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Who created the self-made man? A generation of risk-takers owe their success to the welfare state

Lord Sugar. Credit: Paul Edwards/AFP/Getty


February 9, 2021   7 mins

“Some measure of inequality is essential.” So said Boris Johnson, when he was Mayor of London. “The spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses,” he explained, “is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity”. Blunt as it sounds, the Prime Minister’s stated belief isn’t unusual. We’re often told that it’s greater social mobility, not equality, that Britain needs. Since Tony Blair’s New Labour governments, schools have been directed to “raise children’s aspirations”, as if apathy is the chief obstacle to greatness. A society that allows people to ascend from the bottom of the ladder to the top is one that rewards talent and effort — apparently.

An honest look at history suggests otherwise. Our Prime Minister was born in the shadow of Britain’s ‘golden age’ of social mobility (though as an Etonian from a wealthy family, he is no advert for it). Children born between the mid-1930s and the early 1950s — those I call the golden generation — were more likely to climb the social ladder than any before or since: 40% of them ended up in a higher social class than their parents. Less than 20% descended to a lower class.

This era was dominated by the “self-made man”, who became a paperback hero and a box office hit. Joe Lampton, the protagonist of John Braine’s bestselling novel Room at the Top (1958), was archetypal: born “on the fringes of poverty” and determined to “fight his way up into the bright world of money and influence”. Before the Second World War, hailing from a working-class family had no cultural cachet. By the time the Beatles achieved fame in the early 1960s, hauling yourself up by your bootstraps was such a praiseworthy feat that the lads from Liverpool were often presented as fresh from the slums.

In reality, the self-made man is a myth. He owed his chances to the Labour government of 1945, which established a welfare state and guaranteed full employment. The state poured money into nationalised industries or private firms focused on peacetime reconstruction, research and development. Such unprecedented investment allowed jobs associated with the middle and upper rungs of the social ladder to multiply. Ambitious young men (and a few women) became senior clerks, engineers, technicians, middle-managers and teachers.

Meanwhile, conditions were favourable for those inclined to take a risk. Take Alan Sugar. It’s hard to find a feature on the businessman, born in 1947, that doesn’t describe him as a “self-made man”. The son of a market trader, Sugar was the first in his family to take O’Levels. After that he went into the expanding civil service, where he got a training in economics that came in handy when he started his own retail business in the early 1970s. Rising wages (thanks to strong trade unions) meant Sugar had receptive customers for his electrical goods. It was in this climate that he amassed considerable capital — enough to take advantage of the stock market in the 1980s and become a millionaire.

The most seductive part of the self-made man myth was that anyone could become one, with enough persistence. But even in the golden age of social mobility, there was far less room at the top than at the bottom. By 1961 more than 1% of the population were migrants. Regardless of their skills and qualifications, most did the dirty, low-paid work that post-war reconstruction relied upon. As hospital porters and school dinner ladies they were essential to the welfare state. As office cleaners and canteen staff they helped manufacturing firms to thrive. Their labour enabled some white Britons to climb into more lucrative and congenial work as nurses, teachers and managers. It certainly wasn’t the case that the most talented were enjoying life on the highest rung, nor that only feckless idlers languished on the lowest.

Men were more likely to climb the ladder than women. For most working-class women, a step up the ladder meant becoming a secretary or a nurse. These jobs were very fulfilling for some, but they didn’t offer the salaries and prestige accrued by managers or university lecturers (occupations that employed a lot of upwardly mobile men). Women’s most likely source of professional work was teaching, which employed a staggering 70% of female graduates. Many were disappointed by their limited options.

The experience of Maureen Thomas, born in Barnsley in 1941, is typical. The daughter of a miner, she grew up knowing that the welfare state and full employment offered her a very different future from that of her sister, Gillian, who was just seven years older. Gillian had left school at 14 and got a job in a shop round the corner from their parents’ home. Maureen “wanted a life…not loads of money, just a bit of freedom”. She did well at school and dreamed of getting a degree and a career in the arts. But less than 5% of Maureen’s generation could get a place at university, and places for girls were particularly limited. So Maureen became a teacher — “and hated it”.

