The Thatcherite “glorification of greed”

Ben Chu

kay 150x150 The Thatcherite glorification of greedThere’s a wonderful exchange in the first part of Michael Portillo’s new Radio 4 programme, Capitalism on Trial, in which the former Conservative cabinet minister puts the Thatcherite perspective on tax cuts and ethics to the economist John Kay.

Portillo: “I’m pretty sure that Margaret Thatcher’s view was that as rich people paid less tax they would feel more keenly their personal obligation to do more, particularly in a philanthropic way, and that would not only produce not only greater efficiency as people spend their own money better than states, she argued, but also a morally superior society because people would recognise their personal obligation and not feel that they acquitted them simply by paying their taxes.”

Kay: “Hmm. It’s been less true I think than one might have hoped. There are some people who do have a sense that having, as it were, taken a lot out, they have on obligation to give a lot back. But there are also a lot of people that feel having received a lot makes them morally superior as well as wealthier.”

Kay gives Thatcher credit for sorting out the unions. But adds this:

“There’s also an enduring legacy which we still haven’t coped with in Britain, firstly of legitimising selfishness, which is actually mostly bad for the effective functioning of a market economy, and also this essentially individualistic description of how markets work…the kind of glorification of greed and the belief that any restriction on that kind of greed or its consequences actually is going to be economically damaging. I don’t think markets are primarily about encouraging people to be greedy and I think they can function effectively only by virtue of a variety of both social and institutional constraints and expectations of how people behave.”

That sounds like the sort of post-Thatcher/post-Blair economic argument that Ed Miliband has been reaching for.

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  • Firozali A.Mulla

    Ben,Obama and jobs?????Jobs jobs jobs jobs jobs we have none?????• 1. A lot of people already have green jobs. Brookings found that there are currently 2.7 million jobs in the clean economy
    2. Green jobs are part of a growing, not a shrinking, sector of the economy – and some green industries are growing incredibly fast.
    3. The overall clean economy grew during the recession, but was not exempt from its impacts.
    4.That gets us to the next point: green jobs are spread across industries and occupations. You can find them in everything from research and development, to manufacturing, to construction and installation, to operations and maintenance, to retail and service.
    5. Green jobs are spread across regions, too
    Brookings found that of all regions in America, the South has the highest concentration of jobs in the broader clean economy.
    6. Green jobs are good jobs for all Americans, not just the small number with college degrees. Finally, Brookings found – as we and others have found in the past – that a lot of green jobs are in what are sometimes called “middle-skill” occupations, meaning that they require education and skills beyond high school, but not necessarily up to the four-year college level. Not written into your post is that oil will be short lived at this drilling rate. As though peak oil isn’t true? These wells are not the long lasting wells of Saudi Arabia. We will see next decade how long this oil energy flourish lasts. Yet there are 100,000 solar jobs compared to 80,000 coal jobs. The installed solar for this year will be double that of the previous year. We are looking at a trend of exponential growth in terms of install and the jobs needed for it. As solar prices drop this trend should accelerate. Just a simple build out so that air conditioners can run on solar during the daytime hours in just the Sun Belt will involve 10′s of millions of installations. Texas has about 6 million detached homes and trailers. Current build is probably similar to California, roughly 50,000 homes. So between Califonria and Texas alone there’s a possible build out of up to 10 million single family residences. This doesn’t include business or apartment installations. One nice benefit. If a lot of coal miners get laid off they can work in a much healthier outdoor environment as rooftop solar installers. One final note. California-based SolarCity Corp., was recently awarded a loan from the U.S. Energy Department to support solar installations at military residences and buildings in as many as 33 states including Texas. This is a $1 billion, five-year program to install 160,000 rooftop photovoltaic systems. The purpose of this is to make military installations less vulnerable to power grid interruptions. Alternative energy marches on. I have to wonder about the recent cheerleading regarding fossil fuel jobs. Yours is not the only opted piece with this slant.
    I thank you Firozali A.Mulla DBA

  • porkfright

    Ludicrous comment? They are beavering away for the day which they hope will come sooner rather than later.

  • AngryPancho

    “…Margaret Thatcher’s view was that as rich people paid less tax they would feel more keenly their personal obligation to do more…”

    More grabbing of food out of the mouths of babes, no doubt, notwithstanding Gates or Buffett.

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