Professor Andrew Sayer, Professor of Social Theory and Political Economy at Lancaster University, delivered the sixth annual British Sociological Association/British Library Equality Lecture. Drawing on his 8th and most recent book ‘Why We Can’t Afford the Rich’ (2014, Policy Press) Professor Sayer showed how the rich have made an astonishing comeback in many countries in recent decades, controlling increasing proportions of national income and wealth, and gaining considerable political power in the process.
Now that the 62 richest individuals in the world have as much wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population, we have to ask how this came about and whether it is in any way defensible.
Are the rich especially talented ‘wealth creators’, or is their wealth largely based on wealth extraction? Does their economic power benefit others, and how does it relate to political power? Given the relationship between economic growth and carbon emissions, what does their consumption and dependence on growth imply for the future of the planet?
Over the last 40 years, Professor Sayer has written widely on subjects ranging from the philosophy of social science, to the divisions of labour, to the causes of inequalities and their impact on individuals. In the last 15 years he has also worked on ‘moral economy’, examining the justifications of particular economic institutions and relationships, and the relationship between economic practices and morality in everyday life. His most recent book, ‘Why We Can’t Afford the Rich’ (2014, Policy Press) was written for a non-academic audience to explain and evaluate the remarkable return of the rich over the last 30 years.