May you live in interesting times

I know I’m a naive optimist but aren’t the general public getting pissed off with inequality? The spectacle of incompetent businessmen walking off with pensions equal to the GDP of a developing nation while hardworking families are forced into the black market at sub minimum wage is so glaring an injustice that it is making an inroad into the UK’s normally servile working class.

I used to rant about executive pay during the boom years and people would tell me, ‘Well, maybe he’s worked hard for that money’. You can’t imagine that defence being used now. The boom years carried a deferential faith in the wisdom and benevolence of the aristocracy of wealth that has, like the bubble, burst.

Studies are showing that unregulated freemarket capitalism is perhaps not the best way to run societies: moreover, people tend to be happier and more successful in societies run along egalitarian lines.

Gaze across the pond and you realise what we’re missing and what a chronicle of wasted time the last decade has been. Barack Obama has repealed several of Bush’s anti-labour laws plus the religious conscience law, he has legalised stem cell research, he has ordered the closure of Guantanamo and the secret CIA prisons, he has ended rendition, he has lifted Bush’s restrictions on funding for family planning NGOs, he has expanded state health insurance, he has made it legal for women to sue for equal pay, he has capped executive pay, he has scrapped Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy… and the guy was only elected in, like, January. Radical journalist Greg Palast looked on in astonishment:

Then came Obama’s money bomb. The House bill included $125 billion for schools (TRIPLING federal spending on education – yes!), expanding insurance coverage to the unemployed, making the most progressive change in the tax code in four decades by creating a $500 credit against social security payroll deductions, and so on.

Look, don’t get your hopes up. But it may turn out the new President’s … a Democrat!

It’s been argued on Shiraz Socialist that Obama has achieved more ‘in the course of the past few weeks than the free-market lackeys of our so-called ‘Labour Party’ have managed in nearly twelve years’.

All this is registering. As Will Hutton says:

[W]hile a clear majority do not like current levels of inequality, support for doing anything about it is falling, at least through the tax and benefit system. Rather than doing as we would be done by, the British have a keener-than-ever awareness of being cheated by benefit frauds and unjust claimants and are not minded to pay up for more redistribution.

This isn’t ‘troubling’. It’s common sense. The Great Crunch has shown us that the tax burden falls overwhelmingly on the middle and working classes. Why should they pay to sort out the mess that the rich have got us into? People hate benefit fraudsters but also, now, billionaire tax dodgers. Labour’s best chance of winning the next election is to assume that it will lose and to go down fighting on a honourable programme of redistribution of wealth.

Of course my optimism could be misplaced – as David Toube pointed out, hard times make for ugly politics and ‘there is every reason to believe that the defining themes of the present economic downturn will be xenophobic, anti-immigrant and racist’. We have to be ready to challenge and fight this when it appears but, overall, I think there’s scope for hope as well as hate.socialism-rich

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One Response to “May you live in interesting times”

  1. john problem Says:

    If you can’t jail them, how about a ‘windfall’ tax on past earnings, above a certain level. For some of these titans of the finance ‘industry’, it might even lead to their being visited by the bailiff. Not many, of course, but enough to make the ordinary people, grappling with the problems of keeping their home and fuel costs and rising taxes, feel that there is justice in the world, after all. Constantly being harrassed by mail and phone and visits by one’s debtors, as the cash-flow dries up and possessions have to be sold off, is a harrowing experience, undeniably more so than a short spell in a white-collar jail with an early release back to all those goodies left in waiting for the hero’s return.

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