#ranthill: our duty and our joy

today, Jeremy Cunt the Hulture Secretary will reveal the latest scheme designed to ‘establish’ a hulture of philanthropy (and justify tax breaks for the rich).

amongst all the rhetoric of introducing an ‘American style’ system of ‘conspicuous giving’ that is floating around, it seems to have escaped many people’s attention that, like almost every aspect of American hulture, their system is an instantiation of a British notion from a bygone era.

“let money fructify in the pockets of the people” is one of the most famous catchphrases (say what you see) of one of Britain’s most famous politicians, and is indicative of the economics of laissez faire that dominated the Victorian period.

this is almost exactly the rhetoric that lies behind today’s initiative. however, you probably won’t hear Gladstone quoted (after all, this is the announcement of a new, dynamic policy) – but you probably will hear commentators invoking ‘trickle-down’ imagery, which is equally old.

the image conjured is something like a pyramid of champagne glasses at an expensive wedding. the wine is poured in at the top (the rich) and once (and only once) it has filled the glasses there, it ‘trickles down’ and fills the glasses on the next level. and so on.

of course, one aspect of reality not encompassed by this cheerful imagery is the fact that the rich have very large champagne glasses which take a long time to fill. imagine a pyramid in which the more elevated the glass within the structure, the larger it is in comparison to those beneath it – of course it’s a difficult thing to picture, given that, in reality, such a structure would be woefully unstable and likely to collapse at any minute (hmmmmmmm …)

this, therefore, was the big issue (pun intended) with Gladstone’s idea – deep pockets take a long time to fill and come into ‘fruit’, and in the meantime the people at the bottom starve.

it was in response to the economic failures of nineteenth century toryism and the shocking evils of early twentieth century warfare, that the British welfare system and the NHS were established. the logic of these institutions was totally different. government was elected to serve the interests of the people, as defined through engagement with the political process. government was entrusted, through taxation, with the money to invest in welfare and the provision of that which benefitted the common good.

taxation expresses a duty on behalf of all to each. it also binds each working person into the political system – each having a palpable interest in how and where their tax is spent. as our American friends know best, there is rightly a working relationship between taxation and representation.

what is more, tax is taken ‘off the top’ at the source. it does not ‘fructify’ (i.e. sit in off-shore accounts earning interest) in anyone’s pockets before it enters the mechanisms of redistribution. those in need do not have to wait for the rich to get as rich as they feel they need to be before they can get some help to pay their rent. the dignity of those at the bottom is not dependant on the charitable whims of those at the top.

this is precisely why people saw ‘tax and spend’ welfarism as the only appropriate response to both the legacies of Victorian poverty and the horrors of the two world wars. furthermore, during the latter, british people had discovered that working together – rationing goods, helping neighbours, each ‘doing their duty’ – actually made for a better quality of life, even in extreme conditions.

the world wars constituted a profound challenge to the idea that human beings are innately good. and thus the Victorian idea that, having been given the chance to make as much money as possible, wealthy people would naturally want to give some away to those in need, lost much of its purchase. people vividly perceived that humans can be good if determined and directed, but in the same way they can also be terrible.

don’t get me wrong, the British culture of philanthropism did many great things. many public libraries, schools, hospitals, parks and so forth were built by successful entrepreneurs for the benefit of their localities (although it was never quite as it is in America today, where every bench and tree bears a benefactor’s plaque). the problem was, that few people wanted to do the less glamourous work of helping the poorest survive day-to-day.

it was not the grand largesse of Victorian philanthropy, but largely the dutiful and sacrificial service of Victorian Christians that propped up the system where it was weakest – movements like The Salvation Army and the YMCA mopped up the rotten ‘fruits’ of Gladstone’s labour. and, while it is true to say that such movements were to some extent the product of charity, the fact is that the kind of charity they exercised was not primarily the trickle-down kind of the rattling coin jar, but rather the self-sacrifical ideology of Christian love.

taxation is not a perfect system of wealth redistribution, and it is certainly at the mercy of political corruption, but, personally, i’d rather live with a common purse hostage to the potential for democratically elected and accountable corruption, than allow the richest corporations even larger tax breaks and place that money in the hands of those who, by will and law, must serve only the financial interests of themselves and their investors.

no-one particularly enjoys looking at their already meagre pay-slip and seeing how much money they have ‘lost’ to tax, but in reality we should celebrate the system and see it as ‘our duty and our joy’ to contribute to the common good. we all want good public transport, quality public health care, good schools, competent public emergency services, decent levels of public sanitation and so on (all the things the Victorians mostly lacked), so we should be happy to pay for them, together.

what we should also want, however, having done our duty and made our contributions, is to passionately ensure that government is held accountable for the proper use of our money. that means voting, yes, but also writing to your MP to express your wishes, joining unions and pressure groups which lobby government, and, where necessary, taking to the streets to express dissatisfaction. each of these avenues for influencing political process to some extent or another relies on the economic mandate that comes from taxation.

if you hate paying tax, and are persuaded by the rhetoric being spouted by Cunt and others, then I would ask you to do this: take a detailed look at American society and politics. America has more billionaires then any other country on the planet, one of the largest accountancy sectors (frantically working to help people avoid tax) and some of the hugest tax breaks for the rich and powerful:

Do they experience less political corruption? Does the average American have more political influence, more say in what goes on on Capital Hill? Do they have better public transport? A better school system? A better justice system? Do they have less unemployment? Is their’s a more stable economy? Do they have less poverty?
and frankly, if you think they do, then why not move there? and please take the current government with you. as for me, i believe in taxes – yeah, now who’s with me?

… hhello?

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