The clamour to squeeze the rich gets ever louder. “They should feel the pain!” they cry. These fat cats who pay no tax, their houses owned offshore, their kids at Eton. Make them pay. Except who are these people? Where are these elite? I know quite a few rich people but they are nothing like these people above.
I’m in the business of spotting opportunity. The word entrepreneur sounds too self aggrandising these days. I work, loosely speaking, in the internet, and more specifically in marketing. I’ve been doing it for about 10 years now in various guises and I do OK. There’s a load of us out there working for ourselves, employing small teams of people, hatching plans and trying to make a good living. We don’t get much help. The banks don’t really lend to us so we use overdrafts, our credit cards and even hand over the deeds to our houses to get enough cash together to keep things going. We keep it going because we have to. There is no other option.
The environment is harsh. Most of our customers don’t pay us on time. The government forces are brutal and uncompromising. If you’re late with a PAYE payment they send someone round who will ask for your credit card number. Talk to an entrepeneur who’s had a tax inspection and he will tell you a tale of sinister Orwelian horror. The fact that you can take out insurance against a tax inspection tells you more than you need to know.
We employ with open hearts, many of us always thinking of the upside, thinking we’re creating a family at work. We nurture and encourage. Sometimes we need to let people go because we can’t find the money to meet the payroll each month and we usually leave it later than we should hoping things will get better. We’re always the last to get paid. Occasionally someone takes us to an industrial tribunal. It’s worth a punt they think. And anyway most employers will pay off rather than go through the courts which could easily kill a business. It’s not just the money that hurts. It’s the anger and bitterness that sucks up time, it knots you up inside.
Occasionally one of us breaks out with something that grows beyond expectation, a hockey stick curve of growth, like a rocket escaping gravity. I know some of them. Guys just like me who have hit on something at the right time. Hard work, more hard work, a gamble, nearly always with their own cash, or more likely personally guaranteed loans for your family home, a tail wind of good fortune, hitting the zeitgeist right in the sweet spot. And they fly. It’s beautiful when it happens and we wait for our turn because if you work hard and play a straight wicket karma will see you good.
Almost without exception the rich people I know are there through their own efforts. They’ve had little interaction from the Government other than threatening brown letters or contact from government funded agencies to go on networking breakfasts hosted by people who have no concept of what it’s like to create something out of nothing. They’ve gone without, they’ve driven crappy cars, they’ve hocked everything, they’ve cajed and cajoled their way through and the money they have made is theirs. And they’ll try every trick in the book not to hand it over to feckless politicians, many of who have never taken a risk, have never stared at the ceiling at 3am on the 20th of the month worrying about making the payroll. Never known the fear of the 22 year old dressed in black who represents Her Majesty’s Custom and Excise who’s standing in reception asking for immediate payment.
And here’s the other point that worth mentioning. Even though they’ve made a few quid the chances are this isn’t the end of it. None of them ever stop right there. They keep going. They keep building. Keep employing. Sure they take some nice holidays in the Caribbean now. They drive a nice car to make up for the years of chugging around in the 20 year old Saab. They might send their kids to private school as they like the idea of discipline, of competition, of being held to account and they might flash it around a bit. But they nearly always keep growing. They keep thinking of new angles. They’re chancers after all.
These are the rich people I know. Should you really hammer them for all they are worth? Is forcing them to pay their “fair share”, a share that is in no way fair, reward for the risk, hard work, late nights and ruined relationships?
Or is it just envy? Envy that someone has had the courage and sticking power to do better than you.