Russell Brand’s Populism – Up the Revolution!

A friend of mine just shared this video on Facebook.

I’m with Paxman. If the guy can’t be arsed to vote, he’s on a hiding to nothing. I have little time for whingeing no-voters. He should at least spoil his ballot paper.

I actually thought that Brand was a bit better informed, but as eloquent and passionate as he is, if he were better informed, he’d know that revolutions have a tendency to snowball out of control… and not one single revolution has ended up achieving what its architects wanted it to achieve.

Like Paxman, I may sympathise and I do agree strongly with some of his points, but he is ignoring history, human nature, and people’s general apathy (including his own) in what he says.

Furthermore, he doesn’t come up with a single, practical solution – just a call for another ‘socialist, egalitarian utopia’.

There has never been a socialist utopia, despite many varied attempts. If you over-tax those who work hard and want to be rewarded, i.e. make money for their efforts (and I’m not talking the super rich here), such people leave, and the only way you stop them is by closing borders, building walls, and shooting anyone who tries to leave.

Even in France, the wealthy are leaving in droves now and heading to London after the introduction of massive tax rises. Surely, from the French government’s perspective, it’s better to get some tax from these people rather than none.

Interestingly, in the UK in 2010/2011:

– The richest 50% of taxpayers by total income accounted for a 76.5% share of total income and 88.7% of tax liabilities.
– The richest 1% of taxpayers by total income accounted for a 11.5% share of total income and 25.0% of tax liabilities.

Figures according to http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/statistics/tax-statistics/liabilities.pdf

So, the ‘1%’, as the ‘Occupy’ movement dubbed them, make up a quarter of our tax revenue. That would suggest that you don’t have to lose many of these people to have quite a large impact in tax revenue.

Regardless of how popular Brand’s rhetoric may be (it’s always good to be part of a howling mob) and regardless of how successful rich individuals are at avoiding tax, they are still paying a large share of it.

That’s not to say we don’t have a problem with certain top earners and tax avoidance. The sensible way to tackle that is indeed to close the loopholes which allow for legal avoidance of taxes, but in an equitable way.

It’s true that people who threaten to leave the country are often just sounding off, but historically, if there is a sense of inequity, people have left. There were many musicians who left the UK in the 1970s due to moral repugnance at the massively high tax rates, and in those circumstances, the tax man gets nothing from these people.

Based on Brand’s comments, he’d probably find a fair bit of common ground with the Green party. If that’s his thing, let him convince others of his mindset. If he can’t do that, he can act the sore loser and kick and scream by all means. Advocating revolution, however, is not going to win most people over – at least not those of us with a reasonable grasp of history.

We do have serious issues of inequity and he’s absolutely right in his environmental concerns, but as much as people like Brand would castigate others for lazy stereotypes of poor people, he doesn’t appear to see the hypocrisy in trotting out his own lazy stereotypes about wealthy people.

This is neither an endorsement of current government policy, nor advocacy of the exploitation of the poor on my part (I am hardly what could be termed wealthy in UK terms, although in global and historic terms, I most certainly am).

I personally advocate massive political and institutional reform of this country in a very radical way, which would see true power in the hands of the people and see either the dissolution of the party political system and/or a Swiss-style perpetual coalition with ultimate power in the hands of the voters. That may be radical, but it’s not revolutionary.

However, Brand’s revolutionary rhetoric here, as populist and rabble-rousing as it may be, is vacuous, ill-conceived, and meaningless.

I suspect I’ll be first against the wall now when his revolution comes.

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