Finished Mind the Gap: The New Class Divide in Britain by Ferdinand Mount. Moderately interesting book on the class system. The first half makes some pretty good points and debunks quite a few myths. He uses examples like Disraeli to show that the British class system has never been as rigid as is sometimes thought. He considers the industrial revolution in detail; pointing out that while it was accused of destroying traditional family life, in practice it showed the reverse. Illegitimacy rates were higher in the country than in the towns: greater population densities produced if anything a more rigid morality. He contrasts this with the attitudes of the elite, that the new urban masses were living lives of moral degeneracy, helpless and in desperate need of the upper classes to save them from themselves.
(More dubiously, he also claims that pre-industrialization people lived in more nuclear families, and that it was only with industrialization several generations lived under one roof.)
He then moves up to describing the bottom-up institutions of the new working class: the subscription schools, the nonconformist churches, the Sunday schools, the friendly societies: all the institutions that provided a social safety net and working-class education before the government ever got involved.
Mount's quite good on contrasting all this with the insistence of the upper classes that the working classes were helpless victims. In particular, he points out that the nonconformist ministers and churches were vilified in fiction and in speeches as being corrupt parasites, whereas in practice they were in the core of working-class self-improvement. However, as an old-school Tory, Mount does seem to regard this as a more stunning revelation than it will be to anyone with a slight familiarity with the labour movement.
The second half of the book is rather less convincing, as he tries to argue that the modern system of state-funded education and welfare should be largely dismantled, in order to return to this golden age of self-reliance. He regards this as desirable both because these institutions were effective, and because they empowered the then-underclass, while the current welfare state disempowers them. I see several problems with this, none of which are really addressed.
First, these bottom-up institutions existed because of strong negative incentives. If you didn't educate your children yourself, they wouldn't get educated. If you didn't pay into a friendly society fund, you'd starve if you got sick. There were plenty of people outside the self-help networks who suffered miserably. I don't think you can recreate these institutions without recreating these incentives. That means purposefully allowing those sections of the underclass who aren't going to be organized enough to suffer. The kids with really bad parents (alcoholics, drug addicts) aren't going to be educated. Their parents will sometimes starve. I'm not sure the benefits of self-reliance will make all this worthwhile.
Second, the contemporary underclass is much smaller than the Victorian working class. Mayhew famously divided "the metropolitan poor under three separate phases, according as they will work, they can't work, and they won't work". Suppose that the people who were the organized 19th century working class are now part of the middle class. The contemporary underclass may be more like the disorganized section of it: those who didn't organize Sunday schools and self-improvement and self-insurance. If so, abolishing the welfare state isn't going to return them to self-reliance, it's going to shove them right back into Dickensian squalor.
Finally, in what seems to me only tangentially related to the earlier points, Mount calls for planning laws to be relaxed so that the poor can create smallholdings in the countryside, to be mixed between farming, housing and small business. He points out that in countries like France small farmers still exist in large numbers.
This doesn't seem to really make a lot of sense to me. Economies of scale make large farms vastly more efficient: French small farmers are essentially welfare recipients acting as a drag on the wider economy. Now yes, they're allowed an illusion of self-reliance which boosts their morale. But this system hasn't eliminated the French underclass, who exist in tower blocks in the banlieus, no better off than the British underclass in their sink estates. All it's done is create two separate classes of welfare recipient, largely divided on racial lines.
Overall, the book has some interesting historical observations, but it's extremely weak in its contemporary policy proposals.
Had a very quick look at the Fascination with nature: birds, flowers and insects in Chinese art and The American Scene: Prints from Hopper to Pollock exhibitions at the British Museum. A few interesting things there: liked the boxing scenes and some of the other bits of everyday life. Was a lot more crowded than those rooms normally are though: they seem to have hyped this exhibition more than normal. Hopefully that's just a one-off and not the shape of things to come.
Woman dances with 4yo self
Socioeconomics. Only the wealthier vote based on religion:
Religious Americans are more Republican than secular Americans, but the difference between them is mostly among the middle class and rich-- the "post-materialist" values voters. The evidence does not support the idea that lower-income Americans are voting based on "God, guns, and gays."Kaletsky on the global economy and the commodities bubble.
But no evidence was presented at Izzadeen’s trial to show that those three sentences, delivered during an 11-hour dirge, were part of a broader fundraising campaign, or that anyone sent money to Iraqi insurgents upon hearing Izzadeen’s comments. And yet Izzadeen and others were found guilty of ‘fundraising for terrorists’ as surely as if they had been caught red-handed with dollars destined for the coffers of al-Qaeda. Likewise, no evidence was presented to show that Izzadeen’s words incited anyone to go to Iraq and blow up some Brits or Yanks; instead it has been argued that his comments ‘contributed to an atmosphere’ in which some Muslims consider killing to be a religious duty (3). Contributed to an atmosphere? When it comes to ‘indirect incitement’, that is about as indirect as it gets...
The promiscuous redefinition of incitement is bad news for all of us. If the words spoken in a mosque, on a street corner or at a public rally are redefined as violent things in themselves, then that opens up thought and speech to the closer scrutiny and policing of the authorities.
|< Dear The Internet, | ATTENTION JULIE BECKMANN INFIDEL: >|