My Bank Holiday weekend was spent in Hay on Wye, not for the literary festival, but for the parallel festival – How the Light Gets In. It’s a festival run by the Institute of Arts and Ideas, primarily discussing and debating philosophy, economics, power and art. This year the agenda was packed with some excellent speakers, many of whom should ruffle feathers and rattle cages. In essence to inspire thoughtfulness.
One of the talks that has remained with me most was from Kwame Anthony Appiah, who delivered the 2016 Reith lectures. He is a professor of Philosophy and Law. He made the case against meritocracy, something that I had previously imagined and understood to be a fairer system, whereby effort is rewarded in life, rather than where and to whom you are born. He fairly quickly dismantled my perhaps, lazy views with sound argument. In particular the way that parents, at least most of them, are prone to a natural tendency to give their own children every advantage possible (understandably).
Fairness and Merit
If we are to have a fairer society, (I am not naïve enough to believe we are likely to achieve a fair one) then these issues need consideration. The suggestion that money is earned and deserved for hard work is fairly common, but of course it is commonly inaccurate. No doubt many work hard and are rewarded well, financially. However, many work very hard (provision of labour) perhaps working 3 jobs and this is of course, not rewarded in anything like the same measure. We know this, yet ignore it, basically telling ourselves that this is life, perhaps we are smarter and able to employ our minds rather than our bodies, or that we are rewarded for the value we add, not the functions we do. In practice it is of little comfort as an explanation and does nothing to redress imbalance.
Inheritance tax is arguably one way to test if you believe in meritocracy. If you were unable to pass on wealth, your offspring would not have the advantage of a capital sum to help them. Yet hardly anyone likes inheritance tax, it feels very much like the last kick to the stomach from a system that has already taken what feels like more than its share of tax, without suffering the indignity of further taxes for dying. Yet any sense of meritocracy surely dies upon receipt of legacy. Note I am not arguing for 100% inheritance tax, merely pointing out that most of us have a sense of fair play, that is perhaps not as fair as we may wish to think… which of course is a matter of opinion.
Appiah was not suggesting we introduce such taxes, indeed he pointed to the reality of luck, chance and time. Mozart’s gifts would have been useless in a society that only possessed a drum. Einstein would have failed in a culture of wall paintings. The point, perhaps is that we forget our great good fortune, genetic, historical, familial and financial, all of which have a significant effect on our own “success” which may have relatively little to do with who we really are. There are countless other possible lives we could have lived had circumstances been rather different, something captured rather well in a recent episode of Legion.
Versions of You
As I build a financial plan for a client, we consider many possible versions of the future, goals, dreams, desires, hopes… whatever, but essentially yours. The reality we must all face is that when it comes to the future, we have to start with where we are, we have options (many) whatever our chosen course, which may well alter, we have to actually start the journey, not wait for it to arrive.
Oh, if you are interested, How the Light Gets In announced a London event on 22-23 September, to be held at Kenwood House, should you wish to check it out for yourself…. click here for more.
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