So Vince Cable says he could work with Labour to raise taxes on the rich. Perhaps, like Denis Healey before him, he will squeeze them till the pips squeak. Or perhaps he’ll work out a new sound-bite of his own.
Margaret Thatcher once remarked, with her usual perceptiveness, that “the facts of life are conservative” (note the small “c”). She might have added that the facts of life are also counter-intuitive, which perhaps explains the modicum of electoral (though not economic) success achieved by socialist parties over the last hundred years.
It’s obvious that you can relieve poverty by giving money to the poor (but in fact, you merely entrench dependency and welfare). It’s obvious that you can reduce inequality in our society by massive redistribution (but in fact you stunt economic growth and make the poor poorer). It’s obvious that you can increase employment by sharing work, and having everyone work a shorter week (but the French tried it, and it failed utterly). It’s obvious that you can reduce emissions by building wind farms (but in fact when you allow for the emissions from the necessary conventional back-up, the emissions savings are derisory).
And Vince pretends to believe that you can increase government revenues, and promote recovery, by taxing the rich (despite the fact that the rich already pay a vastly disproportionate amount of tax). But Vince is — or was — an economist. He knows about the Laffer Curve. He knows that after a certain point, higher tax rates mean lower revenues. He knows, or ought to know, that in dozens of countries over decades, it’s been demonstrated that lower tax rates, counter-intuitively, increase revenues.
So (unless Vince is more ignorant than I take him to be), then he’s being (A) populist; (B) damaging and counter-productive; (C) deliberately deceitful. A typical Lib-Dem, then.
A parting thought on populism, which (like federalism) means different things in different places. When José Manuel Barroso accuses eurosceptic MEPs of being populist, he simply means that they have the temerity to voice the opinions of the people who elected them. I don’t call that populism. I call that democracy (which is out-of-fashion in the European institutions).
No. Populism, in my book, is when Vince Cable tells the people what they want to hear, and what he thinks they might believe, although he knows it’s not true. It’s feeding the public plausible lies in order to curry favour. That’s what Vince is doing, and he should be ashamed of himself.