The Thatcherite “glorification of greed”
There’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.Tagged in: capitalism, greed, John Kay, Michael Portillo, radio 4
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