Friday 9 December 2016

Television reviews: The Super Rick and Us, Ireland's Great Wealth Divide

* The Super Rich and Us (BBC1)
* Ireland's Great Wealth Divide (RTE1)

Published 28/09/2015 | 02:30

Illustration: Jim Cogan
Illustration: Jim Cogan

It's all about taking taxis. There was a moment of illumination earlier this year during the BBC series The Super Rich and Us, when the presenter Jacques Peretti was suggesting to one of the super rich that the famous trickle-down theory didn't really work - that if anything the money was trickling up, not down, from "us" to the super rich.

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And as the super rich guy attempted some sort of explanation, the bit that stayed with me was his line about taking taxis. This is how the money of the rich trickles down - they take taxis, you see.

They take taxis which might otherwise not be taken. And sometimes they even take a taxi to get to a restaurant where the trickling can continue. Because after all, who would take taxis and go to restaurants if the super rich were not doing it? Who indeed?

Now, I am quite a fan of TV detective dramas -- I'd enjoy a good Columbo, a Poirot, a Sherlock. So perhaps influenced by such characters and their restless curiosity about all things, I spotted what seemed like a flaw in this otherwise excellent analysis of the way the world works.

First of all, a quick calculation suggested to me that you'd need to be taking an awful lot of taxis for this to start working. Like, a huge amount of taxis. And then I asked myself, Columbo-like, why would you be taking taxis at all when you have about fourteen Lamborghinis lined up in the yard of your London mansion?

Would you not want to give them a run out as well?

This, I felt, was where his theory fell to the ground.

But then you have to realise that when the super rich are offering their overview of the global economy, they don't really give a damn whether it makes sense or not. They are too rich to care.

They're not like me, or Jacques Peretti, or David McWilliams, mad for the truth.

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McWilliams took up the case against the trickle-up phenomenon in Ireland's Great Wealth Divide. He displayed the results of a poll, which is normally not a good idea - I find that there's nothing quite like a poll to make me lose interest in a subject, to lose interest in life itself.

But this one was so startling it kept me awake. Essentially it illustrated that the wealth of Ireland is divided in such a way, those who possess nearly all of it could squeeze quite comfortably into a couple of high-class restaurants in Dalkey. And that nearly everyone else, barring some extraordinary stroke, is out of the game.

There was a marvellous exchange with property king Kevin Nowlan of REIT Hibernia in which McWilliams probed away at the workings of the Dublin market after the crash, where property was available at "below replacement cost" (you could buy it below what it can be built for) and acquired by outfits such as REIT on behalf of men such as George Soros. Great fortunes were made.

Probing, ever probing, as to how such a wonderful situation had come about, Macker put it to Nowlan like this: "The taxpayer ends up subsidising or financing or in some way underwriting the opportunistic move - which is totally legal and totally within their rights - of the already wealthy".

Nowlan, who had perhaps been reluctant to put it exactly like that, eventually nodded in agreement : "Yeah, basically."

McWilliams was not going in there like Brendan Ogle, he believes in capitalism, though he explained that the capitalism he espouses is of a more old-fashioned variety. He has been to the Soviet Union and Cuba and "socialists always end up running out of other people's money".

Which is a line usually associated with Margaret Thatcher, and one which has now assumed a relevance it was most certainly never intended to have.

Because after all, in 2008 and beyond, it was surely the capitalists who ended up running out of other people's money - there is no better way to describe what happened on Wall Street and in the City, when that great universal Ponzi scheme unravelled.

And since they mostly got away with it, the chances are that they will run out of other peoples' money again. That they will, indeed, always end up running out of other people's money.

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