The Financial Times reports on a FT/Harris survey found a surprising consensus across eight countries in Europe and Asia, as well as in the US, that increasing income disparity was undesirable. Not surprisingly, respondents favored increasing taxes on the rich.
Of course, this poses an interesting conundrum for politicians, given the sway of multinational corporations and Big Finance. As Jean Colbert observed, “The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to get the most feathers with the least hissing.” And those at the top of the food chain know to hiss loudly. So unless the public at large figures out how to get more vocal, any moves to address these sentiments are likely to be symbolic.
And the survey participants appear to understand that dynamic well. For the most part, they expect inequality to worsen in the next five years.
From the Financial Times:
Income inequality has emerged as a highly contentious political issue in many countries as the latest wave of globalisation has created a “superclass” of rich people…
According to the latest FT/Harris poll, strong majorities in five European countries – ranging from 76 per cent in Spain to 87 per cent in Germany – consider that income inequality is too great.
But 78 per cent of respondents in the US, traditionally seen as more tolerant of income inequality, also think the gap is too wide….
For the first time, the FT/Harris poll surveyed opinion in Asia. In China, which has experienced three decades of helter-skelter development, 80 per cent of respondents think income inequality is too great.
However, Japan recorded the lowest figure of all countries surveyed, with 64 per cent….
Clear majorities in all countries agree that taxes should be raised on the rich and lowered on the poor. In Britain, 74 per cent of respondents think that those on low incomes should be taxed less, helping to explain the furore that surrounded the Labour government’s decision to abolish the 10p income tax rate…
US respondents were the most resistant to the idea of lowering taxes on the poor, with 27 per cent agreeing with the proposition that taxes should be kept at current levels.
Note that Japan has one of the most equal distributions of income, if you believe the UN Gini coefficient ranking, although the CIA Factbook Gini points to a very different conclusion. But the Japanese are keen observers of very small status differences (the legacy of having once had extremely strict sumptuary laws), so their sensitivity to income disparity is considerable.