Gary Stevenson became a multimillionaire by “betting inequality was going to destroy our economy and make the poorest in society even poorer”.
Growing up with his brother and sister in a cramped two-bed terrace backing on to a railway line in Ilford, east London, Stevenson, 35, had always wanted to make a lot of money. “I was a clever, poor, ambitious kid, who just didn’t want to be poor any more.”
He achieved his goal by the age of 22, getting a job as a trader at Citigroup in Canary Wharf in 2008. Within two years he had made his first million. His pay and bonuses continued rising as his bets – that interest rates wouldn’t rise and the inequality gap would widen – made tens of millions for the bank.
Then he quit. “I was making more money than I could ever imagine,” Stevenson says from his flat in Limehouse, overlooking the Citi tower he once worked in. “But it wasn’t right.”
He adds: “I made the money by betting on what is a fucking disaster, right? I bet on the long-term, continual collapse of the global economy. No fucking joke, right? You know, people will die because of that. Families’ lives will be ruined, and it will get worse and worse and worse.
“Look at what is happening right now with the cost of living crisis. In the winter, half of this country will not be able to afford to turn the heating on.”
However, Stevenson didn’t just walk away from his old job. He is now working to fight the system he previously worked in, campaigning to raise awareness among the wider population about what bankers like him are doing in the gleaming towers of Canary Wharf and the City of London to “continue to make the economy unfair”.
“The only way to change the system is to make the people really fucking angry about it,” he says as we walk along the Thames from his flat to his old Canary Wharf office. “You know, I used to work in that building there and get paid a million pounds a year. Now I’m out here giving away information for free, and it’s not like the media is all over me – the establishment don’t want the people to know the truth.
Family Sister, a poet, and brother, computer programmer.
Education BSc in maths and economics, London School of Economics. MPhil in economics, Oxford.
Best advice he has been given “Throw your textbooks in the bin if you want to really learn about economics.”
Biggest career mistake “I’m struggling to think of a mistake. How about ‘I should have stressed out less and enjoyed it more’.”
How he relaxes “I go for runs along the canal, read fiction and study languages. Recently I’m writing a fair bit as well.” He speaks French, Japanese, Spanish and Italian.
“If people knew how much of a serious problem inequality is, we could have a proper conversation to do something about it.”
He is trying to tell them what he believes is the truth in a series of videos on his YouTube channel, GarysEconomics, including explaining how the City works, why the rich got even richer during the coronavirus crisis and why millionaires should be taxed more.
When asked why he gave up the money and his career, he says: “If you walk past your neighbour’s house and it’s on fire, what do you do? You try and get them out. This is an economy on fire.”
Stevenson, who has arrived from the gym in a tracksuit, adds: “This is a disaster happening now and I don’t want it to happen. I would like to have kids one day and I would like to tell them: ‘I predicted this disaster’ and they’re gonna say, ‘What did you do? Did you make a ton of money off it or did you try to stop it?’ I’ll say, I made a ton of money, but also I tried to stop it.
“Honestly, I find it amazing when people like you ask me why. I don’t want this disaster to happen, and I am trying to stop it. Can I stop it? Maybe not. But there’s not many people that can afford to do this and have knowledge I have, so I have to try.”
In the six years he worked at the bank, Stevenson earned enough money to never have to work again. The fight, he says, is to help others who are struggling. “I know that I’m rich. But this is my friends and my family. I didn’t go to Eton. This is the people I grew up with.”
I’m talking about going after the families who have been keeping their money for ever. Money makes money so it’s just going up and upGary Stevenson
His sister, Debris Stevenson, is a poet and grime artist whose coming-of-age story Poet in da Corner, inspired by Dizzee Rascal’s seminal album, has been performed at the Royal Court theatre and toured the country. His brother is a computer programmer who taught himself how to build supercomputers from components he found in skips. He helped both of them buy their homes.
Stevenson, who campaigns for a wealth tax as part of the Patriotic Millionaires movement, describes wealth inequality as “a cancer in our economy” that “is untreated and it’s growing”. “If you do nothing about it, it is inevitable that the economy will get worse and worse.”
So what would he do if he were Rishi Sunak? “Well if I was the chancellor and my father-in-law was one of the richest men in the world, what I would probably do is make sure that we never tax rich people so that my kids would be fucking rich.”
More seriously, Stevenson says tackling inequality should be a priority for the government. “The policy which I campaign for mainly is a wealth tax, because I think it’s the most realisable,” he says. “But there’s other ways too, including limits on the length of time people can hold on to wealth.”
He proposes that if wealthy people had to spend a proportion of their money within a certain period, it would boost the real economy and help with the cost of living crisis.
“Tax is the most important thing. It’s the only way that poorer people can have a chance of catching up,” he says. “I’m not talking about huge taxes on high earners like doctors or lawyers; I’m talking about going after the families who have been keeping their money for ever. These families have hundreds of millions of pounds, and money makes money so it’s just going up and up. I was paying 45% tax on my earnings, but the Duke of Westminster was paying next to nothing on his billions of inheritance.”
When the sixth Duke of Westminster died in 2016, his heirs paid no inheritance tax on the bulk of his £8.3bn family fortune. His son, Hugh Grosvenor, 31, inherited the title and became one of the world’s richest people, as the major shareholder ofglobal property company Grosvenor Estates, which owns swathes of properties in the West End, Mayfair and Belgravia in London, as well as estates in Cheshire, Lancashire and Scotland.
He fears politicians and economists won’t be able to fix the economy until their backgrounds better reflect society. “If you fill politics and economic departments like you fill these skyscrapers [in Canary Wharf] with people from rich families from elite schools and universities, they don’t give a fuck because they’re winning,” he says. “Of course they don’t know what’s happening. These guys think the economy’s great, because it’s great for them.”