April 30, 2009
Seumas Milne has written something peculiar again. (Yes, I know. The Guardian’s well-heeled class warrior writes lots of peculiar things – many of which are bafflingly wrong-headed.) Today Comrade Milne is miffed with the “Tory curmudgeon actor” Michael Caine and
the richest 2% of taxpayers who are going to have to part with 50% of earnings over £150,000.
Caine provoked the Ire of Milne with the following, not unreasonable, sentiment:
Tax got to 82 per cent [in the 1970s] and I thought this was kind of unfair. I see... that the government has taken it up to 50 per cent and if it goes to 51 I will be back in America. I will not pay the Government more than I get.
Actually, National Insurance contributions and numerous indirect taxes most likely mean Mr Caine crossed that bridge some time ago, but that’s another matter. More importantly, it’s always heartening to see a successful man from a humble background being badmouthed by a Stalin groupie from a privileged background.
Speaking of whom:
Whether the failed bankers and financial derivative merchants who have brought the economy to its knees will be greatly missed if they do decamp to the Channel Islands seems doubtful.
Feel that socialist brotherhood. He cares, you see. But does Milne imagine that the only people to feel the consequences of this “fairer” tax rise will be bankers and speculators, towards whom ill-feeling is socially acceptable? What about people who aren’t particularly rich but hope to set up more reputable businesses and aspire to earn, say, £150,000? Will they somehow be immune to the blunting of incentives?
But the naked class egotism and sense of unchallengeable entitlement on display in the last few days from those who have benefited most lavishly from the corporate and executive bonanza of the last 30 years has been a timely reminder of the vested interests that dominate British society.
Note the phrases “naked class egotism” and “unchallengeable entitlement.” Now to whom might they apply? Those who wish to retain just under half of their own earnings, or those who feel entitled to confiscate even more from others in order to indulge their own moral sentiments, or pretensions thereof? Do notions of greed, presumption and selfishness apply only to people above a certain level of income? Or can they, for instance, be said of some recipients of welfare? Can such things be said of the state, or of the righteous Mr Milne? To how much of your income is the government morally entitled?
50% must mean 50%. Given the fiscal hole that Britain is now in, that’s essential to raise revenue. But it’s also necessary for social justice.
Again, as so often, the term “social justice” is deployed triumphantly with no clear definition. Though readers are led to suppose that “social justice” could entail, in ways never quite specified,
A more equal society… better physical and mental health, less crime and smaller prison populations… lower rates of teenage pregnancy and obesity, and higher rates of literacy and social trust.
The glow of utopia is hard to miss. However, there is a problem. If raising the tax on cigarettes, alcohol and petrol is assumed to reduce smoking, drinking and driving, shouldn’t we consider the possibility that a 50% tax rate will also affect behaviour? And given the possible negative fallout of this 50% rate and the subsequent reduction of enterprise and tax revenue, it isn’t clear how all of this “social justice” will be paid for once the wealthy have been demoralised, exiled or taxed to buggery. Still, a society in which the rich are less rich with little or no long-term benefit to the poor still qualifies as a “more equal society.” And perhaps what matters, at least to Mr Milne, is that the wealthy are punished for, well, being wealthy.