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On the death tax

Interesting point being made:

It would be the most socially just means of funding, as well as the most economically efficient, but it will be hard to convince the voters.

You see, I always thought that \”social justice\” was what society thought was just and fair. To crib from Adam Smith: a labourer does not need a linen shirt in order not to be poor in any absolute sense. But if the society around him says that not being able to afford a linen shirt signifies poverty and the labourer cannot afford a linen shirt then in that society the labourer is poor.

Similarly, we had the Joseph Rowntree Trust report on poverty: into its second year now I think and it says that £13,500 (or so) is the amount you need not to be living in poverty. It\’s this sum that allows x number of clothes, y heating, z diet, the occasional drink in the pub and a meal out once a month. That\’s what the people in this society think is not poverty: thus it is socially just that in a rich society like ours no one should, involuntarily, live below this standard.

That\’s what I thought this social justice thing was.

Now however we\’ve got a new meaning. Here we\’ve got a majority, an admitted majority, of the people saying that a particular action would not be socially just. But Peter Wilby says that it is socially just. And what Peter Wilby says is socially just is the definition, not what society thinks is just.

Which is really rather a change of meaning, isn\’t it?

15 thoughts on “On the death tax”

  1. I always assume that the “social” qualifier simply negates the meaning of the term. Thus “social housing” is filled with anti-social people; a “social contract” is agreed by one party but only binding on the other; and so on. Similarly, “social justice” is inherently unjust because it treats people differently.

    “thus it is socially just that in a rich society like ours no one should, involuntarily, live below this standard.” Whereas real justice takes some account of why someone is living below that standard.

  2. Why is yours and Joseph Rowntree’s definition of social justice any less contrived than Peter Wilbey’s?

    Tim adds: Come along now Matthew, you’re normally better at reading comprehension than this. I (and JRT) am defining social justice as what society in general considers just. You know, that Great British Sense of Fairness.

    Wilby is specifically and deliberately noting that what he suggests does not accord with this but still saying that it is socially just. That is, that social justice is what I Peter think it is, not what society does.

  3. Interestingly, he lets the Lefty cat out of the bag in his comment on people’s belief about National Insurance:

    “They believe the state should meet the full cost of personal care and, ignorant of how the system works, some always thought it would do.”

    Translation: “Hah ha! Suckers!”

  4. “Why is yours and Joseph Rowntree’s definition of social justice any less contrived than Peter Wilbey’s?”


    Check out the comments, Matthew. He isn’t selling it to anyone but a very few die-hard lefties.

    And if he can’t carry the ‘CiF’ crowd, what chance, do you think, of carrying the voting public?

  5. “I don’t know what you mean by ‘social,'” Tim said.
    The socialist smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t – till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”
    “But ‘social’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,'” Tim objected.
    “When I use a word,” The socialist said in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
    “The question is,” said Tim, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
    “The question is,” said the socialist, “which is to be master – that’s all.”
    Tim was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute socialist began again.
    “They’ve a temper, some of them – particularly verbs, they’re the proudest – adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs – however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!

    Apologies to Lewis Carroll

  6. It’s slightly strange to see people (Tim and some of the commenters) who have spend years dismissing the idea of ‘relatively povery’ now embracing it wholeheartedly.

    In any case it is a welcome change. On the subject to hand I’m not convinced that a majority in the public could not be found for the idea that people should pay for their own residential nursing care, levied after death. Wilby is saying that the Mail and Telegraph will kick up a fuss – but they always do whenever the idea of taxing property is arise. See Mark Wadsworth’s site for numerous illogical and innumerate examples.

    This of course brings us to a LVT, which would be enormously unpopular in certain circles but I think probably the most socially just way to pay for the State.

  7. Where, exactly, is anyone embracing the idea of ‘relative poverty’..?

    All we are saying is we don’t want the government taxing us TWICE because they’ve squandered the NI and tax monies on something else.

  8. *sigh”

    Check out Tim’s first two paragraphs, Julia. What are they about , exactly, if not relative poverty measures?

  9. Seems to me, Matthew, that they are about the perfidy of the socialists, deciding to change the rules and move the goalposts when they realise that their ideas aren’t going down so well any more…

  10. Surely Tim’s point is that the term “social justice” used to denote “what most people think is just”, but that Wilby is now saying that his solution is really “social justice”. He’s hijacking a term which many people unconsciously respond to favourably (“it’s socially just, so it’s the right thing to do”), so they respond that way to Wilby’s version.

    Tim’s acknowledgement that “most people” accept relative poverty as a social injustice does not imply approval of the concept.

  11. ‘The only thing we know so far is that the Mail and Twlegraph don’t like it..’

    …also a large proportion of the people commenting at the CiF article.

    Or are you suggesting they are all Mail and Telegraph journailists?

  12. Incentives matter. If we tax death enough, people will stop doing it, which will make the problem of providing personal care for the elderly even worse.

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