lördag 2 januari 2010

What is fair?

What is fair? The Green Party has decided to run the idea of "Fair" as its dominant theme in its campaign in the constituency most likely to return a Green MP at the next election, Brighton Pavilion.

Everyone is in favour of fairness, of course. But what about the story from St Matthew, chapter 20? At the beginning of the day, the landowner goes out and hires labourers, promising them one denarius for the day's work. As the day continues, he goes out several times again, and hires more, also promising one denarius for the remainder of the day. The story concludes like this.

"When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.' The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. When those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more, but each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.'

"The landowner answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' "

Although the story is intended as a parable about the kingdom of heaven, there is a more down-to-earth point: if an agreement is made, is it wrong to hold to it if the outcome appears unfair in the light of subsequent events?

Agreements should be held to, although one might ask why the labourers were in a situation of having to accept whatever was offered. But fairness cannot be a sufficient basis for deciding how wealth should be shared out. In justice, wealth belongs to those who have produced it. The wealth does not rightly belong to those who have not, whether they be an employer, a landlord or a government.

What is fair taxation?
Whilst, from one perspective, taxation according to "ability to pay" is fair, from a different perspective it is not at all fair. Whether a decision is fair or not depends on what analysis is brought to bear on the situation. What looks fair on the basis of a superficial analysis may, once the issues are considered in finer detail, be seen as a blatant injustice.

Time to give up on the Green party
It seems as if, now that the Green Party is within striking distance of gaining parliamentary representation, its lack of a coherent ideology is starting to show. It is plainly evident in the ramshackle ad hoc collection of Green Party proposals that pass as its policy. These include land value taxation (though, outside Scotland they almost never talk about it), raising the national minimum wage, a demand for a higher proportion of affordable housing in new developments, "free" home insulation, "free" school meals, subsidised loans for solar energy, and abolition of the monarchy. Which makes the Greens sound as if they have become little more than recycled socialists. The last of these is particularly worrying, not because they have any chance of putting their policy into effect, but because it shows a complete lack of understanding of how the British constitution works.

Socialist re-treads
There is much to criticise about Britain, and I would not bother to go out and stand by the side of the road to see the Queen. But for the past 300 years the constitutional monarchy has worked subtly in a way that has contributed to the protection of the country from the worst of the misfortunes that have afflicted many of our neighbours. It happens also that the present Queen has served the country particularly well, and continues to do so. Like all minority parties, the Greens do not need a complete programme for government but have only to say what they would do if they became part of a coalition. To declare more than this is to have unrealistic pretensions of grandeur, and for them, as a party, to take the view they do on the monarchy must cast doubt on their general competence to stand for office at a national level. They are nothing more than socialist re-treads

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