Nick Clegg, this morning, advocating closing loopholes for the rich to pay for raising the income tax threshold:
‘Right now, because of loopholes and shelters in the tax code, a quarter of all millionaires pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households. Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.’
Oh, all right, that wasn’t Clegg. That was Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night. But it’s remarkably similar to what Clegg just said in his speech at the Resolution Foundation this morning. On his account, the government ought to be ‘calling time on our out-of-whack tax system,’ as well as the ‘scandal of a hedge fund manager paying less on their shares than their cleaner paid on their wages’.
That both Clegg and Obama are aiming to lower the tax burden on ‘ordinary families’ by raising it on the rich is hardly surprising. What’s striking is how similar their attempts to sell that policy are. Neither talks about ‘soaking the rich,’ or squeezing them ‘until the pips squeak’. In fact, both men’s speeches contain explicit rejections of that sort of envy politics. Obama said, ‘We don’t begrudge financial success in this country. We admire it.’ Clegg today emphasised his ‘profound commitment to the value of paid work,’ and said he believes in the ‘universal principle’ that you should keep as much of your earnings as possible.
Instead, they use the language of ‘fair shares’ and ‘shared responsibility’. The twin message, on both sides of the pond, is clear: ‘We don’t hate you rich people. We just want to help you do the right thing.’ Whether rich people will see it that way is another matter altogether.