Demand prosperity before equality

In: Uncategorized

1 Dec 2011

Rather than make a general comment on yesterday’s public sector strike in Britain I just want to draw attention to one aspect of the debate. It is hard to think of a better example of how the demand for equality, historically associated with the left, can take on a conservative character.

When the premise of natural limits and scare resources is so strongly held the demand for equality typically reinforces an impetus towards sacrifice. In this case union leaders have argued that the government’s assault on public sector pensions is unfair. The government has countered that the public sector unions are being unfair because private sector pensions are typically even worse. In other words the authorities have managed to turn the existence of inequality into an argument for sacrifice by the slightly better off.

Since the unions are unwilling and unable to make a case for popular prosperity they cannot win the support of the general public. Their demands simply sound like special pleading for public sector workers to have better access to scarce resources. Such calls inevitably stir up resentment among those who work in the private sector. As a result the divisions within the workforce are entrenched further.

To effectively resist austerity it is first necessary to reject the premise of scarce resources and argue for prosperity for all.