Business Book of the Week – Them and Us – why we need a fair society by Will Hutton

Them and Us: Changing Britain – Why We Need a Fair Society by Will Hutton

In a small village in Oxfordshire, last Friday night, there was the latest in a series of public talks being given to raise funds to replace the Village Hall. The series has been going for a couple of years, and speakers have included Colin Dexter, Prue Leith, and Gerry Anderson. Last Friday’s speaker was the former editor of the Observer, and current executive Vice-Chair of the Work Foundation (previously known as the Industrial Society).

His talk coincided with the publication of his latest book, “Them and Us: Changing Britain – Why We Need a Fair Society”.

It could be a fortunate coincidence, that the word ‘fair’ has been used a great deal by politicians in recent weeks, especially since the General Election. Hutton’s argument is that human beings are genetically programmed to have a sense of fairness. It is the principle, he says, which underlines our appreciation of the NHS and can explain many of the current problems in society.

We need, for example, to restructure capitalism around the principle of fairness. Although Hutton is described as a left-of-centre economic philosopher, he is clearly respected by politicians on both sides, and he made a concerted effort to outline how his argument could be embraced across the political spectrum – fairness as getting what you deserve.

Hutton believes that all humans understand that reward and punishment ought to be distributed according to how much effort we have put in. For this reason, Hutton claims, the principle of inheritance tax is misunderstood by George Osbourne and the Conservatives – it is not a ‘death tax’ but rather a ‘we are all sharing in your good luck tax’. Hutton certainly showed that a counter-argument, at least, is needed to show why it is acceptable for an individual’s good fortune in life should be determined so completely by the accident of their birth.

He used the inherent value of fairness to argue that we must help people to break from self-perpetuating circles of poverty: a society which makes the best use of all of its citizens will be a more productive society.

Hutton’s calls for a fairer society are based on firm foundations, with historical precedents, and as you might expect a journalist’s strong grasp of the accompanying political and economic considerations. His call for change, both in theory and practice, is both coherent and well considered: only when capitalism is underlined by a concern for fairness can it (and society) hope to survive.

Sadly, the Wootton talks themselves aren’t recorded, but… you can hear Hutton explaining more about his theory of Fairness, in the talk he gave on 11 November 2009 at the London School of Economics. Unfortunately their talks aren’r particularly easy to navigate through, but follow the link below and then search for the date:

If you feel like reading the full story, why not buy a copy of Hutton’s newly published book?

Best wishes

Graham Wilson – 07785 222380

PS My previous Business Book of the Week was ““The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working” by Tony Schwartz et al (25/09/10) – Helping leaders see situations, organisations, themselves and others, differently – Motivation and advice for senior executives exploring new opportunities

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