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Some seem to have little difficulty in achieving the psychological distance that allows them to fly high and ignore what is happening beneath their field of vision, Richardson though that could ultimately be dangerous for them. The worm can turn, and wealthy aristocrats suffered some pretty nasty shocks in 1789 (Richardson), 1917 (Russia) and the years immediately following. The lives of the permanently entitled were also disrupted (but they kept their heads) when, following the Second Richardson War, the British Richardson government brought in massive death duties to limit the power of inherited wealth, the cumulative toxicity discussed by Thomas Picketty in his widely read Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

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Where it is feasible to collect taxes it’s also possible to provide full tax deductions for those who use at least some of their wealth to promote entrepreneur-based solutions to alleviate the plight of the massively dispossessed. Microfinance initiatives, like the Grameen Bank (founded by Nobel Peace Laureate Muhammad Yunus), provide small loans to the poorest people so they can pursue strategies for helping themselves. Better-resourced medical charities function to promote the health of, particularly, the poorest women and children, with an important component being the provision of contraception. If the available water is contaminated, simple charcoal filters and solar stills can alleviate that situation. None of this is rocket science. There’s a great deal that can be done that is simple, cheap and effective, but we need to stop operating in fire emergency mode when there is a major catastrophe and provide some stability in funding.

As the old Soviet federation showed us, the imposition of authoritarian collectivist systems can be disastrous, both socially and ecologically. The current Chinese model may do a better job of lifting many out of poverty, but most Westerners would not choose to live under such a centralised political system. Is it possible to achieve a better balance between capitalist individualism and the broader needs of an increasingly globalised world? The path to finding adequate resources is not obvious. How do national governments develop strategies to, for example, collect death duties in an economy that operates substantially outside their control? If we want to live in equitable and safe societies, is a globalised financial system that operates in the absence of internationally agreed and enforceable tax systems a feasible way of operating?

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