Conservative ‘Morality’ – It Means ‘Wrong Things Are Only Wrong When They’re Bad For People Like Me’
April 6, 2015
by Martin Odoni
I suspect my fellow MMT’er, Alex Little, will have plenty to say about this as well during his daily series of Parties’ Key Election Messages, (ETA: he did) but having seen excerpts of the Prime Minister’s latest campaign speech, I felt I had to respond myself. David Cameron’s apparent most notable assertions in his speech are summed up in two sentences, and one of them is categorically untrue, while the other is much too vaguely defined for it to be agreed with. Both of them show, however, that for a Conservative, absolutely everything, including morality, must be measured in pounds sterling.
The first is that “There is no such thing as public money”.
The second is that “High taxes are morally wrong”.
Now, the first remark is in fact so inaccurate, it is almost naive. Contrary to what most right-leaning libertarians like to tell us, especially in the USA, wealth is not ‘created’ by the private sector and then wastefully frittered away by the public sector. Money always, and in any economy, begins with a Central Bank that issues the currency that the economy will use as its token-of-exchange. That is even true in countries that have signed up to the single European currency (the euro), and terminated their own native currencies; the Central Bank in question is simply the European Central Bank instead of their own national banks.
In the UK, we have the Bank Of England as the Central Bank, but whichever name or model you wish to give it, the critical aspect is that it is one of the effective head-pieces of the public sector, not of the private sector. Money is created therefore by the public sector, and is distributed around the population, including the private sector, and demand is created for use of this currency by the imposition of taxes; if people know that by law they have to return a certain number of pounds to the Government each month, they will be encouraged to do their business in pounds, instead of in dollars, or euros, or rubles, or bartering with sheepskins, or what-have-you. (This is the real reason for taxation. It is not for funding public spending, although it is a good idea to keep the amount being spent and the amount being taken in taxes fairly similar, to put a brake on inflation.)
In short, not only is there such a thing as ‘public money’, there is, in the most real sense, no other kind; the Government is where the money came from in the first place.
The second remark can be seen as correct, but only by taking the definition of ‘high taxes’ to much greater extremes than I suspect Cameron has in mind. I would agree that, say, a ninety per cent flat-rate of income tax is both ‘high’, and ‘morally wrong’ – especially as the poorest would be impoverished to new levels that would make the last five years of Austerity look like a sumptuous banquet. It would also be practically wrong as with so little spending power in households, the private sector would lose almost all of its sales, and there would be a recession.
However, knowing the Scrooge-like Conservative mindset as we do, we can be sure that Cameron also classes, say, a fifty-five per cent rate, even when it is aimed exclusively at the highest earners, as both ‘high’ and ‘morally wrong’ as well. And this is where he and I part company completely. I would say for someone who earns, let us say, over a million per year, such a rate is eminently reasonable, as they will still receive a take-home wage of at least £450,000, which is many times more than they will need in order to live comfortably and in safe financial security. Whatever silly, self-pitying remarks that the greedy arrogance of Myleene Klass leads her to say, she is not being ‘heroic’ or ‘anti-oppressive’ by resisting Government attempts to take back a share of the excessive monies she receives. It is simply putting something proportional back into the society that she and others like her have profited from. No one is saying she has to receive the Minimum Wage, only that a Mansion Tax and a higher rate of Income Tax should be levied to put some of the money she clearly has no need of back into the system; otherwise it simply sits in bank accounts, going unused, which can lead to economic slowdowns if enough such cash ceases to circulate. Those slowdowns can cause hardship for millions, and are therefore at least as ‘morally wrong’ as ‘high’ taxes.
It is so typical of Conservatives to spend five years resisting moral arguments against Austerity, when it has literally led directly to the deaths of tens of thousands of the country’s most vulnerable, by arguing (wrongly) that fiscal spending is no longer practical or affordable. They dress this stubborn indifference up as pragmatism, and make out that moral issues are simply neither here nor there in the face of ‘necessity’. But suddenly, whenever the idea of taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor is raised, even when the case is explicitly made to show that it is entirely practical, affordable and beneficial to the economy as a whole, at that point Conservatives suddenly do find a ‘conscience’ about another part of the matter, and the moral issue that it is ‘wrong to take money from people’ becomes the overriding concern. (Of course, a very high proportion of Conservative Party people are precisely the types of people who would be subject to such taxation; people of large, often inherited, wealth, and with very well-paid jobs, given to them young as-of-right, to keep them that way.)
Morality, like everything else, is measured in money by Tories, never in human lives, and never in human suffering. This means that if someone has a million pounds taken from them, that is ipso facto worse than someone having ninety pounds taken from them. Never mind that the million pounds would be taken from someone who has several million more to spare, while the ninety pounds were all that the other person had to live on for the next fortnight.
That is the calculation that has dominated the last five years of Government in this country, and Cameron is making it very clear that if he gets another term in office, it will continue to do so.