As an A-level philosophy student and general over-thinker I constantly find myself contemplating current affairs. Recently I was advised to watch a programme airing on BBC called ‘The Super Rich and Us’ and quite frankly it was eye opening. I’d always been aware of the 1% and the class divide but watching this raised some unexpected issues…
What featured mostly in the programme was the justification of this extreme wealth. Women in pristine all cream suits with disproportionately large hats at the polo claiming “well we worked for our money”. Now this statement seems to be thrown around pretty often, I’ve even heard it said by a few of my peers regarding their parents when asked to justify why they’re opting to vote conservative. The issue I find with it is that it seems to imply that the working class and even the middle class somehow don’t work for their money. Of course in some cases young entrepreneurial types have worked their way up from the very bottom, take Lord Sugar for example. However it does seem in many cases it’s just down to pure chance or perhaps even inherited wealth offers some an advantage. When some big-shot CEO of a bank claims that they’ve worked hard, are they negating the exertion public service workers have endured?
Naturally they may respond that they’re not saying those people work any less hard but unfortunately this still raises some issues. If it’s the case that men and women in the public sector work just as hard as this 1%, why is it that the wealth is so unfairly distributed? This isn’t exactly a straight forward question and it’s not one that I plan to offer an explicit answer to, as many wiser than me have tried and failed.
But something I would like to (hopefully) offer some insight to and invite you to think about is the idea of property; what we own. I’m sure most of us seem to have a pretty solid concept of private property but evidently I’ve certainly overlooked something. It’s easy to claim we own things because we’ve earned our money and played the game and paid for them, but where did it all begin? Surely if we go back far enough this idea of property merely started from one neanderthal claiming a rock was theirs over any one else’s because they found it first. Yes, this concept of owning things which we seem to treasure so dearly started with something as basic and petty as ‘finders keepers, losers weepers’. I for one found it highly entertaining that a predominantly capitalist society such as ours could be founded on something so childish.
Jokes aside now, what I’d like to investigate is our conception of rights. We believe we have certain rights to things, in fact we’re taught from a young age we have inherent rights and responsibilities. But what are human rights other than a belief that we deserve to have or be able to do something? Well some philosophers claim there’s such a thing as ‘natural rights’, and I believed in these too until I did a little thinking of my own.
Natural rights are things that humans are entitled to such as food/water, but philosophers claim they’re the same universally and would exist even without people or a state to create and enforce them. What’s interesting is firstly exploring whether these even exist and if so would the right to own property be a natural one? Personally I believe natural rights are non-existent and any rights we have are man made in order to aid our survival. Despite this, if natural rights were to exist then it could be argued that private property falls into this category. Many would say that the right to shelter is necessary for survival, but to what extent? What if we were posed with the dilemma of building a railway such as the HS2, which would please thousands of people and increase economic growth but mean relocating a family. Is our right to private property so vital that we would prevent such utility just to allow one family to keep their house? Through this particular example it seems obvious that that would be wholly impractical.
What I’ve attempted, albeit rather poorly, is to challenge our current views on wealth and private property. Do we really have a right to anything, whether that be the property we own or the money we worked hard for to buy it with?