In the spirit of Christian harmony, the Archbishop of Canterbury has joined the Pope in publicly stating his support for a ‘Robin Hood Tax’. This is perhaps a curious development given the plush residence and sartorial garments of the latter whilst the former leads an organisation once described as ‘the Tory Party at prayer’. I digress.
The Archbishop’s intervention is very much in response to the continued presence of those incoherent trustafarians outside St. Paul’s and the upcoming G20 summit in Cannes.
In his FT (£) article he claims that “many people are frustrated beyond measure at what they see as the disastrous effects of global capitalism…” Of course, I acknowledge that the Archbishop isn’t calling for the downfall of capitalism a la Karl Marx but the notion that an ethical and moral interest in the financial world stipulates greater government intervention or taxation is wide of the mark.
Indeed, one shares the sentiments of those who bemoan the privatisation of profits and the nationalisation of losses (crony capitalism if you like) but the idea behind the financial transaction tax – “Robin Hood Taxes would take from the richest in society and give it to those who need it” – is economically illiterate. It is built on shaky foundations as the wealth of the rich in society is not derived by exploiting the poor. Although capitalism may not leave individuals perfectly equal, it is perfectly moral. Indeed, some may say that it is the most impressive anti-poverty device ever created – despite what Oxfam contend.
Supporters of the Robin Hood Tax must understand the absurdity of George Osborne declaring Unilateral Financial Disarmament in the absence of a global agreement. All that would do is place the UK banking sector at a competitive disadvantage for the sake of indulging in populist attacks on bankers. And anyway, such a tax will simply be transferred to the consumer.
In a period of entrenched hostility towards capitalism, only the foolish would neglect the tremendous amount of good generated by capitalism. It is the only economic system that maintains individual liberty whilst at the same time raising living standards. The system may be driven by self-interest but as Adam Smith says in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, that does not negate the empathetic qualities of the individual:
“How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.”
Maybe those Christians who believe in the morality of capitalism can take comfort in that as well as the old saying, ‘there are only two places on Earth where socialism can work; in Heaven where they don’t need it and in Hell where they already have it’.
Leslie Clark is an atheist.