One of the most powerful and emotionally appealing arguments for liberal economic (low tax, low regulation) is as follows:
“I work hard for my stuff, why shouldn’t I be able to keep it. If you tax my stuff and give it to people who don’t work hard then we’ll just have loads of lazy people”.
It is a good argument. Simple, easy to understand. Who hasn’t as a child at some point been forced to share your sweets? Who hasn’t worked hard for something and had it unfairly taken away? The idea of something that is rightfully yours being stolen from you, it sucks.
Then worse, the people taking your stuff are politicians, civil servants, lazy pen pushers who haven’t had a real job in their life. Are they even real people? Money is mismanaged, people are bribed. Government institutions are full of corruption and snowflakes, people who mean well but do not get anything done [edit: Just to be crystal clear to any of my colleagues in the public sector I am being ironic here]. You try to engage with the left, to raise these points that are really just common sense, but get shouted down by students, who don’t understand the real world, and bitter people who by now really should know better. To add insult to injury these dirty leftists accuse you of not working hard or really earning your stuff in the first place. But you know you worked hard for your stuff. You put in night shifts, endured bullying, made tough decisions the intellectuals do not know a thing about and now they want to take your stuff away from you.
Like I say it is a powerful argument. Just writing now I can feel my religious, Daily Mail reading, teenage self rearing his Thatcher and dandruffs filled head. But I am being a bit unfair to teenage Nick and the right here. It is fair to want to work hard. It is legitimate to want to keep what you worked for and I think left’s response should not be “well you don’t really deserve what you have”.
So lets take a step back because “I want to keep my stuff” in political terms is simply the idea that hard work should be rewarded. Believe it or not or not the statement hard work hard should be rewarded is something the left and right both agree on and just disagree over how to achieve. The right’s solution, less tax, is basically saying capitalism works (or is the best way to achieve this). Those who work hard always rise to the top and government just needs to get out the way. Higher pay from lower tax is your reward, you have won the race, so enjoy your prize money. The left’s solution, tax, regulation government initiatives is different. The argument goes that capitalism doesn’t always rewards people with the most talent and those who work the hardest. This is because privilege crowds out opportunities for talented hardworking people by handing them out to those born at the top.
Put simply the argument for taxation is: we are taking some of the prize money from the race you won because the race was rigged. You still get to keep most of it, but this part we are using to make the race fairer. If you really are a great runner you won’t mind because next time you run, a fairer race, you are still going to keep winning. And that is the point. If we want to live in a world where hard work pays and the best rise to the top we need to take on privilege. Because yes you work hard for your stuff but the society we live in, some people work just as hard and unfairly get either less or nothing.
If you are convinced that unregulated capitalism is better at achieving meritocracy, social mobility and rewarding hard work than government programmes promoting equality, Trade Unions and cultural change then this blog probably won’t changes your mind. Academics and experts on both sides wrangle over these things every day and I am just a guy with a blog. But books like the spirit level make the case better than I do that more equal societies generally do better. There is evidence from a variety of sources showing that the society we live in, based on free market economics, is not achieving good social mobility. Either way no-one is saying you do not work hard but we on the left are saying that we want everyone’s hard work to be rewarded and see tax as a way to achieve that.