The UK’s economic inequality is permanent

English: Vector derivative of File:Gini Coeffi...

English: Vector derivative of File:Gini Coefficient World CIA Report 2009.png Based on https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2172.html (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All societies have the problem of economic inequality. How they respond is an economic decision and a political decision. As a political decision, it reflects a regime’s approach to its citizens and the common good. The common good is both the overall societal well-being, such as economic wealth, and the political compact that binds the society together. To promote and protect the common good, a regime has to deliver its highest political priority—justice. If a regime cannot deliver justice, as understood by the society, then its legitimacy is suspect. The regime has to reflect and support the societal well-being by an equitable care for its citizens. If it does not deliver this outcome, it can be accused of serving a private interest not a common interest. The UK has the widest economic inequality in Northern Europe[1]  I argue the economic inequality reflects the inequality of the UK regime.[2] The inequality is more than an economic question about its cause, its severity and it context. It is a question of the institutional political inequality within the UK.

Why is the UK different from Europe when it comes to economic inequality?

The UK regime appears unable to deliver on its promise to protect its citizens and to maintain the common good. We can see it in the following questions. Why is there a stark difference between the UK and Northern Europe? The data behind the map indicates the inequality has existed for years and is not the result of one government.[3] The cause cannot be the Parliamentary party in power. The cause cannot be the recent economic downturn. As the UK’s wealth has increased, the inequality has increased By contrast, as Northern Europe’s wealth increased over the same time, economic inequality did not emerge. Despite its wealth, the UK is the sixth most prosperous country in the world; it has more regions than any other Northern European state that are poorer than the average in Northern Europe.[4] Is the difference in economic or political policies? The UK parliamentary parties and their economic policies have more in common with the Northern states of the EU than what differentiates them.[5] Can changes in industry, global markets, or regulatory frameworks explain the inequality? The Northern European states have had a relatively similar exposure to these economic issues. What remains for us to consider? The UK regime is what makes the difference.

The regime explains the inequality when compared to Northern Europe. By regime, I mean the rules, cultural or social norms that regulate how the government and society interact through the institutions of the Crown (Church, Parliament, and Monarchy). The regime creates the laws and the laws create the type of citizens that flourish within the regime. A regime creates a certain type of person who flourishes in that setting. To encourage that person to exist, the regime creates laws and institutions.[6]

The Crown has failed to deliver equity to its citizens.

The Crown has failed to address the issue. It has not redistributed economic prosperity to reduce the severe economic inequality. The economic inequality reflects a political inequality. Economic and political power is concentrated in London. London attracts the most political attention. The Mayor of London is a powerful political actor as the city contains The City of Westminster, which is the seat of the government, and the City of London, the country’s financial centre. The City of London is its own political entity and has a privileged relationship with Parliament.[7] However, the problem is more than the political system, the economy’s structure or even the status of City of London with its Lord Mayor of London.[8]

If the economic system serves the Crown, what serves the people?

In the Magna Carta’s anniversary year, we have to consider how the economic and political inequality reflects a political regime that owes more to a feudal system where position, patronage, and privilege than a democratic system based on equal rights before the law. The institutions of the regime are what the regime use to shape shapes its citizens. The regime’s institutions shape the way the citizens access justice, the political system, and the public domain. These institutions serve the Crown and its interests and in doing so benefit the people. Instead of mitigating or reforming that system, Parliament, as the only publicly influenced institution, has continued it and entrenched it. The Church has similarly contributed to the institutional inequality by its implicit defence of the regime even as it criticizes some practices.[9] By contrast, the countries in continental Europe have been able to redistribute the funds and prosperity as the institutions and the regime reflect the people.[10] They are based on an intrinsic political equality that leads to a relative economic equality between regions, as the government is responsive to the people, even if economic inequality between individuals exists.

The Crown protects itself from the people through Parliament and the Church.

