Matt Ridley: “Do people mind more about inequality than poverty?” (So what if somebody else has a yacht?)

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 [1] 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.” [2]

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.

income growth












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:

[1]  Global Risks 2014 (World Economic Forum):

[2]  Working for the Few – Political capture and economic inequality (Oxfam):

The Rise of Inequality, Branko Milanovic (IMF):

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:

Global inequality is about power, not just wealth:

U.N. sounds alarm on worsening global income disparities (Reuters):

Capitalism vs. Democracy:

Why Income Inequality Is Here to Stay by Branko Milanovic:

Winners of Globalization: The Rich and The Chinese Middle Class. Losers: The American Middle Class, Branko Milanovic:

“British public wrong about nearly everything” or “Perceptions are not reality”:

Matt Ridley – failed banker and rightwing neolibertarian:

Matt Ridley – failed banker and rightwing neolibertarian propagandist.

“Matthew White Ridley, 5th Viscount Ridley, FRSL, FMedSci, DL, known commonly as Matt Ridley, is a British scientist, journalist, and popular author and a member of the House of Lords.”  Sounds impressive doesn’t it? Now read on:

Hereditary Viscount, Mathew Ridley (The Rational Optimist) is promoted as “a renowned science writer, journalist, biologist, and businessman”. But what is carefully whitewashed out of his biography is the information that Matthew Ridley is a “failed banker”. Ridley was chairman* of the Northern Rock Bank (2004-2007) where his ill-considered investments in sub-prime mortgages led to the bank’s collapse and nationalization.  When it collapsed it suffered the first run on a British bank in 150 years and contributed to the near melt down of the financial system of the western world. The result was that this neolibertarian propagandist who believes in small government and low taxes had to go to the government and tax payer for a £27 billion bailout.

(* Note: his father had been chairman of Northern Rock before him so I guess Matt Ridley’s  Chairmanship at the bank  was another hereditary position – there is certainly no record of him getting the position through merit)

Although Ridley has a science degree he has never, to my knowledge, been a working scientist and has no expertise in Climate science and yet writes as if he is an authority on this subject.

Matt Ridley ruined Northern Rock.  Fred Goodwin ruined the Royal Bank of Scotland.  Fred Goodwin’s career is in tatters, he seems to have gone to ground and no one is asking his advice on anything and yet Matt Ridley seems to have no trouble getting his articles published, why?  Perhaps it is not the veracity of what he has to say but simply what he says that suits those right wing organisations that seem so keen to publish his work.

Before taking Ridley seriously, consider all those investors and employees of Northern Rock who have, and in many cases still are, suffering real financial hardship because of his incompetence, hubris and failed neolibertarian ideology.

Would you trust someone who, after a lifetime of privilege and entitlement, had caused the first run on a British Bank in over 150 years and then went to the tax payer for a £27 billion bailout?

UPDATE: (6th Feb 2013) Hereditary Viscount,  Matt Ridley, failed banker, ex Chair of failed Northern Rock, has been elected as hereditary Peer to the House of Lords by 24 hereditary peers.   21st Century?? Reward for failure?? Old boys club?? Member of the 1%.  Democracy???

UPDATE: (20th Nov 2013) The list of failed bankers who had managed to get top jobs in banking despite having no relevant prior experience gets longer by the week.   Here are the ones I know about: Andy Hornby (HBOS), Matt Ridley (Northern Rock), Fred Goodwin (RBS) and now Rev Paul Flowers (COOP BANK) all  managed to crash their bank – brilliant.  I dare say there are more – we probably only have to wait a week or two find out.


 UPDATE (18th Oct 2013): Matt Ridley has published yet another of his irrationally optimistic articles “Why climate change is good for the world” This has, as usual, been taken up enthusiastically by the right wing press so here is a useful rebuttal:
“Lord Ridley’s flawed article in ‘The Spectator'” ( Bob Ward, London School of Economics, Grantham Institute, Oct 2013):

See also:

“What Matt Ridley won’t tell you about climate change impacts” (17 October 2013 by Chris Hope)

“No, climate change will not be good for the world” (Duncan Geere New Statesman 17 OCTOBER 2013):

UPDate (March 2014):  “Climate Forecast: Muting the Alarm” in the Wall Street Journal is the latest disinformation from Matt Ridley.  Here is a response:  Matt Ridley op-ed is a laundry list of IPCC misrepresentations.


See the links below for more information on this so called ‘expert’:

Matt Ridley – Wired for Lukewarm Catastrophe (Skeptical Science 29 Aug 2012)

The Ridley Riddle Part One: The Red Queen (Skeptical Science 30 July 2011)

The Ridley Riddle Part Two: The White Queen (Skeptical Science 7 Aug 2011)

The Ridley Riddle Part Three: Like a Northern Rock (Skeptical Science 12 Aug 2011)

The Right’s Whitewashing Of History (Liam McLaughlin, Huffington Post, 10/09/2012)

Matt Ridley – The Man Who Wants to Northern Rock the Planet (George Monbiot June 1 2010)

Matt Ridley’s Rational Optimist is telling the rich what they want to hear – The ex-Northern Rock man is in denial about his book’s mistakes (George Monbiot, Guardian 18th June 2010)

If the Northern Rock fiasco was a morality tale, it was more about hubris than greed (Giles Fraser, The Guardian, Friday 14 September 2012)

“Cherry-picked reality: How fantasy is maintained by false scepticism” A critique of Matt Ridley’s “Rational Optimist” (warning – a lengthy article but worth reading if you have time) … (New Scientist 10th June 2010)

 UPDATE 24th July 2014: New article by George Monbiot illustrating once again the bankruptcy of the neo-liberal agenda: