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Welcome to the new Middle Ages Rising inequality, lower mobility, contempt for the poor and widespread celibacy — we're returning to the past

LA: the new serfs and aristocrats. Credit: Robyn Beck / AFP

LA: the new serfs and aristocrats. Credit: Robyn Beck / AFP


November 23, 2020   7 mins

Today the richest 40 Americans have more wealth than the poorest 185 million Americans. The leading 100 landowners now own 40 million acres of American land, an area the size of New England. There has been a vast increase in American inequality since the mid-20th century, and Europe — though some way behind — is on a similar course.

These are among the alarming stats cited by Joel Kotkin’s The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, published earlier this year just as lockdown sped up some of the trends he chronicled: increased tech dominance, rising inequality between rich and poor, not just in wealth but in health, and record levels of loneliness (4,000 Japanese people die alone each week, he cheerfully informs us).

Kotkin is among a handful of thinkers warning about a cluster of related trends, including not just inequality but declining social mobility, rising levels of celibacy and a shrinking arena of political debate controlled by a small number of like-minded people.

The one commonality is that all of these things, along with the polarisation of politics along quasi-religious lines, the decline of nationalism and the role of universities in enforcing orthodoxy, were the norm in pre-modern societies. In our economic structure, our politics, our identity and our sex lives we are moving away from the trends that were common between the first railway and first email. But what if the modern age was the anomaly, and we’re simply returning to life as it has always been?

Inequality was almost universal from the agricultural to the industrial revolution, and medieval Europe would have had a GINI index higher than modern Latin America, with a handful of families owning up to a quarter of land in England, and the monarch a similar share.

Most of the medieval left-behinds would have worked at home or nearby, the term “commuter” only being coined in the 1840s as going to an office or factory became the norm, a trend that only began to reverse in the 21st century (accelerating sharply this year).

Although I imagine most people will return to the office after the vaccine, unemployment patterns will continue on their pre-modern course. One of the peculiar features of the modern world is the shortage of labour, while the medieval era was characterised by mass underemployment, except in times of harvest, which is why land was so valuable relative to labour.

The industrial revolution increased the demand for labour and helped drive up wages, which rocketed in the 18th century, but with automation increasing numbers will be unemployed or underemployed; while government policies used to focus on creating work, the seemingly inevitable logic of Universal Basic Income reflects the fact that we may have to give up on that dream.

Along with income stratification, another pre-modern trend is the decline of social mobility, which almost everywhere is slowing (with the exception of immigrant communities, many of whom come from the middle class back home).

Social mobility in the US has fallen by 20% since the early 1980s, according to Kotkin, and the Californian-based Antonio Garcia Martinez has talked of an informal caste system in the state, with huge wage differences between rich and poor and housing restrictions removing any hope of rising up. California now has among the most dystopian of income inequality, with vast numbers of multimillionaires but also a homeless underclass now suffering from “medieval” diseases.

Unfortunately, where California leads, America and then Europe follows.

Social mobility was not unknown before the modern age, but it was rare and mostly only possible through the Church or war. William of Wykeham was the son of a Hampshire freeman and rose to become Bishop of Winchester and also Chancellor of England, founding Winchester College, the oldest public school in England, with its famous motto “Manners makyth man”. But Wykeham was fortunate to have received patronage from two wealthy men, which was necessary before the age of welfare and free education.

Patronage has made a comeback, especially among artists, who have largely returned to their pre-modern financial norm: desperate poverty. Whereas musicians and writers have always struggled, the combination of housing costs, reduced government support and the internet has ended what was until then an unappreciated golden age; instead they turn once again to patrons, although today it is digital patronage rather than aristocratic benevolence.

A caste system creates caste interests, and some liken today’s economy to medieval Europe’s tripartite system, in which society was divided between those who pray, those who fight and those who work. Just as the medieval clergy and nobility had a common interest in the system set against the laborers, so it is today, with what Thomas Piketty calls the Merchant Right and Brahmin Left — two sections of the elite with different worldviews but a common interest in the liberal order, and a common fear of the third estate.

This new age of liberal inequality is dominated by and defined by tech, with the four big firms, Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook, having a GDP equal to France. Tech accounts for eight of the 20 richest people on earth, as well as nine of the richest 13 under-40s, all of them based in California.

Tech is by nature anti-egalitarian, creating natural monopolies that wield vastly more power than any of the great industrial barons of the modern age, and have cultural power far greater than newspapers of the past, closer to that of the Church in Kotkin’s view; their algorithms and search engines shape our worldview and our thoughts, and they can, and do, censor people with heretical views.

Rising inequality and stratification is linked to the decline of modern sexual habits. The nuclear family is something of a western oddity, developing as a result of Catholic Church marriage laws and reaching its zenith in the 19th and 20th centuries with the Victorian cult of family and mid-20th century “hi honey I’m home” Americana. Today, however, the nuclear household is in decline, with 32 million American adults living with their parents or grandparents, a growing trend in pretty much all western countries except Scandinavia (which may partly explain the region’s relative success with Covid-19).

This is a return to the norm, as with the rise of the involuntarily celibate. Celibacy was common in medieval Europe, where between 15-25% of men and women would have joined holy orders. In the early modern period, with rising incomes and Protestantism, celibacy rates plunged but they have now returned to the medieval level.

The first estate of this neo-feudal age is centred on academia, which has likewise returned to its pre-modern norm. At the time of the 1968 student protests university faculty in both the US and Britain slightly leaned left, as one would expect of the profession. By the time of Donald Trump’s election many university departments had Democrat: Republican ratios of 20, 50 or even 100:1. Some had no conservative academics, or none prepared to admit it. Similar trends are found in Britain.

Around 900 years ago Oxford evolved out of communities of monks and priests; for centuries it was run by “clerics”, although that word had a slightly wider meaning, and such was the legacy that the celibacy rule was not fully dropped until 1882.

This was only a decade after non-Anglicans were allowed to take degrees for the first time, Communion having been a condition until then. A similar pattern existed in the United States, where each university was associated with a different church: Yale and Harvard with the Congregationalists, Princeton with Presbyterians, Columbia with Episcopalians. The increasingly narrow focus on what can be taught at these institutions is not new.

Similarly, politics has returned to its pre-modern role of religion. The internet has often been compared to the printing press, and when printing was introduced it didn’t lead to a world of contemplative philosophy; books of high-minded inquiry were vastly outsold by tracts about evil witches and heretics.

The word “medieval” is almost always pejorative but the post-printing early modern period was the golden age of religious hatred and torture; the major witch hunts occurred in an age of rising literacy, because what people wanted to read about was a lot of the time complete garbage. Likewise, with the internet, and in particular the iPhone, which has unleashed the fires of faith again, helping spread half-truths and creating a new caste of firebrand preachers (or, as they used to be called, journalists).

Most of us grew up in the industrial age of politics, when the great divide was over class and economics. But that is something of an anomaly — and the culture wars that were first identified in the mid-90s are just the return to normal, of people screeching at each other about their sinful beliefs.

English politics from the 16th to the 19th century was “a branch of theology” in Robert Tombs’s words; Anglicans and rural landowners formed the Conservative Party, and Nonconformists and the merchant elite the core of the Liberal Party. It was only with industrialisation that political focus turned to class and economics, but the identity-based conflict between Conservatives and Labour in the 2020s seems closer to the division of Tories and Whigs than to the political split of 50 years ago; it’s about worldview and identity rather than economic status.

Post-modern politics have also shaped pre-modern attitudes to class. In medieval society the poor were despised, and numerous words stem from names for the lower orders, among them ignoble, churlish, villain and boor (in contrast “generous” comes from generosus, and “gentle” from gentilis, terms for the aristocracy). Medieval poems and fables depict peasant as credulous, greedy and insolent — and when they get punched, as they inevitably do, they deserve it.

Compare this to the evolution of comedy in the post-industrial west, where the butt of the joke is the rube from the small town, laughed at for being out of touch with modern political sensibilities. The most recent Borat film epitomises this form of modern comedy that, while meticulously avoiding any offence towards the sacred ideas of the elite, relentlessly humiliates the churls.

