental care) and free education right through to my graduation from university. 
  • I continue to benefit from free healthcare – and can afford to access dental and other therapeutic treatments.
  • I am free to follow my chosen religion.
  • Even though I am a woman I can vote, I am free to work outside the home, and I can expect my husband to assist with domestic tasks and childcare.
  • I live in a country with reliable mains water, electricity and gas; with well maintained roads and a public transport network; with regular refuse collections; with dedicated emergency services and with a welfare and benefits system. I will in due course benefit from a state pension.
  • I live in a country with a respected police service and judicial system. 
  • I live in a country where bribery and corruption is not an every day occurrences.
  • I live in a country with well endowed schools, universities, museums and libraries. 
  • I live in a country with a free press. 
  • I live in a country where green spaces are protected, where there are rigorous standards for food quality and animal welfare. 

I am not saying that all the provision of all these in the UK is perfect and that there isn’t considerable scope for improvement, but compared to what is available for the average member of our global community, they are a significant source of wealth and wellbeing.

This wealth, from which I have and do benefit, arises from investments made by earlier generations and, to a lesser extent, from the current spending of tax revenues by the government and local authorities. It is a wealth that derives from the UK’s early investment in the Industrial Revolution, and from its exploitation of resources from other countries – either those which it colonised or those with which it arranged beneficial trading relationships. It is a wealth that has developed through the widespread use of, initially coal, and subsequently oil and gas, which has contributed significantly to the global climate crisis that we all now face. 

Is this wealth that I have something I can redistribute? I benefit from it but I don’t own it. I can’t realise its cash value and redistribute it. I can’t divide up or share my education or my good health, but I can use them to change the world. I can inform and campaign; I can recognise the injustices and inequalities that exist between people and across the world; I can volunteer and protest; I can influence by example; and I can effect change through my financial spending and donations.