Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The economic consequences of Boris

The transcript of Boris Johnson’s notorious speech about IQ reveals it wasn’t quite as crass as it was portrayed. But it nearly was, and it also contains a tremendously important mistake about inequality.

I personally find the whole idea of Boris infuriating. This is because, since I had second preference vote in 2008I bestowed it on him rather than Ken Livingstone because of one issue alone: the blight of skyscrapers in London,

Ken used to call in architects and ask if they couldn’t make their plans any taller. It was part of his disastrous scheme to increase the population of London (now you have to queue to get out of the tube stations as well as queuing to get in, and still nobody has funded the necessary new schools).

Boris ran with the issue in his first election. The result: now he can hardly see a skyscraper without giving it permission.

So I feel a special sense of betrayal now that I discover that his stance, and maybe all his stances, was pure electoral cant.

Perhaps it is the authentic whiff of Blair: a man with a certain charm and apparently without convictions.

What do I have against skyscrapers? They are inhuman. They reduce us all by their brash monument to architectural or financier ego. They undermine our humanity. I hate them: the essence of London is to be human-scale – or it was.

And there in a nutshell is also my problem with Boris’ speech. Because greed, when it is exercised without restraint, has consequences for the rest of us. It is inhuman. It has architectural consequences, but it also has economic consequences.

He is right, of course, that some measure of inequality is necessary for the proper functioning of everything. “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp,” said Robert Louis Stevenson, and he was right.

Nobody believes everyone should be the same. But that isn’t the same as condoning a repulsive inequality, or the emergence of a new cadre of ubermensch, who cannot be regulated, who corrode what they touch and who are paid in king’s ransoms.

I know that Richard Wilkinson and his colleagues in the Equality Trust have discovered statistical links between inequality and a whole range of social problems. I’m not talking about that here. What worries me is the very specific economic consequences of the new elite.

They can be summed up in one word: inflation.

Why are house prices now unaffordable in London? Because of banker’s bonuses. It is Boris’ bankers that are driving out the middle classes – and raising the prices of a whole range of goods, making life less affordable. See my book Broke for more of an explanation.

Not to mention the speculation on food commodities, pushing up the prices.

No, the consequences of Boris’ financial elite is that civilised life is more difficult, less possible for the rest of us. It is the precise reverse of a property-owning democracy.

It is all very well to say that the elite pay a heavy proportion of tax. They also raise the property prices, adding disastrously to the costs of housing benefit – through no fault to the poor. They are walking inflation machines.

Boris wraps himself in the union jack in a subtle way, but let’s be clear. This kind of inequality is precisely the opposite of patriotic. It is corroding our way of life.

1 comment:

Tom Barry said...

"Boris ran with the issue in his first election. The result: now he can hardly see a skyscraper without giving it permission."

If you go back and read his manifesto he explicitly supports tall buildings, so this can hardly have come as a surprise, whatever he said in public.

No, the real trick of Boris is pretending to be all things to all men, thereby getting all men to vote for him. Obviously in a properly run world where candidates are held to account for inconsistencies this would be a non-winning strategy but, well, we have the Evening Standard...