We live in a culture that exults billionaires. But billionaires, George Monbiot writes, are a problem:
All billionaires want the same thing – a world that works for them. For many, this means a world in which they are scarcely taxed and scarcely regulated; where labour is cheap and the planet can be used as a dustbin; where they can flit between tax havens and secrecy regimes, using the Earth’s surface as a speculative gaming board, extracting profits and dumping costs. The world that works for them works against us.
And, by and large, the press supports the billionaire class -- because the billionaires:
buy newspapers and television stations. The widespread hope and expectation a few years ago was that, in the internet age, news controlled by billionaires would be replaced by news controlled by the people: social media would break their grip. But social media is instead dominated by stories the billionaire press generates. As their crucial role in promoting Nigel Farage, Brexit and Boris Johnson suggests, the newspapers are as powerful as ever.
Recently, Monbiot has experienced the power of the billionaire press:
A month ago I and six others published a report commissioned by the Labour party called Land for the Many. It proposed a set of policies that would be of immense benefit to the great majority of Britain’s people: ensuring that everyone has a good, affordable home; improving public amenities; shifting tax from ordinary people towards the immensely rich; protecting the living world; and enhancing public control over the decisions that affect our lives. We showed how the billionaires and other oligarchs could be put back in their boxes.
The result has been four extraordinary weeks of attacks in the Mail, Express, Sun, Times and Telegraph. Our contention that oligarchic power is rooted in the ownership and control of land has been amply vindicated by the response of oligarchic power.
Some of these reports peddle flat-out falsehoods. A week ago the Mail on Sunday claimed that our report recommends a capital gains tax on people’s main homes. This “spiteful raid that will horrify millions” ensures “we will soon be joining the likes of China, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam in becoming one of the world’s few Marxist-Leninist states”. This claim was picked up, and often embellished, by all the other rightwing papers. The policy proved, the Telegraph said, that “keeping a hard-left Labour party out of office is not an academic ideological ambition but a deadly serious matter for millions of voters”. Boris Johnson, Philip Hammond and several other senior Tories weighed in, attacking our “mad” proposal.
But we made no such recommendation. We considered the idea, listed its possible advantages and drawbacks, then specifically rejected it. As they say in these papers, you couldn’t make it up. But they have.
There were dozens of other falsehoods: apparently we have proposed a “garden tax”; we intend to add “an extra £374 a year on top of what the typical household pays in council tax” (no such figure is mentioned in our report); and inspectors will be sent to people’s homes to investigate their bedrooms.
We've known for a long time that money corrupts. We should not be surprised by what big money buys.
Images: The Star Tribune