The third estate are mocked for still clinging to that other outmoded modern idea, the nation-state. Nation-states rose with the technology of the modern day — printing, the telegraph and railways — and they have been undone by the technology of the post-modern era. A liberal in England now has more in common with a liberal in Germany than with his conservative neighbour, in a way that was not possible before the internet.

Nations were semi-imagined communities, and what follows is a return to the norm — tribalism, on a micro scale, but tribalism nonetheless, whether along racial, religious or most likely political-sectarian tribes. Indeed, in some ways we’re seeing a return to empire.

The common theme running through all these trends is the decline of the middle class, a group who were unusually strong in the industrial age but are struggling in the tech era. The mid-century United States may have been the best time ever to be the average man, although as always one form of equality clashes with another; egalitarianism between men went with reduced opportunities for women, as well as racial exclusivity.

The middle-class age meant the triumph of bourgeoise values and the decline of the middle class has led to their downfall, widely despised and mocked by believers in the higher-status bohemian attitudes. Now the age of the average man is over, and the age of the global aristocrat has arrived.


Ed West’s book Tory Boy is published by Constable

edwest

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Emperor Caligula
Emperor Caligula
3 years ago

…And baffling as it seems, it is the children of the middle class that lead the charge into the bleak future depicted here. It is not the children of the “small town rubes” that get sucked into the identity politics dead-end and get themselves into six-figure debt for getting a degree in Transphobia Studies in 18th Century Latvian Literature.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago

” a degree in Transphobia Studies in 18th Century Latvian Literature.”
c.99% of the students DO NOT study transphobia or gender studies. Anecdotal stories aside the noisy crowd is a very very tiny minority.

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

In the US, 6% of all bachelor’s degrees are in psychology alone. Almost all of these people would definitely have studied transphobia and gender studies as part of their degree. This doesn’t include people studying humanities and social sciences who would also be taught these subjects. It is wildly untrue to say that 99% of students do not study these topics.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

That 6% is a terrifying, but unsurprising, statistic. And, of course, it explains why ‘mental health’ is rammed down our throats all the time. All these wretched psychologists etc have a vested interest in telling us that we are all suffering from ‘mental health’ problems. It is a key factor in the decline of the West.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I had a problem in my twenties and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. I said to the psychologist that I am searching for truth. He replied there isn’t any truth. Everybody makes their own truth. I am glad I persisted and didn’t take this destructive thought into my psyche. Most of them haven’t even scratched the surface.

Julian Newman
Julian Newman
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Mental health is not the main preoccupation of most Psychologists, I think you will find, and many specialists in mental health are not Psychologists at all.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

I find that most people who study these subjects are just lost and have left their bearings behind somewhere. They just comment on what they are seeing which doesn’t really lead anywhere.

Julian Newman
Julian Newman
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

I feel I must stand up for Psychology: if anything it veers towards scientism rather than towards critical theory. The big threat, really, comes from the unholy alliance between the wokerati and the university administrators, because both share an agenda of undermining the professional status of academic disciplines.

notgodzod
notgodzod
3 years ago
Reply to  Julian Newman

I agree, though psychology and the social sciences in general are under serious threat from ideas stemming from critical theory.

Michael Cowling
Michael Cowling
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

Given that HR departments are often staffed by psychologists, I’d imagine that they also do courses on personnel mismanagement and rubbing people up the wrong way.

alicerowlands
alicerowlands
3 years ago

HR departments are never for the benefit of the staff!

Scott Carson
Scott Carson
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

I don’t have a degree in psychology, but I suspect he was joking.

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago
Reply to  Scott Carson

He wasn’t joking. He was exaggerating to mock young people studying for the types of degrees that he doesn’t believe are worthwhile. It’s a common theme.

Robert Forde
Robert Forde
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

And based on the idea that education is schooling, ie, training for a specific job. Anything that doesn’t is mocked as useless. Very Thatcher. Yet Thascism is in large measure what is wrong with current society. She (and Reagan in the US) began the slide into so-called “neoliberalism”, in reality the least socially liberal form of economic system. It is morally bankrupt, because when personal enrichment is the only goal of economic behaviour, and lack of it leads to extreme poverty, the scenario that the article describes is what follows.

We have cabinet ministers who read Ayn Rand regularly (an extreme capitalist who admired a child killer because he recognised no rules), and others who cannot recognise that the philosophy of “devil take the hindmost” is as antisocial as crime.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

And based on the idea that education is schooling, ie, training for a specific job. Anything that doesn’t is mocked as useless.
When that education leaves the holder with a massive debt and limited, if any, professional options, “useless” sounds almost charitable. A university education is supposed to be training for what follows, not an indulgence of personal whims.

David Parry
David Parry
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Thank you for illustrating so beautifully what is (to my mind) wrong with the capitalist attitude to education. In any decent society, education would have value for its own sake, not based on its ability to create an optimal labour force for capital to exploit.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  David Parry

So the socialist, communist, or fascist attitude to education subscribes to the value of degrees to nowhere? No, it doesn’t. In Western nations not called the US, college is not treated like a theme park for all to enter. But you’ve done a nice job of revealing yourself with boilerplate like “labor force for capital to exploit.”

At least a person who racked up a debt on a degree with no utility faces little danger of being exploited, because the exploitation already occurred.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

One is not being exploited because they have found a job which keeps them productive and helps supply their need. There are good companies and bad companies and many in between. Putting them all in one sack doesn’t really help. By the way the communist system exploited far more workers than capitalism ever could or would.

Gerry Quinn
Gerry Quinn
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Conrad

“Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite” – John Kenneth Galbraith

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
3 years ago
Reply to  David Parry

It is not wrong to work and be productive. We seem to live in a time where idleness is rewarded by using the money that productive people have earned.

Chris C
Chris C
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Conrad

Quite a lot of the idleness is caused by private sector executives cutting jobs. That creates idle people who can then be described, by those who are not executives but are ideologically inclined to right-wing views, as “rewarded by using the money that productive people have earned”. Meanwhile the private sector executives award themselves a few million in extra bonuses that year for their strenuous work in “taking costs out of the system”.

Meanwhile, many of the productive people find that their pay and non-pay benefits and working conditions are continuously massaged downwards while the pay and benefits of the executives themselves rise inexorably – paid, ultimately, out of the wealth generated by the productive people, for whom the office politics and irrational decision-making of the executives is an obstacle. One of the reasons the productive people suffer a reduction in their pay and conditions is that some of the executives recycle a bit of their wealth into funding political parties which hamstring trade unions while ensuring that company law favours the executives. A couple of examples: here in the UK we’ve had cases of workers voting by a majority to strike, followed by a judge declaring the strike illegal on a technicality. We’ve also had some cases of a majority of shareholders voting against some particularly gold-plated executive remuneration scheme – but the executives get their money anyway because shareholder votes on how shareholder funds are disbursed are legally only “advisory” on the executives.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Conrad

This is a moralizing argument, which may be appropriate in the wider world outside of a University, but it is fatal to independent thought within a University. The thing about independent thought is that it should be genuinely independent (hence leading to a pre-defined ‘career’ is ruled OUT).

Philosophy (which is the global source if all ideas) should be the highest department in a University. The only other things that should be taught are things which aid the study of philosophy (seen as a constantly changing search for the ‘Truth’) . Therefore Classics, (enabling the study of ancient Greek, Roman, and Hebrew thinkers, along with some others from different language traditions), Foreign Languages (to enable translation of philosophical works (fictional literature not being important), History, because there is an overlap between documenting the ideas of the past, understanding them and assessing what contribution they can make to thought now etc., etc. Religion obviously. Any subject being studied for the sake of a job or career can be studied elsewhere, in dedicated environments (Schools of ‘X’).

What someone looking for a job wants is the latest up-to-date information on the practical field being studied, which can be learned by rote and applied to a work practice (that information may change itself, in line with the job). Obsolete information will be ignored. It will not be at all relevant. But one cannot say, in philosophy, that any view or belief at all, however ancient, is irrelevant. Plato remains relevant today, as does Hegel or any other great philosophic mind.

