Wednesday, November 26, 2014

'Champagne Socialism' makes me very cross

I have never in my life been accused of being a champagne socialist but it's probably only a matter of time. My father was a salesman and mother was a nurse. When we were small, my mother cut my hair. I was of the first generation of my family to go to university. We never had foreign holidays but we never went hungry either. School represented no real quandary - we went to the nearest.

These days my lifestyle is a bit different. I am a surgical registrar and my income is both a lot more than the average in this country and more than most people I know. I own a second property which is let out and I have an expensive hobby. To be honest, I'm more of a scotch-socialist than the champagne variety. On the other hand, I work more hours than almost everyone I know and a lot more than I'm paid for. I have got here by a combination of very hard work, talent, persistence and yes, opportunity. I do a difficult and often stressful job that has significant (in my view) social value. For example, I took an appendix out of a 9 year old last week. He's fine now; before surgery was invented, appendicitis had a 60-90% mortality. The other night I assisted a consultant operating on a seriously ill newborn baby. This is a very typical week.

The thing is, I really believe higher earners should pay higher taxes. Including me. I really believe we need to get serious about taxing unearned income at a higher (rather than, as currently, lower) rate than earned income. What is so perverse about the argument in my view is the cynicism. One apparently cannot be well-off and left of centre without being a hypocrite. Which is of course ridiculous. In so many areas of life people act out of altruism. Many argue vociferously that taxes should be minimized because 'what I earn is mine and you shouldn't take it away.' This appeal to the moral is deeply misguided in my view because it's grain of truth will not stretch anywhere near that far. Firstly, as I said unearned income is taxed way below earned income. We live in a rentier society. Moreover 'I earned it' misses out several key steps; any wealth any of us can have depends entirely on living in a secure society to make that possible. It depends on educational opportunites it depends on the infrastructure of the nation that makes wealth generation possible, it depends on national security, it depends on access to healthcare - and also to the general health of those around me (being in a healthy society makes me less at risk of disease). It also, incidentally depends on access to the earth's resources (such as land and energy and raw materials) which apparently don't somehow belong to all of us. Surely those who benefit most from these things should pay the most towards them. And do so proportionally.

However this is not the main issue. The main issue is that systematically we have a rent-based economy which is designed for (and very effective at) concentration of wealth. The great lie of my generation is that wealth is achieved on merit. It really isn't. So we have a system that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer and then blames the poor for their own poverty. To be against this and poor is to show class envy. To be comfortable and against it is hypocrisy; as if many don't work very hard and far more than they are paid for and produce social goods and give generously to charity. And yet if you think this, apparently you're not allowed any luxuries. Whereas if you tell yourself and the world that you deserve everything you have then it's ok to sneer at the poor and disadvantaged.

So anyway, I am and suspect, I will always remain a socialist. Proudly believing in democracy, proudly believing in our collective responsibility to each other - and still drinking the occasional single malt.


P.S. This is number two on my list of phrases that immediately identify the person using it as an idiot.

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