Boris Johnson claims ‘greed is good’

Back to the future: Boris Johnson is echoing Baroness Thatcher © Getty Images

Low intelligence determines a bottom rank in society and ensures less wealth, Margaret Thatcher’s spiritual heir has claimed. But is Boris’s praise for greedy, envious ‘cleverer’ go-getters healthy or unfair?

Millions of people are too stupid to be successful and there is no point in trying to tackle inequality, according to Boris Johnson, the senior Conservative often found to be the most popular politician in Britain.

The London Mayor, who has won two successive elections in the capital, shocked his non-Tory fan base with a speech he made on Wednesday.

‘I don't believe that economic equality is possible’ said BoJo, as he is jokingly known. Controversial enough, you might think. But he went on: ‘Some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity.’

Johnson was giving a lecture in memory of Margaret Thatcher, who was prime minister during the 1980s – a period of runaway success for the City, London’s financial district. While he did not, he insisted, want a return to the ‘loadsamoney’ attitudes characterised by that period of financial excess, he nevertheless believed that it would be ‘futile’ to try to eliminate the gaps between rich and poor.

In the most provocative passage, the Mayor asserted that the two per cent of the population with the highest IQ scores were more likely to rise to the top of society and become the most wealthy.

‘Boris Johnson is a school bully hiding in a clown suit,’ one commentator tweeted. And Nick Clegg said the views he expressed were ‘unpleasant’.

On the same day as the Mayor’s speech, a new poll by YouGov reported that nearly half the British electorate do not believe that the Conservative Party has ‘modernised’: this is in spite of David Cameron’s efforts in his early years as party leader to set a moderate tone.

One former Tory MP said the Mayor’s speech would be ‘loved by the worshippers at the Blue Flame of St Margaret, but go down like a rat sandwich with the electorate who are paying the price for other people’s selfishness and greed.’

Winner takes it all

By talking about the different capabilities of sections of the human ‘species’, saying some are more adapted to success while some are all-but-doomed to failure, Johnson was using the language of Darwinian theory and applying it to modern human society. This angered some, who condemned the Mayor’s speech as heartless towards those less well-educated and well-off than he is.

Fellow right-wingers cheered. ‘Thank goodness for Boris,’ wrote The Telegraph, for expressing ‘the kind of plain truths that too many politicians avoid expressing.’ To them, tackling inequality is social engineering – an unwarranted interference with the way that some people are programmed for success and some for failure. Like Darwin before him, the hostile reception for Boris and his ‘natural selection’ theory just proves their hero’s bravery and insight.

You Decide

  1. Was this speech ‘unpleasant’ or truthful?
  2. ‘One person’s unpalatable truth is another person’s downright falsehood.’ Discuss.


  1. In groups, decide on some positive motivations for success: you can include some other deadly sins if you must!
  2. Research IQ tests: which qualities do they measure and which do they ignore?

Some People Say...

“Contentment is the greatest wealth.’ Buddha”

What do you think?

Q & A

So does he really believe the rich are cleverer?
Good question, because that’s the focus of a lot of this speech’s aftermath. IQ scores are controversial anyway and are not widely used these days: you may not even know yours. But by saying that the most intelligent are destined to rise to the top and the 16% of people with intelligence scores of less than 85 are doomed not to succeed, the Mayor stirred up a lot of anger.
Why anger?
He argued for more help to make sure that the cleverest children can be helped to fulfill their potential, but he also implied that there was no hope for those in the least able groups: a view labelled ‘deterministic’ by his critics. Maybe you are made angry by Boris’s views too? Or perhaps you agree that someone needs to feel greed or envy to drive them on to achievement?

Word Watch

This finding has cropped up in several polls, but the most recent, in June, was in a survey of 8,000 people by Lord Ashcroft.
The Joneses
This imaginary family, who may live on the same street but have a better standard of living, more money and more material possessions, is often used as shorthand for the objects of competitive behaviour.
A character invented by comedian Harry Enfield, who earned vast sums of money as a plasterer and liked to wave his cash in front of the faces of people less fortunate, saying ‘look at my wad!’
Someone’s Intelligence Quotient is calculated from their score in a group of tests designed to measure brain power.
Mr Cameron’s supporters initially wanted to ‘detoxify’ the image of the Conservative Party and eliminate the associations of what Theresa May, home secretary, called ‘the nasty party’. The most important modernising policies so far have been introducing the right for gay people to marry, and maintaining the UK’s spending on overseas aid. But this week’s poll showed 45% now believe the modernising mission has failed.
When applied to human society, the idea of survival of the fittest, pioneered by Charles Darwin to explain evolution, is called social Darwinism. It is used as a general term for any evolutionary argument about the biological basis of human differences.
Natural selection
The process in nature by which, according to Darwin's theory of evolution, only the organisms best adapted to their environment tend to prosper and survive.

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