I agree with President Biden: trickle-down economics don’t work. The idea is that instead of ensuring a more equitable division of the cake, you make the cake bigger. The economy must grow. So you don’t discourage the multinational energy companies by imposing a windfall tax on them. You don’t make the UK “unattractive” for inward investors. You remove the cap on bankers’ bonuses so that the financial sector will attract “the best minds”. The poor get richer precisely because the rich get richer. But didn’t Her Late Majesty ask Gordon Brown, when he was PM in 2008, how come the bankers got it all wrong?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never received a bonus in my life. Not quite true. When I did my paper round as a schoolboy for £1 a week – good money at the time – I would get £2 at Christmas. That was my last bonus. I certainly never received a bonus throughout my medical career, and indeed I never got extra pay for overtime. Indeed, the longer I worked, the poorer the hourly rate became. I was like one of these labourers in Jesus’ parable who toils and sweats all day and then gets the same as the guy who comes along at the end to put in an hour’s graft.
The gap between the rich and the poor is a recurring theme in the parables. It doesn’t appear that Jesus believed in trickle-down economics any more than President Biden. A virtuous young man asked Our Lord what he needed to do, aside from keeping the commandments, to live a perfect life. Jesus advised him to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. The man went away, exceeding sorrowful, for he was very wealthy. That figures. My experience of wealthy people is that they are very careful with their money. That is why they are wealthy, because they know how to accrue wealth. The acquisition of money is likely to be their central preoccupation. Jesus clearly thought such a preoccupation was inherently absurd, and he advised his disciples that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. I’ve heard it said that a tiny door beside the main gate to Jerusalem was nicknamed “the eye of the needle”, but in any case Jesus conjured an inherently farcical image.
Wealthy people tend to occupy positions of power and influence, and it is hardly surprising to find that they favour financial systems which protect their wealth, and the status quo. They dwell in closed and fortified communities, their gates festooned with security cameras. When they venture out into the world, they do so in bullet-proof limousines with darkened windows. As the gap between rich and poor increases, the society becomes more fractured and, eventually, more violent.
Mr Kwarteng defended his decision to cut taxes with the sweetener that more money is going into everybody’s pocket. But at the same time, a massive bail-out for everybody’s energy bill is going to cost even more than the Covid furlough scheme, and if the Chancellor is not going to raise the money by taxes, he will have to borrow it. Soon, if not already, the UK debt will be eye-wateringly vast. (Incidentally, have you noticed the way in which the media tell us the annual household energy cap will be £2,500? This is untrue. There will be a cap on the kilowatt hour price, such that an average household will pay something in the order of £2,500 per annum. That should be made clear.) But how else can we cut energy costs long term? We mustn’t be dependent upon Mr Putin’s turning on and off the gas taps on a whim; so, says the government, we need to restart drilling and fracking for oil and gas. COP26 is history.
While all this is going on, various societal structures are fracturing. For example, the National Health Service is under intolerable strain, and winter is still more than two months away. Ms Coffey has outlined her rescue plan for England, dubbed “A, B, C, and D.” Apparently they stand for Ambulances, Backlogs, (Social) Care, and Doctors & Dentists. I’m always highly suspicious of these instant back-of-a-fag-packet political solutions to the problems of health care. Didn’t Tony BIair say, “24 hours to save the NHS!” I wonder if the Health Secretary knows that in medicine, A is for Airway, B for Breathing, C for Circulation, and D for (Neurological) Disability? Or indeed that E stands for Exposure & Environment? The fact that ABCD means one thing for a politician, and another for a doctor or nurse, rather suggests to me that the politicos and the medics are not “singing off the same hymn sheet.”
Meanwhile, at the Labour Conference in Liverpool, Sir Keir Starmer has outlined ambitious plans for the achievement of 100% energy production from renewables, by 2030. For the first time since 2010, I have the sense that Labour could win the next general election.