Phillip Blond - I think we may have written about him before on Next Left? - has an interesting article in today's Guardian on encouraging wider asset ownership. In a previous post, I argued that the Red Tory commitment to 'recapitalise the poor' was lacking in policy content. Blond is now setting out some of that content.
There is much to think about in the piece, but one issue which will loom out for anyone on the left is Blond's attempt to distance the Red Tory approach from 'redistribution'. Towards the start of the article, Blond writes:
'Assets must...come from somewhere, and since redistribution and expenditure via the state has such a poor record in alleviating dependency, a fresh approach is required.'
This is one of those 'Blondisms': a sweeping statement, possibly with a nugget of some truth in it somewhere, but nevertheless massively oversimplifying a complex reality.
Indeed, Blond himself can't really believe what he has just said. For at least some of his own proposals do involve redistribution. Take his proposal to fund matching deposits into the Child Trust Fund accounts of children in low-income families by cutting Child Benefit to more affluent families. That's redistribution, no?
Or take his very intriguing proposal to use the return on the future sale of state-acquired banking assets to fund 'investment vouchers' for those on low-incomes. Someone opposed to 'redistribution' by the state would seek to distribute this return back to society in a way that gives people a benefit in proportion to the tax they pay (so the rich, insofar as they do pay more tax, would get more). Blond's proposal quite rightly opposes this, and aims to focus the gain, in the form of new assets, towards the bottom of the income scale. Great: but that is, implicitly, redistribution, no?
So if Blond isn't really opposed to 'redistribution', what is the point of that emphatic rejection of 'redistribution' towards the beginning of the article?
The answer, one suspects, is to close down any consideration of taxes on wealth and/or wealth transfers. Blond is not opposed to redistribution as such, but to redistribution which takes this form.
Many people have enjoyed substantial unearned capital gains on their housing wealth in recent years (notwithstanding the recent downturn). Very low levels of taxation of gifts and inheritances enables this wealth to stay locked up in some families to the exclusion of others. If you want a society in which there is a much more equitable spread of assets, it is reasonable to pursue a two-pronged policy of taxing unearned accumulations of wealth combined with measures to promote ownership among the asset poor. One might even link the two, by softly hypothecating things like inheritance or capital gains tax to asset-building policies like the Child Trust Fund.
But of course, the Conservatives want to raise the threshold at which inheritance tax is paid to £1 million. Despite the good efforts of Ken Clarke, this unjust policy seems to have become totemic for them.
And, so it would seem, Red Toryism obviously isn't quite red enough to challenge it....