|Dutch children arriving at Tilbury in 1945.|
Today's refugees may be less well organised,
but they are no less needy
This question may seem contrived, but in a week when the previous owners of BHS are reported to have received hundreds of millions of pounds from the now collapsed business, while the government declines to help child refugees adrift in Europe, it is, at least, topical and relevant. The activities of businessmen like Sir Philip Green are said to add value to the UK economy, whereas saving the lives of children is just a cost to be avoided if possible. Green received a knighthood for his pains; the children are left to fend for themselves on the streets or in unofficial camps.
It is natural to feel distressed at the miseries of refugees, and understandable to be disgusted by the excesses of corporate moguls, but is it such a stretch to connect the two directly? Apologists for the current system argue that it is only the taxes that rich people pay that allow us to help the needy. So they system massively favours the already-rich, cutting corporate and higher-rate taxes and oiling the wheels of big business at every turn.
If money were wealth, this deeply unfair system might at least have some internal logic. But it isn't and it doesn't: money is merely a tool for managing and distributing wealth. The wealth itself exists in the quality of people's lives, in their relationships, in their sense of achievement - in what advocates for a new economy increasingly refer to as "wellbeing".
Patching up the damaged lives of vulnerable children creates wellbeing that just keeps on growing - for the children and their families, for the people who work with them and for the rest of us who applaud that work and sleep easier because of it. Making huge profits in a low-pay industry, on the other hand, destroys wellbeing by directing wealth away from those most in need of it.
There is nothing in economics or politics to say that the system we have in inevitable. We are stuck with it only because we fail to challenge its basic assumptions.