James O'Brien trickle-down economics
Market and Economics

James O’Brien: Kwasi Kwarteng’s tax cuts are “against Christ’s teachings”.

“I am a Catholic by birth, or not by birth, by baptism, which means I’ve been raised very much in the Christian tradition,” James O’Brien told his LBC audience of 1.3 million earlier this week, talking about Kwasi Kwarteng’s ‘fiscal event’ or ‘mini-budget’ to cut taxes by about £30bn to stimulate economic growth. “And that seems to me to be completely at at odds – and it’s not a phrase you’ll hear from me very often, but you’re talking still about people who claim they’re Christian when they’re trying to deport people to Rwanda – this seems to me to be against Christ’s teachings; the idea that you help the poorest by making sure the richest have got more.”

He says he doesn’t do it very often, but he does have judgmental form when it comes to dividing the sheep from the goats.

His mission here was to expose (he claimed) “the ‘almighty lie’ behind trickle-down economics”, which he insists is the philosophy underpinning the Chancellor’s tax cuts. Setting aside that ‘trickle-down economics’ isn’t really a thing (or at least not a thing with any serious advocates), it is a fundamental misunderstanding of Kwarteng’s tax cuts (or ‘Trussonomics’, as the philosophy has already been termed) to characterise them as filling the corn sacks of the rich in the hope they’ll put a grain or two into the begging bowls of the destitute and starving.

‘Truss’s tax cutting agenda has nothing to do with a supposed allegiance to trickle-down economics’, explains economist Andrew Lilico in the Telegraph:

This characterisation began as a slur, and it should be obvious that no mainstream political party believes the main or only way to help the poor is indirectly, by helping the rich first. Every mainstream political party believes in having a benefits system and having public expenditure on things like health, education and pensions. These are obviously the main ways the poor are helped and it’s silly to believe Truss thinks otherwise.

..Truss is cancelling some tax rises, for instance the scheduled six per cent rise in corporation tax, and cutting other taxes, such as the green levies. She’s doing that in order to try to counter the predicted recession. Of course it’s true that she thinks avoiding a recession should be better for almost everyone, but that’s nothing to do with trickle-down economics. Alistair Darling cut VAT to counter the 2008/09 recession. Does that mean he was inspired by trickle-down economics? Gordon Brown cut corporation tax from 33 per cent to 28 per cent — and to 19 per cent for small businesses. Was he an advocate of trickle-down theories?

but James O’Brien doesn’t engage with experts (at least not in the disciplines of Theology, Philosophy, Political Science  or Economics). He may declare, as he does: “I want you talk to me about that… I want you just simply to just talk about whether I’m right or whether I’m wrong.” But when it comes to contentious political matters his producers tend to screen out the thoughtful and intelligent in order that James O’Brien may bludgeon and patronise people, especially the uninformed and the bigoted, which then itself becomes a media story, which in turn boosts his viewing/listening figures, which in turn feeds his sense of self-righteousness. And if you try to reason with him on Twitter, no matter how courteously and respectfully…

James O'Brien Twitter block

Whether or not the Truss/Kwarteng tax cuts work remains to be seen, but those who characterise and smear the plan as ‘trickle-down economics’ tend to be opposed to the Conservatives’ wicked fiscal policies more generally. And if you’re a good Christian, like James O’Brien, you’ll appropriate the name of Christ to your prophetic vocation and mission to alleviate the suffering of the poor. He’d make quite a good Anglican bishop, because such shallow condemnation is redolent of Archbishop Robert Runcie on the economics of Mrs Thatcher when Nigel Lawson reduced the rate of income tax for higher earners, when the political-religious narrative became dominated by camels and the eye of a needle.

Conservatives fully acknowledge the spiritual obligations of the rich to the poor, through both society and the state. But the state should not take so much onto itself by means of taxation that it both stifles individual initiative in wealth creation and absolves people of the feeling to give voluntarily from their personal wealth, however meagre it may be. For when the state assumes the moral duty of providing all the welfare that matters, then of course individuals and corporations may be less inclined than they might have been to work charitably and give philanthropically.

To Conservatives, tax reduction is justified and justifiable not because the rich and successful need further reward for its own sake, but on the grounds that the policy more generally encourages the spirit of free enterprise and incentivises effort which then benefit society as a whole by creating jobs and improving individual prosperity and security. This is the economic argument which James O’Brien didn’t want to engage with. If tax cuts were simply about making the fat fatter and the greedy greedier, of course Christians would oppose them on the moral grounds that they are at the expense of urgent social needs.

But James O’Brien is “Catholic by birth, or not by birth, by baptism, which means [he’s been] raised very much in the Christian tradition”, and so, we are to infer, he knows what he’s taking about when it comes to fiscal morality. But he says he’s a top-rate taxpayer and the Truss/Kwarteng tax cuts will be very beneficial to him, and they’ll end up in his savings account.

Very Christian, that.

Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me (Mt 19:21).

Jesus didn’t give moral direction on national macro-economic or governmental fiscal policy: he challenged the closed minds spoke into the sinful hearts of individuals. Perhaps before pontificating on the morality of Trussonomics, James O’Brien might stop his selfish hording and invite the poor, destitute and hungry into his own home.