Foreword to: S. Cohen et al. (Eds) Europe’s top 10% and income inequality,

Foreword to: S. Cohen et al. (Eds) Europe’s top 10% and income inequality,

There are times when it appears to be that almost everything is changing. Now might well be one of those times. This excellent and very comprehensive report details the concerns and desires of the best-off 10% of people in four European countries as measured before there was any hint of the current crisis caused by the 2020 pandemic. It combines careful quantitative and qualitative evidence to make a series of well-grounded and place-sensitive policy suggestions. The eight authors explain how the best-off in Europe are yet to be at all convinced that their take is disproportionate, or that their taking so much causes huge problems for others. It explains that Europe’s highest paid and otherwise remunerated are much more sympathetic to issues such as racial inequality, gender inequality, and wealth inequality; and that making reference to these issues was more likely to garner some sympathy from the top 10% rather than directly pointing out the inequities of some people being paid so much more than others. We have been taught to believe that ‘we are worth it.’

It is, of course, pointless to suggest that a single individual should sacrifice themselves, returning a portion of their income as some show of their piety. Apart from anything else, who would much notice? What brings income inequality down both effectively and equitably is greater proportional taxation or equivalent universal caps on extravagance. And when this is done, when the top 10% become less well-off together, they hardly notice it. They can live in the same houses, still hold the same rank position, but with less money, they are less wasteful. As this report shows, they are also safer, in Sweden the top 10% weathered the 2008 crash far better than elsewhere in Europe.

As this report goes on to show in great detail, the top 10% rely on public services as much, if not more, than everyone else. Without public higher education, their businesses could not function, their children would not be educated, their lives would be less enriched. This is the group who make by far the greatest use of public health services because they live the longest and are least likely to die a quick death at a younger age. Instead it is the best-off 10% who stagger on for the greatest time with the highest number of comorbidities. We at the top might wish for a more equitable future if those of us in this group thought a little more about how our final year of life might be like; often being cared for by people in the lowest 10% pay band in care homes (our successful children having migrated far away).

Finally, on top of all the recommendations made in this very detailed report I would like to add one more. That people in the top 10% are encouraged to think of their future grandchildren or great-grandchildren, or their great nieces and nephews if they do not have children. And think of the one that has least luck in life, who is ill on the day of the exam; whose marriage falls apart; who starts a business the year before unforeseen economic events bring it tumbling down. Rising into the top 10% is as much a matter of luck as falling a long way out of it is. Even if you do not give a damn for anyone you are not related to, a more equitable future society will protect both you in your old age, and your family long after you are dead. The alternative is not just inequitable – it is ignorant.

Professor Danny Dorling

University of Oxford, June 2020.

For a link to the full report and a PDF click here.


Cover of the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS) and TASC report on Inequality and the top 10% in Europe