Yesterday’s Telegraph headline was “The Return of Class Warfare”.  Apparently, the government’s decision to raise income tax on incomes over £150 000 to 50% is class warfare on par with Stalinist purges, etc.

Right now, if you make over £40 000, then you are in the top 10% of earners in the UK.  So, those on £150 000 are a wealthy minority indeed.  Taxing them 50% is not class warfare – it’s basic common sense.

On a 50% tax rate, you would still take home £75 000.  £75 000!!  I actually don’t know what I would do with that much money!!  I mean, there’s only so many pairs of shoes a person can own.  I love books – but you can only read so many at a time.  Also, there are charity shops, as well as this new-fangled invention called ‘a library’.  I like earrings, but I like cheap earrings I don’t have to worry about losing or breaking.  I own one really nice pair of pearl earrings that my favourite aunt (and godmother) bought me when I got married, and a really nice necklace I bought myself for my wedding.  And I wear them about once a year – they’re too nice to wear every day, they don’t match anything else I own, and I worry about losing them.  I suppose I could buy a house, but there’s just me and my partner, no children, so there’s not much point in buying a very big house is there?  Just  more cleaning to do (by which I mean, for my poor put-upon partner to do, as I am a slob).

At some point, I think people are obliged, not just practically but also ethically, to ask themselves – how much do I really need?  I’m not suggesting everyone should live a life of extreme asceticism.  Have fun!  Go to plays!  Go on holiday!  Buy that really nice pair of shoes!!  But at some point, it has to be recognised that no one needs 34 pairs of shoes, and that apples from Waitrose taste the exact same as apples from Aldi.  Having a 3 bedroom house when you live alone is actually immoral in a country where others are homeless.

I also think people who are making anywhere near £40K + are obliged to step back and recognise how lucky they are, financially (unless of course they are supporting 6 children with that one salary or something).   My partner and I are both working, both making middle-class salaries, for the first time since we’ve met.    Our combined income is about £40 K, and you know what – we’re doing really well.  It’s a huge change from last year, when we were living on my salary alone (which worked out to both of us working full-time for less than minimum wage), and each heating bill was a major crisis.  At the moment, if we weren’t trying to pay off our myriad debts before deflation sets in, we’d have ludicrous amounts of disposable income.  I’d be able to actually buy stuff at Monsoon instead of just looking longingly through the window (not a lot of stuff, mind you).  So when a couple in The Guardian talks about struggling to get buy on twice as much – I’m sorry, but my sympathy is limited. 

With all the panic about the Recession, there’s very little concern for the people who are going to be hurt the most.  There is this weird disjuncture between the “money-saving tips” found in The Guardian and the rash of new budget books, and the actual lives of a lot of people in the UK.  Most of the “money-saving tips” are things I’ve been doing my entire adult life, out of economic necessity at first, and then later, out of a dislike of waste.  Of course you should plan out your meals for the week and then draw up a grocery list, rather than just buying food at random.  Not only will you save money, but you won’t waste food.

But there are a lot of people who have either been doing this already, or for whom this is already extravagant – people who go to Asda, buy whatever is on sale, and then work out what can be made with it, even if it’s not terribly nutritious.  They can’t cut back anymore,  not without giving up food, or heating.  There’s a phrase used in Toronto to describe the situation of people on minimum wage or benefits – “Pay the rent OR feed the kids.” 

There is nothing in this budget that is going to really help those people – child benefit has gone up a pathetic £20/year. 

So yes, if you make £150 000/year – you should be paying at least 50% tax.  Outside of London, if you make £40 000/year, you are comfortably upper middle class (and in London, comfortably middle class).  If you are making more than £20 000 and you have no children, then you are doing better than at least half the country.

Actual class warfare would involve massive redistributions of wealth, so that no one is wondering how they’re going to make rent this month.  It would involve a mainstream media that recognises that going out for dinner once a week instead of twice a week is not a “money-saving tip” if you’re struggling to pay for groceries.  And it would involve all of us who are middle-class seriously reconsidering our priorities, and recognising the difference between “want” and “need.”

I’m Back!

January 13, 2009

I’ve been in Canada for the last two weeks (and am now so badly jetlagged I can barely remember my own name).   Apologies for the lack of posts, and the delay in approving comments.

I was in Toronto visiting my family when Barack Obama clinched the Democratic nomination.  Watching his acceptance speech on tv, I turned to my brother and said “can you imagine that things might actually get better?”

 The September 11th bombings happened almost 3 months before my 21stbirthday.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that my entire adult life has been defined by things getting worse politically.  The left has been in a period of reaction; with a few exceptions (like the campaign to legalise gay marriage) we’ve been forced to re-fight old battles, forced to fight to hang on to victories that we thought had been won years ago.  Suddenly torture is acceptable again; suddenly foreign nationals need id cards; suddenly internment, both of suspected terrorists (Guantanamo Bay) and asylum seekers, is back on the political agenda.  I feel myself getting nostalgic for the alter-globalisation movement, despite its flaws, because it represented a step forward for international justice.  At the moment, all we can do, it seems, is try maintain our places, try to prevent ourselves from being pushed too far back by the forces of injustice.

 All of this has coincided with an increasing democratic deficit.  Millions marched against the war in Iraq in the UK – and it happened anyway.  I don’t know anyone who thinks that ID cards are a good idea – but I also don’t know anyone who takes it for granted that the government is going to go ahead nonetheless.  Who do we vote for in the UK?!?  The Tories are right out, obviously.  So there’s a Labour party that isn’t all that left-wing before and is developing increasingly xenophobic policies while curtailing our civil liberties.  There’s the Lib-Dems, who are actually really good about civil liberties and migrant rights – but their economic policy changes every 20 minutes, and they’re not all that concerned about distribution of wealth, or poverty.

 I don’t know how much Obama is going to change.  I’m cycling between profound scepticism and wild optimism at the moment.  He’s not all that left-wing, and he believes in “civil union” rather than gay marriage – but he praised the Supreme Court’s Decision to reinstate Habeas Corpus to detainees in Guantanamo!  Maybe he’ll shut down Guantanamo!!   He is in favour of continuing the wars in Afghanistan and has suggested he would send troops into Pakistan to fight pro-Taliban militants there – but he would sit down and talk with the leaders of Iran rather than just declaring war and setting off WWIII!!!  What I’m most optimistic about is that Obama seems genuinely concerned with bridging the democratic deficit.  His time as a community organiser served him well in his campaign, as he was able to create an incredibly efficient and effective on-the-ground organising machine.  His acceptance speech emphasised that change comes from below, not (just) from above.  He spoke of working with ordinary people, and I actually believe he means it.

 If Obama turns out to be a bad president, it will be devastating – it will pretty well prove that, as the saying goes “if voting could change anything, it would be illegal”.  But if he’s a good president – not revolutionary, but does succeed in improving people’s lives and ends some of the more appalling abuses of power in America right now (like torture) – he could restore a lot of people’s faith in the ability of government to bring positive change to people’s lives.

But I’ve been busy with real life.  Also, 3 comments were caught in my spam queue which were not spam, so sorry to those of you who were temporarily prevented from commenting.

In clarification to one of the comments:  I’m a Canadian living in the UK.

But sometimes I get depressed and have to hide under my covers for a while.

What’s the procedure for adding a blog to your blogroll?  Should you leave a comment in the person’s blog asking permission?  Or can you just add away?