Philip Alston is deeply uninformed about the subject under discussion - inequality

We’ve been pointing out for some time now that Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on matters poverty and inequality, is remarkably ill-informed on the subject under discussion. He shows this again in two manners.

One is perhaps trivial but enlightening:

The special rapporteur, Philip Alston, told a side meeting at the UN human rights council, in Geneva, that it was a tragedy that the Tory leadership candidates were promising tax cuts. He warned that this meant “even less money, not just to spend on the poor but on infrastructure and the middle classes”.

Actually, Boris Johnson’s suggested cuts are entirely about the middle class. Being, as they are, about the level at which higher rate tax is paid. That being a useful shorthand for middle class in Britain, those who are paying higher rate tax. Those on perhaps double median wage up to those on four to five times it - £40,000 a year to £100,000 and change. Just to be rough about the numbers.

Alston is using there the American definition of middle class, everyone who finished high school but not in the plutocratic 1%. Of course, use one’s own native language, why not, but it would help if when discussing Britain one actually discussed Britain in British.

It’s this other which is more important:

He added: “Tax cuts on this level are a bid to dramatically increase inequality and benefit those who are already wealthy.” Even conservative economists could now recognise that inequality was “counter-productive to economic growth”.

Not really, no.

He cited work by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and International Monetary Fund which suggested increased inequality was antithetical to growth.

The OECD work is discussed here, the IMF here. The IMF’s actual finding being that tax and redistribution to reduce inequality can be beneficial - or at least not harmful - up to a point. But “excessive” tax and redistribution is indeed harmful to growth. Something which just leads to our having to define “excessive” of course, which the IMF does. Trying to move the Gini between market incomes and post tax, post benefit incomes, by more than about 13 percentage points.

The UK currently moves the Gini by about 13 percentage points between market and post tax, post benefit, incomes through tax and redistribution.

The point and aim - well, the declared one - of a special rapporteur is that the UN sends an expert to have a look at things. This might sound a little harsh, reactionary and crusty even, but would it be excessive if we asked the UN to actually send an expert?