Every time a well-meaning politician or economist from the left of the political spectrum presents a master plan for closing the gap between the rich and the poor, you know the answer before they have even published or delivered a lecture – Take even more money from the poor – Nearly always via taxation – Novel – Easy – Lazy. They never mention simplifying the Tax System. The Ancient Greeks knew better. They also realised you had to try a little harder.
Benefaction was a Culture deeply rooted in Greek Society, even more when the Romans made Greece a Province in the 2nd Century BC and remove their direct power of taxation. The quid pro quo lay in the prospect of honour eternal for the donors. The services provided by the wealthy for the city included paying for baths, gymnasia, and the supply of food. Where harbour facilities and other areas of urban renewal were needed, the wealthy would supply the funds. For festivals and the games, they would provide the animals for sacrifice, prizes for competitions and banquets to celebrate the winners, with stars of the acting and musical worlds to entertain the masses.
In an unknown Greek City lost in antiquity, a woman who as one of the ten richest citizens met any shortfall in the collection of the city’s tax liabilities. She set up a foundation for poor children, as well as distributing money in the commemoration of her and the children’s service she set up in public office. The recipients of this initiative ranged from members of the city council at the top to former slaves and outsiders at the bottom.
The theory behind the above was wealth was a matter of luck. In the absence of industry and big business, wealth tended to be inherited, usually within a family rich in land and rental income. Given this, aristocrats were under pressure to show they were worth their inheritance, by what they did for their city. Furthermore, their reputation was on the line in terms of the quality of the services they provided. They could not be seen to subsidise a street or edifice that promptly fell apart or in disrepair quite quickly. Get it right however, and statues, as well as honours would be bestowed on them. There are many that survived to be seen today.
Clearly the Ancient Greeks got it right but in the Modern World of the 21st Century, Philanthropy/Good Causes work in some areas better than others. North America views Philanthropy as ‘Good Business’. So corporations and immensely wealthy individuals will back certain initiatives and institutions, lending their name to them, along with generous financial support. In the UK much is made of Philanthropy but it is mere talk. There is of course corporate sponsorship of The Arts. Any personal support of anything by the wealthy tends to be beyond the reach of the common man.
It is clear the Ancient Greeks tried far harder and succeeded in making Society a far richer place to be. The wealthy saw they had a responsibility and reputation to provide those services that were beyond the scope and reach of those less fortunate than they.
Today’s ruling class and wealthy see no such responsibility. In fact, the Aristocracy of today charge people entry to visit their stately houses and land. Despite Industry and Business as additional factors to individual wealth creation, everything is left to The State to provide and they only succeed in doing everything badly.
Anyone thinking that to radically change Society and close the gap between rich and poor is to increase the minimum wage is sadly missing the point. Work should pay of course but people – especially the wealthy need to ask themselves some fundamental questions:-
- What kind of Society you want to be a part of?
- Is it one where you can make a real difference?
- One that will be better for not just your children but all children?
- Or one where instead of reliance on the Welfare State, we actually help people to be self-reliant?
The Model of Ancient Greek Society has much to commend it as a Model. Reputation, position and self-interest caused the wealthy to sponsor good works and public services in a way that nothing in British Society does. A Zero Hour Society nor an education system where a child gets a first class education based not on merit, but how wealthy his parents are, should be a thing of the past. A State Education should be just as good as that of Eton, Harrow or any other independent school.