The European governments promise equality and deliver it to the best of their ability. Ruled by a constitution that reflects the people’s will, Republics express a political equality based on equality before the law. The law binds even the government. By contrast, the UK is not a republic so it is not a government of the people, by the people or for the people. Instead, UK’s institutions that make up the establishment are designed as a bulwark against popular sovereignty or the popular will.[11] One way the Crown protects itself is that all judges, MPs and the Police swear allegiance to the Crown not to the people or the law.[12] These institutions represent the Crown to the people. What we realize is the normal representation model is flawed. Unlike when Parliament wrested power from the Monarch in 1689, they no longer represent the people in the same way. As Parliament is part of the Crown, the people choose who represents the Crown to them. The Police enforce the public order to defend the Crown. Even the press, which is nominally not a Crown institution, does not serve the people. The press serves the establishment and only indirectly defends the people if only to retain their source of power, which is the public interest and the need to keep the people informed so they remain safe. To the extent the people are kept safe, it is to ensure they have no cause to remove the Crown. A sovereign that cannot protect its people is soon deposed and a sovereign that will not restrain the predatory elites, will soon find itself suffering a crisis of legitimacy.

As the Crown is above the law, in that it alone creates and decides the law, we have to consider whether the rule of law is a pious sham. The law does not reflect the will of the people; it reflects the Crown’s will as expressed through Parliament’s sovereign will. Is the Crown and Parliament ruling in accordance with the law or their will?[13] In their allegiance, the MP represents the establishment, understood as the Crown, to the community. They reflect the residual political patronage system in UK political culture that relies on and expresses the Crown’s prerogative powers. The monarch may exist within Parliament, but its prerogative powers exercised by the government remain beyond statute and the people.[14] What we see is that Parliament’s sovereign will has become the absolute power it sought to supplant in 1689.[15] Instead of removing an absolute Monarch, Parliament has transferred its function, if not form, into a system that masks its role and allows it to control the public more completely than any absolutist monarch ever tried or hoped to control. In that sense, Hobbes’s Leviathan arrives in Parliament sovereign will working with a government wielding the royal prerogatives to defend the Crown.

What is the source of the UK’s inequality?

If the UK’s inequality does not reflect popular will, what does it reflect? The economic inequality reflects political inequality. It reflects the parliamentary privilege and a patronage system that remains from feudalism. One way to understand this is to compare it with the way a society distributes food. If we apply Amartya Sen’s argument to the issue, we can understand the problem. He argued that famines are rare in democracies because civic freedoms and equality mean political power reflects and respond to popular opinion.[16] In a republic, people share in the common good. In republics, extreme economic inequality is less common.[17] By contrast, the Crown is not responsible to the people. It is responsible to itself so inequality is not addressed. To the extent it does serve the public, it is to ensure they do not have a reason or motive to change the system. The Crown exists to perpetuate itself and the institutions within the Crown ensure that occurs, thus the major sources of coercive power (judges, parliament, police) are all aligned to serve it not the people.

Until the regime changes, economic inequality will grow worse not better.

The UK’s economic famines will not end until the regime changes. A change of government is not enough. The country has to change or the inherent injustice will continue. Political reform can lessen the symptoms, but it will not remove the cause, which is the regime.[18] Any individual or government that attempts to change it faces the power and temptation of the patronage and privilege system. As can be seen in footnote 21, the system is designed to co-opt those who might emerge as leaders against the regime and dilute ideas that would challenge it. For many, the chance to sit in the House of Lords and other Honours has been a potent tool to shape behaviour among the elite. For the politically ambitious, the Crown’s ability to confer status provides a powerful, near irresistible, temptation. In the face of such temptation, men and women once devoted to the public good find that their public service stops when a lucrative personal profit appears. Once they accept the privileges and status, they become less willing or able to work to challenge or change the system.[19] Many erstwhile radicals become satiated conservatives grown fat at the public teat as they soothe their conscience with soft embrace of ermine robes. At the same time, the public discourse is managed so that the popular media supports the regime. The media proprietors, hungry for the financial rewards that come with establishment endorsements, provide a compliant press that betrays the tradition of a free press. Even under the most robust Royal censor, one would find it difficult to find the free press as willing to endorse and expand the establishment views. Even the mild criticism it does find a way to encourage only reaffirms what was lost and provides the necessary appearance of free speech. What we find, though, is that those who benefit most from the privilege, especially recently achieved, fight hardest to defend it. The public in whose name the press claim to act, stand outside the system and exercise believe they can make and enforce the laws made in the public interest.

