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June 30, 2015



Chris, what do you make of the IEA assessment of the ONS data on income tax ie that the assessment fails to take into account tax credits



“There is still a welfare state”, one which stigmatises recipients yet extracts its quid pro quo nevertheless; so couldn’t agree more this is “viciously regressive” given a clear understanding that ‘losers’ are integral to the system as is.

“Self-help groups independent of the state which can grow”? That would be again, would it not? Isn’t that the path via which the Labour party was born a century ago - how it became part of the state? I can hear shouts of: but they’re not of the left, to which I can only ask, whose fault is that? It can’t be the state’s, it has to be the society’s that built the state; the one that pretends its institutions aren’t making value judgments about a given person’s worth.


@ Neil - in a way Ryan's right - the tax & benefit system together does reduce inequality.
But the point is that there are severe limits on how progressive the tax systm alone can be; you can't raise 40% of GDP from the rich alone, which means the less well off will be taxed.

gastro george

Bearing in mind that many benefits are now means-tested, and that one of the main complaints about means-testing is that is causes poverty traps due to high marginal tax rates, it then seems perverse to make those poverty traps worse by taxing the poor at a higher rate than the rich.


This is one of my pet obsessions, and I feel that Chris is giving the right answer to the wrong question here. Will the left consider ideas for reducing inequality without the state? Of course not, unless they stop thinking about themselves as "the left".

The problem is binary thought and rethoric: left vs. right. Having only one axis and two extremes to choose necessarily lumps together clusters of ideas that could be combined in different ways, and leaves out all those alternative combinations. In practice, "the left" is defined as equality through state intervention, as opposed to "the right". A different combination, such as equality with minimal state intervention, since it doesn't fit either left or right labels, never gets uttered in public, and is finally unconceivable (or, when someone rarely conceives it, discarded as totally absurd).

Ideas radically opposed to both left and right ideological clusters cannot be appraised without previously rejecting the whole left and right nonsense. I find it absolutely fundamental to start claiming that left and right are not valid categories for discussing politics: we must start speaking only about liberalism, socialism, communism, anarchism, mutualism, conservatism, etc.

Since left and right neatly maps into "us" and "them", I'm pesimistic about it.

Peter Dorman

I'm seeing two options counterposed: either embrace the state and trust in its potential to promote left values (not only equality, I hope, but also personal freedom, solidarity and cooperation for the collective good), or reject the state and trust in voluntary collective action.

But there is a third option: use the state to promote or enable collective action. The state can establish cooperative institutions (labor law especially but also company law as in co-management) and empower citizen activism (e.g. giving citizens standing in enforcing environmental laws, as in the US). This approach could be used more aggressively than we now see in any country.

And of course the three options are not only not mutually exclusive but also supportive in the right combinations.


"Rather than merely hope that the state can be grasped by good people, the left needs to think differently. [...]"

Good to see that you are drawing anarchist conclusions on this as well as other issues... unfortunately, the rest of the left seem to be, at best, treading water or, at worse, going backwards.


the only reason why you have rich and poor classes in the first place is because of the state and the whole system of private property which it creates and enforces.


@Neil and @Chris

I wonder whether Ryan's analysis has attributed spending on the police and prison services correctly. I suspect an objective analysis would clearly show the major beneficiaries to be high income groups, with low income groups as residual beneficiaries.

Laban Tall

Isn't the problem that "leftist aims" as implemented have lead not to the triumph of the workers but to their increasing impoverishment ?

Which might explain why soi-disant 'lefties' in finance or higher education don't lie awake at night worrying whether they might be sacked for their radical views. They're obviously not a threat to anyone's profits - maybe even the reverse.

"The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class"

The post-68 Left social agenda has almost completely triumphed in the UK - witness Cameron joining Hope Not Hate and campaigning for gay marriage.

At the same time the Left economic agenda has been so utterly defeated that terms and conditions for the average worker are being driven down remorselessly - even as total remuneration for the top few percent accelerates into the distance.

Haven't any of these educated lefties wondered why this might be? So much success in one sphere, so little in another?

Why, it's almost as if there's an inverse relationship between the two!

