London's mayor has a message that New York's next mayor may not want to hear: Stop bashing the rich.
In a column in The Telegraph, Mayor Boris Johnson said that rather than attacking the rich for their wealth, the public should be thanking them for their taxes and spending. The mayor, a member of the Conservative Party, said the wealthy in London are like "every put-upon minority in the city—from the homeless to Irish travelers to ex-gang members to disgraced former MPs."
He wrote: "We should stop any bashing or moaning or preaching or bitching and simply give thanks for the prodigious sums of money that they are contributing to the tax revenues of this country, and that enable us to look after our sick and our elderly and to build roads, railways and schools."
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While Johnson's analysis is aimed at Britain, it could just as well apply to the U.S. With inequality at high levels in both countries, many in politics and the media have focused on the wealthy as both the cause (taking an outsized share of the pie) and the solution (tax them more).
Johnson said the focus should be on helping the nonrich rise through better education and opportunities.
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"The answer is surely not to try to stop (the rich) or curb them or punish them—but to widen those intersecting circles that they inhabit," he wrote. "There are kids everywhere who have a natural, if undiscovered, flair for mathematics and the mental arithmetic that business needs. They just don't have the education to bring out that talent."
Instead of publishing "rich lists" ranking billionaires, he said we should produce lists of "tax heroes" ranking the biggest taxpayers. And he said Britain should give automatic knighthoods to the top 10 taxpayers.
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Of course, Johnson has always been a provocateur. Likening the very rich to the homeless is sure to get attention—and widespread criticism. And it's hard to feel sorry for a group that, in the U.S., has earned an outsized share of the income and wealth during the recovery. The top 1 percent took more than 20 percent of the income in 2012—the highest share since 1913, according to economist Emmanuel Saez.
New York's newly elected mayor, Democrat Bill DeBlasio, campaigned on the issue of raising taxes for the rich.
Still, Johnson's broader point is a good one. It's fun to make fun of the rich and blame them for society's ills. But it's more important to expand the net of opportunity to the nonrich.
—By CNBC's Robert Frank. Follow him on Twitter @robtfrank.