Is it the Crown’s interest or the public’s interest that is being promoted?

The system and its outcomes serve and defend the Crown’s interest and more widely the establishment’s interest. As part of the system, the press manage the public opinion and the police manage the public order to contain any manifest dissent. Parliament can pass legislation to reduce the public’s ability to organise dissent. The courts, supported by the police and Parliament, deliver swift justice on those who challenge the regime.[20] The process is not new as Aristotle described over 2500 years ago. [21] What is new, though, is the way it is done in the public interest rather than the Crown’s interest.[22] The popular media and the government make a great effort to encourage people to believe they gain from the regime. They do this because all regimes do it although the UK’s regime more than others as they have to market the idea that the public have more to lose if the Crown loses its privileges and position.[23] The best way to see this is in the various arguments that are made to explain why the City of London must retain its feudal rights.[24] It does not serve the public; it serves itself. Over time, the people and regions that might benefit from the reduced inequality are conditioned to expect that such change cannot or will not occur. Once conditioned to the inequality, explained by “market forces”, they find it difficult to become enthusiastic for proposed changes.[25] As mentioned in footnote 21, the system is designed to protect and promote the privileges and as the status quo, the law is on their side. Taken together, the law and the political system deter those who might change it even by non-violent means. Even when economic or political reform manages to be passed, it falls well short of what is needed to reduce the inequality. Once delivered, the reform becomes a barrier to further reforms as the popular mood is that so much has already been done for these areas any more becomes unnecessary or unseemly.

Will Magna Carta be anything more than a pious wish?

In the year of Magna Carta, it is time to consider a change. We need Parliament to reform prerogative powers and make itself and the Crown subject to a written constitution. The time has come to complete the path that Magna Carta symbolizes and promises. The promise is a regime that is based on a common good in which all share equality of the rule of law and the UK regime can deliver economic prosperity to achieve the EU average. Magna Carta created the promise that a regime will keep its basic promise to its members so they are treated fairly. In this promise, a regime has to demonstrate it is responsive to the people. Such a regime would deliver justice and promote the common good not the Crown’s private good delivered as patronage and privilege.

 

[1] The picture is from this source,

[2] http://inequalitybriefing.org/brief/briefing-43-the-poorest-regions-of-the-uk-are-the-poorest-in-northern- (accessed 22 March 2015) another way to look at the inequality is with this picture. http://inequalitybriefing.org/graphics/below_EU_average.pdf (Accessed 22 March 2015)

[3] http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/help/new-eurostat-website (accessed 22 March 2015)

[4] http://inequalitybriefing.org/graphics/below_EU_average.pdf (accessed 22 March 2015)

[5] http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/briefing-papers/SN06730/the-economic-impact-of-eu-membership-on-the-uk (accessed 22 March 2015)

[6] Regime is the order, the form, which gives society its character. Regime is therefore specific manner of life. Regime is the form of life as living together, the manner of living of society and in society, since this manner depends decisively on the predominance of human beings of a certain type, on the manifest domination of society by human beings of a certain type. Regime means that whole, which we today are in the habit of viewing primarily in a fragmentized form: regime means simultaneously the form of life of a society, its style of life, its moral taste, form of society, form state, form of government, spirit of laws. We may try to articulate the simple and unitary thought, that expresses itself in the term politeia, as follows: life is activity which is directed towards some goal; social life is an activity which is directed towards such a goal as can be pursued only by society; but in order to pursue a specific goal, as its comprehensive goal, society must be organised, ordered, constructed, constituted in a manner which is in accordance with that goal; this, however means that the authoritative human being must be akin to that goal.

