Posts Tagged ‘Inherited Wealth’

Social Darwinism and Alan Duncan’s Defence of Offshore Tax Havens

April 19, 2016

In the controversy over Dodgy Dave’s tax avoidance and the rich’s use of offshore tax havens to avoid paying their share of the nation’s finances, the Tory MP Alan Duncan stood up in parliament to defend his master. He argued that it was wrong to close them down, as this would penalise ‘achievers’ and stop them entering parliament. It wasn’t quite a Social Darwinist spiel, but it was almost there. It had most of the assumptions.

It took for granted that the rich had acquired their money through their own efforts, and that, as naturally gifted people, who had risen economically to the top of society, they also had a natural right to lead. None of this automatically follows. Firstly, probably the majority of the rich aren’t achievers in the sense that they haven’t earned their riches. It was already accumulated for them by rich ancestors. This is certainly the case for the aristocracy, and also for the big business dynasties. And they’re supported by important social and financial networks that ordinary mortals don’t have access to. The early Utopian Socialist Saint-Simon recommended the abolition of inherited wealth, so that the individuals in each generation would start out on a level playing field, and have to make their own money. I wonder just how many of Duncan’s ‘achievers’ would rise to their positions of eminence if that was the case, and they had to start out in council houses and in suburban housing estates with everyone else. Possibly very few.

Secondly, the tactics the rich have used to hang on to their money and retain their privilege are blocking opportunities for everyone else. Under New Labour, which was enthusiastically Thatcherite, social mobility had almost ceased. Now I think it’s stopped altogether. This isn’t an accident. Policies like the introduction and raising of tuition fees to exorbitant levels, and paying low wages so that employees cannot acquire the capital to start their own businesses naturally have the effect ensuring that those at the bottom of society cannot afford to take the opportunities that the rich take for granted. Duncan’s ‘high achievers’ in actual fact are the dead hand of the wealth past stifling achievement and innovation in the present.

And then there’s the whole assumption that because they’re good at business, somehow this entitles them to political leadership. This is obviously false, because capitalism, at least in its neo-liberal variety, is geared to enriching the few at the expense of the many. Hence the trickle-down economics, which has seen the tax burden shifted on to the poor to subsidize the wealthy, demands for wage restraint and labour fluidity, so that workers can be hired and fired easily. The result has been a massive growth in poverty, with about 4.7 million people in Britain now wondering where they’re going to get their next meal from. All to benefit Duncan’s ‘achievers’.

Duncan had to apologise for his speech. Who knows, he may have been sincere when he did so. But it showed the underlying snobbery and class bias underneath Conservatism. Marxists used to consider the ‘creators of wealth’ to be the workers, as in the slogan, ‘all wealth to the creators of wealth’. The loyal followers of Milton Friedman got hold of the phrase, and decided that the ‘creators of wealth’ were entrepreneurs, and, in particular, the financial sector. The result has been over three decades of such snobbish rhetoric, of which Alan Duncan’s latest speech was just the latest example. It’s high time this was brought to an end, and the neo-liberal policies scrapped so that real achievement can be made possible, and working people can enjoy their share as ‘creators of wealth.’