I am doing probably the dullest and most technocratic of all dissertations. It’s on why low and middle income voters don’t prioritise redistribution. I haven’t got a conclusion yet, or an intro, to be honest. I should really get on that. But it has a basis in the form of Chris Rose’s book What Makes People Tick, which itself is based on CDSM‘s three worlds of Settlers, Prospectors and Pioneers, all of which account, roughly, for a third of the population each. Long story short, and to get to my point without boring you, Pioneers are heavily altruistic while Settlers and Prospectors are not.
Jon Cruddas wrote a very good Labourlist article in the Summer of Intense Naval-Gazing on how Labour only had a stronghold on the Pioneers, but the Tories won the Settlers and Prospectors. Labour’s 2015 campaign -one that focused on zero-hours contracts, exploitation, the vulnerable- was a core vote strategy, one that reigned in the altruistic and the subjects of their altruism, but few else.
Still, Miliband’s championing of inequality should not be dismissed. It was quite exhausting reading how we should chuck everything we battled for in the 2015 manifesto out the window during the leadership contest, because it didn’t really make sense. It missed the point. Social inequality is, after all, the most transient and important issue of our time. It’s there, an elephant in the room, for any and all future governments. Even Blair agrees. Losing an election doesn’t change that, though it certainly hurts its victims; a recent Fabian report points out that 1.9 million more children will fall into poverty by 2030 should Conservative policies continue. But inequality has been rising since the 80s. A decline in trade union power, a stagnating of wages, a rise in inflation, housing bubbles, a lack of investment, increasing financialisation and globalisation, a 3 -decade race to the bottom. The result is this: The richest 1% have as much wealth as the poorest 57% combined.
It is very right to champion those left-behind. The 57%. (To start, we should make a Twibbon.) It is just and it is the Labour Party’s and Movement’s core mission. It is right to appeal to altruism. But it isn’t enough. We need to frame inequality differently to how Ed, and now Jez, frame it.
Elections, and thus the chance to reverse this trend and transform the economy to work for the workers, are won on competence. It’s the economy, stupid. Altruism wins us a third of the electorate; trust in the economy the rest. So if we want to fulfill our historical mission, and reduce inequality, and to win an election, we have to merge competent management of the economy and reducing inequality together as one. To plant them in the minds of voters as being causal.
And they are causal. Inequality hurts growth. It creates epic false economies. It neglects investment. It shuns productivity.
The unlikely source that is the IMF confirms this:
Raising the income share of the poor and ensuring that there is no hollowing-out of the middle class is good for growth.
And a recent OECD report confirms this too:
In Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States, the cumulative growth rate would have been six to nine percentage points higher had income disparities not widened.
Inequality knocked off 6 to 9 percentage points off our growth!
But wait, there’s more! The OECD hands the Left a gift in its prescription:
Cash transfers and increasing access to public services, such as high-quality education, training and healthcare, are an essential social investment to create greater equality of opportunities in the long run.
The paper also finds no evidence that redistributive policies, such as taxes and social benefits, harm economic growth, provided these policies are well designed, targeted and implemented.
As though we needed it, another source makes the case for investment, and that means borrowing. But this blog post isn’t about that. Trying to get borrowing alone through to the British public is futile without taking the vital step before of saying NOT borrowing causes deficits. Yeah, that’s right. And not raking in greater tax revenues by raising the wages of the bottom percentiles causes deficits. Not taking action to close the gap will prevent us from closing the deficit. “Inequality causes deficits”, we should be saying. Because he has to borrow to plug these gaps, “Osborne’s inequality causes deficits”. ON GIANT BILLBOARDS.
“Inequality hurts everyone” we should say. It drags down the standards of living of middle-income voters who, hey, would you look at that, live in marginals. It doesn’t just affect the ‘poor and vulnerable’, and the interests of the poor are the interests of everyone. In such a way you can ally the middle and working classes as an electoral coalition. The middle classes, who may not -to put it crudely- have much sympathy for low-earners certainly will when it affects their own self interests. As much as it may pain us obnoxious, do-gooder Pioneers, people live in these three worlds, and live in their homes, and live further and further apart from each other. For 2/3 of voters, what impacts their security is what decides their vote. So inequality must be about them. It must be about national security. It must be about economic competence to sustain that security.
The bottom line is that as much as inequality causes suffering, it also causes economic incompetence. And, for once, we need to emphasise the latter and put altruism second on the list.
Miliband didn’t do this. Corbyn continues this neglect but with greater amplification, and he thus runs a path to ruin.
This is the epitome of merging principle and power. You don’t have to give up your values, but you do have to repackage them to pursuing inequality in a way that emphasises competence and thus electability. All else is obsolete and futile.
To fulfill our own altruism as a party, we have to pursue something other than altruism alone.