Saturday, January 22, 2011

Seriously, who wants to be a billionaire?

I just caught a fragment of a discussion on Today about wealth distribution. One of the experts was saying that people at the bottom of the heap fantasised about having the lifestyle of Wayne and Coleen Rooney. Really? Every time I look at a pictorial showing the inside of "the lovely home" of this or that wealthy celebrity a shudder passes through me. There's something about the single coffee mug placed carefully alongside the fresh flowers on the expensive kitchen table which suggests that such people have no aptitude for the simple cosiness of the domestic life most of us lead.

Giles Coren touches on the same subject in today's Times in which he wonders why any sane person would want to live in those new flats built for billionaires overlooking Hyde Park:

These people do not get to go to the shops, to ride the top deck of a bus in the rain, they don’t get to fork over the compost in their tiny urban garden, chance delightedly upon a fiver in the back pocket of their painting jeans or find an old pine table discarded on a skip that will burn in the grate for weeks. They do not get to laugh loudly in the face of possible death while unblocking the gutter on their roof, as Matthew Parris did here on Thursday. They do not get to do anything. Except sit on an expensive chair in a bookless apartment, staring out at a park they are frightened to venture into alone.

I watched Tantrums and Tiaras recently. This is the film about the home life of Elton John. The home life of Elton John appears to be all chrome, glass, expensive table settings and nervous domestics, hovering in the background laughing at one's jokes. I saw enough to know that the only person who would want that kind of home is the kind of person whose wealth and profession cuts them off from the very idea of home. It's as if they've had to get the sheet music to the tune that the rest of us can just whistle. Everybody would like to have more money, of course. If we've got any sense we don't want that money to transform our lives - we just want enough to remove the difficulties from the one we've already got.


  1. I believe that research has shown that the correct sum of money is £140,000.

    I've always thought the national lottery would be far better if it just gave out lots of prizes of that size.

  2. Ah, once again Joni Mitchell says it so well

    Joni Mitchell - The Hissing Of Summer Lawns Lyrics @

    "He gave her a roomful of Chippendale
    That nobody sits in"

  3. A friend of mine just won 160 grand on the lottery. People talk about wanting millions but 160k is a life changer for him, absolutely massive change to his life that will make.

    I'd be happy with an extra 50k in my bank account. That would sort me out.

    Some weeks an extra 50p would work.

  4. Harvard students were once offered an option in an investigation into wealth. They could choose, let's say, a salary of US$350k a year (I just made that figure up), or they could be guaranteed to make US$50k a year more than their neighbor. The majority plumped for the latter.

  5. Evan Davis asked a pertinent question, which was unsatisfactorily answered in my opinion:

    'Aren't people less worried by the Russian oligarch than the middle income person who can afford a car while they can't?'

    The focus on 'inequality' at face value by the BBC in particular is infantile in my view. Simple question - things were more 'equal' in terms of a comparison between lowest and highest income at the turn of the century. Does that mean that social progress has regressed?

  6. A comparison between highest and lowest-paid BBC employees 20 years ago and now would be educational.

  7. One could easily reply that of course public-school-going, university-educated Giles Coren would say that. It's easy to be a tourist and mythologize the down-at-earthness of not having much money.
    But don't forget that Wayne and Colleen both grew up in pretty miserable working-class surroundings, and anyone who has grown up in similar circumstances knows that there's nothing glamourous there, and you certainly wouldn't want to go back there!
    So it's no wonder that when they get the opportunity they put as much between themselves and their previous life as possible. Sure it doesn't have a lot of "class", but it's definitely not a council house in Toxteth.
    Jarvis Cocker got it right, I think:

    "You'll never live like common people
    You'll never do whatever common people do
    You'll never fail like common people
    You'll never watch your life slide out of view
    and then dance and drink and screw
    because there's nothing else to do"

  8. To be fair, Giles Coren didn't say anything about Wayne Rooney or anyone who grew up in his circumstances. That was the woman on the Today programme - and me.

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  11. I once heard that the best amount of money to win or inherit is the amount outstanding on your mortgage.