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Why the 1% will always be the 1%

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There’s that line in George Orwell’s Animal Farm:

All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others

It always makes me feel slightly uncomfortable, as it would be nice if we had an egalitarian world where everyone was equal … but it’s never going to happen. This struck me when I was reading this Big Think article:

Here’s what being filthy rich in Europe looked like in 1000 BC, 1 AD, and 1000 AD

The key point takeaways in the article are that:

  • Upper-class individuals from the Iron Age started living in bigger houses.
  • Romans would show off their wealth through art and banquets.
  • Middle Ages feudal lords had complete economic and political control over their serfs.

Maybe these findings are not that surprising, but it seems that in every age there is a hierarchy. The super-rich rule the super-poor. This was typified by one of my favourite and most ground-breaking films ever made back in the 1920s, Metropolis (if you haven’t seen it, it’s a must see). The theme of the film is the ultra-wealthy living above ground as a small elite while the working masses underground support their system, working day-in and day-out to make sure the power is continually switched on.

Metropolis is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made and, in 2001, was entered onto UNESCO's Memory of the World Register, the first film to ever make that grade.


Because it typifies the nature of humanity where the 1% rule the 99%.

We may not like it but, just as cream rises to the top, there are always going to be the ultra-rich and the ultra-poor. Right now, with 8 billion people on Earth, that means around 80 million people are living overground, whilst 5 billion or more are fuelling the engines for a few cents a day.

Why am I thinking this way? I guess because the fact is that if this has not changed in 2,000 or more years, will it ever change?

Today, we talk about the 1%.  When eight billionaires own more than half the world has the world changed? No. And even with all the discussions of democratisation and decentralisation, I don’t see it changing tomorrow either.

It’s over a decade since Occupy Wall Street started a major global movement to rebel against the 1%,  but nothing changes.

It is because the concentration of wealth is a natural, biological feature of humanity. Cream rises to the top. The more wealth you have, the more wealth you have. Having said that, it does change every day

By way of example, Elon Musk lost the most money of any human in history last year, mainly due to his twitter takeover, but he made a ton of money yesterday),

Wealth creates more wealth; poverty creates more poverty.

In fact, if you shine a light at the other end fo the scale, the poorer you are, the more you pay.

When you have hardly a cent, the idea of sending money for a dollar is a huge issue, and half the world has that issue.

Meantime, I’m somewhere in the middle as, probably, are you. You have a house, a job and an income that is just about right to cover your bills. Most people I know are in that space, so be thankful for what you have. You may not be overground, but at least you are not fuelling the engines (it won’t mean much to most people but this line made me think of the Wombling Song).

Talking of space, what will it be like in a century or millennia from now? Still the same probably, with the world’s poorest enabling the spaceships of the richest. Oh, maybe that’s now, when I think of Blue Origin, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic.

Chris Skinner Author Avatar

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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