by Elizabeth Oldfield
Friday, 19
June 2020
Idea
07:00

Inequality is not a ‘Left-wing’ issue

More and more voices on the Right are expressing concern
by Elizabeth Oldfield
Keir Starmer during the Labour leadership contest

Economic inequality is one of the defining issues of our time. Its effects can be discerned in all those issues that more obviously dominate our political life — race, immigration, populism, the EU. It doesn’t get tackled with much political will, however, for one primary reason. It is seen to be ‘owned’ by the Left. The Right in the UK has preferred to speak of ‘equality of opportunity’ and ‘levelling up’ or the straightforward relief of absolute poverty, hampered by fears of state overreach and the shadowy legacy of communism.

Even prior to the pandemic, this was changing.

Earlier this year, Tim Pitt, former conservative advisor to Sajid Javid and Philip Hammond, was arguing in the FT (itself becoming more vocal on the issue) that there were authentically conservative reasons to care about economic inequality — the way it stymies social mobility, hinders growth and threatens social order. In these pages Peter Franklin has been expanding on this, laying out the ways that rampant inequality is driving our dangerous times. Prior to the Trump presidency, there were signs that even Republican candidates had started taking the issue seriously in the US, and they may well need to again.

If you are a straightforward conservative then, there are good reasons to think seriously about reducing inequalities of income and wealth. For those of us who are questioning the very premises on which both current Left and Right-wing orthodoxies rest – that we are rational, utility-maximising individuals — the case is more stark. A tip back towards emphasising rootedness, connectedness and responsibility to others requires us to pay more attention to the way our relationships — including our economic ones — contribute to, or undermine, the common good.

I am most convinced not by the pragmatic economic or sociological arguments, though they are persuasive, but that of character. In Theos’ new report, Simon Perfect argues that high economic inequality makes sin more likely, but you don’t have to buy into the theological language to understand what he means. High inequality creates a terrible environment for the development of virtuous citizens; the rich opt out by isolating themselves from the world’s problems, leaving them with a distorted sense of reality. Meanwhile, those at the bottom of the pile feel envy, resentment and despair. As such, it becomes harder to build social bonds across society.

For rich and poor, the dignity of shared responsibility to each other is humanising and builds trust. And as the pandemic reveals a brief moment of shared vulnerability, now is a good moment to try to face up to the challenge.

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Clive Mitchell
Clive Mitchell
2 years ago

I agree with the article, I am not against inequality of income. I am happy that some earn significantly more than others, but there is a point where this ceases to be socially useful and becomes toxic. Some of the wealthy elite remind me of the European monarchies of the 18th Century. Cut off, arrogant, decadent and morally corrupt. We need a society where all feel a need to engage in it. The risk of not addressing this issue is that capitalism becomes tainted by association. If we don’t address this, it’s the left that will benefit.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 years ago

That’s all sorted then. Economic redistribution if we vote left, economic redistribution if we vote right; economic confiscation if we vote Left, economic confiscation if we vote Right.

Not much point being enterprising or risk taking. Stay in bed and the government (or taxpayer, as we used to think of it) will pay

Very silly article

Richard Hazell
Richard Hazell
2 years ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Most governments redistribute wealth from rich to poor and always have done. Those that don’t are voted out of office or overthrown. The trick is to do enough of it to keep the masses happy but without stifling those who create the wealth in the first place.

Howard Medwell
Howard Medwell
2 years ago

Maybe the elite are worried about inequality, but it’s a vote- winner in Britain – our two most successful politicians, Thatcher and Blair, were all for inequality, though in Blair’s case he was in favour of equal opportunities, i.e. equal rights to be unequal. My guess is that inequality is still a vote-winner in Britain

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
2 years ago

I think the premise of this argument is naive. You mention sin and suggest that it can be ameliorated by economic equality.
If we define sin as deep rooted selfishness in the heart of every human being economic equality is not going to deal with it. One of the reasons for the election of Margaret Thatcher was the drive for economic equality by the Trade Unions which became an exercise in corporate selfishness which brought Britain to its knees.
A good society can be established when the sin within each one of us is confronted leading to inner transformation. Citizens who have become new people by the love and forgiveness of God and live that way consistently may have a chance of building a better society. The history of Christian revivals shows that to be true.

Dr
Dr
2 years ago

There’s nothing quite as offensive as speaking the truth.

eyeore1915
eyeore1915
2 years ago

You might also ask why the climate emergency is believed by too many on the right, to be a left wing scam.

William Gladstone
William Gladstone
2 years ago
Reply to  eyeore1915

I don’t think its a left wing scam, I think it is a globalist scam to get people to accept lower living standards whilst keeping the rich (right or left) rich.

D Herman
D Herman
2 years ago
Reply to  eyeore1915

How long have you got Edward?

