Friday, 21 December 2018

What does it mean to be left-wing?

I’ve noticed a lot of name-calling on the social medias lately, with words like ‘neoliberal’ and ‘centrist’ being hurled at bemused people who consider themselves progressive left-wingers.

This has caused some to decry that they don’t know what neoliberal means, since they know they aren’t one but are being called one anyway. Queue false incredulity from ‘true believers’ on the left.

The simple fact is that the loss of faith in state planning by many on the left has led many away from the traditional left. This creates problems when viewing through the familiar political compass.

Traditional political compass

According to the traditional compass, above, left-wingers are split into libertarian (anarchists) and authoritarian (socialists). But what does it mean to be left-wing?

One answer is that left-wingers want government control of the economy so that it is run for the benefit of the people or the workers. On this view the political spectrum runs from free-market to government-control.

 The problem with this is that it leaves no room for left-wingers who don’t believe that state-run industry is a good idea, or that it is simply wrong as the state should not exist.

Another answer is that left-wingers want governments to redistribute resources from the economically successful to the less successful. This is less radical in one respect—it doesn’t require the overthrow of capitalism and this isn’t its aim. It requires tough regulation of firms to ensure that they act in the public interest, including price regulation if there are natural monopolies. More distinctly, it requires large-scale redistribution from the more economically successful to the less.

 But if left and right are understood in the ‘old’ way then on this compass there is no place for the distinction between those who would want state control of all industry, those who seek the abolition of private property and those such as myself who advocate a maximally redistributive form of capitalism. Personally, I argue for extreme interference in people’s post-tax income, but not for state control of industries or the removal of all state apparatus.

The kind of position I am referring to was called the ‘third-way’ in the 90s, but is more correctly termed liberal egalitarianism. Liberal egalitarians support whatever economic system works best for the worst-off and want to ensure that everyone has political and personal freedoms. 

The 'third way' was castigated after the failure of the Clinton and Blair governments to that much redistribution. As a side, note, I think they did more than credited, it was nowhere near what many supporters of a ‘third-way’ would want. Critics would point out that this is inevitable since the position acquiesces in a pro-market ideology, while defenders would point out these movements were either unambitious or hamstrung by the political climate.

When compasses fail

Something is wrong with a spectrum or compass if two very different political positions come out as being the same. Or if someone would label themselves in one position but others would place them somewhere completely different.

Both of the above compasses (compii?) fail to reflect the variety of left-wing thought. The simple fact is that the left splits into represent different dimensions – statist/central-planning, reformist/redistributive, and anarchist/utopian.

Does authoritarian-libertarian axis do the job?

Most people will be thinking that I’m missing the importance of the other axis, which adequately allows us to take account of the old-new division. We could ascribe authoritarian as state-control and libertarian as less state control over the economy. This is plausible, and it is probably how many people see that axis. But I don’t think this solves the problem.

After all, this means that the bottom left section contains radically different political views in the same positions. Traditional left-wing anarchist/libertarian thought would appear here as they are against state interference. However, so would supporters of redistributive capitalism, even though these are totally different systems.

The other (authoritarianism) axis is also of course multiply-ambiguous too.

It refers to the level of state interference in people’s lives, but it isn’t necessarily the case that more interference in one realm implies greater interference in another (though libertarians would no doubt claim this). This axis could instead be considered the distinction between social conservativism and libertarianism.

There could be a theocratic state which was very intrusive regarding people’s personal relations, but quite laissez-faire when it came to economic interventions. On the other hand there could be a state which was very libertarian about people’s lifestyle choices but very interventionist as far as private property ownership was concerned.

So, we could ignore the social-conservative dimension and focus on economic interference alone. But then the highly redistributive liberal comes out.


So, should we come up with a hologrammatic cube?

Or an even-more multi-dimensional representation of political space (using sounds or something)?

I don’t know.

