Thursday, October 04, 2007

Toynbee vs. Inequality

Hari has always impressed me with his insightful articles on a wide range of topics, and his ability to come to reasonable conclusions. I’ve always felt the social-democratic commentator Polly Toynbee concentrates too much on top-down methods of “solving” inequality.

7 out of Toynbee’s most recent 32 articles revolve around criticising the extremely wealthy for avoiding taxes, or the government for allowing the extremely wealthy to avoid taxes, or simply stating that executive pay is too large, the workers in the City are paid to much and it is disgraceful that the UK has become a tax haven.

She is right to say these things but I can’t help feeling that there are much bigger and more immediately practical issues to concentrate on, like the state of the bottom ten percent in terms of income, or the environment, or education. I suspect Toynbee has been suffering just as much as the rest of the upper middle classes when it comes to the recent influx of HNWIs and UHNWIs. My feeling is that there will always be rich people for whom the rules are slightly different, and I suspect that on balance these rich people are virtue-neutral, if not a slightly positive influences on our society. I think the biggest problem is that for anyone north of Slough, the problem is not extreme wealth (as it is in London) but extreme poverty, and Toynbee has found herself too far south of the border.

She should be concentrating her considerable talents as a polemicist on discussing ways for reducing poverty, not whining about the extremes of wealth that some enjoy. Obsessing over wealth makes her position unattractive to those she is trying to persuade (it reeks of the politics of envy) and alienates her from her natural supporters - the poor and the needy, for whom the world of non-doms, hedgies, private-equity barons and billionaire oligarchs remains frustratingly distant and inconsequential.

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