On 4th February, in an article titled “The Inequality Problem”, Ed Miliband discusses the current gross levels of inequality and the lessons he learned while fighting against it during his time as leader of the labour party. In the opening, Ed admits that the 1% are scared. He knows, and admits, that we know that things are bad. “The last time inequality reached comparable levels was shortly before the Wall Street Crash.” Moreover, the reasons for this aren’t simply due to technological developments or globalisation- “It is driven by political choices.” After a few anecdotes, which are fairly nice illustrations yet drawn from another author’s writings, because Ed probably has no clue what it’s like to be an ordinary British person, he goes on to tell us what he learned while fighting against inequality (at least he admits to failing at this).
First, Ed learned that inequality doesn’t just divide people, but it harms economic growth. I think someone needs to educate Ed on the fact that this system itself divides people due to there being a class which owns the means of production and profits from the labour of the majority of people which must sell their labour in order just to survive. Moreover, Ed is still preaching for the cult of economic growth, as though producing and consuming more and more is the key to happiness- something which unfortunately many of my comrades on the left of the political spectrum also subscribe to. Of course, this is not to say we shouldn’t produce more than we currently do, but the evidence is clear- high rates of consumption aren’t related to high levels of happiness- economic growth cannot cure the ennui of modern life.
Another thing Ed supposedly learned was that to tackle inequality, we need not to simply focus on redistribution, for example through taxation and the welfare state, but look into “predistribution”. This doesn’t just mean raising the minimum wage, something which Socialist Students has been campaigning for nationally alongside the Socialist Party, but also means looking at the other end of the pay scale- “what balance should be struck between how much they are rewarded – and how much more than others in their companies – and how much they are taxed?”
I think Ed’s article does a nice job of getting his audience to consider alternatives to austerity and the broader problems with our economic system but he doesn’t go far enough. He finishes the article thusly: “The right can’t solve the problem of inequality because to do so would be to abandon too much of what they believe, from a belief in the small state to trickle-down economics. The deep injustices of modern capitalism compel us to find a better way of living together. The left should approach the coming years with a determination to renew itself but also with confidence in its values.” I agree that indeed, the right cannot solve the problem of inequality, however, beyond lowering inequality just enough to ensure and maintain societal stability, they have no reason to do so. Further, Ed admits that modern capitalism is flawed but is not brave enough to admit that capitalism itself is the problem that humanity needs to transcend. Finally, I guess we do agree that the left should approach the coming years with determination to renew itself, but we shall not be taking advice about what this means from someone who made it clear during the general election campaigns and again in this article, that they do not understand what it is like to live the life of an ordinary person- he has, to turn a phrase from Raoul Vaniegem, a corpse in his mouth.
 “The Inequality Problem” – Ed Miliband (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n03/ed-miliband/the-inequality-problem)