The billionaire David Rubenstein was once able to give a startling reply to the perennial marital question: “What did you do today, darling?” His answer: “I bought the Magna Carta”.
The story comes from Chrystia Freeland, who’s written a book, Plutocrats, about the rise of the super-rich. Rubenstein is undoubtedly a plutocrat, having amassed a personal fortune of around $1.9bn after starting the private-equity group, Carlyle. (Ex-employees include George W Bush and John Major.)
He is so influential that the atrium of New York’s leading cultural venue, the Lincoln Center, is named after him. So when, one afternoon in 2007, he noticed that the last privately held copy of Magna Carta was being auctioned by Sotheby’s, it struck him that this was the founding document not just of British constitutional monarchy, but of American democracy too. “The United States, he thought, really should have its own copy… So he bought it. For $21.3m.”
There’s no startling moral to this story, except that it shows, says Freeland in The Sunday Times, just how different the rich are. But while they’re happy to tell tales like Rubenstein’s, they’re noticeably reluctant to talk about the “yawning chasm” between them and everyone else.
“I was once told by the head of a prestigious think tank in Washington that the think tank’s board was very unlikely to fund any work that had income or wealth inequality in its title,” says Branko Milanovic, a World Bank economist. “Yes, they would finance anything to do with poverty alleviation, but inequality was an altogether different matter.” Talking about inequality, he went on, raised the issue of the “appropriateness or legitimacy” of great wealth.
Freeland stresses the gypsy-like rootlessness of the new rich, quoting Adam Smith, who wrote in 1776 that as the basis of fortunes shifted from landholdings to shareholdings the wealthy would become more mobile. He was right: most of us operate within national boundaries. Plutocrats do not.
Football’s rough diamond
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the Swedish footballer of Bosnian-Croatian descent who, as the Daily Mail put it, “single-handedly destroyed, indeed humiliated, England” on the football pitch last week. He’s expensive – he’s cost his various clubs a total of £150m in transfer fees (so far). He’s also a rough diamond who “makes Mario Balotelli, the womanising, car-crashing, bad-boy of Manchester City, look like an innocent choirboy”.
For example, he drives his Ferraris, or his Porsche Carrera, as fast as they will go. Which is fast. “I always drive like a madman,” he once boasted. “I got to 325kmph (202mph) leaving the police behind. I’ve done so many silly things I don’t want to think about it now.”
On the pitch he’s just as manic; in fact his rages and fervent desire to win seem to be the key to his success – and to his post-tax salary of £11.3m, which French finance minister Jerome Cahuzac describes as “disgusting”.
Tabloid money… “Europe is terrifying and about to get infinitely worse”
• “Raising grandstanding to an art form, Margaret Hodge let it be known that she was very irate indeed – cue angry face – with the tax avoidance tactics used by corporate giants Amazon, Google and Starbucks,” says Jane Moore in The Sun. “‘We’re not accusing you of being illegal, we’re accusing you of being immoral,’ stormed the MP for Barking.
Is this the same Margaret Hodge who has a personal fortune estimated at £50m yet, among other things, claimed £2.89 from the taxpayer for – oh, the irony – organic coffee? The same woman who, against House of Commons rules, claimed more than £2,200 for ‘PR support’ from her former press officer? Yep, thought so.” To have MPs like Hodge lecturing others on morals “rather sticks in the craw”.
• “The disgraced, greedy former Labour MP Margaret Moran stole £53,000 of our money in expenses,” says Rod Liddle in The Sun. “But she won’t be going to prison because she’s ‘depressed’. This is the traditional escape route for middle-class criminals. The charges against them have wrecked their lives, poor moppets, and this, in itself, is sufficient punishment.
Try that one out on the court if you’re nicked for fiddling your benefits and see how far you get. Moran claimed 26,000 miles of travel expenses despite the fact that her constituency was only 35 miles from the House of Commons. Perhaps she went the long way round, ie, via Japan. Or maybe via her third home in Spain…”
• Austerity measures in Europe are not working, says Tony Parsons in the Daily Mirror. “More than half the young are unemployed in Spain and Greece. Economies are in ruin. Extremists of every stripe are coming back… What is happening in Europe is terrifying and will all get infinitely worse.
Leaders like Angela Merkel and François Hollande are pursuing policies of deep cuts and high tax that are not working. Only riot police seem to be prospering amid the chaos. The European Union collects the Nobel Peace Prize next month” – what a joke.