This morning the Today programme covered a major report about inequality being commissioned by the renowned Institute for Fiscal Studies which turns out to sustain the analysis of socialists. The top line was that: ‘Independent analysts are warning that inequalities in pay and economic opportunities in the UK represent a threat to economic prosperity and to democracy’.
The interview with Sir Angus Deayton at 7.10 is worth listening to. It shows a man deeply worried about the situation but unclear in theoretical terms how to interpret it.
He says that it is not always clear why inequality bothers people. It can be good or bad. People talk about inequality when they really mean poverty. He goes on to say that his inquiry is trying to find out what it is that bothers people about it, which bits are really troublesome and what we should do about it.
Asked if we are heading for the scale of income inequality seen in US he says that he didn’t quite say that but it’s true that many of the conditions in the US are now becoming “threats” here, including a huge increase in life expectancy between more and less educated people. Political inequality means many people feel they’re not represented at Westminster while others get whatever they want all the time.
Sir Angus comments that: ‘Income equality is important but not as important in explaining what’s happening in Britain today than inequality in access to education, access to health and political access’.
In the interview, Deayton went to argue that Everyone agrees that money obtained through doing good things for yourself and for others is good. What’s bad is people taking it away from others. ‘When people get rich by taking stuff away from others not making stuff - raising drug prices when the government lets you and ripping off the people who need them.’
Profound inequality both in income, wealth and power together with the consolidation of class structures as social mobility has come to an end are the real explanation of the underlying crises facing our country.
The IFS says it’s the largest ever survey of its kind to be conducted in the UK. Of course the Institute is hardly brimming with socialists and so they argue that not all inequality is indefensible and that some may indeed be inevitable.
But the truth is that inequality is built into the very structures of capitalism itself. Huge gaps in income, power and wealth arise from a rigged or broken system and the IFS accept that this can be hugely damaging not only to our economy and our wealth but to our democracy.
However, if as we believe inequality in wealth and income is intrinsic to the capitalist system and is especially acute in this neoliberal era, then you can expect that it is reflected in the political system too. The IFS show they are aware of this fact though they claim to want to avoid inequalities in political power which inevitably then can lead to a break down in consent to the way we are governed.
The IFS is asking the right questions without doubt. But they are a bit late on to the subject since there is clearly a breakdown in consent to the way we are governed. You only have to look at recent political developments for a few moments to acknowledge how deep the crisis of ruling class hegemony has become.
Though the attempt by elements in the liberal part of the British Establishment to understand what is happening are welcome, no amount of tinkering with the present structures will restore consent. We need transformational change of the type which Socialist analyst leads to in order to remedy the current malaise.
Press Watch is a look at the day's news by Labour MPs.