The 1% at Their Finest

The Super Rich and US

BBC (2015)

Film Review

The Super Rich and Us features casual cameos of British billionaires openly displaying their narcissistic indulgence in trophy assets. There is also a brief appearance by economist and author Thomas Piketty (Capital in the Twenty-First Century). The goal of the documentary is twofold: to debunk trickle down theory and to critique government policies that have made Britain one of the most unequal nations on the planet.

The filmmakers maintain that Britain’s top 1% generates and consumes all the so-called growth the UK has experienced over the last five years. None of it derives from increased investment, job growth, wages or productivity.

The British 1% has doubled their income between 1980 and 2015, while income for everyone else has stagnated or declined. Likewise the Conservative government’s 80 billion pounds in austerity cuts is roughly equal to the bonuses banks paid out to CEOs.

Why Britain Has the Most Billionaires

The UK has more billionaires per head (104) than any other country. This stems largely from a policy decision to compensate for factories moving overseas by making the country a tax haven for rich colonials seeking to avoid taxes in their own country – under the delusional belief it would make everyone else richer.

In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher significantly reduced taxes on Britain’s native millionaires and billionaires. She argued, as Reagan did in the US, that taxing the rich made society poorer. These policies, which have changed little over thirty years, have made Britain the world’s favorite tax haven, as international pressure forces other traditional tax havens (Switzerland, Luxemburg, Cayman Islands, etc) to shut up shop.

Trickle Up vs Trickle Down

Thanks to the wholesale repeal of banking and corporate regulations, none of this surplus wealth trickled down to the rest of the population the way Thatcher claimed it would. Instead the super rich have been sucking up shrinking lower and middle classes resources into their vast reservoir of private wealth. The main reason trickle down doesn’t work is that the 1% spends their surplus wealth on diamond jewelry, yachts, sports cars and other luxury goods that generate income for only a handful (if any – most of these goods are imported) of working people.

The film contrasts British tax policies with those of Sweden and Denmark, which the rich pay a fair share of taxes. Not only do both have GDPs equal to or higher than the UK’s, with numbers that reflect genuine improvement in productivity and job and wage growth. When polled, eighty-eight percent of Danish people are perfectly happy with their tax rate because they see it reflected in generous government services.