The current inequalities and imbalances in our economy are very easy to solve, and the one single law that would solve the problem is so obvious and simple that even a politician could understand it.
The law is this: jail people with assets of more than £100 million.
You’ll notice this is not a tax. There is no sense of the government swooping in to unfairly claim the wealth of workers. There is no politics of envy at play here.
Nor is there any sense that being extremely wealthy is wrong. If you can earn up to £100 million, then good luck to you. You’ll have a great time and want for nothing. Neither you nor your family will need to work another day in your lives. Life will be truly sweet. Good luck to you, you total winner.
Things will be as good as they get, because having more than £100 million won’t improve your life one jot. It doesn’t matter how much more extra cash you pile on, you have already reached Peak Splendour. But further accumulation of stupid wealth does have a damaging effect. Instead of the money sloshing around the system as it is supposed to, it will fester, trapped, in some offshore banking labyrinth somewhere, like a fatberg in a sewer. This has a negative impact on everybody else.
When people harm society, they can be jailed. This is a long-established principle that few but the most radical anarchists argue with. It is entirely moral, then, to jail people who damage society by accumulating unhealthy amounts of wealth.
There would be an amnesty period to allow people with more than £100 million to divest of their excess currency. Note they would not be able to invest it in stocks, or buy luxury yachts, Picassos or half of Surrey, because these would still count as assets and result in them doing time at Her Majesty’s pleasure. They would have to give it away.
They could give it to their families. If you had £150 million, you could give your spouse £51 million and neither of you would be banged up. Just remember that that money would then be legally your spouse’s, and you would have no claim on it. As a bonus, you’ll soon find out if your spouse has genuine love for you or if they were only with you for your money.
For billionaires, it gets harder to find sufficient family members to take your excess millions. They will have to become more imaginative. It is not hard to imagine billionaires setting up trusts to give patronages to artists and musicians, for example, or to heavily fund medical research. It doesn’t matter what they do – the important thing is that all those currently infertile billions are suddenly freed and let loose in the economy. Wealth will once again be freed to move about as it should.
Those billionaires for whom continued accumulation is of primary psychological importance will leave the country, which will be a brilliant way of getting rid of them. Of course, when one country starts jailing the overly wealthy there will be tremendous democratic pressure for other countries to follow suit, and this will limit the number of destinations where they can go. But there’ll always be some country somewhere that will welcome them. Albania maybe, or perhaps Yemen. There they will be able to spend their days with their arms around all their money, knowing that they can never again step foot in their homeland.
For the first time, the extremely wealthy might come to the conclusion that they should do something that makes the world a better place. The accumulation of all these uber-wealthy people doing interesting new things, coupled with all those newly freed billions sloshing around the economy, will make the world a considerably healthier place. The economy will be peachy.
I hereby name this law the Help Those Too Fat to Exit The Sweetshop Law. Treat any politician who does not campaign for it with the deepest suspicion.
John Higgs’s book Watling Street: Travels Through Britain and its Ever-Present Past is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (hardback £16.99, eBook £8.99)