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Monthly Archives: May 2020

Well, it’s happened before so it’s hardly surprising that we’re returning to consideration of “hard choices” and “austerity”. All the signs are that the established left will again play a part in ensuring that debate and courses of action will be limited, and will help to guarantee “austerity” while striking an “anti-austerity” pose.

What they most assuredly will not do is ask, “Are there other hard choices that we might consider, choices that might be unthinkable outside of a crisis?” or agree, “Of course public spending will have to be cut in order to preserve a functioning state.” and then ask, “How can public spending be cut in such a way that it primarily affects the rich?”

The rich? Deciding who is rich will always be controversial but something blunt can be said.

The majority of the rich work a neat trick. They exclude themselves by defining the rich as belonging to the 1%. Then for the majority of the rich the obvious way to preserve their privileged position is to say, take from the 1%. That’s fine but their corollary, that nothing must change until the 1% are tackled, is not fine. It’s evasive nonsense of course but oddly enough it is generally supported by the left.

Ordinary people – those on low incomes or the average industrial wage or the median income or even a fair bit above that—would not come to an easy agreement on what constitutes rich but it’s safe to suggest that all would regard as rich someone having an income of 150k p.a. The majority would regard an income of 100k as qualifying. Many would go lower. The point is that ordinary people think that rich reaches far lower than that 1%.

The established left disagrees. They will not interrogate the terms “hard choices” and “austerity”. Why? Because exploring, then listing, an expanded range of hard choices would draw anti-austerity activists into a real assault on a structure of inequality which is within reach of change. It’s much more agreeable to target the 1%, the banks, corporations, tax exiles etc. Indeed any curse of God thing can be targeted as long as the structure of relative advantage is maintained.

It’s likely that there are many hard choices beyond the conservative ritual but how about this for just ONE extra hard choice: let’s choose to place a ceiling on public service pay such as would achieve a required saving in public expenditure. Howls! Why the howls? Because it wouldn’t be … wait for it … fair. Ah, “fairness”, a notion most suited to operating within an established set of rules. It’s the word used to maintain relative advantage. It’s a refuge for conservatism.

There is too a variation on fairness and it is expressed in a self-absorbed take on equality. It defends inequality in public sector pay by saying that change cannot be applied to public sector workers in isolation, that nothing should happen until incomes in the private sector can be similarly treated. As a form of argument this is often encountered in a very different realm; it is used against putting war criminals on trial. In this regard it goes like this: no war criminal should face charges unless all face charges because to do otherwise would be …yes, unfair. Whether it is used against reforming income inequality or protecting monsters, it is a bizarre, conservative argument, deployed to prevent progress.

Then there’s what might be termed, decile defence. It has become routine to segment the range of income into deciles. The implication is that a top income ten times the bottom is normal, established. Moreover, not everyone in that top segment is a mere ten times; it includes much greater multiples. Uncritical discussion is how normalisation works. When a leftist deals with – discusses in any way – a ten tier ordering of income and does so without a word of criticism, they aid its normalisation; they take up a conservative position.

There is no question of saying that the establishment of decent or sane multiples is a panacea. What is odd is the degree to which anti-austerity by opposing all cuts has become conservative; it defends the incomes of people who are among the top earners in the country.