19 February 2009

Billy Bragg's Surcharge

This is my Comment to Billy' piece in the Guardian.
The Right rarely anymore try to justify earnings that are exorbitant, they just claim that it is too difficult to tax the rich. In this they are currently correct, until we have a global crackdown on tax havens etc, Bragg's suggestion is not going to reap the revenues he suggests (although it will bring in some revenue, which is why the rich always squeal at such suggestions).

The sad thing about the inevitable return of the Tories to government (apart from the fact that Labour failed to honour its promise on electoral reform that would have protected us from such Tory minority rule) is that they are only going to cut taxes and public spending to benefit the rich.

Those of us earning less than the average wage of £24k are going to suffer most by the increase in the Defence budget and the scrapping of IHT and savings taxes for the wealthy. Social services and local amenities will be hit hardest and the poorest rely on these more than most.

Those who argue public spending is not good value should compare our NHS to the inefficient private sector healthcare in the US - a country with the highest per capita health spending in the world - but tens of millions uninsured and tens of millions more receiving poor cover. It is bogged down in ineffiencies - where even millionaires go bankrupt trying to afford health bills that have quadrupled in the last few years. Looking at the current mess in the deregulated financial sector only confirms that leaving it to 'market forces' is not always the best solution.

Reducing this argument to 'big' v 'small' government, 'high' v 'low' taxes is puerile. Lets facilitate the market where it works well and expand government where the market fails. Lets use 'high' taxation to redistribute wealth - which is the will of the majority (if only our electoral system and media would reflect that) - the best and most efficient way being to pay a basic decent income to all (not means tested) - something that both right and left can agree upon. Nobody 'deserves' salaries in the millions - the morality of the rich is far worse than the morality of the benefit cheat that gets all the publicity. To say £60 a week is too much because people are refusing to work, is perverse - nobody is living a comfortable life on such amounts. The real problem is that wages are too low at the bottom and too high at the top - when it is not possible to earn a living wage while working full-time it is little wonder that people turn idle or worse to crime and despair. It will benefit us all to increase the morality of the rich and make them realise how their greed is responsible for the poverty and morality of the poorest.


  1. I agree with the thrust of the Billy Bragg piece. I remain an unashamed "tax and spend liberal" as the Americans call it. You are probably right that the revenue produced by a surtax would not be very significant, but, as Polly Toynbee (but hardly anyone else) has often pointed out, that's not really the point: it is the symbolic significance that is important. When people see the grotesquely rich getting away with paying hardly any tax, they are left with a sense of injustice. This is why the right-wing cry that this is just "the politics of envy" is so wide of the mark. It's a simple matter of fairness.

  2. pzt, Mein Gott.

    You admit that it wouldn't be an effective measure but say that its the symbolic significance that is important.

    How then is it anything other than "the politics of envy"?

  3. Because 'envy' implies there is something unjust about putting a stop to excess salaries. If these people actually deserved their millions then perhaps you could argue it was the politics of envy. Of course it is just a perversion of market forces that pays people at the top so much. It is moral and just that this is put right. It is time those at the top had their morals examined for siphoning off millions rather than 'benefit cheats' who live on peanuts.