  1. 34 Leo Strauss What is Political Philosophy? pp9-55 in What is political Philosophy? And other studies Free Press 1959.

[7] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/oct/31/corporation-london-city-medieval (accessed 22 March 2015)

[8] The Mayor of London is Boris Johnson and the Lord Mayor of the City of London is Alan Yarrow https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Yarrow for a wider discussion of the status of the City of London https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_London (accessed 22 March 2015)

[9] http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jan/15/archbishops-inequality-book-extracts (accessed 22 March 2015) It is distressing to note that an Archbishop would suggest that self-interest would prompt justice. If Christ teaches us anything it is not self-interest that prompts justice, it is love of God and faithfulness to his message. If we put our self-interest first, are we able to serve God and each other?

[10] Consider the following article that describes the attempt to redistribute economic prosperity across the EU and the UK’s approach. http://cor.europa.eu/en/news/regional/Pages/eu-officials-european-inequality.aspx (accessed 22 March 2015)

[11] Some commentators might argue that individual rights have increased within the past 70 years with laws for social welfare and providing the individual greater autonomy and redress against the state. This is true and misses the underlying point. The changes do not affect or address the underlying distribution of power and the nature of the regime. The system and the regime are fundamentally structured against popular sovereignty. In many ways, the increase in individual rights, without changing the regime, reflects the Crown’s strategy since 1689.

[12] The judge’s oath is here: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/about-the-judiciary/the-judiciary-the-government-and-the-constitution/oaths/

The MP’s oath is here: http://www.parliament.uk/site-information/glossary/oath-of-allegiance/

The Police oath is here: Police Reform Act 2002 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2002/30 (accessed 22 March 2015) See section 83.

The Monarch’s oath is not to the people. She only agrees to govern according to the laws of each country over which she is sovereign. Her oath is here: http://www.royal.gov.uk/royaleventsandceremonies/coronation/coronation.aspx (accessed 22 March 2015)

[13] On the nature of what it means for a monarch to rule according to the laws consider this passage from Leo Strauss On Tyranny:

“Tyranny is defined in contradistinction to kingship: kingship is such rule as is exercised over willing subjects and is in accordance with the laws of the cities; tyranny is such rule as is exercised over unwilling subjects and accords, not with laws but with the will of the ruler.” OT p. 68

The issue though is who makes the laws. Parliament, part of the Crown, makes the laws so it is only accountable to itself not the people to whom it does not owe its allegiance. As Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury explains Parliament is only bound by its will nothing else because of its prerogative powers. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20131202164909/http://judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Speeches/mr-speech-weedon-lecture-110406.pdf (accessed 22 March 2015) See paragraphs 19-31.

[14] Tony Benn attempted on several occasions to catalogue the royal prerogative powers without much success. What most people do not realize is that the government exercises these powers hundreds of times if not thousands of times a year without recording their use or informing the public. [Insert link to Benn and Schmitt blog post]

[15] On parliament’s sovereign will see Lord Neuberger’s Weedon’s Lecture. http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Speeches/mr-speech-weedon-lecture-110406.pdf For a general discussion of the UK’s absolutism within Parliament, see Hobbes’ Leviathan. One only need to consider the way in which Parliament exercises its sovereign will unhindered by any statute and the government’s retained prerogative powers formerly associated with an absolute monarch and previously opposed by Parliament when they were in opposition rather than ascendancy. The prerogative powers, like Parliament’s sovereign will, exist beyond statute which means they are not bound by law. See https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/228834/7170.pdf (accessed 20 March 2015) at paragraph 21.

[16] See for example, http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,989405,00.html (accessed 27 March 2015) and http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/01/arts/does-democracy-avert-famine.html (accessed 27 March 2015)

[17] The issue is not whether a Marxist system is superior to a feudal system or a capitalistic system. The issue is the Crown’s inability to deliver on its promise to the public. The Crown has not kept its part of the bargain. Successive governments have failed to reduce the inequality. The failure raises questions about the Crown’s legitimacy and that in turn raises questions about political obedience. Is it any wonder that the Crown has to increase its surveillance powers and surveillance efforts in direct proportion to the emerging questions of illegitimacy of a political system based on feudal rights and an economic system based on privilege and monopoly? The Crown can only resolve these issues by a constitutional settlement that wold create legitimacy and make the government accountable to the people.