Maureen is one of many upwardly mobile members of the golden generation whose testimonies are recorded in the Mass Observation Archive, which was established in 1937 to find out about everyday life in Britain (and re-established at the University of Sussex in the 1980s.) The Archive issues quarterly ‘directives’ to hundreds of volunteer writers, and in 2016 I worked with it to try and understand how the golden generation felt about social mobility. What I learned from the Mass Observers — and from a wide range of other interviewees and unpublished autobiographies — forms the backbone of my book, Snakes and Ladders.

The Mass Observers reveal that men’s success often relied on women’s hard work. Wives set aside their own ambitions to support husbands’ careers. Some took paid work to fund their spouse’s training for a profession. Managers’ wives were expected to entertain the boss who could determine their husband’s next promotion. A self-made man might boast of his working-class roots, but he expected his wife to assume the accent and appearance of a bourgeois housewife.

The self-made man would have been as reluctant to credit his mother with his fortunes as his wife. But in the mid-1950s the sociologist Jean Floud revealed that a mother’s education and ambitions were key in facilitating her child’s social mobility. Paul Vincent Baker, born in 1948 in a Coventry council house, is living proof. “I don’t very often own up to my middle name being Vincent,” Paul said, “but apparently at a very early stage she got this vision of me going to Oxford or Cambridge and becoming a barrister, and she thought that a double barrel name — Vincent-Baker — would sound quite nice.” Mrs Baker, Paul remembers, “was the driving force behind education all the time”. Like many mothers, she used her earnings — from her job as a part-time cashier in a works canteen — to buy her children books, and helped with their homework.

Paul Baker got to grammar school, but such golden opportunities were rationed. The Labour government of 1945 introduced free secondary education, but only 20% of children attended grammar school: Floud revealed that a disproportionately small minority of working-class children passed the all-important eleven plus exam to gain admittance. The majority attended secondary modern schools, which were poorly resourced and offered no education beyond the minimum leaving age. In the early 1950s, Ann Davies’ mother moved the family to a London suburb “for the good schools”, but Ann failed the eleven-plus — to her own and her mother’s disappointment. After she left her secondary modern at 15 she got a clerical job; her younger sister got into grammar school and then university.

Not only were children from wealthier families more likely to pass the eleven-plus, but they also had the resources to escape the consequences of failure. Roy Todd was the son of a Northumbrian farmer. He didn’t win a grammar school place, but his family could “afford to send me to a modest boarding school”. This “allowed me to gain seven O levels” and become a teacher. His mobility was hardly “self-made”.

Still, mid-century meritocrats assumed that only a minority of the population had the ability to do skilled or professional work, or to benefit from advanced education. This opinion was espoused by successive governments (the Tories took over from Labour in 1951) and by the senior civil servants who helped shape reform. And yet those members of the golden generation who didn’t take the traditional route up the social ladder proved them wrong. By the 1960s, more people were in white-collar or professional jobs than had attended grammar schools. In the 1970s, women, who had so often been denied an academic secondary schooling, flocked to universities and polytechnics as mature students.

Pamela Thornton was among them. She had been born in 1943 to a working-class Lancashire family. A “bookworm” from an early age, Pamela was “very jealous” of those girls who passed the eleven-plus. She attended a secondary modern and left at 15 to become a bakery assistant. By 1973 she was married to a council clerk, had a young daughter starting nursery school and “was ready for a new challenge”. Her local further education college invited her to teach a baking class and she “loved it”. By the end of the decade, Pamela was teaching a number of evening classes; in 1981, her newfound confidence led her to answer a plea for help in establishing a library at her daughter’s new comprehensive school. With the school’s support, Pamela trained as a library assistant and took up a permanent job with the council-funded schools library service. State-funded education laid the path for Pamela’s satisfying career.

Meanwhile, many members of the golden generation recognised that their success wasn’t based on their own exceptional merit. Encouraged to dream of a better future, some didn’t want to hoard wealth and opportunity, and instead made concerted, wide-ranging efforts to make life better for those on the lower rungs of the social ladder. The 1970s was a good time for equality. Activists started law centres so people didn’t have to rely on costly solicitors. Feminists campaigns gained momentum. Trade union membership rocketed: by 1979, more than 13 million workers had signed up, many of them in white-collar or professional jobs. By the end of the decade, the gulf between the rich and poor was narrower than it had been since the Second World War, and legislation had been passed to outlaw sex and race discrimination. Working-class people’s participation in further and higher education was rapidly growing.