The real problem is, how to fund the useless people whose only role is to clarify thought? Funding from rich businessmen would likely have strings attached, a pressure to downplay certain findings (e.g. as in medicine|). Aristocratic patronage is today unlikely (most modern aristocrats are completely bogus). So how to pay Kierkegaard while he’s penning a large critical essay on the difference between being and non-being (or whatever)? Not everyone can be a journalist, or come from a wealthy family. State aid? Alright for communists, but surely not right for the independent mind. That is the conundrum.

David Butler
David Butler
3 years ago
Reply to  David Parry

My daughter, a product of the state system, studied music at uni – we all knew and accepted it had little utility and was unlikely to lead into a well paid career in music or much else. Instead we all accepted it was OK to study the art to a higher academic level because she loved it and it might be her only opportunity to do so ever. So worth 4 years and a pile of debt. As it turns out she discovered a drive to succeed and a gift for teaching that has led to a successful music teaching career in the private sector. But my points are that the young are sometimes less naïve than we assume and are capable of appreciating the value of education in the arts for its own sake. It is also good that universities are still allowed to offer such ‘useless’ degree courses.

Aaron Kevali
Aaron Kevali
3 years ago
Reply to  David Butler

Studying music is a demonstrable and valuable skill, like speaking another language, it can’t be done by just anyone with no work. But anyone can parrot trite pop-psychology from ‘uni’, quote Marx or feel agreived because other ehtnicites/genders/social groups are doing better on average. I’ve met university-educated leftists who seem to have learnt nothing of value to anyone, indeed, they have been stunted severely by their so-called education.

alicerowlands
alicerowlands
3 years ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

Agreed – music and languages are valuable skills which once mastered can be taught and used to make a living – a talented musician can always find work as can a talented linguist.
Those of us who love the subject but have limited talent can pursue our passion in our free time at evening classes or online.

Aaron Kevali
Aaron Kevali
3 years ago
Reply to  David Parry

It could be for it’s own sake if the subject matter had a positive formative influence on the character of those who study it (and was actually TRUE, of course, unlike much of the ‘soft sciences’). Besides, education has never just been for its own sake, in any time or any place. For atarters, it actually costs to teach or be taught. It has never been free in any time or place (someone always pays for it somewhere). Why shouldn’t education have an end in mind, even *gasp* an influence on one’s ability to contribute productively to one’s family and society?

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Sadly that is what it is becoming in addition to the marxism they appear to be fed with. Trying to get everyone into university has sadly devalued it over the long run.

alicerowlands
alicerowlands
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Conrad

I agree – a lot of undergraduates would probably be much happier doing a training course with a guaranteed job with good prospects at the end of it.
They can then follow their passions in their free time.

Jules Parkes
Jules Parkes
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Surely learning to study, set down ideas and generally expand one’s horizons is a good foundation for any work. A degree simply in an area you want to work in is rather utilitarian. A wider knowledge and culture seems to be vital – especially in these days. Also it does not necessarily enable the student to apply the knowledge when starting to work. I know many lawyers with first class law degrees but I would never put some of them in front of a client. While useful for research they often cannot provide practical solutions. I understand many City firms do not look first at entrants with law degrees. They are looking for more rounded candidates. Admittedly that may be harder to find these days if the poor student has been fed with a steady diet of woke propaganda and is unable to or dares not think for himself.

Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Why do you think a university education is meant to be “training”? It’s not vocational school.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

Thatcher and Reagan did it for their countries, not for selfish reasons. A poor country cannot do as much good in the world as a rich one. It’s a matter of motives which can be selfish or productive. I’m glad I was able to earn enough to look after my wife and children and give them a home and have some over to give.

Chris C
Chris C
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Conrad

Thatcher made Britain poorer by deindustrialising it. Compare the UK with Germany, which didn’t have a Thatcher.

andy young
andy young
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

Rand’s view of Hickman was hardly simple admiration https://aynrand.no/did-ayn-
I’ve read The Fountainhead & the impression I had was of someone who admired people with a huge sense of purpose & total self-reliance & despised those who used coercion; I had the feeling Roark would have torn the rock of the ground if he could in order to build his (hideous sounding) structures. It was a mad book but interesting. Overall Rand seemed more humane than Tressell, a man with nothing but contempt for his fellow workers, who I read at the same time.

Val Cox
Val Cox
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

Is Ayn Rand some “alt right” columnist then?

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago
Reply to  Val Cox

She was the 1950s equivalent of one. The Western world would be a far more civilised place if the Soviets had never given that woman an exit visa.

Aaron Kevali
Aaron Kevali
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

Economic liberalism and social liberalism work together very nicely to the same unfortunate ends, political parties just tend to emphasise one or the other more.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

Pillock.

alicerowlands
alicerowlands
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

The real issue is what is further education for?
Is it job training – such as degrees in medicine, law, engineering – degrees which lead straight into a profession or is it something broader and if the latter can it be afforded and justified?
It does seem insane to encourage young people to spend 4 years at university and come out with a mountain of debt only to discover their degree does not make them more employable than a school leaver with good A levels.
Maybe 18-year-olds should be encouraged into vocational training for skills which are in short supply paid for by the tax-payer as the economy will get the benefit soon after they qualify so a quick return on tax-payers’ investment.
Then the more academic subjects can be studied by the exceptionally gifted via scholarship schemes and those who can afford the fees without incurring massive debt – in other words – children of the wealthy – this means most university courses will be the preserve of the elite – which is how they were before the 60s.
Many colleges will close down or develop cheaper online alternatives where paying students can choose a package that fits their pocket and can study for pleasure in their free time.
Something like the Open University but possibly cheaper.
It does mean a much more elitist system but it would probably get rid of all the over-priced rubbish which a lot of institutions are currently offering and which the poor students discover after graduating are worthless in the real world.

Robert Forde
Robert Forde
3 years ago
Reply to  Scott Carson

I have three, and I’m sure of it!

Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago
Reply to  Scott Carson

Pseudo-medicalisation of society.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

You ‘fell’ for that one rather easily. More irony training required, I think.

David Stuckey
David Stuckey
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Or possibly not trying too hard to be clever? Say what you mean and mean what you say?

ard10027
ard10027
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Maybe, but they seem to be the very tiny minority that controls the rest.

Benjamin Jones
Benjamin Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Here’s anecdotal evidence for you. Whilst working over Christmas in a northern English city I get to speak to lots of students, mostly female who come to buy my pretty wares. I make a point of asking them what they are studying and I was surprised how many of the British students said ‘Psychology’. The Chinese students, again, mostly female unanimously said ‘Business studies’. Perhaps that’s an indication of the direction the respective countries are travelling in.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
3 years ago
Reply to  Benjamin Jones

The Chines students were very practical and will bring the bread in whilst the British ones might end up in la la land.

James N
James N
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Conrad

Those psych majors will find lucrative jobs in propaganda.

Jim le Messurier
Jim le Messurier
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

I wish it were so. In a literal sense, those courses ending in ‘studies’ are, percentage-wise relatively small, so your observation would be factually sound. But when you take in to account the fact that so many courses are hopelessly infected by the mind-virus that is Critical Theory – English, History, Education, Anthropology, Sociology, and of course Psychology, to name a few – then you see that the destructive trend referred to by Emperor Caligula as the ‘identity politics dead-end’ is far from insignificant. On the contrary, it is frankly overwhelming at this point, and will need some serious efforts to rein in. Defunding has to be, by far, the best way to tackle it, imho.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago

I know it’s taking your bromide far too literally, but Latvian literature really dates to the mid-nineteenth century, when the First Latvian National Awakening (one of the many European romantic nationalist movements of the era) took place in a region previous dominated culturally by Baltic German nobility and Russian overlords. Juris Alunans (1832-64) is the first Latvian poet of note. Prior to that, Latvian was basically a peasant language.

Jordan Flower
Jordan Flower
3 years ago

Nothing new here. Orwell observed exactly this in Road To Wigan Pier

On the one hand you have the warm-hearted un-thinking Socialist, the typical working-class Socialist, who only wants to abolish poverty and does not always grasp what this implies. On the other hand, you have the intellectual, book-trained Socialist, who understands that it is necessary to throw our present civilization down the sink and is quite willing to do so. And this type is drawn, to begin with, entirely from the middle class, and from a rootless town-bred section of the middle class at that.