[18] The Governance of Britain 2007 is indicative of a superficial reform. It reforms the governance without reforming the regime that creates the political system and culture. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/228834/7170.pdf (accessed 22 March 2015) The document suggested some political reforms but stopped well short of suggesting a change in the regime. (See fn13 p.23 prerogative powers of Monarch will *not* be reformed.)

[19] The exceptions, such as Tony Benn https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Benn (accessed 1 April 2015)and Michael Foot https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Foot (accessed 1 April 2015), prove the rule.

[20] We can see the system at work after the London Riots of 2011 where the court sat through the night to process arrests and punish those who broke the peace. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14484239 (accessed 1 April 2015) The difference though is that the economic problems are not a threat to the peace. Yet, any dissent has to be funnelled through a political system that is structured not simply to moderate such demand for change but to deny it. When the UK political system wants to act quickly it can, such as banning weapons after Hungerford and other massacres. What it appears incapable of doing is taking the same approach to the economic injustice that exists. Yet, the European states seem to be able to deliver that justice.

[21] Consider these two selections from Aristotle’s Politics Translated by Carnes Lorde University of Chicago Press 1986. 1308 a and 1297b What they reveal is that so long as the regime does not abuse the poor and provides them benefits, they will not seek to overthrow the regime.

1297b For the poor are willing to remain tranquil even when they have no share in the prerogatives, provided no one acts arrogantly towards them nor deprives them of any of their property. Yet this is not easy; for it does not always turn out that those sharing in the governing body are the refined sort.

We immediately understand the deeper institutional challenge from the Child Sexual Abuse inquiry beyond the immediate issue of justice. The case suggests that the regime appeared to tolerate the abuse of the most vulnerable as police officers were told to drop investigations and lesser charges were brought if they were brought. The behaviour is the type that would outrage the poor who would seek to overthrow the regime for its failure to keep its bargain. Perhaps, this is the existential question the Crown cannot face as it appeared to profit, through the potential for blackmail and control, from the Child Sexual Abuse activity.

Even if someone wanted to challenge the system, the system, especially the honours system, is designed to co-opt the ambitious into the system.

1308a Further one should see that no only some aristocracies but even some oligarchies last, not because the regimes are stable, but because those occupying the offices treat well those outside the regime as well as those in the governing body—those who do not have a share, by not acting unjustly toward them and by bring into the regime those among them who have the mark of leaders, no t acting unjustly toward the ambitious by depriving them of prerogatives or toward the many with regard to profit; and themselves and those who do have a share, by treating one another in a popular spirit.

We can see how the system protects itself and ensures stability. The goal is laudable and welcomed if the regime is just. However, in a regime that does not live up to the maxims of equity the work to co-opt those who might challenge it indicates that it is not working to deliver justice but to prevent it.

[22] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/12/05/russell-brand-the-sun-hypocrite-flat-rent_n_6273894.html

(accessed 26 March 2015) Russell Brand is a recent example of someone who challenges the status quo and faces a counterattack from the media and from the political institutions. We note that the Sun, which supports the current government, is in the forefront of the attacks although the BBC have also been critical.

[23] One can note the huge effort that was made to encourage a “no” vote on the Scottish Independence referendum to avoid the possibility of a regime change, which independence would have triggered.

[24] They have an officer who sits behind the Speaker of the House to protect the City’s interests and remind Parliament of the City’s independence. (insert link)

[25] We can see this in statements that suggest that to reduce inequality is socialism or that a redistribution of funds is anti-capitalism. These statements are made without a hint of irony given that a government is designed to redistribute taxes to various programmes such as collecting taxes to pay for schools, health and national defence. The amount spent in each area shows the nature of the regime yet that in itself is not a socialist or an anti-capitalist motive or intent.

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About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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