Of course, some of the golden generation voted for a very different future, electing Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government of 1979. Thatcher promised to help people to help themselves, as unemployment rose in the late 1970s. She encouraged people to start their own businesses, buy their own homes, and go “into industry, into commerce, because that’s where the money is made”. But by looking behind the social mobility statistics, we can learn a lot from the golden generation about how to handle the pandemic and its aftermath.

History shows that, given the chance, most people are capable of contributing a great deal to society. Building back better means enabling them to do so. Education should emphasise creativity and co-operation rather than competition or conformity. Instead of bailing out bankers and millionaires, we should provide a safety net that gives everyone a secure foundation on which to build. And Government can create more room at the top. There is no objective reason why care work should not be a profession, why teachers and nurses should not be paid more for their valuable work, and why we can’t have a strong welfare state. Investing in people encourages the hard work of innovation, and generates more opportunities for future generations. ‘Success’ does not have to mean accruing enormous personal wealth. It certainly didn’t for most of the golden generation.


Selina Todd is Professor of Modern History at Oxford University. She writes about working-class life, women’s lives and feminism. Her latest book is Snakes and Ladders: the Great British Social Mobility Myth, published in 2021 by Chatto. 

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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

‘There is no objective reason why care work should not be a profession, why teachers and nurses should not be paid more for their valuable work, and why we can’t have a strong welfare state.’
Teachers and nurses are paid very well outside of London and have pensions and working conditions that 99% of people in the private sector can only dream of. Moreover, educatonal outcomes suggest that few of our teachers deliver anything of any ‘value’.
We already have a strong welfare state, so strong that it pays the rent for millions of people and directly feeds their children. Not even the Soviets delivered goodies on that scale. (IUnder Soviet communism you worked or you starved. Or, if sent to the gulags, you did both). Ultimately, the West’s ‘strong’ welfare state and the associated sense of entitlement are assuring its self-destruction.
Yes, care workers should be better treated and rewarded.

Last edited 3 years ago by Sebastian Giraud
Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

The “objective reason” this person is discussing is otherwise known as the taxpayer. There is only so far into that person’s pocket that govt agents can reach before they encounter diminishing returns. This is mentality of a govt drone who looks upon citizens as subjects.

rosie mackenzie
rosie mackenzie
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

By care workers does the authoress mean wives and mothers as well? “Wages for housework” used to be a great battle cry in the seventies, which would have meant that if one were married to a taxpayer, one would be worse off.

adrian murrell
adrian murrell
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

You obviously have never had to rely on welfare to feed yourself. Get back to us once you’ve spent a few months trying to live a decent life on less than £80 a week.

Last edited 3 years ago by Sebastian Giraud
Derek M
Derek M
3 years ago
Reply to  adrian murrell

But he is correct in his assertion that the welfare state pays the rent for millions of people and directly feeds their children

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago
Reply to  adrian murrell

Which of his statements do you disagree with?

George Lake
George Lake
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Who the hell is Sebastian Giraud, the creature who edited FB, 7 hours ago?

Alison Houston
Alison Houston
3 years ago

“Committed to ensuring a hostile culture of mutual antipathy and intolerance”

I couldn’t help thinking of Douglas Murray’s joke, above, reading this drivel.

Fancy wives and mothers making sacrifices and supporting their husbands, allowing them to raise up the family unit to greater heights, ensuring benefits to both of them and their shared genetic material in the form of their offspring! Did any of the rest of you know this was how parenthood works? Who would’ve thunk it!

But then this Oxford Professor is now committed to the Great Reset, so we shouldn’t be surprised if she is so dim as to think the world should be built back better in the state that it always has been, rather than being left to the cut throat, mutually hostile way she imagined it was before she did her research. Only of course its nanny state who’s going to be the mother and housewife in this new scenario, so that nobody will need to marry or reproduce.

