I thought I'd been writing in the Sunday Times today when I read this:
In allowing himself to be bluffed by the super-rich, that they will emigrate if he properly taxes their earnings, Gordon Brown falls for the Mandy Rice-Davies retort: they would say that, wouldn't they. ...[P]roffered comparisons, such as between executives and Elton John and David Beckham, ignore the fact that such celebrities operate in a truly open market, do not determine their own incomes and, unlike City firms, receive no public money.
And I couldn't put a cigarette paper between the opinions I expressed in Hecklers and the logic of this paragraph:
The claim that executives with families well installed in London and country houses will suddenly vanish to Monaco or the Cayman Islands if not paid millions more each year (or if fully taxed on those millions) is absurd. It ignores the role of location, lifestyle and other nonpecuniary perks in a modern executive's career package.
As for this, it could have come from this blog:
A real sense of unfairness greeted the revelation that a number of the richest participants in economic success were, de facto, being subsidised by the rest through private equity tax evasion and/or nondomicilary status. The same anger was unleashed by the disclosure that a shift in the economy from manufacturing to financial services had led to a shift in profits to offshore tax havens.
The same might have been true of the following in the Observer:
Last week was also when prison officers had an unofficial strike over pay faced down by the government. Gordon Brown was unbending. The public sector could not afford deals in excess of 2 per cent, he intoned, because no risks could be taken with inflation.
In one way, he is right; the low inflation Britain has enjoyed for the past decade has been a great boon and it would be irresponsible to pay more. But when Britain tried to cap pay increases in both the private and public sectors - the so-called incomes policies - 30 years ago, it was seen as axiomatic that any pay norm should apply to everybody. Chief executives in particular had to give a lead and take their share in the suffering.
Or this from the same piece:
In conversation with a farmer friend recently, I was pulled up short. He waved towards the City skyline just visible from his farm and asked if anybody else I knew felt as personally undermined as he did by the scale of salaries that were now commonplace in the City. He felt it was ridiculous, but the knowledge that nothing he could ever do would be valued as highly as working for an investment bank left him feeling dissatisfied and devalued; to be a farmer was to be worthless. City salaries were making his chosen way of life feel third-rate.
I commiserated and told him that, far from being alone, there was vast evidence that inequality acted as a toxic influence on society for exactly the reasons he had expressed. Richard Wilkinson, professor of social epidemiology at Nottingham University, has researched the links between inequality and social dysfunctionality. People everywhere judge their value and contribution to society in relation to others in society as a whole, not just their immediate neighbours.
And the author of that bit correctly noted that Richard Wilkinson has shown that:
the more unequal a society the greater the sense of disaffection. Inequality always coexists with poor educational achievement, worse health outcomes, greater homicide rates and even shorter life expectancy.
It's a theme close to my heart.
So who were these two radicals? The first three quotes come from Simon Jenkins, so left wing he's a former editor of the Times and former political editor of the Economist. The last two are by Will Hutton. A little left of centre (maybe) but not by much, however measured.
These men are not radicals. They are grey haired, experienced, thinking men who've seen enough of life to tell what is right and wrong: to have that quality that is massively undervalued in our society but which is universally recognised as wisdom.
They can see that we are being held to ransom by a few, by their philosophy of greed, and it is a cancer in our society. Tax justice is not the only way to solve it, but it can make a significant contribution to doing so.
I think it will.