Alison Houston
Alison Houston
3 years ago

I don’t like the way you write about it using the passive voice. This doesn’t just happen to be happening. I recommend the first article in today’s Conservative Woman, for an intelligent summary of the design behind this current phase in our history.

But even that doesn’t fully explain what has been happening. There is a reason governments of all political shades are going along with this push for an end to the middle classes and all the wealth and consumerism they aspire to. They pretend that reason is the environment, most recently they pretend it is necessary because of Covid. Prince Charles has long dreamed of a return to a pre industrial, agrarian society of organic farmers and cheerful, starving serfs, so we imagine, in Britain’s case, he is influencing our supposedly conservative government in its push for a socialist, green ‘Utopia’ that favours a tiny minority and beggars everyone else.

But behind the dreams of Charles and the creepy Schwab and the Davos crowd and the stupid lackeys willing to push this agenda so long as they can feather their own nests at the expense of everyone else’s, there are the Communist Chinese to whom Western Governments owe huge amounts of debt. And which political system favours an end to the middle classes or Bourgeoisie?

As long as you write about this active push for world Communism in the passive voice, as long as you ignore Chinese influence in academia, for example, you are complicit in it.

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

I don’t think it’s helpful to make this all sound like a conspiracy to create world communism, because that isn’t really what is happening, and because you’re using inexact language, your argument can just be dismissed as untrue. What is being created isn’t communism, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. The Chinese aren’t communists anymore, and the Brahmin Left/Merchant Right aren’t working to create a classless society in the West.

I think that what we are seeing is that the overly large state in Western countries, along with the highly regulated form of capitalism, has created an elite administrative class who’s personal success is completely divorced from, and at times completely opposed to, the overall success of society as a whole. Government bureaucrats view national problems as an opportunity for building an empire, either within government or as an outsourced service provider. Lawyers and the legal system have no interest in reducing crime or conflict because they’d be out of a job. Bankers want low economic growth because it means more free money from central banks to funnel into government regulated markets.

The West has adopted policies around economic growth, climate change, Covid lockdowns, and immigration that make absolutely no sense in a cost/benefit analysis from a national perspective, but which fully benefit the administrative class. The state has metastasized and is now undermining society.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

If the Chinese are no longer communists, then what are they? Citizens are not free to speak as they wish; just try criticizing the govt and see how it works. Embracing some market principles for economic benefit does not change the nature of what China is. Ask Hong Kong. Or Taiwan.

Government bureaucrats view national problems as an opportunity for building an empire, either within government or as an outsourced service provider.
That’s true and add to it a growing percentage of the citizenry that believes every single problem merits a govt solution, even problems that govt has no experience in handling. Businesses come and go, but when was the last time you heard of a govt program or agency going away? At best, it was rolled up beneath another program or agency, or renamed to hide that it failed.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

The Chinese used to go on about the capitalist pigs but as soon as they adopted capitalism they prospered even though they hang onto the cruel dictatorship form of government.

Hywel Morgan
Hywel Morgan
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

If the Chinese are no longer communists, then what are they?

Well, China is a state which tolerates rich owners whose companies produce, for the state, what the state wants them to. As Mussolini put it: all within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state. Sounds like I’m saying China is fascist. But I am wary of offending them ….

adamsvictor
adamsvictor
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Today’s China is well underway to checking the boxes for a Fascist state, call it State Capitalism, concentration camps for unwanted minorities and all.

Pete Marsh
Pete Marsh
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

The CCP run China ticks a surprisingly large number of boxes in the National Socialism column…
They saw what happened to the Soviet Union and dumped that form of government.

Robert Forde
Robert Forde
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

This is simply untrue. The size of the state has reduced, and public spending has been decimated, but the problems have mounted simultaneously.

Paul Savage
Paul Savage
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

You are wrong. Here is the data.

The post World War II era saw the full flowering of the welfare state in Britain, starting with the nationalization of health care in 1948. In 1950, in descending order, education was 4.24 of GDP, welfare was 3.02 percent GDP, health care was 2.65 percent of GDP, and pensions were 2.07 percent of GDP.

In 1960, in descending order, education was 4.06 percent GDP, welfare was 3.63 percent GDP, health care was 3.36 percent GDP, pensions were 2.87 percent GDP.

In 1970, in descending order, education was 5.39 percent GDP, welfare was 5.35 percent GDP, health care was 4.02 percent GDP, and pensions were 3.83 percent GDP.

In 1980, in descending order, welfare was 6.50 precent GDP, education was 5.33 percent GDP, health care was 5.05 percent GDP, and pensions were 4.68 percent GDP.

In 1990, in descending order, welfare was 6.43 precent GDP, education was 4.31 percent GDP, health care was 4.30 percent GDP, and pensions were 4.20 percent GDP.

In 2000, in descending order, pensions were 6.73 percent GDP, welfare was 6.05 percent GDP, health care was 5.08 percent GDP, and education was 4.37 percent GDP.

In 2010, in descending order, health care was 7.65 percent GDP, pensions were 7.62 percent GDP, welfare was 7.24 percent GDP, and education was 5.79 percent GDP.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Savage

That’s a fair point. But my understanding is that Private Wealth is growing at a far greater rate than Public Wealth. Public Assets are reducing as Private Assets grow. States continue to spend, to stimulate the economies that generate the wealth (by educating workers, keeping them alive, providing infrastructure, law enforcement, keeping financial institutions afloat during periods of market collapse) that is then turned into private wealth.

Alex Mitchell
Alex Mitchell
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Savage

Anything state led has massively increased in cost over the last few decades. Those things that are somewhat competitive but with close regulation have increased. Those that are entirely free market have gone down massively. Bit of a generalization and it is also strongly linked to commoditization vs service industries. There is, of course, the counter argument that the free market outsources some costs to government, but the idea that more state intervention improves matters is frequently cited but rarely demonstrated.

Linda Brown
Linda Brown
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Savage

You could throw all the GDP at healthcare and it will never be enough. People will always demand more be done for themselves or their loved ones. And as the population ages, it will only get worse.

Chris C
Chris C
3 years ago
Reply to  Linda Brown

Not sure what your argument is here?

Christin
Christin
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

Maybe in Botswana. Certainly not in the rest of the world.

Chris C
Chris C
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

I don’t know how you imagine you know what Prince Charles “has long dreamed of” (apart from Camilla) – do tell us, are you his therapist? – but it is unlikely to be “starving serfs”. As for a less environmentally destructive society based on sustainable technology, I suggest that it’s not distinctively “Socialist” because sensible people of all political outlooks aspire to that, unless of course you are positively in love with environmental destruction, millions of starving African and Asian farmers driven off their land by drought and desertification (THAT’s where the “starving” happens in reality – not your fantasy about knowing Prince Charles’ dreams), acidification of the oceans by CO2, destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, rising sea levels causing flooding etc etc. Are you?

BTW, my understanding of China is that the middle class there are growing in numbers by leaps and bounds. (As someone else here has pointed out, that’s because it’s only nominally Communist now.)

Jane Jones
Jane Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris C

Prince Charles has written a books in which he described some of his visions. You can do an online search for “Books by Prince Charles.”

Chris C
Chris C
3 years ago
Reply to  Jane Jones

So are you going to tell me that in any of these books he has written “I would like to see cheerful, starving serfs in the UK” ? I think not. So Alison Houston’s comment is as fanciful as I originally suggested.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris C

Maybe he has read more than you about it?

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

There is a reason governments of all political shades are going along with this push for an end to the middle classes and all the wealth and consumerism they aspire to.
The reason is called power. The stark reality about the Covid example is that none of the people who issue the mandates and the orders are themselves affected. They’ve not missed a paycheck; none of them wonders if the business will survive or if their job will still be there. People like Charles are free to dream because there’s no adverse consequence for them.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

That is very true. They regularly vote themselves a rise and I’m sure they have fat pensions with none of the risks that normal people have. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were not becoming so sexually corrupt.