Last edited 3 years ago by Sebastian Giraud
Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

Well said, Alison. Perhaps you could write one of your excellent poems about Selina Todd. I’m sure you could find some suitable rhymes for ‘Todd’ and deploy them at unexpected places them in your lines, as you do so expertly.

Paul Booth
Paul Booth
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Why don’t you grow up?

George Lake
George Lake
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Booth

Temper, temper, you’ll turn into Mr Tom Fox if you’re not careful. All 72 kg of him.

Tim Corn
Tim Corn
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

Great quote from DM – where did he say it?

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
3 years ago
Reply to  Tim Corn

On these very pages.

https://unherd.com/2020/12/

” …. employees in the School of Arts and Humanities at Cambridge were treated to an email informing them that their university is “committed to ensuring an inclusive culture of mutual respect and tolerance”. And as with all such statements, the very blandness of the language masks the relentless advancement of a political agenda that is the opposite of tolerance.

One of the first rules of logic I was taught ” by a Cambridge-trained philosopher, as it happens ” is that you should never utter a sentence the opposite of which would only be uttered by a madman.

Alas the people who now instruct Cambridge’s academics in how to think do not have the rigour of previous generations. It is hard to imagine a sane person instructing an academic body of distinctly intelligent people that their university is “committed to ensuring a hostile culture of mutual antipathy and intolerance”. There may have been certain colleges at certain points where that appeared to be the aim, but nobody would ever state it as such. So why say ” why bother even to type out ” this verbiage about respect and tolerance? Why waste the time of intelligent people with such drivel?”

Tim Corn
Tim Corn
3 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Thanks Patrick!

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
3 years ago
Reply to  Tim Corn

On these very pages. (I seem not to be allowed to copy the link, but the article was entitled – One Small step for Free Speech)

‘ ……. employees in the School of Arts and Humanities at Cambridge were treated to an email informing them that their university is “committed to ensuring an inclusive culture of mutual respect and tolerance”. And as with all such statements, the very blandness of the language masks the relentless advancement of a political agenda that is the opposite of tolerance.

One of the first rules of logic I was taught ” by a Cambridge-trained philosopher, as it happens ” is that you should never utter a sentence the opposite of which would only be uttered by a madman.

Alas the people who now instruct Cambridge’s academics in how to think do not have the rigour of previous generations. It is hard to imagine a sane person instructing an academic body of distinctly intelligent people that their university is “committed to ensuring a hostile culture of mutual antipathy and intolerance”. There may have been certain colleges at certain points where that appeared to be the aim, but nobody would ever state it as such. So why say ” why bother even to type out ” this verbiage about respect and tolerance? Why waste the time of intelligent people with such drivel? ‘

iaincs.macdonald
iaincs.macdonald
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

I considered you reply too strong after skim reading the article. Then I read the article. Well said I have to say.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

“There is no objective reason why care work should not be a profession, why teachers and nurses should not be paid more for their valuable work, and why we can’t have a strong welfare state.”

None at all. Raise taxes enough to do all of that. Or more accurately, elect politicians who promise to raise everyone’s taxes in amounts required to do all of it.

“The most seductive part of the self-made man myth was that anyone could become one, with enough persistence. But even in the golden age of social mobility, there was far less room at the top than at the bottom. “

There is not and has never been a defined amount of room at the top. If someone moves into the top socio-economic rungs, that does not mean that someone else already there has to move down the ladder.

And yes we have plenty of evidence of self made men and women who started with basically nothing. And then much depends on what you define as self made. Someone who starts with nothing and becomes comfortable through a lifetime of effort, owning a home, caring for their family, taking the occasional vacay, is as much a self made man or woman as anyone else. You don’t have to become Jeff Bezos to be a self made person.

I’ve never heard of anyone “hoarding” wealth. Most people who have a lot of money pay a good bit of it in taxes, they invest it in private enterprises that hire people and they usually also give some of it away to various causes. What exactly does the author mean by “hoarding” money? If you just mean that they have it, how is that “hoarding”?

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago

There is very strong evidence that wealth inequality is rising faster than income inequality. Wealth is, to some extent, hoarded. A definition ‘a stock or store of money or valued objects, typically one that is secret or carefully guarded.’ Increases in wealth do not necessarily find their way back into the economic system and wealth is taxed at lower rates than income. Income is generally paid within a tax jurisdiction, wealth can be stored in untaxed or low taxed jurisdictions. Those are some of the ways in which wealth is hoarded.

