Equality – or the lack of it – should be judged over a lifetime. Young people on low incomes with low levels of wealth may think now that anyone richer should be taxed more. But they should be careful what they wish for. Age is a huge driver of wealth and income. And it comes to us all.
No one is born earning £80,000, earns it for 40 years and then dies. Our income starts low, rises with experience and seniority and often falls again toward retirement.
The other reason why those on high-ish incomes may not feel rich is lack of wealth. There has been much talk of rising wealth inequality in the US and Europe. But there has been very little discussion about the fact that some of it is the inevitable result of two modern demographic trends: rising education and older people living longer. The later you start work, the later you amass wealth; the longer your parents live, the later their wealth trickles down.
Although today’s older generations benefited from favourable conditions, notably the run-up in housing prices, we must be very careful about introducing policies that treat income and wealth as static. In fact, the picture is constantly shifting. But it is worth remembering that most people who end up rich start out asset poor. As they earn and save, that changes.
One of the very few careers, by the way, in which you do earn pretty much the same amount every year regardless of your experience or your success, is politics. All UK MPs earn £79,468 a year regardless of skill or time served.
This could go some way to explaining why it is that ideologically driven politicians with little experience of working in the private sector are so often surprised by the failure of the “poor” to vote for more taxes on the “rich”.
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