Minding the gap

Thursday 23rd June 2011

FINE words butter no parsnips. It’s all very well for the United Nations and other bodies to enshrine principles about human rights into charters and constitutions, but between words and actions lies a chasm as deep any ocean.

Matthew Engel, writing in The Guardian, ages ago, observed that Philip Larkin’s poem This be the Verse might have contained a misprint, unnoticed by editors, proof-readers and even the poet himself. Engel hypothesised that the opening line was actually:

They tuck you up, your mum and dad.

A pleasing conceit. Somebody with a fondness for linguistic quirks – a Lynne Truss or Richard Stilgoe perhaps – should bring out a pocket edition entitled Rewriting History, which would explain how some significant developments came about as a result of illegible handwriting or tiny errors made by scribes.

What if, for example, the United States of America’s Declaration of Independence had held, as a self-evident truth, that all men be treated equal?

Everything now has a monetary value, be it land, crop, artefact or service. In the labour market, a cleaner is not treated the same as a middle manager or entertainment industry celebrity. In the goods market, however, the same price applies to all buyers. A loaf of bread costs the same whether purchased by Mrs Scroggins, Mr Braithwaite or Graham Norton.

Therefore, when a government cuts taxes – generously offering everyone ‘more money in the pocket’ – they are, in effect, perpetrating the corruption of inequality. The same percentage cut funds two local bus journeys for the cleaner, a flight to Paris for the middle manager, and a holiday in Spain for the celebrity. Such benefits, inherent in capitalism, apply every week, of course.

This is what I call wage-ism. It is as vile and indefensible as any practice, behaviour or procedure that discriminates on the grounds of race, creed, age, gender, or sexual orientation.

Everyone knows the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider, but, alas, so few seem to mind.




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