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

So your solution is what? Do away with all private investment? Or is that too drastic and you think that we just need to make it harder to have private investment? And that’s going to work out how?

By definition, savings = investment.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

I was responding to the comment about hoarding wealth. My solution would be a system that redistributes wealth from the minority to the majority in the form of income. Our current system is very successfully concentrating wealth in the hands of the already wealthy.

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

If there is no accumulated savings, then there is no private investment. No private investment means no gains in productivity, no economic growth and no wage growth, creating further poverty. Your mindset is what makes people poor (however noble you think you are as you deprive children of a future).

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

Not necessarily no accumulated private saving – less accumulated private saving. Not necessarily less investment, though possibly less private investment.

Antony H
Antony H
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

Aha, that will be the “trickle down economics” argument that has been disproven so often but remains so popular with people of a certain mindset…

Ben
Ben
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Why not expand the economy by cutting taxes and red tape and provide every possible incentive for those wishing to start-up their own businesses. These are the life-blood of any society which pay for the nurses, doctors, teachers, academics and politicians. In short we need a bigger cake so everyone has a decent slice.

We also need to raise the profile of apprenticeships and vocational training. Far too little attention is paid to the myriad entrepreneurs who have the gift of turning an original idea into commercial reality. These are not skills which are taught in schools and seats of higher education where pure academic prowess is regarded as ‘superior’ to the more practical skills demanded in business.

To that extent we should emulate the Germans who place a far higher emphasis on apprenticeships than we do here. This will become even more critical as the swathe of middle-ranking white collar jobs shrinks like glaciers in the desert. Read David Goodhart on this.

Ian French
Ian French
3 years ago
Reply to  Ben

A 40-year emphasis on investing externally is what has brought about the difference between a successful productive economy , Germany, and the clueless stuck-mostly-in-the-mud misadventures of this country, Britain. But, here the failure to developthe antiquated or reach out to the new in most areas of competence is a running theme. Other nations caught it up and overtook it well over a century ago. Most contributors on here missed that event and do not seem to have anything to offer to redress it other than more of the recent same.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian French

‘ … the clueless stuck-mostly-in-the-mud misadventures of this country, Britain.’

Is this true?

Britain’s economy tends to be around 5th or 6th in the world.

‘Other nations caught it up and overtook it well over a century ago.’

Which countries? USA, yes. Japan (has had a successful economy, but has never invented anything), China, benefits from other countries’ innovations easily enough. Germany, much of whose success comes from its dominant position in the EU.

So which are these other countries? And which (even of the countries mentioned above) did the overtaking ‘well over a century ago‘?

Ian French
Ian French
3 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

I note you quote the UK’s postion in the world expressed in economic volume. This is a relic and a flattering deception. When Britain is viewed by any other metric in comparison with a host of developed nations a much more realistic picture emerges of our poor performance. Leaving aside China, an assortment other nations around the globe and in The EU outrank us variously in all manner of ways. Depends what you are comparing for the leaders in any category you desire. We are never top but always well down the list. Best in class around the globe varies. It could be Dubai, Luxembourg, Finland, Panama. The Netherlands , Adelaide, Singapore an so on. Whether it’s vocational education, per capita income, structural upkeep, , technical skills and educational attainment, wage rates, hospital beds per 1000, best place to retire to name but a few others do much better. They have better punctual cheaper modern public transport, healthier populations, modern profitable industries, better tech and use later versions of Windows to admnister business, they receive better technical education. In short, others invest wisely. We haven’t, either because we have been broke or we haven’t seen the need to keep up.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

The squirrels that survive a harsh winter “hoard” a surplus that they have worked for, and winter is coming.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Yes, this is the case, but outside of a few billionaires most of this wealth is in property. Property and land value are through the roof for a variety of reasons, but the key ones are zero interest rates and the endless printing of money. Zero interest rates and the endless printing of money are necessary in order that we are able to afford and keep feeding the ever demanding, ever expanding state in all its greed and incompetence.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

How is wealth stored in untaxed jurisdictions?
If you buy stock, you pay tax on the dividends and capital gains. If you buy bonds, you pay tax on the dividend or interest as well. If you buy a house, you pay real estate taxes. If you buy a bigger house you pay bigger real estate taxes.

