Life isn’t fair but it can be free

. It is rather difficult to redistribute that burden because marginal rates are so high right across the board it is difficult to see that they can be increased for any group.

Some of the Lib Dems’ tax proposals look rather crazy. Increasing capital gains tax, for example, which in most circumstances (such as when it is levied on equity investments) is a double tax, would essentially be an additional tax on life insurance and saving’s policies. Like other aspects of our tax system it would encourage debt finance rather than equity finance which seems to contradict the thrust of much of what Vince Cable has been saying about the problems of debt.

But what really struck me was the repetition of the word “fairness”. I should imagine that it was used 30 times or more in five minutes. Of course, the great liberal thinkers would regard the outcome of a free economy as “fair” (though they would have preferred to use the word “just”). They would not believe it was necessary for the state to then spend 52% of national income to make such an outcome “fair”. Interestingly, Nick Clegg did not say what he meant by “fair” – I assume from the context that he was equating “fair” with “equal”. Fairness is rather a subjective concept and perhaps it is rather odd for a political party to stand on the basis of “fairness”. All the electorate could argue that they are voting for “fairness” but could have a different perception of what fairness involves.

But what really struck me was that the Liberal Democrat broadcast did not mention the word “freedom” once. Is that because the Liberal Democrats do not think that freedom is attractive to people or because they do not believe in freedom? Both explanations would be rather depressing. In fact, the Lib Dems have some policies that can be justified more from the point of freedom than from the point of view of fairness (assuming they do not think that both are the same!) such as a relatively liberal policy to give more autonomy to parents in choosing non-state schools (though bizarrely they want to abolish faith schools), reducing taxes for the lower paid, as well as various policies in the areas of government bureaucracy and personal data management. Moreover, the party logo is a “bird of liberty”. But, the puzzle remains. The Lib Dems are riding high. Are they no longer a party that is proud to trumpet the importance of a free society? Or are they just another party that is putting before the electorate a platform that does not have underlying principles to it but is just based on the party’s own subjective view of what is fair?

Of course, the great liberal thinkers would regard the outcome of a free economy as “fair” (though they would have preferred to use the word “just”). … Interestingly, Nick Clegg did not say what he meant by “fair” – I assume from the context that he was equating “fair” with “equal”.I think this point is so important. If you think ‘fairness’ is ‘justice’, you tend to fall out on the free-market side of things; if you think it is ‘equality’, then not. A lot of the political divide is a conceptual divide which people don’t recognise.

@Philip Walker – unless you’re John Rawls, in which case “justice” seems to be “equality”, which rather muddies the waters.
An excellent post by Philip Booth, but could someone tell me when the Lib Dems ever trumpted the importance of a free society (including a free economy)? Never, to my knowledge, have they done so.

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