Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Osborne bashed from right, left and centre

YOU might expect negative reaction to a Tory Budget from The Guardian, The Independent and the Mirror. And of course we got it.
But this is the Daily Mail: “Osborne picks the pockets of pensioners”.
This is the Daily Express: “5m pensioners robbed in the Budget”.
And this is the Sun: “Osborne’s dodgy plans on fuel, tax and pensions have put your money in The Wrong Trousers”.
Blimey. It can’t be often that any Tory-led department of state gets so thoroughly out of step with the opinion-forming right-wing press.
Even the sober Financial Times reported: “Business Budget faces backlash”.
Not half.
Now, I know the chancellor has a difficult job trying to please everyone. So difficult, in fact, that no chancellor ever could or should try.
And when it comes down to it, nothing in last week’s Budget was remotely as disastrous as the virtual destruction of the National Health Service voted through two days earlier.
In fact, a cynic might say the relatively minor assault on pensioners in the Budget was well timed to draw attention away from the ransacking of the NHS.
But what the Budget did more clearly than anything else we’ve yet seen from this government is show where their hearts and their priorities really lie.
Which is presumably why George Osborne and his cabinet colleagues managed to be so blind to the angry reaction they would provoke even from those they can usually rely on to support them.
Committed as he is to cost-cutting and austerity, Osborne had no money to give away. So if he wanted to pay Paul, he had to rob Peter.
In this case, Paul is everyone who earns (or, rather, who is paid – which is not the same thing) more than £150,000 a year. Peter is pretty much all the rest of us. Especially those on pensions.
If the government were really surprised at the negative reaction this reverse Robin Hood act received, it just shows how out of touch they are with the realities of most people’s lives.
But the most astounding response I heard was from one rare supporter of Osborne’s tax policy. A thrusting young entrepreneur, interviewed by BBC radio, asked: “What’s wrong with giving encouragement to people who want to get very rich?”
If you can even ask such a question seriously, you’re living on a different planet from me.
For one person to get unreasonably rich, a lot of others must get poor. Or at least relatively poor.
Absolute poverty – if you can imagine, or define, such a thing – is absolutely dreadful. But it is relative poverty that causes most ill feeling, most conflict, most unhappiness in the world.
In short, inequality.
Which is what Osborne, the big City banks, and anyone who’s set on getting very rich, are so keen not just to preserve but to increase.

MY attention was drawn this week to a curious set of statistics thrown up in America on the relative behaviour of people at the top and bottom of the cash ladder.
Under the heading “Rich people are unethical”, the report made such claims as this: “Americans with incomes over $70,000 a year shoplift 30pc more than those earning under $20,000”.
And this: “For a chance to win $50, rich people cheated three times as much as poor people.”
And this, which will surprise no one: “Drivers of expensive cars are four times more likely to cut up drivers of lower-status vehicles.”
Other findings of the study, made by a team at the University of California, Berkeley, were that poorer people give greater proportions of their cash to charity, are less likely to default on their mortgages – and less likely to cheat on their husbands or wives.
Less obvious, perhaps, is that people on lower incomes are better at reading emotions on other people’s faces. Which suggests that lack of empathy is a key factor in “getting on”.
And that in turn suggests a partial answer to the big question all this throws up: Are rich people less ethical because they’re rich, or rich because they’re less ethical?

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