Jane Jones
Jane Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

The Chinese may favor an end to the middle classes in theory (I think this is your implication) but in fact they have raised millions out of poverty and are now in the process of deemphasizing exports and building out their domestic consumer market. So they might call it something else, but they are creating a vast population of people who are healthy and educated and can start to acquire “discretionary” goods that they desire. So, “What’s in a name?” Maybe not much

Christin
Christin
3 years ago
Reply to  Jane Jones

Lol. Healthy? There is no real healthcare system. Want to be tested for something? You pay for the cost. But if the elites need an organ transplant, they just take them from Uighers.

David George
David George
3 years ago
Reply to  Jane Jones

“they have raised millions out of poverty”
One hell of a way to go about it!
Starve and murder a hundred million of your people first and any improvement looks good.
If they had followed the path of the Taiwanese on the other hand?

Michael Cowling
Michael Cowling
3 years ago
Reply to  Jane Jones

I agree with you. I don’t think that China is an ideal state (if such a thing ever existed) but personally I feel safer and more able to get on with my life in China than in America.

Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

There’s nothing “green” about what any of these politicians are pushing. Green-washing is not actually green.

Chris C
Chris C
3 years ago
Reply to  Trishia A

By definition, green-washing is not actually green (that’s the definition of green-washing).

But replacing coal-, or even gas-, generated electricity with wind- or solar- generated electricity are not green-washing.

And increased energy efficiency is almost entirely beneficial. Despite the US hard right foaming at the mouth over programmes promoting inefficient incandescent light bulbs being replaced by compact fluorescent lights (and now LEDs), and UK idiots complaining a few years that the EU was introducing regulations to make domestic appliances more energy efficient, these are clearly beneficial steps (and if Brexit had already occurred by that point, the UK independently would have wanted to make new appliances more efficient). A cheap vacuum cleaner, which we have here, emits an air exhaust which is so hot that it burns your legs if you are wearing shorts while cleaning – all of that heat is wasted energy, it’s irrelevant to the core activity of sucking air and dirt off the carpet. Fitting thinner wires, which therefore have higher electrical resistance and generate more heat, may have saved the appliance company as little as 10-20p, but they will probably cost us £50-100 in extra electricity consumption during the lifetime of the appliance, and add to global warming.

alicerowlands
alicerowlands
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

Can you provide a link to the Conservative Woman article?

croftyass
croftyass
3 years ago

Today the richest 40 Americans have more wealth than the poorest 185 million Americans. Never quite sure what the point of this statistic is other than to highlight the fact that a small number of people are incredibly wealthy.So lets get rid of this statistic and confiscate the wealth of the top 40 Americans which would be a one of transfer of wealth of about $7/8k each-so ignoring the obliteration of the companies whose wealth that is in (most of it is in stocks so you would have to liquidate their holding)its hardly transformational is it!!!

David Parry
David Parry
3 years ago
Reply to  croftyass

Actually, most of the wealth of the rich is in the form of tangible, illiquid assets (e.g. land, infrastructure).

Christin
Christin
3 years ago
Reply to  David Parry

Untrue. Most of the assets are securities.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 years ago
Reply to  David Parry

Most wealthy people are well-diversified amongst a variety of assets and have advisors to instruct them how to do this.

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
3 years ago
Reply to  croftyass

In any case it’s only true if you ignore everything that society already does to transfer wealth – e.g. the value of unemployment benefit, retirement pensions and healthcare provision that all citizens have. It’s striking how comparatively small are the differences today between the lives of the uber-rich and the average Joe (or Joanne). In the middle ages, the rich and privileged lived a life that was unimaginably different from that of the average peasant. Today, you can signal your wealth by driving a Porsche rather than a Dacia, but they’re both equally effective as a mode of personal transport. Almost everyone has access to exactly the same Internet, with all that means for communication, entertainment etc.

David Parry
David Parry
3 years ago
Reply to  Quentin Vole

Averages don’t mean a whole lot in the context of high inequality. The working poor even in rich countries don’t live lives remotely comparable to those of the uber rich.

Robert Forde
Robert Forde
3 years ago
Reply to  Quentin Vole

Well, the average peasant’s personal jet, medical care, education, holidays abroad, recreational activity and private mansion on a private island don’t measure up.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

We shouldn’t envy them. It would just shows we want what they have which makes us just as bad. This is how communism started where the cure was a thousand times more deadly than that it was meant to cure.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Quentin Vole

‘In any case it’s only true if you ignore everything that society already does to transfer wealth – e.g. the value of unemployment benefit, retirement pensions and healthcare provision that all citizens have.’

Most of the societal benefits you list are paid for by the borrowing and printing of money, not through wealth transfers. If you taxed the rich to pay for everything the state provides, the rich would soon be as poor as everyone else.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Fraser, who benefits most from the printing and borrowing of money? Is it the worker paying income tax or the wealthy investing in stocks and shares?

Chris C
Chris C
3 years ago
Reply to  Quentin Vole

And the guy who was found dead in his flat from starvation after he had been ‘sanctioned’ by withdrawing his benefits?

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris C

Oh, look! a single instance. I have a huge generalisation to offer you.

Chris C
Chris C
3 years ago
Reply to  Arnold Grutt

You certainly do!

Unfortunately, a vast number of people are ‘sanctioned’ and reduced to despair and destitution, though few die as dramatically as the guy I quoted. The path from some kind of stability, to despair, can be as simple as a bus not coming when it should. So you don’t arrive at the interview for a job which you probably would not have got anyway because of the number applying for it. Then the DWP removes your benefits for failing to adhere to their punitive requirements on seeking work (is it 40 applications a week?). Then you lose your flat because you cannot pay the rent. So you end up living in one room in a hostel with your two children, where some of the other residents are antisocial, maybe due to mental health problems. So your own mental health deteriorates. If things get too bad on that front, your children may be put in care. And all because a bus didn’t come.

Teo
Teo
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris C

Funny how the most relevant legal codification of the British neo-feudalism caste system which is the subject of this article is dismissed and swamped by the interests of the faculty caste.

Read the work programme and sanction instruments and study there real world enforcement, they are/were the enslavement of indenture contracts. In those instruments there is also the legal provision for the establishment of labour camps. The legal powers of indenture were and can be enforced by the lowest grade of bureaucrat (a workcoach).

Millions of British people have already been conditioned and brutalised into the socio-economic caste system – the relative poverty argument is a race to the bottom. Happy food bank shopping.

Jane Jones
Jane Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  croftyass

The wealthy share the social goods provided by the public purse via taxation. But they do not pay their share. Thus, using roads, clean water, sewer systems, electricity, and other infrastructure paid for by taxes, they are parasites. Especially those who loot their nations and sequester the cash offshore.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
3 years ago
Reply to  croftyass

What the writer does not say is that the poorest are better off than they have ever been and worldwide more people have been lifted out of poverty. To suggest that we are going back to the middle ages in terms of our standard of living is ridiculous.

Chris C
Chris C
3 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

“the poorest are better off than they have ever been” – not in the UK, I suggest. Jobs with fixed hours and some kind of stability, however low paid, have been replaced by zero hours contracts on the minimum wage with no sick pay and no holiday pay.

A couple of years ago, I met a lady who said “I am required to be available for 126 hours a week [18 hours a day]. I won’t necessarily get paid for a single hour of work during the week. But what I do know is that if I ever say that I am not available for any one of those 126 hours, I will be told that I will never be given any work ever again”.

Meanwhile, in 1980 the average CEO of a FTSE100 company was paid 18 times as much as the average employee in their company. In 2018 that had spiralled to 120x as much. And the tax paid by the CEOs had been approximately halved, thanks to the political party which CEOs fund.

Colin Haller
Colin Haller
3 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

I guess you missed the bit where life expectancy stopped rising.

Jeffrey Chongsathien
Jeffrey Chongsathien
3 years ago
Reply to  croftyass

The real problem is the giant pools of private equity money, propped up by Fed money-printing.

Vivek Rajkhowa
Vivek Rajkhowa
3 years ago

The one thing I’d disagree with in this article is the view that the Conservatives of the modern day are anything like the Tories of the Stuart or early Hanoverian era. They’re not. They’re just the WHigs in another form.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

We have the luxury of debating first-world problems, but often lack the self-awareness to realize it. That a few people within Big Tech are fabulously wealthy is supposed to trouble me for what reason exactly? There have always been the very rich; at the same time, the country was built on the premise of upward mobility and new millionaires are minted annually, along with people who rise out of poverty and into the middle class.

