Student Notes

Why study who gets what material resources in society? As one economic commentator puts it: ‘In a society dominated by wealth, money will buy power’ (Martin Wolf, The Financial Times, April 15, 2014).

Thomas Piketty wrote a bestseller in 2014 called Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and commented:

For millions of people ‘wealth’ amounts to little more than a few weeks’ wages in a checking account or low-interest savings account, a car and a few pieces of furniture. The inescapable reality is this: wealth is so concentrated that a large segment of society is virtually unaware of its existence, so that some people imagine that it belongs to surreal or mysterious entities (2014: 259).

The point Piketty is making is that owning assets (‘wealth’, as measured by what they are worth) for most people is almost irrelevant, because they rely on wages and salaries (‘income’) which they consume. The lower your income, the less you are able to save, and hence the less wealth you have.

In this chapter, we will:

  • analyse the distribution of wealth and marketable assets in Scotland, and how it has changed over time.
  • focus on what the most and least wealthy own, if anything, and how particular kinds of assets are distributed.
  • examine how income is distributed in Scotland, given that for most people it comes from wages and benefits.
  • review poverty in Scotland, treating it as the other side of the coin of ‘affluence’, and asking who is most susceptible to being poor, and in what senses.