But I do know that the left is, as ever, split between various factions with incompatible views while the (perhaps less numerous) right is broadly in agreement on the issue of (relatively or selectively) free markets.

What I don’t appreciate is when people mis-represent the left-wing redistributive liberals such as myself as having a view with which we vehemently disagree. Left-wingers who agree with us on the badness of free-market capitalism label us as ‘neoliberal’ supporters of free-market capitalism.  Right-wingers who agree with us about the badness of state-run economies or the abolition of private property label us as socialists or communists. But we support private property and freedom of enterprise.

Perhaps the only solution is to acknowledge that redistributive capitalism is a valid position and engage with it properly rather than in name-calling. People don’t just hold this position solely as a result of cynical electoral calculation and triangulation (though that be the case for some politicians). Liberal egalitarianism is an attractive political philosophy and can plausibly be considered to offer the best life prospects for working people.

Monday, 17 December 2018

Where is the fairness in the climate talks?

Carbon Emissions talks are very fraught.

They often end in fudges and disappointment, as has happened again recently at the latest round of COP talks. Some important issues have been postponed to future talks, all while humanity continues to pollute at record levels.

It is in everyone's interests to have fewer carbon emissions, but rarely in anyone's interest to reduce their own emissions. Everyone wants everyone else to do something about climate change.

Further, the benefits of reducing CO2 arise in the future, and those who have to alter their lifestyles (or pay more) are in the present. We are a myopic species, though unlike other animals we can think our way out of our myopia.

Climate talks are particularly fraught because there are so many dimensions at play. There is the inter-generational dimension - we can do more, less or nothing for the benefit of our successors. Different states care more or less about these future generations. Governments also want more for their own citizens at the expense of the citizens of other states. This leads to greater intransigence, particularly where countries extract or use a lot of fossil fuels or have a very populist nation-first attitude. Perhaps it is no coincidence that one of the latest stumbling blocks is Brazil, which has recently voted in Jair Bolsonaro as President.

You can see carbon talks as a power game where all states try to get the best deal for their own states with the prospect of undermining the whole process if unsuccessful. That is not only dangerous because it risks a complete breakdown. It also means that the overall package is going to be much less ambitious than it might be otherwise.

It is this kind of attitude--everyone out for themselves and damn the consequences--that has got us into our current environmental mess.

We need ethical principles - of fair distributions - as a baseline in order to proceed in a sensible manner.

That isn't to say that philosophers (and others, such as economists) agree on the fair distribution of benefits and burdens. Matters are complicated even more because there are so many empirical inputs into economic climate modelling. Changing those inputs slightly will have a huge effect on the equation.

Those who wish to challenge economists and policymakers on questions of climate change therefore need to understand the different theoretical approaches by which to do so.

My Summer School course on Environmental Justice sets out some of the ways of thinking about how we should think about the environment and fairness to future generations. Whether you can attend the course or not, I recommend the book Climate Ethics: Essential Readings (edited by Gardner et. al.) as a good starting point.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Free time advocated by the UK Green Party!

It was very heartening to read this weekend that a major political party here in the UK is taking the issue of free time seriously!

Political philosophers and economic researchers have recently been emphasising how this issue has been much overlooked. Bob Goodin's Discretionary Time and Julie Rose's Free time are good examples. In my book Rethinking Taxation I propose a taxation system that takes account of the amount of free time people have.

The Green Proposal is that the state should aim to ensure that people have more free time year-on-year, which I'm not sure about. If people really want to work then that is their choice. However, my concern is that a lot of people have to work very long hours just to get by, not because they really love working in their jobs.

What is needed is an economic system that works for those who work long hours for low wages and something like my proposal would do so.

Measuring the amount of free time that people have, and linking this to their incomes is the first step to taking this issue seriously and I hope the Green proposal gets this point across to a wider audience.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Should there be a referendum on the final Brexit deal?

Not the most original topic here but I thought I'd get my thoughts on the record.

