There are more ways to tame a fat cat than choking it on cream

How depressing to read one of our most eminent sociologists concentrating on Blairist labour market policies as the main policy solution to inequality ("How to tame the fat cats", 25 October). By focusing mainly on income inequalities, Anthony Giddens slips into the usual new Labour inclination to narrow the identification of the major sources and range of inequality, playing down the significance of wealth, property and resources. The higher the income the greater the prospect of converting income into wealth and passing on advantage to succeeding generations. In Britain between 1978 and 1996 the proportion of households having no financial wealth actually rose from 6 per cent to 10 per cent, and half the population has less than £750. That sort of figure, combined with dependence on flexible employment, will not buy much computer use, legal advice or private school enrolment.

Giddens might be right to stress the problem of redistributive taxation. But by restricting his analysis in this way, he discounts the structural sources of unequal wealth, principally unaccountable concentrations of corporate property and control. Giddens' approach to wealth is to call for noblesse oblige responsibilities to balance the rights of the wealthy. But what about the limited rights the majority have over the capital they helped to create? Here, surely, lie the major poles of inequality as opposed to its borderlines between the poor and the middle-income groups?

It is the silence on extending these rights that prevents Third Way perspectives on inequality progressing beyond the old left policies they denounce. The fat cats need not be alarmed.

Bryn Jones
Senior Lecturer in Sociology
Deptartment of Social and Policy Sciences
University of Bath

This article first appeared in the 01 November 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Interview - David Ramsbotham