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By TheophileEscargot (Mon Apr 21, 2008 at 08:11:42 AM EST) Reading, Museums, MLP (all tags)
Reading: "Mind the Gap". Museums. Web.

What I'm Reading
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

Sasquatch or mangey bear?

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.

Million dollar blocks and the £700,000 shoplifter. (Via marginalrevolution)

Terror conviction threatens free speech

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.

She studied sculpture at St Martin's College | 17 comments (17 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
I object! by sasquatchan (4.00 / 3) #1 Mon Apr 21, 2008 at 08:49:05 AM EST
None of the above.

We all love you, sas by greyrat (4.00 / 2) #2 Mon Apr 21, 2008 at 11:26:32 AM EST
but when walking in the woodlands, I'm going to be thinking horse, not zebra . . . or something like that.

[ Parent ]
Subject matter of the book sounds interesting by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #3 Mon Apr 21, 2008 at 01:08:27 PM EST
I think the analysis would really get on my nerves though, it doesn't sound very well thought through.

Do you think you'll be going to the new botanical illustration gallery at Kew? I'm quite looking forward to going down in the summer. I love Kew anyway though.

It's political correctness gone mad!

Ought to go to Kew sometime by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #6 Mon Apr 21, 2008 at 10:04:44 PM EST
Haven't been there in ages.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
What worries me about that free speech article by Rogerborg (4.00 / 1) #4 Mon Apr 21, 2008 at 01:09:23 PM EST
Is that the hippy that wrote it appears to believe that "nobody could possibly sympathise" with a beardy ranty Peacelamist.  Well, not more than 1 in 6 or thereabouts anyway.

Apropos your title, you haven't heard Common People until you've heard SHATNER doing it.

Metus amatores matrum compescit, non clementia.

I have the album [nt] by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #7 Mon Apr 21, 2008 at 10:06:23 PM EST

It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
honestly by dev trash (4.00 / 1) #5 Mon Apr 21, 2008 at 02:36:17 PM EST
Not all of use from PA, think that a mangey bear is the yeti.

The nuclear family by lm (2.50 / 2) #8 Tue Apr 22, 2008 at 01:44:00 AM EST
In The Byzantine Economy the authors argue that the nuclear family was one of the reasons why the Byzantine society was so stable for so long. Among other things, a nuclear family inhibits the growth of economic disparity by preventing the accumulation of wealth by a single economic unit, the extended family.

But that was a different time and place. I can see how during a time when labor is devalued due to the invention of machinery, an extended family living as a single economic unit would make far more sense.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
He more attributes it to increased prosperity by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #10 Tue Apr 22, 2008 at 08:35:37 AM EST
Michael Anderson in his studies of industrial Lancashire, the heartland of the Industrial Revolution, suggests that this startling increase in parents and grandparents living together occurred for strictly economic reasons. For the first time, parents who both worked at the mill were earning enough to feed the grandparents; in return the grandparents could act as childminders for them or their neighbours and perhaps perform a few odd jobs as well. Moreover, the children could remain at home longer than in rural pre-industrial England because their earnings would contribute towards the household expenses -- whereas in the country, there would be enough work on the farm for only a small minority to stay at home until they married. Despite its barbarities and deprivations, one thing that the Industrial Revolution did not do was break up families.
I'm a little suspicious though: at times he almost seems to be portraying the 19th century as a kind of golden age before the nanny state came in and wrecked everything.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Increased prosperity is certainly involved by lm (2.50 / 2) #12 Tue Apr 22, 2008 at 11:56:24 AM EST
But it seems to me that the causal relationship is reversed. Extended families pooling resources will increase the prosperity of the family as a whole relative to the extended family living as nuclear families.

It also seems to me that such a decision (to move the extended family back together) is the most rational at times of fiscal crises. At least, this scenario played out in the US Great Depression and subsequent recessions. When times get tough, adult children (and sometimes grandchildren) move back in with mom and dad to whether out the storm. But I'll allow that such a decision with regards to family living may look attractive during times of prosperity for this or that reason.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Hmmm by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #15 Tue Apr 22, 2008 at 08:37:10 PM EST
I would guess in periods of depression there would be two factors at play.

On the one hand, you don't want to support non-earners, so there would be a pressure to send childen out to get jobs somewhere else.

On the other hand, the number of jobs available in such a period decreases. So that might create a pressure for forced non-earners to move back with the parents and reduce their living costs.