The decline of the nuclear household is not happenstance; it is the foreseeable consequence of sustained attacks on “the patriarchy” and other cultura blather that mostly seeks to normalize the heretofore abnormal while tearing down anything that smacks of convention. In the US, the decline assures poor outcomes. We even have a test group that’s available for study – the people impacted by LBJ’s was on poverty that was, in reality, a war on the father. That turned out horribly wrong and it continues, leading one to wonder if the outcome wasn’t actually the goal.

David Parry
David Parry
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

The American Dream is a crock of shit, just like every other myth used to legitimise capitalism.

David Parry
David Parry
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Also, more fool you for being okay with massive concentrations of wealth and power in few hands.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  David Parry

How much of what someone else earns rightfully belongs to you? The talking about the ‘income gap’ conveniently ignores that incomes as a whole have risen well past what they were before a middle class existed.

David Parry
David Parry
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

How much of what someone else earns rightfully belongs to you?

Way to unintentionally argue against capitalism! That apart, the point isn’t merely that someone else materially has something that I don’t. In fact, I would not give too much of a tinker’s toss about that aspect of it were it not for the fact that high levels of economic inequality have been demonstrated to be socially deleterious in a myriad of ways (e.g. higher levels of violence, poorer health outcomes). The point is that with concentrations of wealth come concentrations of power. Nothing makes the huge power that the rich have over the rest of society legitimate.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  David Parry

Way to unintentionally argue against capitalism!
Way to build a straw man. If you are going to complain about a concentration of wealth, that implies a belief that it is a problem that requires addressing. How is that to be done?

Nothing makes the huge power that the rich have over the rest of society legitimate.
Have you ever considered taking a critical look at those who make the rules, the elected class, or is everything negative in society the work of some evil rich guy?

This article mentions Big Tech, an enterprise given a special carveout by Congress that is now actively used to try and silence inconvenient voices. This is the same Congress that creates rules that serve as barriers to entry for competitors in multiple industries, part of the same govt whose regulatory agencies pass rules that do the same thing. But no one ever considers how that might be an issue, only what someone has vs. what we have.

David Parry
David Parry
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Way to build a straw man.

What strawman? You trotted out the hackneyed, disingenuous right-wing talking point about how no one is entitled to the fruits of anyone else’s labour. I simply pointed out how this is more apt as a critique of capitalism than as a defence of the inequality engendered by capitalism. Capitalism is, after all, like every other class-based economic system in history, predicated on the idea that some people are entitled to the fruits of other people’s labour. Where’s the strawman on my part? I was using the premise of your own argument against you.

If you are going to complain about a concentration of wealth, that implies a belief that it is a problem that requires addressing. How is that to be done?

By dismantling the economic system that generates it. How? By horizontal self-organisation and direct action on the part of the masses, aimed at seizing control of the means of production and the overthrow of the state.

Have you ever considered taking a critical look at those who make the rules, the elected class, or is everything negative in society the work of some evil rich guy?

Now that’s a strawman. For starters, I don’t consider the rich to be simply evil. I consider them to be creatures of a society and an economic system that conditions and incentivises them to behave in certain ways.

Have you ever considered whose interests the elected officials serve? Their own, certainly, but who is it who donates large sums of money to the campaigns which put them in power? Who lobbys them? Who uses the personal connections that they have (in many cases) to the elected officials to exert leverage? Who uses their power as investors in the economy to browbeat officials who act against their interests?

This is the same Congress that creates rules that serve as barriers to
entry for competitors in multiple industries, part of the same govt
whose regulatory agencies pass rules that do the same thing. But no one
ever considers how that might be an issue, only what someone has vs.
what we have.

I see what you’re talking about as problematic precisely because it perpetuates and entrenches the concentrations of wealth and power and addition to being a symptom of them, though I see both things as being in turn symptomatic of the capitalist system.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
3 years ago
Reply to  David Parry

Only the government is taking the fruits of my labour in the form of taxes. Without people taking risks in starting business and people investing in businesses we would certainly still be in the poverty of the middle ages.

Chris C
Chris C
3 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

I was an employee. The bosses and the shareholders took the fruits of my labour.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris C

A little idea. Without the input of shareholders’ money, would there have been a ‘job’ at all? I’m not ‘taking sides’ here, just floating some ideas. Another little idea: why assume that these bosses and shareholders didn’t start off in your position?

Alex Mitchell
Alex Mitchell
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris C

No. They compensated you for your labour in a way that you agreed to in your contract. They leveraged your labour through the mechanisms that they built/managed/paid for (ie their labour) to generate additional value. This involved taking a risk that could quite easily have gone the other way (as the majority of businesses do). Anyone is welcome to do the same thing if they are prepared to take that risk. Free choice.

Colin Haller
Colin Haller
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Mitchell

Contracts between those with unequal power aren’t the sort of thing your description pretends they are. But then you’d need to understand the premise of monopsony, eh?

Linda Brown
Linda Brown
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris C

But without the capital provided by the shareholders and the expertise (theoretically) of the bosses, you’d be unemployed. Shareholders take the financial risk. Sadly these days bosses do not and still collect their bonuses

Chris C
Chris C
3 years ago
Reply to  Linda Brown

All these replies from you defenders of the rich are not only giving the bosses and shareholders a massive benefit of the doubt (when one of our CEOs was paid 2.4m Euros per year and his replacement was paid 21m, was that because he was working nine times as hard?), but more importantly they miss the point.

The point is not whether inequality and capitalism are the least bad system as you believe (and do, please, be intelligent and admit that it’s “least bad” rather than being wonderful as free market zealots claim). The point is not even whether EVER INCREASING inequality is necessary (and again, I hope you are not going to deny that it’s increasing – the pay of our CEOs is the rule not the exception). The point is that when free market ideologues come out with statements like “How much of what someone else earns rightfully belongs to you?” (Alex above) or “Only the government is taking the fruits of my labour in the form of taxes” (Alan), they are refusing to apply to wealth redistribution, or to taxation to pay for public services, the same logic of “it works out best in the end” that they apply to capitalism.

If you are going to be dogmatic that criticism of inequality, and indeed ever-growing inequality, within companies (where everyone has generated the cake, but those at the top get an ever increasing slice while the rest get less and less), or taxation to pay for public services, are theft, as Alex and Alan do above, then people on my side of the argument are entitled to be equally ideological in pointing out that the workers made most of the money that the bosses and shareholders are taking.

Incidentally, your views of what executives and shareholders put into a country are remarkably lacking in insight. Try reading Damaged Goods about Sir Philip Green’s stewardship of BHS, where he took out £1200 million via tax-free Monaco while the BHS workers were left with diminished pensions.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris C

So, are you saying you weren’t paid?

Colin Haller
Colin Haller
3 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

Have a look at the picture on “your” money. It’s not you, is it?

That’s a clue about what money actually is, if you’d care to investigate its origins, purpose and operations.

Michael Cowling
Michael Cowling
3 years ago
Reply to  David Parry

And when has it been otherwise?

andy young
andy young
3 years ago

My take on all this is that Marx was right for the wrong reasons. From the inception of the Industrial Revolution until the late 20thC production required large amounts of labour to facilitate production; once labour became effectively unionized wages were forced up & the proletariat’s lot improved. Mechanization has rapidly removed this lever of power.
However the idea of having a starving proletariat is useless, as starving people don’t buy the fancy goods your factories churn out. So how much do you pay them?
I think the answer lies in what The Rich really want. Which is, I believe, to remain safely & securely rich. They’re not really worried about the rest of us, so long as we leave them to it. So we get paid enough to keep us quiet, stop us rioting, & provide (most of us) with some sort of hope. And to keep buying all their crap.
All of this has nothing to do with Capitalism, Communism or any other ism. It’s people being people since we first walked the earth.

Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago
Reply to  andy young

Exactly. There is nothing “Marxist” about how our society is moving. Feudalisation is certainly not “Marxist”.

