08 December 2006

The left hates mobility

The observation that so-called 'relative poverty' — which really means inequality — has increased under New Labour may seem surprising. Surely the promotion of equality, even at the cost of lower economic growth, is what being on the left is all about? Isn't that what they mean when they talk about 'social justice', 'fairness' etc? Why would New Labour's policies have segregated the lower social classes even more from the upper ones?

But what is it that really gets the average leftist's goat? Is it seeing some having more money than others, because of unfair advantages such as richer parents or a higher level of intelligence? But then why are so many on the left, particularly those responsible for inventing and implementing egalitarian policies, themselves from, and in, higher income brackets?

Or is what makes the bile rise in the typical leftist rather the sight of a person from a modest background trying to rise up the social ladder, or to get their children to do so — the classic Marxist hatred of petit bourgeois self-improvement? Consider, for example, the hostility from left-leaning commentators towards 'pushy parents' — the kind that try to ensure their kids do better, by buying them more educational toys, or by trying to get into the catchment area for a comprehensive school that is less awful than the average. Such reactions suggest it's aspiration (often described as "greed"), rather than the simple state of being well off, which causes leftists to reach for the smelling salts.

The term 'meritocracy' was coined by socialist Michael Young in his 1958 book The Rise of the Meritocracy and intended to carry negative connotations. The book warned of the dire consequences of allowing social position to be determined purely by intelligence. Nearly fifty years later, the left wing fear of meritocracy has not gone away. See for example the following comment by Blair muse and Third Way architect Anthony Giddens (now Lord Giddens) on what he calls the "new egalitarianism":

The new egalitarianism is sceptical about the virtues of pure meritocracy. ... A high level of "exchange mobility", where many individuals exchanged positions over time, would in all probability be socially destructive. No society could cope easily with the large degrees of downward mobility that are implied in this; it would promote widespread feelings of disaffection and despair. (New Statesman)
In other words, mobility creates inequality, and is therefore better suppressed.

So no one should be very surprised that social mobility has declined under Blair, according to a study by the London School of Economics.

Incidentally, like most such research, the study completely evades the possibility that the correlation between the income level of parents and the income level of their offspring might be due to the genetic transmission of ability.


Dart said...

In typical right-wing style you advocate the need for "growth". Sure the leftists suppress growth and the fact frustrates you to no end, but what on earth are you growing towards?
It seems a strange question to consider seeing as everyone in society must being doing something with their lives at all times, but it's always left out what exactly we're "growing" and "progressing" towards. Is it toward the steady destruction of the natural world because not doing so would constitute "non-growth" and should therefore be avoided? Surely it is not towards anything beneficial for humanity in general as that includes everyone and it appears you're strickly against such things. You would most likely advocate "growth" so intellectuals like yourself can get ahead of the innane "muck" that is the everyday person.
I'm curious, are you aware that you are going to die in a small matter of time (compared to the time span of human existence)? Then what? Continue the struggle until meaning is found?
Or is this all just an elaborate distraction from the harsh facts?


Fabian Tassano said...

You've picked up on a secondary point in my post, and I didn't actually say I approve of growth.

Growth is what happens spontaneously in the absence of collective interference. It depends on innovations by the intellectuals you appear to despise.

The reason there is less suffering now than 200 years ago has to do with growth rather than with collective action. If we had had socialism from the word go, people would still be dying from starvation and typhoid etc in the West.

I'm not saying people shouldn't worry about the destruction of the natural environment, but I don't believe in collectivised solutions.

Yes, I'm aware that death is always lurking. But like Nietzsche, I believe the correct response is to be expansive, rather than retreat into conservation and restrictiveness.

Dart said...

"I'm not saying people shouldn't worry about the destruction of the natural environment, but I don't believe in collectivised solutions."

So, while the rest of the world does their part to prevent global warming and the destruction of the natural environment, the United States can choose to ignore the facts and thus make the world worse off for those trying to solve the problem? If it is a collective problem the solution would have to be collective as well.

I think your arguments are quite valid and I agree that the overwhelming push for equality is probably not the best thing for us.

Thanks for responding.


Anonymous said...

although ability is transmitted many times genetically, it isin't always. one can rise up from obscure backgrounds and commoner families as geniuses such as Beethoven. I favour capitalism for rewarding ability, but aristocracy sometimes has its problems in that it can try to keep poor exceptional people from usurping them or challenging them. aristocratic families don't always produce productive children.

Fabian Tassano said...

I think you may be confusing two distinct points: (1) ability has an environmental component, (2) lower class parents can produce children with top quality genes. (2) can be true even if (1) were false, because of the way the two halves of each parent's gene set are mixed.

I certainly wasn't arguing (say) that aristocratic children are always of high ability. But their average ability may be higher than that of other classes. Having said which, I would find it easy to believe that the highest average IQ is found in the middle class, while the upper class score more highly on managerial skills. That would be consistent with the forces of selection over the last few centuries.

Yes, you're right, geniuses have often come from relatively modest backgrounds - more middle class than working class, though. That is why the potential for mobility is a good thing.

The point of my post was to suggest that, despite the left's rhetoric, it is the right which is in practice more tolerant of ability rising to the top of the heap.