Sunday, August 10, 2008

I am intensely vexed about people getting filthy rich.

I've just finished reading "Unjust Rewards: Exposing Greed and Inequality in Britain" by Polly Toynbee and David Walker. The premise of the book is that in Britain over the last 10 years or so, the gap between top earners in the UK and those at the bottom has become wider - which results in a more unequal society - with less chance of social mobility - basically, the first three years of your life are pretty good predictors of where you'll end up.

The authors argue that the rich should be paying more tax, and that the minimum wage should be raise to a "living wage" - a few pounds more that what it is currently. They want the laws tightened so that the super-rich can't engage in tax avoidance schemes, for more transparency in the amount of tax people pay, and for people who don't pay tax to be denied knighthoods and other gongs, as well as being banned from the House of Lords (a good example is Stelios Haji-Ioannou, owner of the EasyJet companies and many others, who avoids paying any tax in the UK by residing in Monacco - however, he's recently received a knighthood).

"I have no UK income to be taxed in the UK."

Some of the information in the book is quite shocking - she conducts focus groups with super-rich bankers and stock-brokers, who tend to believe that they are earning average wages, and completely over-estimate what the average wage in the UK actually is. Even when confronted with the reality of their wealth, most of them come out with Daily Mail arguments about why they shouldn't pay more tax.

A few "myths" are addressed in the book - the idea that rich people are good for a country because the money tends to trickle down (the authors say it doesn't - it just results in more inequality and house prices going up so that poorer people can't afford them), and that if taxes are raised for the rich then they'll all bugger off and take their money elsewhere (actually unlikely - most of them love living in London and have entrenched social networks there that they don't want to give up). The authors also argue that raising the minimum raise would not fall the economy to collapse, and that there are a number of good schemes already in place (which need more funding) to give poorer people, especially children, chances to fulfil their potential, rather than being held down from the moment they are born. One of the most depressing points in the book is that a child of 3 from a professional family will have a higher vocabulary than an adult from the under-class.

"We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich."

Reading this book signals the end of me voting Labour. Unlike many of my friends, I even stuck with the party during the Iraq War, believing that despite everything, they thought they were doing the right thing, even if it was founded in a lie. While they've done things that have been good, their economic and social policies have actually created a less equal, more selfish society. I won't be voting for them unless they radically shift. I won't vote Tory either, so I'm left with not voting, or the Liberals.


KAZ said...

'The first three years of your life are pretty good predictors of where you'll end up'.
Labour had every opportunity to improve education but they have almost destroyed the state sector.

The Stelios business is just too shocking.

Your last two sentences apply to me as well. I'll be watching the Liberals very closely.

Groc said...

NuLabour - (blergh) are just Tories in disguise - and I'm going to start calling them the SlaveLabour party if their welfare 'reform' proposals for making long term unemployed and ill people work for their "benefits" go through.

I've been voting LibDem for a while now - partly because I've been living in Tory strongholds - partly because the Labour party became the 'what-ever-big-business-wants
-big-business-gets' party long ago.