Greed is good, or at least that’s what the bankers and CEOs of the biggest companies think. What is surprising is not their avaricious self-interest and total indifference to everyone else, but the blatancy with which they flaunt it. As their leader so movingly put it, they’re all in it together – the CEOs of Ocado and Kingfisher, those Labour sell-outs Lord (Digby) Jones and Lord Myners (both worth a bob or two in the City), and inevitably Boris Johnson. The only omission was Blair, but no doubt it would have been too much of an embarrassment even for him now that he’s reputed to be worth £40 million. The cacophony of financial selfie that Balls’ modest proposal has elicited is extremely revealing. It shows what a tin ear they have to the tightening squeeze being imposed on 90% of the population, where 60% of voters sampled in a poll approved of Labour’s move, even including Conservatives. It shows what arrogance they have about their own self-importance, as though a small increase in tax for those on more than £3,000 a week is going to ‘threaten the recovery and cost jobs’. It shows their utter coldness towards any idea of fairness – that in austerity a decade long the richest 1% should contribute a tiny amount to assist those who are struggling or jobless or destitute.
The only thing that slightly spoils this epiphany of vanity and greed is the concession that Ed Balls made that the reintroduced 50p tax rate should be temporary. If it to restore an element of fairness in our deeply dysfunctional and grotesquely unequal society, it should clearly be a permanent change. Indeed in an economy in which the very richest 0.1% of the workforce (some 30,000 persons) now take home more than £1 million a year, the FTSE-100 CEOs now pocket £86,000 a week, and 0.0o3% of the population (the very richest 1,000 persons) have according to the Sunday Times collectively increased their wealth since the crash by £190bn, it is surely unwise to close off the option that the top rate might have to be raised to 55%.
But the immediate business onslaught on the restored 50p rate points to another important factor. This financial/business elite has become inured to thinking under the system of neoliberal capitalism of the last three decades that they can not only hold the nation to ransom with their demands, but they can control government too. That mistaken arrogance has to be faced down. Their latest demand to have the final say on the tax system is not supported by anyone but themselves, they think they have a right to indulge in tax avoidance on an industrial scale, and they think they can blackmail government to suit their private interests. This trade union of the ultra-rich needs to be taught a lesson, and this is as good a place as any to start.