jeudi 14 août 2008

The politics of envy

Over at the ever excellent throughthescarydoor a disection of the recent post by Polly Toynbee at the Guardian blog (one can hardly call it a newspaper anymore after its recent performance during the spat between Russia and Georgia. . .) concerning the rich. The rich, will they always be with us? The article is well written and informative - unusual for something by the old new Labour hackette. Many things stand out - but one particularly unsupportable moment more than the others. Faced with criticism for their lack of social awareness, one of the rich list focus groups cries out "The Politics of envy!"

"Even when confronted with that evidence, [that 'The poor are hit hard by VAT and other indirect taxes: they spend relatively more on taxable goods and services.'] the bankers especially gave the crudest response, saying flatly that they contributed more in cash - denying the point of a progressive tax system, which is that higher earners pay a larger proportionate share.
"Politics of envy!" one lawyer exploded furiously. "I really object because what it does is take the whole emphasis and focus away into something that's totally irrelevant and won't help a poor person at all."

Yes, one thing the rich are all united on is that giving money to the poor just won't help them at all. ("They were contemptuous of anything that gave extra money directly to poorer people.")The general 'argument' though that any giving way on taxation redistributively so, would be a concession to the PoE, is usually presented with a flourish by supporters of the right and rich as an argument-ending blockbuster of a contribution.

It isn't of course. But it is to the type of social democracy still defended by Toynbee is. She ends her piece by reflecting that "They could not see that the pleasure they derived from possessions, prospects and doing well by their children is universal and that others deserve a share of that, too." This is to present political economy as an inevitable zero sum gain. The production of goods and services cannot be organised any other way other than it is now under actually exisiting 'toolate' capitalism.

We revolutionaries object to the very idea that ". . .others deserve a share of that too." It is not the divvying up of the ill-gotten gains that is the problem, but the means of their production that creates the anti-social divisions of class that Toynbee rightly feels uneasy about. It is not that we think society should just make the lives of the poor slightly better or more 'radically' swap the poor and the rich's places. It is to fundamentally attack the grounds on which the whole edifice stands.

And, of course, it is not 'envy' that motivates us. As if socialism were based soley on the resentment of some fat idiot having a gold plated yacht, sixty rolexes and a genital masseur or whatever.

It is grounded in a justifiable rage against the squandering of resources and lives that keeps their whole sordid system going. And that anger is growing and getting stronger and taking shape.

They are afraid and right to be, those rich bastards.