The Spectator's Notes

Were the US shootings racially motivated?

10 August 2019

9:00 AM

10 August 2019

9:00 AM

Who wrote ‘Our lifestyle is destroying the environment of our country … creating a massive burden for future generations. Corporations are heading the destruction of our environment by shamelessly over-harvesting resources … the next logical step is to decrease the number of people in America using resources. If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable’? The answer, if media reports are accurate, is Patrick Crusius, the man accused of the El Paso massacre. The words appeared in his testament, entitled (in homage to Al Gore?) The Inconvenient Truth, which he seems to have put online before decreasing the number of people in America by 22. Who said, on Twitter, ‘I want socialism, and I’ll not wait for the idiots to finally come round to understanding’? Connor Betts, the man accused of shooting nine people, including his sister, in Dayton, Ohio. This week’s reporting of the two atrocities has painted Crusius as a white supremacist. This does not seem to be accurate. In his manifesto, he is against ethnic mingling and mass immigration, but his view that immigrants should be killed is based not on racial superiority theory, but on his sense that too many people pollute the environment of America. He despairs of persuading his fellow Americans to change their consumerist lifestyles, so he decides to attack the ‘invaders’ instead. As for Betts, the self-styled ‘leftist’, coverage has tended to slide past his political views. It is seriously bad that both cases have been so partially reported. If we are to work out the motivations of unhappy/trigger-happy young men such as these, shouldn’t we carefully expose all the preposterous justifications they make for their evil acts? Some of them — mostly to do with race — come from the right. Some — mostly to do with saving the planet from human beings — come from the left. Betts sounds like a potential Bernie Sanders recruit. Crusius seems closer to Extinction Rebellion than to Donald Trump.

It feels natural to blame the internet for all this wickedness, but it cannot be as simple as that. An article in last week’s New Scientist reported a recent study of when governments shut down the internet, either by disconnecting the entire network or by ‘packet filtering’, which blocks requests to access certain websites. India seems to lead the world in internet shutdowns — 134 of them in 2018. An analysis of nearly 23,000 protests in India in the previous year showed that internet bans were more commonly followed by protests than preceded by them. If people cannot get information, they are more easily stirred to violence than if the net keeps them informed. The study, of course, came out before the latest from Kashmir, now totally cut off from the net. It would be a rash person who claimed that Kashmir, blacked-out, is less subject to fake news than it was before.

It is a good tactic of Dominic Cummings to make fearful but off-the-record noises about how a Johnson government might handle parliament in the next few weeks. He smokes out the ever more extreme notions of the other side without actually committing the government to any course other than leaving on 31 October. A tendency to drag the Queen into these conversations is a well-known sign of madness. Poor Dominic Grieve is clearly in a Cummings-induced state of delirium.

How striking that 43 per cent of adults, according to the latest IFS report, pay no income tax at all, up from 38 per cent in 2010. Even more striking is the fact that 1 per cent of earning adults — those on more than £160,000 a year — contribute 27 per cent of total income tax revenue. It is surely a one-statistic refutation of the claim that we are becoming a more unequal society. This benign effect is the result of Nigel Lawson’s famous Budget in 1988 in which he reduced the top rate of income tax — and all other tax rates on anything — to 40 per cent. The top income tax rate later went up to 50 per cent as Gordon Brown began to get everything wrong and fell back only to 45 per cent under David Cameron and George Osborne, but no one has dared destroy the Lawson settlement and return to the days of the 1970s, when top rates were over 80 per cent. This is for the good reason that lower rates produce more money for the Exchequer than do higher ones.

To see the disincentive power of tax, you have only to look at the current row over doctors refusing to do extra work once they earn £110,000 a year. Because of harsher tax rules about pension contributions at that level, they find that if they work more they have to pay so much extra tax that it isn’t worth it. If you want the poor to pay no income tax, then you must have huge revenues coming from the better-off. Those revenues can stay huge only if the rate is not punitive. As someone who has paid the top rate since, I think, the year after the Lawson Budget, I can testify that one’s psychological maximum is 40 per cent. From Brown onwards, we have strayed dangerously over that maximum (and the current tax burden is higher than it looks because of National Insurance and pension changes). Once you know that almost half of what you earn will be taken from you, your animal spirits droop. So eventually, does the entire economy.

‘Patient and disabled toilet’ it said on a door as I wheeled my mother down a hospital corridor this week for a minor check-up. For a moment, I mistakenly read the notice adjectively, so that the toilet was patient and disabled, just as the golf club in St Andrews is royal and ancient or the attorney-general is right honourable and learned. I felt a stab of pity for the toilet — so patient, so disabled, doomed to end its days in that condition in a provincial general hospital. If I were John Betjeman, I would write a poem in its honour.

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