The UK debate has been depressing during and after the deep recession of the last decade. There has been much discussion of how to share the diminished income and output, with rather less talk of how more people can own more and participate more fully in the economic life of our country. Recently there has been enthusiastic discussion of how to tax rich people and companies more, with no discussion of how more people can be well off and more can own and run their own successful companies. If we get better at generating more wealth, there might be less bitterness about how to distribute what we already have achieved.
It is a common British attitude that things should be fair. Some on the left interpret that as meaning they should be equal. That is not the majority view. Many people’s idea of fairness encompasses the opinion that those who work hard, achieve to high standards, perform well should be entitled to earn more and keep more of their earnings. There is surprisingly little resentment of the fabulous income and wealth of many footballers, and little envy of the earnings of pop stars, top tv talent or even of successful entrepreneurs like Mr Branson. There is resentment of high salaries in both the public and private sectors for leaders who do not have distinctive talent, or who fail to lead well, or who preside over chaos or corruption.
The tax debate has been typically negative. Doubtless there are some who have got away with evasion without prosecution or even without being made to pay back what they should have paid. We all wish to see them pursued successfully and energetically. As some critics of tax avoidance have discovered, their own family tax and legal affairs can be complicated. Once you start to hurl allegations around about particular individuals avoiding too much tax, others will think they are entitled to know whether you yourself have ever used legal tax avoidance methods. As many of you have remarked, MPs who dislike current legal avoidance should change the law.
Tomorrow I want to look at some positive ideas on how we can promote an ownership society. If more have a realistic chance to earn well and build some wealth if they wish to put in the effort, it will help social mobility and satisfy many people’s sense of fairness. We need some optimism, some sense that opportunity can defeat injustice, some guidance that shows the future can and will be better than the past. Bring on hope. Elections based on fear and jealousy are not good for a society. The way to help the poor is generate a more prosperous society that has more money to share, more buying of goods and services to generate more jobs, and more tax revenue to help those in need.