Worlds apart: how the paradise of the rich is made out of the hell of the poor


David Wilson is a long-stay patient at Barts Hospital, London, receiving NHS treatment for a serious heart condition. He has led an extraordinary life, which he describes in his acclaimed book Left Field – The Memoir of a Lifelong Activist.  He has been a gaucho, a teacher, an artist’s agent, a filmmaker and much else besides. “David Wilson has lived a life and a half,” says the renowned writer Sir Tom Stoppard. “The broken world needed people like David; it still does”.

On my circumnavigation of the ward here at Barts hospital as part of my physio rehab, I look over at The Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey) and to its left one of the offices of merchant bankers, Merrill Lynch.

I can’t resist the thought that the occupants of the Merrill Lynch Giltspur Street offices should be marched next door, to appear at a new bar for them, and charged with crimes against the people for facilitating the obscene wealth of the richest 1% in the world. As Oxfam reported earlier this year, just 42 people hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion who make up the poorest half of the world’s population.

While Merrill Lynch have helped create a world of tax cuts for the rich marked in the trillions, for many millions its corollary is an economy of part time, temp, contract, on call, and gig jobs, food banks, homelessness and growing poverty.

Barts Hospital, where I am now on long-stay, has its share of all that.

The Merrill Lynch world in their offices opposite Barts Hospital.

I pause my therapy walk and look over at the plush executive suite being prepared for a boardroom breakfast. On two large plasma screens at the far end of the room a film of deep blue water and sunshine. A yacht glides across from one screen to the next. The Merrill Lynch world.

If matters continue as they are, that yacht will either get mired in plastic waste, or have no safe port to return to. Or if it does there will be armed Brazilian fascist guards protecting its arrival.

So who are Merrill Lynch? They are an investment bank engaged in prime brokerage and security dealings. For you and me that means gambling with other people’s money – lots of it. In 2008 as we were all saving the banks it was reported that in one year, July 2007 to July 2008, Merrill Lynch lost $52 million daily.

The first thing they did was to charge $30 billion in losses to their subsidiary in the United Kingdom. Why the UK? Need you ask? Because in this country they were exempt from taxes. For Wall Street, London = offshore.

Merill Lynch was as bust as busted Lehman Brothers, but were saved by becoming a subsidiary of the Bank of America.

None of this stopped Merrill Lynch’s chief executive, John Thain, from paying out over $4 billion in bonuses “If you don’t pay your best people”, he said, “you will destroy your franchise and they’ll go elsewhere.”

He then went on to purchase new office curtains for their Wall Street HQ at a cost of $18,000, $28,000 for a pair of chairs, $87,000 for a “Roman Shade”, $11,000 for Regency chairs, six wall sconces for $2,700, a $13,000 chandelier in the private dining room and six dining chairs for $37,000.

Oh and a “custom coffee table” for $16,000, an antique commode “on legs” for $35,000, and a $1,400 “parchment waste can.” “It really would have been — very difficult — for — me to use it in the form that it was in,” said Thain. Did he have a desk and a phone?

I return to my ward to wait for a tepid cup of tea and cold toast courtesy of Serco who ‘won’ the privatised catering contract at this hospital.

In the words of  French writer Vicor Hugo, “The paradise of the rich is made out of the hell of the poor.”

Dubioza Kolektiv: Making Money

David Wilson is a friend of the great Balkan band Dubioza Kolektiv, who are touring the UK in November 2018. Their song Making Money sums up David’s view in the article above

Money Makes the World Go Round

From the film Cabaret, with Liza Minnelli und Joel Grey. “When you haven’t any shoes on your feet / Your coat’s thin as paper / And you look 30 pounds underweight…


Comments are closed.