Jermany and Britterland

“The Germans support manufacturing with through careful state intervention.yada yada yada…”

‘But they’re more cohesive than us’.

Would Britain have to be as cohesive as Germany (ie would all our different sub groups, from social classes to regions have to feel closer to each other) to have Germany’s higher taxes? The problem with answering this is that Real Germany, like Real Britain, is complicated: Bavaria is not, er, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (hope Wikipedia didn’t make that one up). The east is not the west, Kraftwerk is not Opus (na, na, na, na, na – look it up).

So for the sake of argument lets compare two cartoon countries: meet socially cohesive ‘Jermany’ and socially fragmented ‘Britterland’.

Jermany – the movie

ECONOMICALLY DEPRIVED AREA: We need a rail link.

RICH AREA: Sure, that will open up a new market for us.

RICH PEOPLE: And regional inequalities are bad for society and the economy.

POORER PEOPLE: We could do with nicer houses.

WORKING POORER PEOPLE: Hah, get a job.

WORKING MIDDLE CLASS PEOPLE: Hang on, you’ll want a nicer house than theirs if you lose your job.

WORKING POORER PEOPLE: Oh, all right then.

OPERA HOUSE: We need more cash for our fabulous operas.

EVERYONE: Don’t like opera myself, but high culture is a good thing.

[Cut to CLICHED DENTISTS nod while stuffing cash in the boot and driving to Luxembourg…]

Britterland – the TV movie

ECONOMICALLY DEPRIVED AREA: Why are you all looking at us funny?

RICH AREA: Because we’re not lazy idiots like you.

RICH PEOPLE: Why don’t you all move and clean our houses?

POORER PEOPLE: Can I walk to the food bank? Can’t afford the bus.

WORKING POORER PEOPLE Scroungers! We’ve just done a 16 hour shift and no one’s offering us free food.

WORKING MIDDLE CLASS PEOPLE  You guys are so lazy.

WORKING POORER PEOPLE [enraged] But – [interrupted by….]

VOICE ON TANNOY  Poor people, your time in the public sphere is up. Go home now.

OPERA HOUSE We need more cash for our fabulous operas.

EVERYONE hahahahaha [they imitate pretentious opera directors]

ARTY PEOPLE But high culture gives life meaning!

Jermany’s taxes are accepted because Jermans have a lot of solidarity; what helps one group of Jermans helps us all. This can make them conformist; bankers don’t flaunt their wealth and poor people don’t vandalise because in case all the other Jermans tut, ‘that’s not very Jerman’. Britterlanders, on the other hand, don’t care if the rest of Britterland approves of them, so long as they can do what they want. Seems like a hopeless basis for a high tax culture.

But that respect for difference creates a respect for fair play; everyone should be treated equally, whether they’re annoying or not. Maybe if Britterlanders thought that play was not fair between Britterland’s various groups, and that higher taxes could improve that, they’d get on board. Maybe they know so little about each other that they don’t realise that this unfair play is going on:

Britterland II – the public sphere strikes back

ECONOMICALLY DEPRIVED AREA: Why are you looking at us funny?

RICH AREA: We’re wondering where you’ve gone wrong

ECONOMICALLY DEPRIVED AREA: Now we have your attention, we’ll explain how the cards are stacked against us, and how your taxes could help.

WORKING POORER PEOPLE However hard we work, we get into debt.

WORKING MIDDLE CLASS PEOPLE How come? How would higher taxes help?

OPERA HOUSE We need more cash for our fabulous operas.

EVERYONE [trying not to laugh] Why do we need opera?

OPERA HOUSE Take some free tickets and we’ll show you.

As inequality grows, and social groups grow further apart from one another, millions of people find that they have non-speaking parts in the media movie of their lives. Maybe if they had some lines we could all learn more about what tax can and cannot buy.

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