1. There should be a referendum on whether to accept the final deal

I'm one of many who is sceptical of the idea that the majority of people wanted any specific type of Brexit, particularly since the campaigners promised many impossible or incompatible things. This is a big problem for the government in their negotiations - votes for Brexit gave no explicit notion of what those voters wanted Brexit to look like.

It is therefore quite likely that the final negotiated outcome will be one that isn't to the liking of the vast majority of the UK population (at best representing 20-25% of the population's preference, more likely representing 1%).  Pretty crazy to cause huge damage to our country to give 1% of the population something they would like.

I'm of the view that once the government has negotiated the best possible deal with the EU this should be put to the voters with three options (Single transferable vote):

  • Leave the EU with the deal on offer
  • Leave the EU and reject the offer
  • Remain in the EU
You might refer to the options as 'softer Brexit' 'hardest Brexit' and remain. 

I expect remain would win such a vote, but perhaps if the government comes up with a great deal then even some previously sceptical remain voters would vote for it.

After all, if we really could leave the EU with all the benefits and none of the burdens then I might vote to leave. I didn't vote to leave in the referendum because it was always complete fantasy that the EU would give a state a good deal for leaving.

2. The government should not announce a referendum

So I'm hugely in favour of a referendum but it would be a terrible idea for the government to announce this in advance.

If the EU knew there would be another referendum then they would lose any slight incentive they currently have to offer a half-decent deal to the UK. From the EU perspective offering a bad deal increases the chances that remain will win a referendum.

If such a referendum is then lost then the Brexiteers will no doubt cry foul that the prospect of another referendum actually ruined the chances of a successful Brexit.

That's why I think there should be another referendum but that the government shouldn't announce it until the last possible minute.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

R.E.M. comedy podcast and my personal favourites

Just a quick blog to recommend the earworlf podcast R U Talkin' R.E.M. RE: ME? (available wherever you get your podcasts).

Great for fans of REM, particularly those who like comedy as well as it regularly has me laughing while I'm out walking.

I've just got up to the UP album episode but its got me thinking about my favourite REM songs and albums since they were my favourite band as a teenager in the '90s and are still among my favourites.

I've been aching over my own personal ranking of REM songs and albums but here they are as things stand:

  1. Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)
  2. Automatic for the People (1992)
  3. Murmur (1983)
  4. Chronic Town EP (1982)
  5. Reckoning (1984)
  6. Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)
  7. Green (1988)
  8. New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996)
  9. Accelerate (2008)
  10. Out of Time (1991)
  11. Up (1998)
  12. Monster (1994)
  13. Reveal (2001)
  14. Collapse into Now (2011)
  15. Document (1987)
  16. Around the Sun (2004)   
Since there are 16 albums (well, one is an EP but I'm going to count it as its great) I thought I'd make my decisions less fraught and choose 16 songs!

(written by the band, excluding live and alternative recordings)
  1. Country Feedback
  2. Fall on Me
  3. So Central Rain
  4. Perfect circle
  5. Losing my Religion
  6. Talk About the Passion
  7. Laughing
  8. Cuyahoga
  9. The Ascent of Man
  10. We All Go Back To Where We Belong
  11. These Days
  12. Half a World Away
  13. Carnival of Sorts
  14. Sitting Still
  15. [Untitled] (from Green)
  16. Life and How to Live It
I'm sure I'll change my mind by the end of the podcasts but thought I'd throw this out there for anyone who is interested!

Other recommended podcasts:
I really like the Adam Buxton and Richard Herring podcasts but you have to like their comedy persona's (which I do).

BBC: Kermode and Mayo, In our Time

Philosophy: Philosophy Bites, New Books in Philosophy.

Not my most controversial blog but feel free to give your REM thoughts/podcast recommendations below if you want.

Monday, 2 July 2018


Looks like I've had over 20,000 visits to my blog!