Linda Brown
Linda Brown
3 years ago
Reply to  andy young

The same reason we have a welfare state, so that the poor people don’t rob or murder us for our money or goods.

Frederik van Beek
Frederik van Beek
3 years ago
Reply to  Linda Brown

But be aware that it’s the other way around. Poor people are robbed and murdered by the rich, not directly, the rich pay others to do it. If they don’t their status will vanish and status is everything.

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago
Reply to  Linda Brown

“We have a welfare state so that poor people don’t murder us for our goods” 😁

I think it’s fantastic when a comment opens up the head of an alien for me.

That’s what you believe the welfare state is for? Not a safety net for people less fortunate or privileged than you? Not a way to stop the disadvantaged from starving on the streets. Just a means to help keep your stuff safe.

Brilliant 😁

Colin Haller
Colin Haller
3 years ago
Reply to  andy young

Looking to Marx for analysis is one thing, which is decent as far as it goes. Looking to him for solutions is utter folly.

And your description of the eternal struggle between the oligarchs and the peasantry is correct, going all the way back to the rural usurers of the Bronze Age. At least then they had kings with the sense to periodically reset via the “deror/andurarum.”

Chinese Bear
Chinese Bear
3 years ago

An important reason for the increasing cultural and economic impoverishment of western society is the dissolution of the family and the growth of female-headed households where relationships are transient, children lack the balance of male and female influences and young men lack male role models or exemplars. This not only creates instability and increases poverty, but marks a return to a more primitive social structure. The ‘progressive’ dogmas of ‘gender equality’ and interchangeability between the sexes is taking us backwards rather than forwards.

dixonpinfold
dixonpinfold
3 years ago
Reply to  Chinese Bear

The only place diversity isn’t vitally important is amongst those bringing up children. There, men aren’t needed. Their money suffices as their contribution.

Andre Lower
Andre Lower
3 years ago
Reply to  dixonpinfold

Dixon, in these times we’re living, you better clarify that you’re being sarcastic. Way too many people will think you mean what you wrote…

Chinese Bear
Chinese Bear
3 years ago
Reply to  Andre Lower

I am sure that Dixon is applying the Swiftian method of satire, but unfortunately sums up the approach favoured, directly or indirectly, by politicians of all three main parties along with the activist ‘caste’.

Linda Brown
Linda Brown
3 years ago
Reply to  dixonpinfold

You maybe being sarcastic, but there is a branch of feminism that doesn’t believe that men are needed even for that. That they need men “like a fish needs a bicycle”

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 years ago
Reply to  Chinese Bear

And do note that BLM’s manifesto includes the dissolution of the ‘nuclear family’ – probably because the folks who started this organization most likely come from broken families, i.e. 75% of blacks in the USA are born out of wedlock today. Have they forgotten know how to form families?

Daniel Björkman
Daniel Björkman
3 years ago

This is a return to the norm, as with the rise of the involuntarily celibate. Celibacy was common in medieval Europe, where between 15-25% of men and women would have joined holy orders. In the early modern period, with rising incomes and Protestantism, celibacy rates plunged but they have now returned to the medieval level.

Hey, cool! I’m not pathetic, I’m just trendy. I guess I should be grateful that I didn’t have to take vows of poverty and obedience to go along with the chastity…

ard10027
ard10027
3 years ago

Actually, you did. You just didn’t realize it.

shakinpaulus1
shakinpaulus1
3 years ago

Ha ha! You crack me up! I know what you mean .

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago

The clergy of late medieval England, say around 1535, on the eve of the Dissolution numbered about 30K, or about 1% of the population.

Where do you get your 15-25%, if I may ask?

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Historian’s estimate is 2000 nuns and 6000 monks at that time, so significantly less than 0.5% (my post further down in more detail).
Where Ed West got 15-25% I cannot imagine.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Agreed, but you have to add on the clergy who staffed the nine thousand odd Parish Churches, the nine Secular Cathedrals and the small number of Collegiate Colleges and Churches.

Perhaps 30K is a bit high, and 20-25K would be nearer the mark.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Yes, that’s a good point Mark, thanks.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Did Knowles include the Mendicant Friars, I’ve forgotten? If not, that is probably another two thousand souls.

Then there are the Hospitals, about nine hundred of them, mostly run by Augustinian Canons Regular.

However what is astonishingly is that according to the work of the late Professor Sabine and others, it appears the ‘Church’ owned about eight million acres of England in 1536. That’s 25% of the country, owned by 1 or 2% of the population. No wonder Thomas Cromwell was so energised!

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Re: Mendicant Friars – he does’nt mention them, so not sure about that.
Absolutely agree on Cromwell, must have been rubbing his hands with glee.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Thanks. Incidentally the poor old Friars didn’t even get a Pension, unlike most of the Monks and Canons.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

update : after a bit of research on the Mendicants; at the Dissolution, the Grey Friars had 55 houses, the Blackfriars had 43, I would have thought therefore they were probably included in the numbers of ‘religious’ that Knowles refers to.
Perhaps they did’nt get pensions because they had taken a vow of poverty, a pension would seem to go against such a vow.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
3 years ago

“…Along with income stratification, another pre-modern trend is the decline of social mobility, which almost everywhere is slowing…”

“…Tech is by nature anti-egalitarian, creating natural monopolies that wield vastly more power than any of the great industrial barons of the modern age…”

There is one huge differece with the past though. Tech is only anti-egalitarian in the sense that Tech doesn’t promote a diverse ecosystem of large numbers of different entities in balance, it’s outcomes are very ‘binary’ (haha), and a small number of winners climb to the stars while the rest eventually fall by the wayside or are subsumed. But in contrast to the past, access to knowledge is more universal than ever. It is easy to point to inherited wealth as the great suppressor of the chances of the majority but let me just point out that each of the current great tech fortunes belong to people who are self-made and who mostly came from bog standard middle class backgrounds – the wealth of Zuckerberg, Musk etc is literally just a decade old, and even Gates, Ellison etc, are fortunes just three decades old. And the miracle is this: everything they used to create their tech and their companies (apart from their innate talent) is available, right now, to you. To anyone. For free. Because as a direct example out of my profession, for anyone wanting to learn for example coding or any aspect of IT, there is an absolutely vast quantity of free material and tools out there, pdfs, websites by the bucketload, absolutely dazzling free tech: IDEs, compilers, databases and a zillion experts willing to help you (eg stackoverflow), all for free. All it requires is a laptop (~£300), a good connection (~£100) and the will (~priceless). And if you are willing to pay just a little (£30 per month) you have access to a huge array of expert instructors, each of which will blow the socks off your average Uni lecturer, who is an order of magnitude more expensive.

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
3 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

What you’re describing is a passport to serfdom. I agree that the barriers to entry for a coder are very low — it’s an entirely commodified job with, as a result, a low wage. Tech billionaires didn’t become billionaires because the could code. They can just hire someone to do that. (Can Jeff Bezos even code?) They became billionaires because they could access the capital and connections required to start a successful tech company.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

I agree that the Tech billionaires of course have many skills beyond pure tech. But one look across Tech companies shows more often than not, it is hands-dirty tech that is the start point and the driver. Once a company starts growing of course many other (often ridiculously bright) coders, technicians etc are employed – all standard path. There is nothing elitist about access to capital – those Tech entrepreneurs typically first created Tech that could scale, and then had the case and the skills to persuade others to buy into that, because there are always people and institutions (none of whom are stupid) looking for return on capital. Zuckerberg’s parents were Dentists. Jobs and Wozniak were two guys in a garage. People like Noyce, Moore etc were Physicist and Engineers. Ellison worked to directly from academic papers by Codd to create the guts of the first versions of the Oracle database. Bezos was STEM proficient from childhood. None of these had access to special connections.

What I don’t agree with is that coding is a passport to serfdom or that coding attracts a low wage, *when literally everything* indicates precisely the opposite – what on earth is the basis of saying that?

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
3 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

It’s a question of supply and demand. If the supply of computer programmers is unlimited, then their wages will go down, even if there is a big boost in demand.

