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Of God And Socialism

November 2nd, 2011 Posted in Economics, The Human Condition by

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.

6 Responses to “Of God And Socialism”

  1. Lotus 51 Says:

    As an atheist, I welcome Rowan Williams interventions into politics, for they bolster the case for disestablishment of the church.

    What tax does the church pay on income from its £5billion of assets? They don’t even pay VAT on building works.

  2. Leslie K. Clark Says:


    Is it therefore time to #Occupy the CoE?

  3. Jack Hughes Says:

    Time for catweazle to STFU and go to the barbers.

  4. Tom Papworth Says:

    To paraphrase the Archbishop, “many people are frustrated beyond measure at what they see as the disastrous effects of Christianity.” That doesn’t necessarily mean that we should place a tax on every prayer.

    I can’t agree that there is anything inconsistent about the sentence “Robin Hood Taxes would take from the richest in society and give it to those who need it”, however. This does not (as you suggest) imply that capitalism is wicked (even if those who might use that phrase may also believe so). Any “progressive” tax meets teh criterion set out in that phrase. The question is rather whether a Tobin Tax actually hits the richest or whether it hits everybody.

    I would suggest that a Tobin Tax, being a transaction tax, simply pushes up the costs of everything for everybody, and is therefore at best neutral and at worst regressive.

    I would also point out (again!) that Robin Hood fought against government tax collectors!

    As regards yoru statement that “…capitalism…is the only economic system that maintains individual liberty whilst at the same time raising living standards” I would agree, but suggest that you’ve missed one crucial, and even more vital, point.

    Capitalismis the only economic system that maintains our present population. Without it, we would quickly begin to die back to pre-capitalist numbers. I wonder how many casual anti-capitalists realise that some of their more radical fellow travellers are quite happy to see the human population collapse.

  5. Leslie K. Clark Says:

    Thanks for the pointers, Tom. Without constructive criticism we never improve. I probably made a mistake in conflating the errors of the Robin Hood Tax to a more general defence of capitalism. It was perhaps a mistake of the Archbishop too but in the opposite way.

    The statement I took from the Robin Hood Campaign webpage – to me at least – implies that the wealth of the 1%, using contemporary lingo, is the source of misery for the 99%. I don’t think you can make the poor richer but making the rich poorer.

    I did later say that the transaction tax would be passed from banks to consumers. If implemented unilaterally, it would damage the banking industry of the UK and ergo the whole country. If they leave the country as a result of the measure you can be sure that the £53.4bn (11% of total tax take) in tax paid by the financial services industry will drop. Less revenue for the Exchequer equates to less money for the government to use to reduce the very inequalities that many oppose.

    And I was of course aware your repeated (and correct) insistence about the true nature of Robin Hood!

  6. Leslie K. Clark Says:

    *That should read “by making” instead of “but making”.

    I know that Lib Dems can be very pedantic when it comes to spelling and grammar.