I haven't posted much lately so recent traffic is a little unexpected.

Thanks to those who have visited for reading my thoughts!

Sunday, 3 June 2018

My courses for 2018-9

Some of my courses for the 2018-9 academic year are now open for booking!

I will be teaching two online courses this year: Political Philosophy and Ethics. Others teach these courses too, so you might not get me depending which term you take the course.

I'll be teaching an evening course in Oxford from January to March Should Some Get More Than Others? Justifications for Economic Inequality. This discusses the non-egalitarian theories of distributive (or economic) justice that argue it is right for some to get more than others.

I will be teaching a Summer school course as well, on climate change policy and environmental ethics. It should be available for booking in the Autumn. 

The OUDCE website now conveniently has pages which display the courses taught by a particular tutor, mine is here. New courses will appear on here once my name is attached to them.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Pay gap data and hourly averaging

I've just posted an article on Medium explaining why the recently published tax gap data also acts as a step towards hourly averaging.

Essentially, the data employers require to report on the tax gap is the same as that required for hourly averaging.

Check out the piece here.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

What is wrong about the Cambridge Analytica Whistleblowing scandal?

ELECTIONS! BREXIT! TRUMP! RUSSIANS! The latest big Guardian/Observer expose seems to have it all. But do we need to worry about targeting advertising? What is wrong here anyway?

I thought I’d put the stream of MPs (the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee) questioning Christopher Wylie on in the background today. I ended up watching it to the end. He seems to be a knowledgeable and eloquent young man who knows much about the new political frontline of social media campaigning and advertising.

It’s unlikely that data-led targeting can be put back into a box, even if we wanted it to. And our data is probably going to get leaked or stolen—it probably already has. We all need to understand this brave new world of targeted advertising and political messaging. But is targeted advertising and messaging really anything new?

Data theft?
The core activity that appears to be wrong and possibly illegal is that Cambridge Analytica (CA – shorthand for the various affiliated data companies involved) used information that was taken from Facebook on the basis that it would be used only for academic research, but which was then diverted for other (political and money-making) purposes. Eventually we’ll get a judgment about whether the academics, business managers or Facebook (or all the above) did anything illegal.

As individuals our data may be out there, but there have been numerous data breaches and this one probably isn’t that much more troubling than other ones. What other issues does the case raise? Well the CA people come across like a bunch of shits (wanting to make money at the expense of democratic ideals) but there are unscrupulous people all over the place, so we needn’t focus on that either.

Campaign overspending?
A major issue for the MPs is no doubt one of election spending breaches. One line is that the leave campaigns could breach spending limits, certainly a significant issue. (The fact that there were numerous leave campaigns also had the advantage of being able to put out different and contradictory statements about post-EU Britain). Hopefully this will be properly investigated but the electoral commission and its equivalent bodies abroad.  

A further related concern raised by Wylie was that CA could have been used to get around spending rules in other ways. The owner is super-right-wing rich guy Robert Mercer, who could offer subsidised (or free) assistance to causes and candidates he supports.

Russian interference?
If CA are as effective as they claim then this would have had a major impact on recent elections and a certain referendum. What has any of this got to do with Russians? The links are perhaps tenuous, though they will hopefully be investigated. Firstly, Russia is against Western unity and so clearly supports movements (populism, fascism and left-wing) that seek to undermine institutions such as the EU and internationalist politicians such as Hilary Clinton. Russia is a gangster state so can’t compete with the West economically, but the thugs can stay in power if they don’t fall too far behind the rest of the world. They could raise their people up but it’s cheaper to try to bring the West down by interfering in our democracies.

These are serious issues, but not that revelatory and are largely matters for the law or regulators.

What will trouble people is the issue mentioned above: targeted messaging/advertising. But is targeted advertising anything new? Retailers target their customers and politicians target their electorates in ways they think will be likely to elicit a response and most people don’t find this immoral or something that should be outlawed.