I worked in Silicon Valley during the dot.com boom and bust. Early on, Americans with degrees in computer science were making a lot of money. Then all of the day-to-day programming jobs were outsourced, and many of those people were laid off. The Indian programmers who took their places on H1B visas thought they were making a lot of money, but their standard of living (huge commutes living in tiny houses in the far suburbs) was the same as a manual tradesman.

Yes, a very very small number of people made a lot of money a generation ago by starting out in coding. That is essentially irrelevant now.

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago

One thing not pointed out is that since the early 1990’s government’s have dramatically increased their interventions to try and improve equality of outcomes. As with many government initiatives they have focused on the wrong thing (outcomes instead of inputs) and the net result is the reverse of what was intended!

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

All governments, it seems, invariably achieve precisely the opposite of that which they intend to achieve. I’m not sure that this was always the case because it was not until the endless disaster of the New Labour years that I first noticed this phenomenon.

However, such are the pathogens that have infiltrated the Western mind, and such are the delusions to which all our governing structures adhere, that achieving the reverse of that which was intended is now one of life’s immutable rules.

David Stuckey
David Stuckey
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Grand sweeping generalisation-it is wonderful to do this and simply everything to a single rule, NOT.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  David Stuckey

Can you give me one objective that was successful achieved by any British government over the last 20 years? Or, at least, a supposedly successful outcome that was not accompanied by unintended consequences that were more damaging than the supposedly successful outcome? And the same for any Western government over the last 20 years?

I will grant you that the UK has, apparently, seen a decline in teenage pregnancies over the last 15 or so years, but many people put this down to the advent of the smartphone.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Building too useless ski-jump Aircraft Carriers to save Fife, Govan & Rosyth.

Chris C
Chris C
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

I’d say that happened from the early 1900s onwards. From 1979 in Britain, it went into reverse – the Thatcher Government gave massive tax cuts to the very rich while crippling the trade unions with legislation in order to reduce the power of workers to grab a big slice of the cake.

Incidentally, the fact that legislation was used to cripple the unions (and 40 years later, Tories still like to wave the flag for yet more anti-union legislation) is an interesting counterpoint to free market assertions that growing wealth at the top and growing poverty at the bottom (salaried jobs being replaced by zero hours contracts on the minium wage) are purely the result of impersonal and unchallengeable market forces. They are not. They result, in part, from a bunch of predominantly rich people from predominantly privileged backgrounds passing laws, having got elected by outspending their opponents using money supplied predominantly by the super-rich. That’s a choice, not the result of impersonal mechanisms which are as indisputable as Newton’s laws of mechanics.

quirk.jon
quirk.jon
3 years ago

Since time immemorial, in every society, the bottom 80% own very, very little and in fact are probably in a net debt position.

Further, using sub-Sahara Africa as an example, the median age of the population is significantly under 20; thus have yet to work and build up assets; can we thus be surprised that 80% plus own next to nothing?

And what do such statistics show beyond the dead-end future for sub-Saharan Africa, building up a huge mass of unemployed and almost certainly unemployable peoples at a time when AI and other advances are creating a need for an evermore educated and skilled workforce and has no need of unskilled labour?

Neil Colledge
Neil Colledge
3 years ago

We are in trouble, because of the internet and because of virtual reality (a term first coined by Jaron Lanier). Computers are getting smarter and smarter, algorithms becoming more acute, middle-class jobs being eroded faster and faster. What on earth are we to do? There are one or two credible individuals addressing this problem Jaron Lanier has much to say that’s worth hearing and entertaining, but he is not offering an actual solution. Marc Ventresca is brilliant & incisive also in addressing the work of upgrading business systems to incorporate these new realities. Computers and Robots can translate, pick fruit gently, figure out who is most at risk, therefore less attractive candidates to buy insurance policies. This is only going to accelerate, therefore the greatest challenge facing humans is how to reverse the algorithms to serve the middle-class and create more jobs, monetise social media, serve employment markets rather than eroding them. I suspect this would end up being doubly problematic, because a handful of billionaires are making hay like never before from this new world. On the face of it, asking them to absorb a pay-cut from $50 billion down to $20 billion, creating more jobs instead of less jobs, enabling more equality would seem like a simple decent, egalitarian, humanitarian obligation on their part, to which they should have no objection ……….. just try asking and see what happens!!

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago
Reply to  Neil Colledge

Reverse the algorithms, to make more jobs and presumably smaller profits? I don’t think capitalism ever works in that direction. There might be some return to locally produced food and goods etc but I think the ‘job’ as we know it has had its day. We’re going to have to come up with new ways to make sure we stay fed, clothed and entertained. But I don’t hear a lot of thought being given to this.

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago

between 15-25% of men and women would have joined holy orders

That’s a larger number than I thought, but I’m far from convinced that such folks were always celibate. Monks in particular have enjoyed very poor reputations for their behaviour, and some portion of nuns were more or less pushed into the life after disgracing their family by getting pregnant outside of marriage.

Not that this detracts from the general theme of the article, it just stuck out a bit.

Caroline Galwey
Caroline Galwey
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

True indeed, many priests/nuns ‘broke the rules’, but the point is they could not legitimately get married and raise a family. In the same way now, for young people priced out of the housing market, casual hook-ups are one thing, setting up a home together quite another, and it’s the second that has a large societal and life-cycle effect.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

They were celibate (i.e., unmarried), but not chaste!

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

That figure cannot possibly be correct. I doubt it was as high as 2%?

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

You are right to be doubtful, in 1349, just before the first outbreak of the Black Death, historians estimate there were about 5000 nuns, the total population was about 5 million at that point which means that the figure for nuns at least was significantly less than 1%. At the time of the Dissolution there were only about 2000 nuns.
Unfortunately I don’t have the figures for monks but there were many more male monasteries for sure.
Re : reasons why women became nuns, your idea of disgrace has been shown to be, largely, unsound. Piety seems to have been the main reason. There is evidence very occasionally of a nun getting into trouble and having a baby, but it was rare.

I think it is worth being sceptical of cynical post-modernist opinions of monasteries, monks and nuns.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

According to David Knowles (Bare Ruined Choirs) there were seven to eight thousand religious (monks and nuns) at the Dissolution, if 2000 of those were nuns that leaves about 6000 monks in the 1530s, the population was about 3 million, so again less than 1% were in holy orders.

Jane Jones
Jane Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

I think the point was that they didn’t start families.

Linda Brown
Linda Brown
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

Maybe they are confusing or conflating unmarried with celibate.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago
Reply to  Linda Brown

“Celibate” actually means “unmarried”; to use it to mean the practice of abstaining from sex is a later confusion. It’s taken as read that a vow of celibacy implies abstaining from sex because the Church considers sex outside marriage as unchaste. (By contrast, a married man could be considered chaste while having regular sex, as long as it’s with his wife!).

Michael Burnett
Michael Burnett
3 years ago

A very thought provoking article – thank you.

Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago

Ed, this is sheer brilliance. Thank you. Nearly every paragraph is quotable!

Brigitte Lechner
Brigitte Lechner
3 years ago

Maybe Ford was right: history is bunk. I spotted the new feudalism a while ago thanks to Silvia Federici’s excellent perspective on the transition from feudalism to pre-capitalism. That would be around the time the author of this article places his comparative medieval social structure. The new Barons have modern titles and names like Microsoft or Amazon and cash is the King annointed by the invisible hand of the market. The likes of Pornhub will hasten men’s inability to engage in meaningful relationships and I can well envisage a populace of ‘incels’ though, like the medieval church, celibacy is likely to exist in name only. Landgrabs are also widely practiced, mainly by neo-colonial states in the guise, this time round, of economic prosperity. Poverty and vilification of the poor is real enough as is the lack of will to do anything about it. There is nothing new under the sun.

Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
3 years ago

It seems to me that an important difference is that in the feudal period, the Lord, or even the king, didn’t own the land personally, and couldn’t sell it out from under the people who lived on it – they had a kind of right to make a living off of the land they were born on that doesn’t exist today in the wildest imagination of most westerners on the left or the right. While the ideals of any period aren’t always exemplified in practice I would say there is a significant difference between the ideal of private ownership and buying and selling land and basic resources, and the idea that land exists to provide a living for all.

Mark Blagrove
Mark Blagrove
3 years ago