The rich: better than you, but in a nice way

Too many low-value people

I dislike the idea that some of us are “high value” people if that value is based on wealth alone. Yesterday I read that “high value” people may be allowed to pass through UK airports more quickly, because it is somehow wrong that they should stand in a big queue with the rest of us.

It’s a fundamental assumption (though clearly an optimistic one) that society gives all of us the same value, except in specific situations, which means there are expectations which we all share. The social concept of “value” is based in expertise and helpfulness. Doctors and nurses can point to a qualification, and they can show a consistent record of successful intervention when they are needed. Similarly, entrepreneurs may help us by investing in the economy, which would be handy right now. But we share a common set of values. Doctors can’t be racists. An entrepreneur can’t prise the last pint of milk out of my fingers in the queue at the supermarket, or take the last seat on the bus, not even Sir James Dyson. Maybe him, on reflection.

Back to the airport: I’d prefer a country where passports get checked in the order we arrive at the desk.

The offensive idea to fast-track those of us with high value isn’t designed to get firemen and nurses through passport control more quickly. It is clearly a case where “high value” is a feelgood alternative for “rich”. In practice, the “value” which the Borders Agency wants to give us will not be social value. Here’s the Guardian reporting Brian Moore, the departing head of the UK Border Force, describing the plans to define a super-race of people who might get their passports checked before the rest of us:

Moore said it would cover people who were “valuable to the economy and were valued by the airlines”. He said the move was intended to demonstrate that Britain was “open for business”.

Note the sneaky little transition: for the “valuable to the economy” bit, the government would have to tell us all whether we are useful to it or not, which isn’t going to happen for electoral reasons I don’t need to explain. In which case only the second description, “valued by the airlines”, matters. It becomes a frequent-flier perk for business class. The Borders Agency would be moonlighting for the British Airways Executive Club.

So the class system is being disguised as social opportunity. In reality, the government would not know if the members of this commercially-designated super race are of any value at all to the UK economy. But they would get preferential treatment because they’re defined as “high value” by a commercial entity, and the whole thing is given the “open for business” label so we don’t realise that it is basically a regressive perk for the wealthy.

Similar logic applies to the fashionable generic description of rich people as “wealth creators”. I thought that the people who created wealth were the workers, who are paid less than the value of their labour. That profit may improve their lives through more jobs and higher wages, or might be hidden in the Cayman Islands. All we can say with certainty is that the rich are “wealth possessors”. The economic mumbo-jumbo that describes them as “wealth creators” is there to distract us.

Calling someone a wealth possessor doesn’t make us happy though, which is why the phrase wealth creator is becoming more common now that inequality is at its worst since 1940. It’s the sound of the privileged speaking well of themselves, in case the rest of us get all upset and start asking questions about offshore tax havens and equality of opportunity:

Note also that the UK leads the world in using this term. More than half of the English-language articles describing people as “wealth creators” are published in the UK. In the US, the slightly more defendable (though no more economically justifiable) “job creators” is preferred for this elite social class.

We can’t seem to shake off the idea that wealthy people deserve respect for what they are, not what they do. If these mysterious “high value” people can demonstrate that they have been selected because their wealth works for our benefit, not just theirs, maybe they can push in front of me at the supermarket and take my milk. That is, assuming the government doesn’t give them their own line at the till first.

8 Responses to “The rich: better than you, but in a nice way”

  1. 1 Claire Thompson September 19, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Why don’t you set up a petition to stop this? It’s outrageous!

    They could use the money to speed the whole thing up for everyone/make the airport experience less stressful all round. I, like many others, might even help our ailing travel industry by not going to great lengths to avoid international travel. It’s no fun any more.

    PS on a minor point – what makes you think the super-wealthy go anywhere near supermarkets?

  2. 2 Jo September 19, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    Great piece. Does that make consumers the true Valuables, then? After all, they are the wealth creators’ wealth creator…

    • 3 Tim Phillips September 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm

      Thanks! At this point the wealth creators will get their PR people on to us to say that they make it possible for the wealth creators’ wealth creators to create wealth, so they are the creators of the creators of the creators of wealth. We can’t outflank them. On the other hand, when at airports we could form the line from everyone who either works in the UK or will spend money while in the UK, or lives in a house where work is done or money is spent, on the basis that they all help to create national wealth. That would be everyone, and we could call it a “queue”. In response to this, the BF could PUT ENOUGH STAFF ON THE BLOODY DESKS, and our social contract with government is preserved. Just call me Mr Ideas.

  3. 4 Tim Phillips September 19, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    I hope it’s just posturing to stop the airlines complaining that queues are too long: the “open for business” punchline implies to me that it was cooked up in some blue sky policy idiotfest, and will quickly be filed under “moronic”.

    I’m sure they have people to go to supermarkets for them. But sometimes they need a can of Special Brew and 20 Bensons, and the butler has gone home for the night. It happens to us all.

  4. 5 Brett September 19, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    As usual, you put it all so well. What a land to behold!
    On a related theme, some readers might enjoy this: 52 Shades of Greed

  5. 7 James September 24, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    The super rich go through a separate border control anyway, fast tracked on to their private jets. Otherwise what’s the point on spending millions on the plane in the first place. This is the rich strata below the super rich that we’re talking about, is it not?

    • 8 Tim Phillips September 24, 2012 at 4:50 pm

      True. Many of the people who would become “high value” in this definition would be in middle management for global corporations. In my experience, the last thing we need are even more people telling this group how utterly extraordinary they must be.

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