If you could hoard wealth, it would very quickly lose its value, due to inflation. Rich people aren’t that stupid. Increases in wealth have to find their way back into the economy or they lose value.

Of course wealth inequality is not fixable until everyone makes the same decisions regarding money. Some people save and invest their money (creating wealth) and others with the same income do not. Even people who make very large incomes do not all have the same degree of wealth. How would you make everyone do exactly the same thing?

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
3 years ago

I agree.

I think it is usually hard to ‘hoard’ wealth, as in most cases it continues to circulate: into deposits at the bank (then lent for the use of borrowers), or into investments (for the benefit of expanding enterprises), or into real property (for the benefit of householders or businesses).

Even if you hoard, say, gold, you still have to pay the previous owner, who will recirculate the purchase price as above or as consumption (which benefits the provider of whatever is consumed).

In the same sentence, Professor Todd mentions ‘hoarding opportunity‘. I’m not sure how you do that, or why you would want to if you could.

Your final point, that wealth equality doesn’t happen in real life – even well-off people can be improvident – what sensible person will disagree?

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

All excellent points. You get the impression though that some people think wealthy folks have piles of cash sitting around their homes. Which is specifically not what wealthy people do or they wouldn’t be wealthy. What they mean by “hoard” is that wealthy people have wealth but hoard just sounds so much worse.

Baron Jackfield
Baron Jackfield
3 years ago

True. Professor Todd, like many socialists appears to base her idea of a “rich person” on “Scrooge McDuck”.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Stocks are by definition not hoarded, because they’re invested.

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
3 years ago

This is a string of anecdotes (supposedly) supporting a pre-determined outcome. You could have cherry picked stories like this to come up with whatever conclusion you want. Unbelievably shoddy scholarship.

If post-war social mobility was all down to the Welfare State, then why (looking at actual data) was social mobility higher in America despite the much reduced size of welfare spending?

The Welfare State created masses of non-jobs for middle class mediocrities (such as innumerate, ideologically-driven university professors) while killing off the actual economic growth that would have created opportunities for working class people, as well as destroying the family bonds that allowed people to get ahead. While the Welfare State produced benefits, the author has completely ignored the costs.

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

Reading drivel like what the author has written really makes me angry. My dad, born during WWII in America, grew up dirt-poor, not some made up relative-income definition of poverty, but actually lacking access to food, clean water and clothes. Working a blue-collar job in the private sector, he ended up with a lifestyle that most people in Britain would envy — big house, cars, nice pension, etc. Meanwhile, people in Britain have seen their relative standard of living steadily decline thanks to incompetent, self-dealing morons like Ms. Todd who peddle the line that if you just create more dead-weight in the State, everything will be better whereas what it actually creates is widespread misery and a small number of PR photo opportunities.

Paul Booth
Paul Booth
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

You’re a cretin, so I suppose we must feel sorry for you.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

Calm down – just regard it as a very long advert for not buying her book. And yes I did mean not buying.

Antony H
Antony H
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

Stories like your family’s are the huge exceptions, rather than the norm though. For every person like you dad there are probably uncountable examples of folk who have died poor and hungry and who could have been saved by a decent welfare state or even a decent wage. A sample of one is not a convincing argument and I think you should be happy your dad did well rather than angry at someone who points out that this is not the usual case. One other factor that seems to come up in the UK is also class and the impact that this has on social mobility.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Antony H

His story most certainly is not the “huge exception”: my father grew up on a small family farm without running water, joined the Army Air Force (as it was then), survived WWII, and through his hard work and perseverance became successful, raised a family, and retired-without a pension. Most of my friends have, or had, similar stories (I am 68). In WWII they had an expression; “he bought the farm”-signifying that in dying, the death benefit paid off the note on the family farm. My father bought the farm and lived.

Antony H
Antony H
3 years ago
Reply to  stephen f.

