Trevor Nunn is touting this new play he's involved with which is - wait for it - on the subject of the gross inequality of today. The problem being here that what he believes about inequality just isn't true.
And yet, even in our enlightened social democratic western world, we remain utterly unequal – probably more so now than at any previous time.
This simply isn't so. Not in any sense that matters of course. It's well known that two of the three richest people on the planet, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, are partial (Lord knows why) to a Big Mac on occasion. There are almost none of us in the rich world who do not have equal access to those. Nothing by Maccy D's might not be healthy but it's financially out of reach of very few of us. And it's extremely doubtful that this has even been true before, that the entire society has equal access to the food desired by the richest. The plebes didn't get access to those lark's tongues after all.
That is, of course, being tendentious, as is pointing out that we've all entirely equal access to Facebook and WhatsApp on the same terms.
Yet when we do these calculations properly, as the TUC once did, we do indeed find that the only form of inequality that matters, that of consumption, is low, very low. Using quintiles of households the TUC found that the 5 th (ie, the top) earned 12 times the 1st. After we subtracted taxes, added benefits, levered in the value of public services like the NHS and education, the consumption inequality came down to 4 to 1.
It is extremely difficult to think of any previous version of human society which was as equal as this.
Not that the inequalities which remain are also of rather less import. Not too long ago poverty meant no shoes, now it means off brand sneakers. Inequality meant empty bellies, unto the point of death - yes starvation existed in England up into the 19th century. Now such inequality, or if you prefer, poverty,. appears to mean a greater propensity to obesity.
I have to presume that the motive for acquisition is competition: that driving force, that god in Margaret Thatcher’s universe, the market. Competition to defeat all your rivals, competition to be able to declare you have more wealth than anybody except Bill Gates, competition to get more than Bill Gates.
Which is also grossly wrong. Competition is what limits that wealth that can be amassed. Monopolists do tend to be rich, the competition from Steve Jobs, Linus Torvalds, Larry Ellison and all the rest is precisely what has limited the fortune of Bill Gates.
No doubt the play will be a success given how many share these delusions. But it is a delusion, we are more equal today than almost all human societies since the invention of agriculture.