Mansion Tax: a self-indulgence to make a point, not fix a problem


Nik Darlington 11.10am

In the 1920s and 1930s the sociologist Elton Mayo conducted a series of experiments to test the productivity of workers at the Hawthorne Works in Chicago. Later in the 1950s, Henry Landsberger interpreted the data to show how people change their behaviour when being studied closely. It is a crucially inherent human bias, called the ‘Hawthorne Effect’ after the location of its first monitoring.

Translate it to the public realm today and it can go some way to explaining why figures of public attention and certain significance embrace a stance on an issue purely for political effect. A psychological underpinning for ‘triangulation’ tactics, perhaps, to wrong-foot opponents; or simply self-indulgence, in the knowledge that one’s every utterance is being watched and measured by others.

Something like a mansion tax is such an indulgence. The only problems it solves are those embedded in its proponents’ own thinking.

True, there is a concerning malfunctioning of the free market in property in Britain. We live on a small archipelago, which as much as it might surprise cultural apologists is actually a very popular archipelago. Demand for scarce land and property is great, compounded by our little archipelago containing some of the most ravishing sylvan scenery known to man.

It is correct for any good Tory to question the proper functioning of free markets. Perhaps the most invidious Tory fallacy of recent decades has been the conflation of capitalism with free market libertarianism.

Yet let’s not chuck the proverbial cherub out with the bath water. Penalising the owners of expensive homes is not the proper way to correct property market imbalances. The unintended consequences of an arbitrary tax ceiling are well-explained by Toby Young here.

Furthermore, while it is true that the London property market is a bit berserk in parts, many marketplaces have their relatively crazy quirks. Should we whack a super tax on the salaries of footballers at Manchester United, because they collectively outweigh the wages of all players plying their trade in the lower leagues of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? Actually, if anyone has proper stats on that, do let us know.

But of course not, that would be daft. What’s more, while we ought by default to dislike the coarse linguistics of ‘mansion tax’, who is the arbiter? This country house is a bit mansion-like; this dearer two-bed flat isn’t. The ‘problem’ of high property prices is not confined to London either. Even the good burghers of provincial towns like Cheltenham could fall prey to the punishments that shall befall ‘unearned’ wealth (again, who is the arbiter of whether wealth is ‘earned’?).

The the fact that good ‘working people’ might one day want to work so hard that the fruits of their labour reap a £2 million property is of no concern to proponents of a mansion tax; albeit such a purchase would most likely be weighed down by several years of mortgage debt and the onus to work on and on to pay it off. Moreover, the fact that someone, somewhere, is being hammered at approximately £80,000 a pop for owning an expensive home is little consolation to the person on an annual salary of one-quarter that figure (if you can identify a consolation, please say it).

The mansion tax’s introduction would be a policy of momentary significance and soon forgotten - relegated into the midst of myriad other taxes and conveniently forgotten by a succession of politicians drawn to the windfall begotten by negligent fiscal drag.

Ultimately, if the sole intention of a mansion tax is to send a message - and I cannot discern a practical fiscal rationale - it is philosophical navel gazing, not pragmatic policymaking. In other words, the type of approach followed by socialists supped on grand ideas and structural-theoretical solutions. Merely meaningless gesture politics.

Yet people can do funny things when they know other people are watching.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

The Tories are right - the secret to sex is family and love

Henry Hopwood-Phillips 10.54am

There’s something incredibly unsexual about everything being sexual.

Women rarely wear enough to excite the imagination. The sorts of innuendo adverts used to employ -once considered cheeky - have become tame, anodyne and platitudinous. Blunt chat-up lines are more likely to excite a groan than a screech of outrage. Our sex lives seem to have parasitically attached themselves to the fortunes of the Turner prize. What was once considered avant garde, taboo, and liberating now just proves mildly irritating.

Freud claimed the libido drove civilisation to its repressed heights. If true then in the name of liberation we seem to have liberated ourselves from our sex drives.  Everything that once caused the incredibly creative act of sublimation has been legitimised.

As perversion after perversion becomes standard fare and taboo after taboo is exhausted, sex goes the same way as all pleasures: depravity fails to titillate. Eventually nothing at all does. You fulfil the very definition of decadence: to require more and more to feel less and less. The life-drive becomes depleted. Man becomes disgusted with himself/herself. And so with exquisite irony it turns out that the ultimate victim of the sexual revolution becomes sex itself. It was this process the Victorians referred to when they tried to forge a link between weakness/madness and masturbation. A link it is fashionable to deride today and yet contains truths that dare not speak their name.

Androgyny in fashion, confusion over sexual identity, new but ultimately flat conceptions of relationships: “friends with benefits”, “open-relationships” etc. all reflect attempts to validate sexless appetites reaching half-heartedly for width rather than height/depth.

Declining reproduction rates in almost every advanced civilisation reflect the self-inflicted expiration date of sex. Asexuality is the most fundamental cause of decline in civilisations. It represents a refusal to perpetuate life in the rawest sense. It represents a negative estimation of one’s own life. It is suicide by other means. At its most basic level it represents the breakdown of eros. Eros, that concept we so glibly connect to sex drive, is also, as the ancients knew well, connected to wonder, to curiosity, enquiry: in short, the urge to live to the fullest.

However, a rearguard sortie is being fought by our redoubtable better halves; in recent years I have noticed signs of counter-revolution amongst the fairer sex. Many in the halcyon days of the early revolution chose to mindlessly mimic males of the old patriarchy. Most men noticed that they tended to ape the shallow caricatures men liked to portray of themselves rather than the realities.

Yet now femininity has the confidence to define itself positively rather than in reaction to the past. It embraces many ideas once considered antithetical to feminist orthodoxy including that terrible symbol of oppression, the 1950s housewife. The conflation of submission with weakness is acknowledged as the product of a misguided masculine equation. Women know better. This confidence has manifested itself commercially in the resurgence of shops like Cath Kidston, homemade cupcake stores, Oilily etc.

Now women recognise the unfashionable truth that it is motherhood making sexuality sexy, and that as soon as the act of reproduction is severed from the effects of reproducing, women are turned into objects of sexual pleasure. And no matter how sexy an object you are, even a supermodel, you can always guarantee that attraction derived solely from sex drive will eventually wither. What is more, most women know that it is fatherhood that elevates her man from a rather simple animal into something a bit nearer God: a loving creator.

So it seems the Tories had it right all along. The secret to sex is family and love. Viva la counter-revolution.

Follow Henry on Twitter @byzantinepower