What would have happened to your father if he had not joined the Army Air Force? He was obviously a person with drive and ambition but what avenues would have been upen to him if he had continued to work that farm? Who knows? Congratulations to him but it really doesn’t take this discussion any further.

David Morley
David Morley
3 years ago
Reply to  Antony H

“uncountable examples of folk who have died poor and hungry and who could have been saved by a decent welfare state or even a decent wage.”

Agree. No one is doubting the effort you need to put in if you don’t get the best start in life. Nor are they denying kudos to the people who make it.

But it doesn’t follow from that that all those who didn’t make it are shiftless losers.

And we all suffer from potential that fails to fulfil itself.

Success also depends on social context. If it didn’t, the degree of social mobility wouldn’t change over time.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

Well, America is moving fast to replicate the successful creation of “-masses of non-jobs for middle class mediocrities (such as innumerate, ideologically driven university professors)”, and the inevitable “killing off” growth and family bonds.

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
3 years ago

Another left wing professor who puts on rose tinted glasses when discussing Labour and the Trade Unions.
Does she know that the Labour party kept the war time rationing system going for 6 years The Conservatives finally finished with rationing in 1954!
Does she know that Land Rover had to make their vehicle bodies from Aluminium due to steel shortages.
Has she heard of the storey that my father told me about the first banana boat to dock at Liverpool after the war? The Labour government could not decide how to fairly distribute the bananas – so throw them overboard!

I guess that this is her idea of equality, if everybody can not have something, it is belter that nobody has it! Rationing for all!

She eulogises about Trade Unions in the seventies, has she ever heard of the 3 day week, or the miners strike? I wonder if she has even heard of Longbridge – once one of the largest car producing factories in Europe. Effectively closed down by Red Robbo and his strikes.

Looking to the future she complains about competition in education – presumably all must have prizes!

Does she not know that this country has to import food to avoid starvation. To import food we have to make enough money to be able to import it. That means selling to other countries, in competition with others.

So yes, we live in a competitive world and our education system should teach that.

P.S.
If she wishes for a good example for a self made woman, she could look at Mrs Thatcher.
A grocer’s daughter who became the first woman PM.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
3 years ago

Sugar made his first millions by cutting the price of a basic PC/word processor by a factor of 3. I know because I was one of the people who suddenly became able to buy one. The irony is that many of his first customers were lefties like Selina Todd who thanks to Sugar were able to record their diatribes against capitalism and print them out.

Sugar unfortunately stopped creating new products or cutting the price of established products. Instead he now focusses on property. This epitomises the problem with 21st century capitalism. No longer is it about entrepreneurship. It is about being on the list of people the banks are prepared to lend money to and having a government run a monetary policy whose purpose is to inflate asset prices.

The second problem is having a professor from Oxford University complaining about the lack of social mobility. Maybe next week we could have an article by Herod complaining about how social services are failing to protect children or Nero discussing the inadequacies of firefighters.

Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
3 years ago

This is beautiful. You made me laugh, thanks!

Kathryn Richards
Kathryn Richards
3 years ago

‘Rising wages (thanks to strong trade unions) ‘
I couldn’t be bothered to read any further.
Here are some facts about the 1970’s she obviously either knows nothing about, or chooses to ignore:
High Unemployment (rising from 6%in 76 to 12% by 84) , High inflation (10% in 73 up to 25% per annum in 77 ), falling investment. Who would invest with the strikes destroying businesses?
Rose coloured glasses.

Ralph Windsor
Ralph Windsor
3 years ago

All true. Plus sky high interest rates. Plus frequent strikes, as often as not sanctioned by a ‘show of hands’ at the factory gates. Oh, and the worst fashion since the middle ages! Perhaps this professor of modern history hasn’t read about any of these things. She obviously wasn’t there at the time.

Karl Schuldes
Karl Schuldes
3 years ago

Yes, I was thinking she must be writing about a different 1970’s than the ones I went through.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
3 years ago

Grief, this is drivel. It’s hard knowing where to start. In fact, it’s not worth starting. But maybe the writer could restart her education and might, for instance, make a note that this country, like most western capitalist orientated nations, had self-made men (and women) long before the Labour government of 1945. Countries that didn’t, were socialist or had other forms of absolutist governments that made sure nobody rose to challenge the established junta.

adrian murrell
adrian murrell
3 years ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Oh I don’t know, I think Uncle Joe Stalin is a prime example of the self-made man par excellence.

