Socialist Worker

Who ate all the cakes?

by Michael Rosen
Issue No. 1914

A MYSTERY has been unfolding. It’s not so much a whodunnit as a howdunnit.

Socialist Worker reported last week that over the last few years the rich in Britain have grabbed an even bigger share of the national cake.

In figures, it looks like this. There’s a group of people, often talked of as the “top 10 percent”. Before New Labour got in, these folks owned 47 percent of the national wealth.

For many people on the left, this figure stood as evidence of what’s wrong.

After all, we were forever being told through the 1980s and 1990s that schools, hospitals, playgroups, youth clubs and the like had to close because “we” couldn’t afford it.

Then, the Thatcher and Major governments were seen as a bunch of sleazeballs and liars, and voted out.

Many people who voted New Labour thought that the unfairness and inequality that those Tories had rejoiced in would come to an end.

Then came the figures. Under New Labour that “top 10 percent” have grabbed another 9 percent or so of the cake. They now own 56 percent of it.

In other words, all those people who work and pay for the Labour Party, the envelope stickers and canvassers, the trade unionists, the conference-goers, have all worked their butts off so that the richest people in the country can get richer.

Someone help me here—is this why people are in the Labour Party? Is this what it’s for?

‘Management of capitalism’

I find that mysterious enough, but there’s an even bigger mystery lurking here—no one seems to know how it is that the rich get rich.

I listened to a discussion on the radio about these inequality figures. A New Labourite explained that inequality doesn’t matter so long as kids are getting good opportunities in schools.

What? Isn’t it New Labour who are busy inventing new schools that ensure that there are NOT equal opportunities in education?

Even so, could reforming education change the fact that 10 percent of the population owns over 50 percent of the wealth?

When we try and figure out how the rich nick more of the cake, should we be looking in classrooms for the fingerprints?

Centre-left David Clark, writing in the Guardian, was pretty cross about it. He’s got a solution, though he seemed very unwilling to find the cause.

He would up the tax rates for the super-rich. Nice idea.

We should back it, but there are two things here.

One thing about getting rich is that you learn how to avoid paying tax, no matter how high or low it is.

The other thing is that it wouldn’t stop that 10 percent owning 50 percent or so of the cake, and in so doing, preventing us from having the housing, health, transport and education that we need.

Deep in the heart of Clark’s article was a little phrase, a clue to the mystery of how this inequality is achieved—“the management of capitalism”.

“Hello, over here!” the little phrase called out. “Look at me! I’m the one doing it.”

So there you have it. Capitalism—the system by which small groups of people make wealth out of many people, simply by keeping most of what the many produce—is “managed” by New Labour, and they’ve “managed” to help the richest get even more of the cake.

Clark thinks that it can be “managed” more fairly.

The point of capitalism, though, is that it can’t be fairer.

Its very essence is to be unfair. If we want “fair”, we have to have something else.

As the old slogan used to say, we don’t just want more cake—we want the whole bakery.

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Article information

Sat 14 Aug 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1914
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