Peter Hain's weekend blast about redistributing City bonuses – but not footballers' pay or showbiz windfalls – was intended to liven up his chances of becoming deputy leader of the Labour Party, not a solemn exercise in social engineering.
Just the same it exposed an arithmetic weakness. His idea was that City employers should distribute two-thirds of their bonus pots to deprived communities. Say this year's total was #8.3 billion, as reported, that would be #5.53 billion. But as things are, the bonus boys and girls pay #2.27 billion of that in tax, plus more than #900 million their employers chip in as National Insurance contributions.
So more than half Mr Hain's new lottery-style slush fund would come from the Treasury, not the City's undeserving rich. Still the Hain proposal revives the question of the desirability of wealth alongside relative poverty. Plainly it can be, often is, socially corrosive – look at South Africa's crime wave. The theory that wealth "trickles down" as its owners spend their winnings is at best unproven.
Yet the great thing about rich people is that they can be good at generating wealth – they do in the City. Most of us would be worse off without them. And, when like Bill Gates and the rest, they decide to apply it to good causes, they are likely to do so infinitely better than Mr Hain.
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So now we know, again. Mervyn King at the Bank of England had a peek at yesterday's benign inflation numbers for January before the Bank decided to leave interest rates alone last week – just as he had a peek at December's alarming leap in inflation before it bumped up its rate last month.
What we should make of all this may become clearer when Mr King presents the Bank's "Inflation Report" this morning. What he cannot admit is that the Bank is reacting to the inflation numbers one month at a time – it is supposed to shoot at its two per cent target 18 months or two years out.
Two things stood out yesterday. First, the prices that fell in January were strictly prices of goods. The cost of services actually rose according to the old Retail Prices Index and was barely changed in the new-fangled Consumer Prices Index. After all, it consists overwhelmingly the pay of the people delivering the services, adjusted for productivity and nobody was taking pay cuts over Christmas.
According to the RPI, services cost 6.1 per cent more than they did this time last year. Pay bargainers may be reassured to see inflation coming down at last – and by the prospect of British Gas unleashing some worthwhile competition among the utilities.
But they will also notice that not all inflation has gone into reverse.
Secondly, the stock market went up a bit yesterday, but that was mostly a matter of mining shares. There was nobody celebrating the prospect of falling interest rates.
But then – most unusually – this market didn't go into a gloom while they were rising.