There's a certain problem with Polly's demand about wealth

We have been telling Polly Toynbee for well over a decade now that Sweden's wealth distribution is more unequal than that of the UK - she won't listen, sadly. It is also quite obviously true that post tax and post benefit incomes in Sweden are more equally distributed than in the UK - although not quite as much more equally as many seem to think. The ginis are around and about 0.25 as to 0.34.

All of which leaves us with a problem with this:

Labour’s sole focus should be closing Britain’s wealth gap

Polly Toynbee

While the super-rich get richer, those left at the bottom are in increasingly dire straits

How can we have a more equal country which is less equal? 

The answer being that we measure the wealth distribution before all of the things we do to correct it, the income distribution after all of those things. And we're never going to get that wealth distribution conversation right until we change the way we measure it.

For we do do a number of things to equalise wealth - the general name for this being the welfare state. It's entirely true that there's pension inequality, some have very much larger private pensions than others. But all gain the state pension which equalises. The wealthy may well have substantial equity in their housing. The receipt of housing benefit, or a below market tenancy, might not be transferable but it is wealth in that same economic sense. But when measuring wealth we only include the private pension or equity, not those public equivalents.

We might think of the Saez and Zucman work on wealth where they capitalise income streams to reach their estimates. Gain £5,000 a year from something and thus it is worth x years times £5,000 as a capital sum. It's a reasonable method too. So, why aren't we applying it to schooling costs? £5,000 a year is a rough guide to what it costs the government to provide free at the point of use schooling. That has a capital value of x times £5,000. A value we don't count.

And the thing is, once we do include all of these things which we do to equalise the wealth distribution we find that we're not in the grip of any explosion in wealth inequality at all. That claimed plague of it being merely an artefact of the manner in which we're not counting what we already do to equalise it.

There is thus a very simple solution to that demand that we've got to do something about wealth. Start counting it properly. Include the value of the welfare state.  Only once we do that can we even begin to discuss whether we should be doing more. Or less, of course.