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Clegg attacks the IFS, but what is fair?

October 22nd, 2010 Posted in Uncategorized by

Nick Clegg is in the news today, attacking the Institute for Fiscal Studies for their analysis that the comprehensive spending review was ‘unfair’ or regressive. He has described it as “nonsense” only taking account of “tax and welfare and (ignoring) factors like access to public services and social mobility”.

Nick is correct on this point, treating every adverse shift in the distribution of net income at a moment in time as an injustice is ‘nonsense’; access, opportunity, incentives and the freedom to succeed matter as well.

However some of the worst offenders in utilising crude inequality statistics are the Liberal Democrat Party. A frequent attack on Labour in office, for example, was that they allowed outcome inequality to rise. The party’s tax analysis amounts to insisting that the bottom quintile pay more than the top quintile as a percentage of income and that this is unfair. Nick’s own campaign literature frequently uses differential life expectancy between dstreets in Sheffield as a mark of social injustice with no regard to the personal choices driving those outcomes.

Under the last government both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives bought in wholesale to Labour’s poverty targets and equation of the same with median income. Both regularly used income and outcome metrics to decry each other and the Opposition.

Until then the party or government come up with a more sophisticated definition of what fairness looks like, something perhaps premised around equality of access to good opportunities to achieve your potential, and targeting barriers to that based on real case studies, not a string of impersonal statistics, they are open to these attacks.

2 Responses to “Clegg attacks the IFS, but what is fair?”

  1. Psi Says:

    I find it worrying that the media now automatically assume the progressive is fair ans regressive is unfair. One is a matter of proportion the other a value judgement.

    I did notice that the media did not point out that the cut in child benifit was progressive.

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