When Thomas Piketty published his Capital in the 21 Century, the Financial Times tried to dismiss his research as bogus. Its more conventional thinkers hated his argument that the children of the rich would receive vast amounts of unearned wealth because the assets of their parents would grow faster than the real economy. If Piketty was right, claims that we were a society which valued social mobility would become a joke: a screen that hid the rigged game of life. However idle or stupid they were, rich kids would win, whatever politicians parroted about “opportunity for all”. Only hefty wealth and inheritance taxes could stop them, and build a fairer Britain.
I can see why Piketty’s argument and its implications made for uncomfortable reading for some writers – although not, I am pleased to say, all writers – at the FT. Its journalists made a determined effort to discredit him. His numbers were wrong, they said. He had not understood the data. In particular, the FT claimed that Piketty had failed to understand Britain.
‘There is little evidence in Prof Piketty’s original sources to bear out the thesis that an increasing share of total wealth is held by the richest few,’ the Financial Times huffed.
But the campaign against the great economist died within days, and I think I understand why. The Financial Times seemed to be saying that inequality had not shot up, and that the children of the rich did not enjoy advantages unseen since 1939.
‘Who are we meant to believe here,’ its editors may have heard readers asking, ‘the Financial Times or the evidence of our own eyes?’
It tells you all need to know about the stupidity of press officers that they have put my name on an automated PR mailing list. Every morning I log on to find breathless press releases pumping out half truths on behalf of the sugar lobby or puffing up the latest Net venture. When I’m bored, I reply. ‘What have I ever written than could have possibly convinced you that I have the smallest interest in your corporate twittering. The only reason I would write about your client is to expose him in the national press’.
It does no good. Nothing can stop the torrent of bilge.
Today’s offering was from someone called Hannah who works at something called Manifest London. Hannah told me about the VIF – Very ImportantFresher – service Unibaggage had unveiled. The company already moves students’ luggage to and from university for a fee. From this month, Unibaggage is heading upmarket and offering “the UK’s first luxury student transport service”. Students can stun their debt-ridden contemporaries by arriving on campus in the style of “movie stars or Premiership football players”. Their parents will blow what would be a year or two years of fees for ordinary students in a day.
Hannah gave me the price list.
- Private Jet (£25,000) – One of the most exclusive forms of luxury transport – live like a superstar and arrive with champagne in hand, to start as you mean to go on
- Helicopter (£20,000) – Make the ultimate first impression and take your university journey to new heights by arriving on your first day by a privately chartered helicopter
- Rolls Royce Phantom (£15,000)- Timeless and classic luxury, combined with state-of-the-art technology – the Rolls Royce Phantom personifies elegance and exudes class – definitely a great first impression
- Mclaren P1 (£18,000) – Limited production, hybrid supercar by British automotive manufacturer McLaren – superior style and incredible technology… and 0-60 in 2.9 seconds!
- Ferrari F430 (£15,000) – Classically stunning and awe-inspiringly powerful – The Italian stallion will ensure heads turn when you pull up into halls on your first day
- Aston Martin (£15,000) – Effortless luxury and famously driven by the most famous British spy in television history – Certainly one of the most impressive makes of luxury cars in the world
- Horse and Carriage (£10,000) – Downtown Abbey inspired opulence – a traditional mode of luxury transport and a beautiful way to start your first year at university
One proud parent had already inquired about sending his daughter to Cardiff airport by jet, and then taking her on to Cardiff University in a Rolls. (Unfortunately the child could not fly straight to her new digs, Hannah explained with a note of regret, because many universities did not allow jets or helicopters to land on their campuses.) By my reckoning, the £20,000 jet and £15,000 Rolls Royce hire would more than cover the costs of three years tuition fees for a working- or middle-class student and a hefty portion of their living expenses to boot.
The Pikettian inequality on the campuses does not stop there. So vast are the class differences opening up at 18, one newspaper reported this week that property developers were now providing luxury housing for the children of conspicuous consumers.
‘“Deluxe” studios in one set of halls in Bloomsbury, managed by Mansion Student, are on offer for £580 per week, to take one example. Given that the contract is for 51 weeks, rather than an academic year, a room will set parents back roughly £30,000 per year.’
And the name of that newspaper? Why the Financial Times, of course.