A whole host of business people have made their opinions public about whether the United Kingdom should have closer or looser ties with the European Union. Of course they are perfectly entitled to their views and to express them, but I do not think that the destiny of any nation should be directed by a handful of very wealthy people whose main talent is for making themselves wealthy.
Wealthy people often have a disproportion voice in government in virtually all nations. In the United Kingdom this is especially so, where some very wealthy folk are “ennobled”, thus giving them a vote in one house of the legislature for the rest of their lives or “knighted” which enables them to be appointed to key government advisory boards where they can exercise their influence in relative stealth, or by purchasing a newspaper, which enables them to promulgate their opinions with a voice that is amplified a million fold.
Inevitably extreme wealth creates extreme influence. Some very wealthy people, for example Mr Bill Gates, have now devoted much of their fortunes to charitable purposes; I do not criticise that but if a person has more money than he has use for what else should he do with it? In the case of Mr Gates he has received money from those millions of billions of people, who bought his operating systems, and now is redistributing a portion of it in various projects around the world, attempting to eradicate malaria, polio and to distribute contraception in places where they think it is needed.
However wealthy a single person is that wealth can only be used to influence public debates and opinion if we take any notice of it. For some reason it seems newsworthy to understand what, for example, Mr Branson (who is wealthy but much less so than Mr Gates) thinks about the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, but completely un-newsworthy to learn what a person who has a tiny fraction of Mr Branson’s wealth thinks of the same issue. Nevertheless the newspapers in Britain faithfully published details of Mr Branson’s views on this topic and they were also reproted by the BBC and other media.
Certainly every opinion that everyone has cannot be divorced from self interest, and in the case of very wealthy people this is particularly so. When we are told that Mr Branson thinks that the United Kingdom should have closer ties to the European Union our reaction should “So what! Who cares?”