David Simpson
David Simpson
2 years ago
Reply to  eyeore1915

It was also a scam started amusingly enough by the late Margaret Thatcher as a clever wheeze to offshore our coal industry and promote nuclear power

William Gladstone
William Gladstone
2 years ago

Yes you are right, If you feel you have a fair chance and that everyone is paying their fair share then you get better social cohesion. I also think you will get better productivity as a side benefit.

Oliver McCarthy
Oliver McCarthy
2 years ago

You call these voices from “the Right”?

Really?

Liberal Tory underling has-beens?

Really?

William MacDougall
William MacDougall
2 years ago

A very mistaken notion. If we concede on inequality then we sell the pass. Of course we should be very concerned about absolute poverty, but often increasing inequality might help reduce absolute poverty; there is no case for inequality reduction that reduces tax
revenue. As well as damaging the economy and poverty reduction, concern about inequality is fundamentally based on envy, a socially damaging sin that should not be encouraged. It’s like breaking Beckham’s legs to make football players equal…

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
2 years ago

Heart warming.

In addition to these invaluable interventions from the more compassionate wings of the Right, which might have possibly began with ‘The Spirit Level’, is the ever increasing possibility that humanity is reaching planetary thresholds which is going to limit resource availability and limit the economic growth that has traditionally allowed the Right to avoid a collective sense of responsibility.

If humanity has reached or is reaching a type of Malthusian Moment, then as Ed West has already pointed out, we may have to choose between neo-feudalism with the State playing an increasingly violent role or the State could become the democratic arbiter of just redistribution.

Already hardened Conservatives are getting angry that Boris and Co are taking a leftwards turn towards Red Toryism and so they clearly need educating about the deep interdependencies that enable Our Society to exist.

How do we placate these hardened Conservative concerns that the mob is coming after their wealth and privilages.

Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
2 years ago

Take an ordinary couple in ordinary jobs in an ordinary area. Compare the percentage of rent paid to net income in ,say, the 1960s to that prevailing today. Bingo! You have the principal reason for inequality and the need for food banks.

Tris Torrance
Tris Torrance
2 years ago

Elizabeth, Is there a proposal?

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
2 years ago

I don’t think discussing equality in the abstract is likely to generate any insight or agreement. It makes more sense to look at specific groups or individuals and ask what do they earn and own, how did they acquire their income and wealth, to what extent is what they are doing socially useful, what tax do they already pay and does this amount sound reasonable? I can see that some purists will say that these questions should not even be asked – everyone has a right to the fruits of their labour untaxed. If you think this, please go and read some Ayn Rand, but don’t expect to win any popular support.

Personally, as a generalisation I’d say that better off people generally do pay a fair share of tax, but there are inadequate checks and controls on senior executives, who basically pay themselves what they think they can get away with, using shareholders funds. But I suspect there are lots of loopholes in a vastly over-complex tax system that some/many rich people exploit in ways that most people would consider unacceptable. So I’d make company and individual tax returns publicly available, above a certain threshold, but basically including everyone who is not simply paying PAYE or whose only income is state benefits. I’d also greatly simplify the tax system.

John Broomfield
John Broomfield
2 years ago

It’s too soon to give up on equality of opportunity.

I was surprised not to read any recommendations to overcome the barriers to opportunity.

Promising equality of outcome is what the Left does with other people’s money.

Steve Craddock
Steve Craddock
2 years ago

I think the issues of inequality stem directly from the accumulation of vast wealth through providing dubiously highly valued labour, trust/company protection and offshoring of legacy wealth. All of which can combine to embue an individual with the real inequality super power of passive income generation.
It is this super power we need, as a society, to find a kryptonite for if we are ever truly going to be able to tackle economic inequality.
Now we can all get the benefit of passive income on a small scale when we try and inflation protect our rainy day savings in a building society perhaps, but this is very small beer indeed when you picture what occurs when really large amounts of money come together to work towards generating more of itself.
Given the original mutation to natural economics occured with the introduction of taxation to pay for common services supplied by the emerging state which started money circulation, this was further exacerbated later by the fledgling banks creation of promissory notes not backed by any real assets. The resulting emergence of this cancerous type of money which couldn’t have been predicted 2700yrs ago when coins first appeared, shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone as it has been discussed for several hundred years by our professional politicians and economists. What has now changed is that we can all see in our daily lives this vast wealth at work and play, effectively it is rubbed in our faces by our various media channels.
I think all is not lost though as just like the triangle for fire (fuel,oxygen and heat) where removing any one will prevent a fire starting the similar is true for economic inequality. The 3 key ingredients economic of the inequality triangle are dubiously highly valued labour, trust/company protected and offshored legacy wealth. I would target trust/company protections first and see what happens as i don’t think it will affect 95% of the population.

Peter KE
Peter KE
2 years ago

Poor article.

Helen Silvis
Helen Silvis
2 years ago

It’s a left-wing issue because the right have never ever cared about it or made any real effort to change it. Please!