EDITOR'S LETTERMerryn Somerset Webb
Wealth inequality isn’t just a problem for Western governments. Turns out you get it in socialist utopias too. The Burning Man festival in Nevada is supposed to be entirely commerce-free, community-focused, gift-oriented and 100% environmentally friendly. You bring everything you think you might need to survive in the desert with you. You unconditionally gift what you don’t need to others. You make part of the gift your own “radical free expression”. And you “leave no trace” that you have been there on your departure.
If you like the sound of that, you aren’t alone: it is jammed every year. You are also out of luck. This year, says The Times, the festival turned out to be “less Glastonbury and more Gilded Age”. Billionaires arrived in private jets, stayed in a fenced off “plug and play” luxury campsite (the White Ocean Camp) fully equipped with air-conditioned yurts, and ate lobster that they definitely did not get hold of in such a way as to fit with the “radical self-reliance” ethos of the festival. The result? Fury. The compound was “stormed by a band of protestors” who cut electricity cords and glued the doors of smart camper vans shut. They were, they said, taking “Burning Man back from the parasite class”.
Representatives of the White Ocean Camp were shocked: they said that they never thought something so “saddening” would be possible in their “Burning Man utopia”. Perhaps they should leave their jets more often. The very rich might not see themselves as the parasite class. But an increasing number of people do. This is partly down to monetary policy (which has created huge wealth inequality) and partly down to bad politics. But it could end in a way that makes glued-up locks look very much like child’s play. For just how bad that could be, see Edward Chancellor’s column. There he looks at what happened the last time elites thought the best way out of a slump was to ignore the middle classes and print money.
What should you do? I can’t answer on the politics of that (well, not here anyway). But on the financial side you can only respond to uncertainty with diversification. So this week we look at how Colombia could add a little extra to your equity returns. David C Stevenson tells us why he is still buying UK real estate. And we report on Jim Grant’s views on gold miners (keep buying them).
Finally, a word on Brexit, or as it is now to be known, Brenaissance. We asked you a few weeks ago to send in your ideas for a less angry-sounding word to describe the process of the UK altering its trade arrangements with the EU. You sent lots. They were good. We put the best to a vote. Brenaissance was the winner. It wasn’t the favourite in our office, but in the spirit of not questioning referendum results it gets to remain the winner. Now we just have to wait to find out what it means.