Recapitalizing the Poor: A new Tory, old Republican theme
"The third goal of modern, progressive conservatism is the recapitalisation of the poor. Under the reign of the monopoly market, the poor have been wholly dispossessed. In 1976 the bottom 50% of the population owned 12% of the nation's liquid wealth; by 2003 they had just 1%. In the same period, the share enjoyed by the top 10% rose from 57% to 71%. Even when property is included, the bottom half of the population still only owns just 7% of the country's wealth."
The concern of conservatives with wealth distribution in not new: remember the calls for a 'property-owning democracy' and the drive to allow council tenants to buy their properties. But the concern of Phillip and other progressive conservatives (I like to call them the ProgCons) is not simply with home ownership. Indeed, they recognise that a fixation on owner-occupation has been partially responsible for our current economic predicament. The point is that capital underpins independence, builds resilience and fosters responsibility: all key themes in the ProgCon philosophy.
This element of the new Toryism overlaps with a rich vein of republican thought, from Cicero through Rousseau to Harrington - who urged a true 'commonwealth' of citizens. For republicans, a good society is one in which no individual is at the mercy of another. To be dominated or dependent is to lack liberty. Everyone must have an equal say in collective government if they are to be free; but they must have a stake, too. So Harrington argued in 1656 for 'the liberty not only of the commonwealth but of every man'.
In the hands of modern-day exponents such as Stuart White, Cecile Laborde, Quentin Skinner and Philip Pettit, republican thinking is undergoing something of a revival. And ensuring that all citizens are members of a true commonwealth - have a real capital stake - is a republican demand which, post-2008, looks anything but old-fashioned. Labour made a small amount of headway in the right direction with its Child Trust Funds (or at least the idea behind them), while the Conservatives were still flailing around in search of ideas or leaders. But with 'recapitalising the poor' back on the agenda - and this time from the Conservative side - a new republican moment may have arrived.