Leveling is Johnsonian cakeism
Until this morning, few people in Britain will have heard of the works of Wilfredo Pareto (1848-1923). Now, thanks to the Prime Minister’s recommendation, his name is suddenly on everyone’s lips. Maybe he was even the inspiration for the name of Boris Johnson’s one-year-old son.
But was it a good idea to uplift the memory of the Italian economist and political philosopher? Pareto, apparently, is the inspiration behind the whole idea of ’leveling up’. The slogan, the prime minister hinted, is derived from the concept of “Pareto improvements” – improvements, he said, that can improve the quality of a person’s existence without affecting well-being. of another. Johnson says, in other words, that public policy is not a zero-sum game. We can all get richer at the same time. We can, to put it another Johnsonian way, have our cake and eat it.
You can see the general truth of this in the increase in global wealth in the era of capitalism. As much as Marxists would argue to the contrary and claim that the wealth of the few has been built on the backs of the many, virtually everyone in modern Britain is better off than their counterparts in Victorian Britain. Yet there are many government policies that cannot be considered Pareto improvements. The recent change in social protection policy, financed by an increase in national insurance, is a good example. It will certainly improve a group of the population – the people who will inherit the assets of their wealthy parents who are cared for at home. But there are also obvious losers, namely those who work for a living, have no intention of inheriting property and now have to pay more taxes to fund a policy from which they will not derive any benefit. .
There is another risk in uplifting the memory of Wilfredo Pareto. He is best known for the Pareto principle, according to which the inputs and outputs of an economic system can be very unequal – often in a ratio of 80 to 20. For example, you might find in a company that 20% of the staff are responsible for 80 percent of production. It was inspired by Pareto’s observation that 80 percent of farmland in 19th century Italy was owned by 20 percent of the population.
With rising house prices – not to mention healthcare reforms – helping to concentrate the housing wealth in Britain in less and fewer hands, this is an observation, perhaps, that is more. useful to the Labor Party than to the Conservatives. The prime minister may end up wishing he had allowed Pareto to reside in what he called the “cobweb loft of his memories.”