I think what is particularly concerning about the targeted messaging is that it is less open to scrutiny and challenge. If people’s online lives are increasingly cut-off then their messages aren’t as likely to be challenged. Political debate is debased and polarised. Echo chambers and silos abound online.  

Public discourse
If untrue or morally questionable campaign literature or advertising is posted through a door, then it might get publicised through the media. People still talk about the awful racist anti-labour materials used in the West Midlands in the 1960s, though most won’t have seen it. Those involved, or their parties, can be held to account whether legally or reputationally.

However, if online material of unknown source is focused on those who are likely to fall for it then sceptics may not get a chance to challenge it. Untruths can spread quickly online. Furthermore, no-one can be held to account as its anonymous. So, the mechanism which might cause people to hold-back on bad behaviour won’t apply online.

Campaign spending irregularities and the spreading of falsehoods for political gain are longstanding concerns. However, these issues become turbocharged in the age of social media.

Has unfair or immoral campaigning given us the wrong election results? Only if people have been duped into voting the wrong way. Its certainly plausible but very difficult to prove, depending whether CA are as effective as they claim to be.

Either way, we all have a duty (and a personal interest) in making sure we aren’t fooled by those seeking to manipulate us. This gets harder as more is learned more about what pushes people’s buttons and about what buttons each person has. We must all make sure we aren’t turned into a sucker.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

University Pension Dispute

I see a lot of my academic friends are going on strike about the proposed changes to the USS pension scheme. This is the scheme for University academics but also University management as well so it isn't a simple "academic" vs. "management" fight.

I'm not a member of that scheme but I do know a little about pension schemes so thought I'd be in a good position to highlight the good and less good arguments made on each side.

Does the USS deficit need to be reduced? 
It does, of course, and it is a legal requirement to attempt to close the deficit. This requires payments from employers, usually in the form of a part of the pension payment to future staff being redirected to pay for the deficit arising for past staff.

However, it doesn't need to be reduced anywhere near as strongly as UCU is proposing to do. In fact, it seems illogical for it to take such a risk-averse actuarial calculation. The deficit only appears so big on the assumption that the trustees will only invest in low-risk low-return investments. USS is investing for the long-term so that seems unnecessary (unless they know there is going to be a big economic crash that no-one else knows about).

Does the USS need to reduce its risk?
I think there is an argument for de-risking given that a lot of employers have little in the way of assets and the scheme as a whole has no contingent asset to back it up. Nevertheless, it isn't really a distressed scheme as things stand.

In DB schemes the risk falls on employers. In multi-employer schemes the risk falls on the remaining employers (last-man standing).

Its possible to imagine a doomsday scenario whereby the University sector largely collapses, at which point only a few elite institutions would remain (including Oxbridge colleges who may only have a few staff in the scheme but would then be liable for the deficit). These institutions would then be liable for all of the pensions for all the academics who worked in other places, which might cause those with money in the bank to be worried.

However, that doesn't look a likely scenario at the moment. 

Nevertheless, if the pension scheme continues to be in deficit and require extra contributions by employers then this will be a big drag on the University sector. Instead of growing and thriving it will have to make payments to make up the deficit. This will impact on future staff in the sector too.

DC pension schemes pass investment risk off to the individuals involved, rather than the employers.

Will the proposed changes make academics worse off? 
This is where I've got a bit of an issue with some of the claims. As ever, the issue is what the baseline is.

The proposed changes won't change any pension already earned - it only affects future pension earnings.

It would unreasonable to say that one's pension terms should never become less generous - given the rise in life expectancy and the fall in gilts all pension schemes and UK employers would probably be bankrupt if they still had generous final pension schemes! Change was necessary and no doubt will be in the future. 

On the other hand, it seems like there should be a good reason to switch from the status quo. 

The reasons given above about the deficit and riskiness do give some justification for changing the scheme. Mike Otsuka has suggested a very reasonable alternative which would reduce risks but retain some of the advantages of a DB scheme. 