Socialism In One Bedroom

"Isn't the problem that "leftist aims" as implemented have lead not to the triumph of the workers but to their increasing impoverishment ?"

Actually no. This is factually incorrect. What you should have said was this, relatively speaking the advanced Western nations have produced more wealth than those calling themselves Communist nations or leftist nations or whatever. But the workers in Russia, China, Cuba etc etc were better off after the revolution than before.

I think to go beyond capitalism in the West is difficult as workers in the West enjoy preferential treatment to the workers in the developed nations. So workers living standards are underpinned by massive exploitation and theft in the developed world.

Also capitalism is a system which just produces commodities and to hell with the consequences. This leads to a consumerist mentality, which accepts no responsibility other than to work hard and consume as much as possible. Any system that argues we should work less and maybe have a little less (talking aggregate levels here) has got an uphill struggle winning hearts and minds. So any challenger to capitalism almost has to promise more flat screen TV's per household, basically more consumer wealth (but again at the aggregate).


Interesting post thank you for writing.

Steven Clarke

Looking at this through your hierarchy/managerialism prism - doesn't the state just provide a huge ready-made hierarchy for people of certain backgrounds to interfere and meddle in the lives of everyone else, in some cases for questionable benefit?

Matthew Maloney

Completely agree. The left has always been fundamentally about the bonds that unite. Not transposing our ideals onto what is in effect a collective bargaining tool. Unions, co-operatives, Non profits, charities, advocacy groups, civil rights organisation, environmental and animal rights groups etc have to a varying degree played more of a role in advancing a humanist agenda more than the bureaucracy and intrigue of the state apparatus. Let us not forget, that entrenched power within the state machinery would stop anything radical happening anyway. Precisely why it needs to be bypassed.


@Socialism In One Bedroom - I should have made it plain that I was referring to the increasing impoverishment of the British working classes.

In the 1970s someone on the average wage could actually afford to buy a house and raise a family on a single income.

The progressive impoverishment of the working class is soon of course to be followed by the British middle classes.


"Starting salaries for graduate jobs have fallen overall over the past five years, research suggests. Research for the Complete University Guide says graduate starting salaries in professional posts dropped 11%, to £21,702 in real terms, in 2007-12. The research, based on official statistics, shows that this decline is continuing and perhaps increasing."

Socialism In One Bedroom

"I should have made it plain that I was referring to the increasing impoverishment of the British working classes."

Well in that case this comment makes no bloody sense,

"Isn't the problem that "leftist aims" as implemented have lead not to the triumph of the workers but to their increasing impoverishment ?"

What leftist aims are you talking about here? As far as I can tell, neo liberalism has been in the ascendancy since around the early seventies! Not exactly in tune with leftist aims? Did I miss a socialist period of British history?

Igor Belanov

He means that he believes that outlawing racial discrimination and giving rights to gays has caused a drop in real wages.

Or to put it less starkly, it isn't massive socio-economic change that has altered the working-class, but the machinations of left-wingers who have sought to extend rights to all and consequently weakened the bonds of a working-class that he considers intrinsically racist, sexist and homophobic. (But he treats these as benefits).


@Igor Belanov - "left-wingers who have sought to extend rights to all" are greatly appreciated by the capitalist elite, because its real term meaning is interpreted as "unlimited cheap labour to keep wages down". So Prof Callinicos doesn't worry about losing his job ... a quote from the anthropologist Peter Frost :

"In late capitalism, the elites are no longer restrained by ties of national identity and are thus freer to enrich themselves at the expense of their host society. This clash of interests lies at the heart of the globalist project: on the one hand, jobs are outsourced to low-wage countries; on the other, low-wage labor is insourced for jobs that cannot be relocated, such as in the construction and service industries.

This two-way movement redistributes wealth from owners of labor to owners of capital. Business people benefit from access to lower-paid workers and weaker labor and environmental standards. Working people are meanwhile thrown into competition with these other workers. As a result, the top 10% of society is pulling farther and farther ahead of everyone else, and this trend is taking place throughout the developed world. The rich are getting richer … not by making a better product but by making the same product with cheaper and less troublesome inputs of labor."

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