Tuesday, April 05, 2016

What would you do with it all?

The Panama Papers reports are addictive reading. Following these tales of billions of pounds/dollars/roubles/Icelandic-whatever, squirrelled away by sunny southern seas, I keep coming back to one question: what do they want to do with it all? OK, one needs a certain amount of money to live on in reasonable comfort - you want to be able to pay for decent housing, your kids' needs, healthy food, transport, heating and concert tickets without worrying about it, ideally, and these days this does not come cheap in London. But billions? Who needs billions? What on earth do you gain from having a gold-plated car?

Why do they do it? It's the difference between eat to live and live to eat - or this time, money to live, or live to amass money for the sake of it. Look. This is important. You can't take it with you. At some point your number comes up, the grim reaper appears with his/her scythe and off you go, dancing through the wheat fields of no return. At this point, you do not want to be wondering what it was all for, do you?

There used to be this thing called tax that would help to get money from those who have too much to those who have too little. It doesn't really work any more, because there appear to be ways around it for those who really do have too much. Don't get me started on what that's doing to our society.

So what is it all for? What would you do if you had billions? Supposing you won the billionaires' lottery?

Here's a musing on what I'd do if 'twere me...

First, I'd set myself up in the pleasant yet not utterly-excess-laden style to which I would wish to become accustomed. This would involve a detached house somewhere nice within London, with a big studio that could accommodate an audience, furnished with a Steinway concert grand; we'd have house-concerts in there three times a week. I'd give lots to the family, being a proud aunt and great-aunt. I'd have the best, absolute state-of-the-art, surround-sound hi-fi equipment. I'd eat only organic food. I'd have a designated champagne fridge, well stocked. I'd employ a PA, a cleaner and a driver (for a normal sort of car), and pay them well. We'd go somewhere hot every winter for several months, and we'd be able to take the cats with us wherever it was.

And then, because we are talking insane levels of lucre here, there's still a couple of billion left. So what next? What do you need to do to make you feel that you are actually a halfway decent human being, doing something worthwhile for the world you love with the supreme good fortune that has come your way?

• I'd fund hostels for the homeless and schemes to help them back onto their feet.
• I'd fund systems that help refugees learn English for free, and that encourage them to do so, so that they can function here more easily and not be maltreated and exploited.
• I'd give a lot of money to hospices.

Then we'd get to the arts...
• I'd set up a foundation to give financial support to exceptional young musicians.
• I'd set up a music school, or several.
• I'd bail out ENO, assuming they want to be bailed out.
• I'd campaign for, and pay for, statues of great artists, musicians and writers at key places in the UK, so that our artistic heritage is celebrated and visibly valued.
• I'd give something to a lot of different orchestras. Possibly funding for them to employ a counsellor or physiotherapist.
• I might resuscitate the London International Piano Competition.
• Oh, and there's that new concert hall... I'd still like the lifetime's supply of chocolate that you get in return for a £2m donation to the crowd-funding [actually, folks, that was an April Fool's joke, but some people seem to have swallowed it...], but I'd use my financial clout to pressurise them to move the damn thing to a better location. In fact, I might buy up those concrete buildings opposite Broadcasting House, demolish them and rebuild the Queen's Hall, the musical treasure of London which was flattened in the Blitz.

All this is just the beginning, of course...

• I'd keep dreaming of a better world - but at least I'd have some leverage to try and make some of it happen.

There are some wonderful, generous, enlightened and knowledgeable philanthropists out there, but also, it seems, some other people who have more cash than they know what to do with. Please, o super-rich, if you're reading this, consider picking up some tips from the above.