Both talk and policies about wealth are terribly repetitive. Whilst right-wing parties still pretend to attribute a mysterious force to the idea of trickle-down economics – you know, the stuff where rich people get so rich that the crumbs which fall from their tables acquire a mystical power to raise the poorest satisfactorily from rank to relative poverty – the left-wing of at least our political spectrum doesn’t half engage with the idea of taking money away from the wealthy. And when I say “take money away” I mean not only lots of it but also almost any way possible. Consequently, the higher that level of wealth, the more punitive, aggressive and intrusive the measures to control it must be.
So. That’s why I’m beginning to wonder if the problem isn’t elsewhere; if the problem isn’t on both sides of the argument – and principally the assumptions people are making.
What is wealth, after all? I remember reading a long time ago a book about the newspaper mogul, Robert Maxwell. Apparently his life of wealth was more a game of musical chairs: he didn’t own very much of “his” wealth; instead, he apparently had access to a great deal more of what we might term “other people’s resources” than perhaps he should ever have been allowed to. Yet at the time his empire strode the world, most would’ve seen him as wealthy: a man to be heavily taxed for sure; a man to be punitively intruded upon as already described.
And so we have policies such as the “mansion tax”, currently issuing forth from the Labour Party. If you own a house (or maybe if you occupy one which you have mortgaged to the hilt), and valued to a certain degree, under a Labour administration you will have to pay an annual tax on the societal cost of your possessions. If you like, this is probably little more than the “bedroom tax” in reverse – except we’re looking to apply it to the very richest instead of the rather poor.
Maybe, as such, it’s fair enough as an example of rumbustious politicking – but it doesn’t half seem (to me, at least) an arid and sterile act of policymaking, which positions – as in a predictable mirror-image that only serves to allow the enemy to continually define you – the Labour Party in no better place intellectually than the government it aims to vanquish.
Is this all wealth can manage to be? Is this about as imaginative as we can get? Do progressives have to be eternally framed by arguments their oppositions use against them? After all, it must be awful for anyone who professes to be of the open-minded and thoughtful left for people to say the following about you – and not only say it once but repeat it heavily over the decades:
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy” #QOTD
There are I suppose two alternatives:
- Aim to spread wealth equally so we are similarly poor or similarly well-off (always depending, I suppose, on where you’ve started out and where you’ve found yourself ending up) – I can imagine that here a) taxation systems would play a big part in attempting to achieve this goal; and b) universal basic incomes could also contribute constructively to its implementation.
- Aim to allow concentrations of wealth only where and when value is demonstrably added over time. We would not stop being punitive about the kind of concentrations which just have rich people sitting on their wealth; we would however reward any and all concentrations which allowed us to achieve wider societal goals that Parliament, a bespoke tribunal of the people or any other democratic process could design.
What kind of societal goals could those be? In no order of importance, then – just as they trip out of the ideas-generator:
- Dignified, humanly fulfilling and educationally expanding work.
- Inclusive organisational patterns of relationships, at all community, corporate and political levels.
- A re-establishment of that liberal bond between responsibilities and rights.
- An intuitive openness in governance in all kinds of institutions, so that honesty, sincerity and informed debate are to be prized and held dear above all.
- Profit to be understood primarily as that which benefits the whole of society, and only secondarily the interests of more traditional investors.
- A careful appreciation, development and implementation of technology, with the aim of putting it at the service of people and not the other way round.
- A sustainable approach to all our environments – whether natural or human-made.
- Ultimately, an evidence-based approach to all kinds of decision-making processes – even as the plethora of information available these days should not freeze our collective ability to take such decisions in a timely manner.
I may not be the best person to argue these things; I may not have the most visible soapbox; I haven’t even developed the idea in any implementable way; and yet, even so, with all these caveats, what I do suggest we in Labour should engage with from now on in is thinking far more imaginatively about the whole idea of wealth and its functioning.
There’s no room in the future for the kind of politics which glories in weary gesture-making.
The future’s too serious by far for that.
Until we accept that grand things can sometimes be achieved by putting large, perhaps at first sight obscene, amounts of money in the hands of a single organisation or deserving hub of organisations, and that sometimes by so doing a helluva lot of wasted time and energy will result, we will not be able to win over what so many voters will always intuitively comprehend: money begets money, and often in a tremendously multiplying way.