I'm not sure which effect would dominate: had a quick Google but couldn't find much empirical evidence.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Mao meets Oakshott by Scrymarch (4.00 / 2) #9 Tue Apr 22, 2008 at 06:57:01 AM EST
There was an excellent review of that book a few years ago in the LRB. I haven't got round to the book itself though.

For the most part, it isn’t bad commentary. If the broadsheets were badly written, if the sermonisers and pundits couldn’t speak in coherent sentences, if you routinely turned the radio on to hear people not making any sense, it would all be much easier to dismiss. That, though, is not the problem with what passes for intellectual and political life in Britain. The problem with our public culture is not that it is low-grade: it is that it is fluent, clear, coherent, often vividly expressed, and more or less entirely free of fresh intellectual content. You can go whole weeks reading the broadsheet press without encountering a new idea; you can listen to hundreds of hours of broadcast debate and encounter nothing but received wisdoms.
It is in this context that Ferdinand Mount’s book Mind the Gap is so welcome. He has written an essay about class in which it is possible to disagree with almost every assertion and produce counter-examples for almost every fact, but which gives the strange, giddy-making sensation that there is a source of oxygen somewhere in the room.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

It's an interesting review by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #11 Tue Apr 22, 2008 at 08:37:54 AM EST
But I think all these inequality debates are a bit obsolete if they don't take into account the credit crunch and the possible recession.

It seems to me that the reason that inequality has grown recently is that we've had an exceptionally long, exceptionally strong economic boom period, in which the new wealth has gone to the upper and middle classes.

The question is how much this will be corrected by the recession part of the cycle.

So they've just announced they're going to shove up to 50 billion pounds into the mortgage market via the trouser pockets of the bankers. One thing that's not going to do is help the underclass at all. They don't own houses, and by raising property prices, it may make them worse off.

I think the interesting thing is how much of the inequality created by capitalism is going to be retained by government policy...
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
It's a fair point by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #13 Tue Apr 22, 2008 at 02:49:21 PM EST
If you had money and a little sense over the last decade you had that money in the stockmarket and / or housing, and saw it shoot up like magic. If you were on the minimum wage around London I wouldn't be surprised if your costs chased your income pretty closely, mainly due to rent since non-luxury goods were kept cheap by China etc. Or you might have gone backwards on credit card debt. It was a kind of rich get richer, poor stay still economy.

Because so much of the intervention on both sides of the Atlantic this time around has been preemptive, it has also been extremely conservative in a small c  way. This also goes for intergenerational equity. A true housing bust is going to be the best chance for younger people to get on the housing ladder. Its almost an extension of the problems with middle class / universal welfare in general. Great Depression did wonders for relative income inequality ...

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

[ Parent ]
Missed the link by Scrymarch (4.00 / 2) #14 Tue Apr 22, 2008 at 02:51:33 PM EST
Fascinating review by Alan Crowe (4.00 / 1) #17 Wed Apr 23, 2008 at 08:15:19 AM EST
Mount has specific suggestions about what to do: basically, school vouchers and a massive building programme to get the Downers out of their housing estates. But that in itself won’t be enough, as Mount acknowledges in one of his engaging Mao-meets-Oakeshott moments: ‘Only a wholehearted, even reckless opening up of genuine, substantial power to the bottom classes is likely to improve either their self-esteem or the view which the managing classes take of them – which is what makes the managing classes so reluctant to effect any such transfer.’

I think people under-estimate the power of school vouchers as a reform. Grammar schools and secondary moderns were before my time, so I fear that my grasp of the history is a little shaky. However I think there are two stories, the visible and the invisible.

In the visible story 10% of children go to Grammar school and are made for life, while 90% go to secondary modern and are conveyed into the working class. So it is vital to get your child into the Grammar school, but there aren't enough places to go round. The system becomes deeply hated and is replaced by comprehensive schools.

There is something not right about this story. By 11 the divergences in children's academic aptitudes becomes a problem. Selecting the children into separate schools helps all of them, both those who would be bored and those who would be left behind by average schooling. So there is a price to be paid for comprehensivisation. Why where people so keen to pay it?

The invisible bit, where I not sure of my history, is the money. I think that Grammar schools got three times the money per pupil that secondary moderns got. Underneath "selection" lies the real issue: capitation.

School vouchers would have made this very visible. This would have altered the political debate out of all recognition.

[ Parent ]
Exhibit by ad hoc (2.00 / 0) #16 Wed Apr 23, 2008 at 04:37:34 AM EST
at the IWM
The three things that make a diamond also make a waffle.
She studied sculpture at St Martin's College | 17 comments (17 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback