In a new article: “Do people mind more about inequality than poverty?” Matt Ridley has used public misperceptions of poverty and undoubted reductions in global poverty to obfuscate and trivialise the very real issue of growing inequality within nations. In the article Ridley totally ignores concerns about the excessive concentration of wealth in an increasingly powerful global elite.
Ridley points out that public perceptions of poverty and inequality are unreliable but this is not earth shattering news – evidence abounds that the “British public is wrong about nearly everything” or “Perceptions are not reality”
Evidence does show that there has been a decrease in global poverty and a small decrease in global inequality. These improvements are obviously good news and should indeed be publicised. We need to ensure that these improvements continue and at a faster rate. However, small changes to extreme poverty and inequality still leave unacceptable levels of extreme poverty and inequality. Furthermore, looking at global figures it is easy to hide realities like:
“Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population, and seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years. The World Economic Forum  has identified economic inequality as a major risk to human progress, impacting social stability within countries and threatening security on a global scale.
This massive concentration of economic resources in the hands of fewer people presents a real threat to inclusive political and economic systems, and compounds other inequalities – such as those between women and men. Left unchecked, political institutions are undermined and governments overwhelmingly serve the interests of economic elites – to the detriment of ordinary people.” 
This, below, is Ridley’s concluding (penultimate) paragraph (his final paragraph is bunkum – check it out for your self):
“None of this is meant to imply that people are wrong to resent inequality in income or wealth, or be bothered about the winner-take-all features of executive pay in recent decades. Indeed, my point is rather the reverse: to try to understand why it is that people mind so much today, when in many ways inequality is so much less acute, and absolute poverty so much less prevalent, than it was in, say, 1900 or 1950. Now that starvation and squalor are mostly avoidable, so what if somebody else has a yacht?”
This is, at best, disingenuous. In the first sentence Ridley says that he doesn’t want to imply that people are wrong to resent inequality and yet in the following sentence he does just that – does he think we are all stupid? The final sentence starts with nonsense and finishes with a straw man. The issue is not resentment or envy of the successful local entrepreneur who owns a yacht for sailing with friends and family, this is just a Ridley obfuscation. The real issue is the power that a £75 million super yacht’s owner has to influence or control the democratic checks and balances that protect us, however imperfectly, from rule by plutocracy. It is the fact that Global inequality is about power, not just wealth or yachts, that Ridley, no doubt deliberately, manages to brush under the carpet.
The graph below shows how the improvement in the global distribution of income is mainly due to rising incomes in the emerging economies like China. At the same time ordinary people in Europe and the US have seen their incomes stagnate or decrease. The winners have been those in the emerging economies that have been able and lucky enough to benefit from their country’s growth and a very small global elite. The losers are the very poorest (e.g. in sub-Saharan Africa) and the working / middle classes of the developed nations.
The issue here is not about talented or hard-working individuals being able to afford to own a yacht. It is about a small elite, less than 1% of the population, who are so excessively wealthy that they can exploit their resulting power to disrupt the normal political, democratic and regulatory processes for their own benefit and to the detriment of ordinary people. This gross inequality of power is a major risk to human progress, impacting on social stability within countries and threatening security on a global scale.
Coincidentally, Matt Ridley (5th Viscount Ridley), with a family estate of Blagdon Hall, near Cramlington, Northumberland just happens to be a hereditary member of the 1%:
Source for graph – Branko Milanovic:
 Global Risks 2014 (World Economic Forum): http://reports.weforum.org/global-risks-2014/executive-summary/
 Working for the Few – Political capture and economic inequality (Oxfam): http://www.oxfam.org/en/policy/working-for-the-few-economic-inequality
The Rise of Inequality, Branko Milanovic (IMF): http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2011/09/Milanovic.htm
The richest 85 people on the globe – who between them control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population put together – could squeeze onto a single double-decker: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/jan/20/oxfam-85-richest-people-half-of-the-world
Global inequality is about power, not just wealth: http://newint.org/blog/2014/01/27/inequality-power-wealth-davos/
U.N. sounds alarm on worsening global income disparities (Reuters): http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/29/us-global-economy-un-idUSBREA0S1FD20140129
Capitalism vs. Democracy: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/29/opinion/capitalism-vs-democracy.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0
Why Income Inequality Is Here to Stay by Branko Milanovic: http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/01/why-income-inequality-is-here/
Winners of Globalization: The Rich and The Chinese Middle Class. Losers: The American Middle Class, Branko Milanovic: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/branko-milanovic/winners-of-globalization-_b_4603454.html
“British public wrong about nearly everything” or “Perceptions are not reality”: http://www.reasonandreality.org/?p=2887
Matt Ridley – failed banker and rightwing neolibertarian: http://www.reasonandreality.org/?p=1468