This is why I think that the use of the pension calculator outcomes I have seen is a bit misleading. It will include a lot of assumptions about the continuation of the current scheme and the performance of DC investments. 

Also - if people are going to be optimistic about how well the DB scheme investments will go then shouldn't they be similarly optimistic about DC investments? If people think that their DC investments will perform poorly then why should they expect future University staff to pick up the tab if their (alternative) DB scheme would be similarly hit?

Universities don't have shareholders on the hook for pensions. So where would the funds come from? 

That is one of my concerns - that the incidence of the deficit falls largely on future University staff. Essentially, future staff in the sector will face lower benefits if there is a deficit to make-up. No-doubt savings can come from other places, such as spend on other aspects of research, and maybe fewer fancy flagship buildings. However, HE is a human-intensive sector and pensions deficit payments are paid via employer contributions relating to present staff in normal conditions. 

It is perhaps hard to take for young academics that whatever happens they won't be getting anywhere near as much in the way of pensions as older colleagues and recent retirees. But that is the case for all younger people now of course who look enviously at the income of the recently retired. 

The deficit has to be made up from somewhere the longer the scheme remains in deficit the more of a drag it will be on the sector. UK Universities compete internationally for talent and to undertake research, and will lose competitiveness if all new hires come with extra pension deficit payments attached. 

Should staff go on strike?
A strike seems like a reasonable course of action to me - the proposed changes seem more extreme than necessary. Its a dispute between employer and employees so its up to them to resolve the dispute. Hopefully all parties will be reasonable and come to a decent compromise.

The Union's job is to get its members fired up of course, so you can understand why they talk about 'axing' pensions etc.

However, I just hope that the parties don't get too entrenched in their positions - the idea that people are having 'half their pension' taken from them is very emotive and I worry it is misleading.

It would be great if UCU would reconsider and look at something like Mike's proposal above as a way to share risk in a more effective manner.

Monday, 8 January 2018

One rule for the rich...

A recent Washington Post piece by Elizabeth Breunig raises a lot of interesting points and is worth reading.
She highlights that in the US (as in the UK) there are constant moves to ensure that those receiving ever shrinking welfare payments are in fact working (or actively seeking work). This is sometimes referred to as 'workfare' 

Breunig points out that most of the non-working poor are elderly, children, or care-givers, all of whom seem to have some reason for not earning more in market employment.

What is particularly interesting about this piece is comparison between the treatment of the poor and rich non-workers.

Everyday libertarianism for the idle rich vs. workfare for the undeserving poor

This comparison might strike some as odd - the poor in question are receiving assistance from society via government spending while the idle rich in question aren't. They receive their money from dividends etc.

The author gives examples of policies that benefit investors and capital-holders, which could be considered subsidies for the idle rich. The point is that these subsidies do not come with a work-requirement as do workfare programmes

I think its possible to go further than this. Even if there weren’t such subsidies it would still be morally acceptable to insist that the idle rich work, even if their income comes from a “private” rather than a “public” source.

This is because the idea that there is a difference between the two is based upon a mistake, labelled everyday libertarianism by philosophers Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel in their excellent book The Myth of Ownership.

This is the idea that people are led to consider their gross income to be ‘theirs’ and that the tax system takes some of it from them. If you are a libertarian, then you might believe this to be the case. However, since libertarianism isn’t a very attractive political philosophy and since most people aren’t in fact libertarians it is an unfortunate but common mistake to make.  

It is more appropriate to consider the property distribution system holistically, and consider each owner (individual, corporation, charity or government) as the temporary holder of their property. There are strong reasons to let the owner have power of the property while they own it, of course, and I don’t draw the conclusion that the government should be able to seize property unless there is an exceptional circumstance (such as a national emergency, where the property is required for infrastructure development or where the property in question is illegal). I don’t go as far as more radical leftists who would then say that the above means that any private property can be seized by the government at any time.

The point is that when property is transferred from one owner to another it is an opportunity for society to consider whether to (in rare situations) block or (more commonly) tax the transaction. It may appear as if the transaction is just between the two parties involved, but in fact the whole of society is involved. Firstly, society supports the system in which the property and the transaction exists. Secondly, the value of the property exists because of the rest of society.

Investors aren’t just sitting on their property, they are sending it out into the world and getting more back. This is captured by my Comprehensive-Acquired-income tax-base. A self-sufficient farmer who tends their own land and gains from it wouldn’t have to pay tax on their gains. But no-one gets rich from being a self-sufficient farmer who does not engage economically with anyone else.

The idle rich person is then a recipient of social wealth in just the same way as the welfare/benefit recipient.

Why do we care whether people work?

There are lots of possible reasons why we might want to ensure that people work rather than receive money while being idle.

·       Social Consequences: If someone who could work doesn’t do so then this is a missed opportunity for society. Society could have got the benefit of this labour but misses out.

·       Paternalistic consequentialist: This is the idea that it is in people’s interest to work (whether they realise or not). This is because people who are idle will get into unhealthy habits, become slothful, lose purpose and so on.

·       Contributions are important: It is important for people (where able) to contribute to society, and people should only receive social wealth to the extent that they do contribute to society. Interestingly, desert-based (or meritocratic) theories of justice would be against all unearned wealth such as gifts and inheritances since these are unearned.

What is interesting is that these three justifications apply to the wealthy just as much as the poor.

An alternative justification is that people should do whatever they are required to do by the correct theory of justice. Some of those theories will require workfare, and they may or may not require wealthy individuals to work too. My preferred theory would require both. This is the correct way to think about it, and I encourage people to engage with such theories.

However, what about those who want to support workfare but not force the idle rich to work before they can receive unearned income?

To be consistent, anyone relying on any of the three arguments listed above also will have to apply this to wealthy individuals who choose not to work.

What is a contribution?

In the article, Breunig makes the point that carers can contribute to society without receiving market income. Furthermore, many clearly socially useful activities aren’t well-rewarded in the market (such as most minimum wage work), while some activities that aren’t as clearly socially useful are well-remunerated. This is because remuneration follows from supply as well as demand.

On the other hand, someone who inherits a fortune and lives off the returns from this obtains a market income without contributing. It would be possible to insist that only those who work should be able to receive unearned income, or that lifetime unearned income should be linked to the amount of work someone has performed.

Market income is not a perfect indicator of contribution. However, again, I don’t take the hard-left conclusion that market income is meaningless.

Nevertheless, there is often some correlation between market income and social contribution, something I mentioned in my blogs on desert-theories of justice. The point is that we can look at a broad conception of contribution as participation in the labour market or undertaking some socially useful activity such as studying or caring.

Workfare for the rich?

So, do we need to insist on workfare for rich investors as well as the poor?

I think so, on the basis that this would make for a fairer society. My CLIPH-rate tax system would link people’s net income to the hours they have worked (or undertaken some equivalent or having been excused from doing so).

However, those who argue for workfare on more limited grounds, such as the three arguments listed above, should also support workfare for the idle rich on the same grounds. This would presumably mean taxing non-working but able people from gaining unearned income through punitive taxation or by blocking such benefits until the individual has undertaken the requisite about of work.

How else could they avoid the inconsistency?

·       They could stop insisting on workfare and instead support a Universal Basic Income, i.e. to give up on workfare.
·       They could advocate a theory of justice which justifies workfare programmes for the poor but not the rich. This rules-out desert or contribution-based theories. Furthermore, it probably also rules-out consequentialist theories which emphasise economically strong outcomes.

As I mentioned, my proposal is to link net income and work for all those who can work. This applies whether they are wealthy or poor, high-earner or low-earner.