David George
David George
3 years ago

It was Marx that realised the potential of unleashed envy, resentment and hate and gave it philosophical and moral justification. No wonder he hated Christianity.
Even though she only makes a small amount from each book, same as others, perhaps JK Rowling should divvy up her book royalties with everyone that can bung a few chapters together. Is she not due her success, her millions of readers seem to think so.
What debt do we owe the driven, the creative and the entrepreneurial? Who knows but we know what happens when it’s discouraged. Everyone suffers.
Ancient Chinese saying: Man going nowhere is certain to get there.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  David George

I like that saying very much, have’nt heard that one before.
Made me laugh

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  David George

Socialism, egalitarianism and a desire to reduce inequality of outcome existed and had philosophical and moral justifications long before Marx. Thomas Paine, for one.

David George
David George
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Yes Mark but I was referring to the justification and weaponisation of toxic resentment as a means to those ends.
Also:

“What Marx accomplished was to produce such a comprehensive, dramatic, and fascinating vision that it could withstand innumerable empirical contradictions, logical refutations, and moral revulsions at its effects. The Marxian vision took the overwhelming complexity of the real world and made the parts fall into place, in a way that was intellectually exhilarating and conferred such a sense of moral superiority that opponents could be simply labelled and dismissed as moral lepers or blind reactionaries. Marxism was ““ and remains ““ a mighty instrument for the acquisition and maintenance of political power.” Thomas Sowell.

There’s a very interesting essay you might like to read as a follow up, search:
The spectre haunting the West: Marxism and the contagion of resentment

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  David George

Fair enough. Though I think the resentment was probably always there – Marx (drawing on a long tradition) offered an alternative explanation for inequality than the dominant one that it was the natural, God given, order of things. As soon as you point out to people that they and their children are poor or starving not because God determines it but because it helps other people and their children live lives of luxury they tend to get resentful.

David George
David George
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Yes resentment is a real emotion – in as much as any emotion is “real”.
It sometimes pays to reduce a group pathology to the level of the individual. Surely you know people that harbour resentment, that are convinced that everything that is wrong in their lives is the result of someone else. It only makes things worse. Promote that to an entire population and welcome to hell itself.
Mr. A. H. was another that promoted resentment, we know how that turned out, or the Red Terror and the persecution and murder of the Kulaks. It’s never satisfied, you start to run out of people to blame and end up shooting intellectuals, people with spectacles, as happened in Maoist China and in Cambodia.
Christianity has a very strong caution against indulgence in resentment for very good reason.

“Consult your resentment. It’s a revelatory emotion, for all its pathology. It’s part of an evil triad: arrogance, deceit, and resentment. Nothing causes more harm than this underworld Trinity. But resentment always means one of two things. Either the resentful person is immature, in which case he or she should shut up, quit whining, and get on with it, or there is tyranny afoot”in which case the person subjugated has a moral obligation to speak up. Why? Because the consequence of remaining silent is worse. Of course, it’s easier in the moment to stay silent and avoid conflict. But in the long term, that’s deadly. When you have something to say, silence is a lie”and tyranny feeds on lies. When should you push back against oppression, despite the danger? When you start nursing secret fantasies of revenge; when your life is being poisoned and your imagination fills with the wish to devour and destroy.”
“• Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

Mark H
Mark H
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

I think it’s a bit different – in the past, life was universally short, sharp, and brutish. Those who are doing well are very rarely doing so on the backs of others (though the last leader of the Labour party does come to mind as a counterexample).

Social progress consists of increasing the proportion of people who are doing well, while ensuring that those who are struggling are at least doing okay.

Irina Vedekhina
Irina Vedekhina
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

My son came recently from school confused, saying “Equality of outcomes is good, that ensures everybody is equal”.
I had to correct this and gave him an example. “Imagine, your class is having an exam, and no matter what you put in your paper, everybody would get a 95%. This is equality of outcomes. Does it feel good?”
“Yes!”
“If that was the case, would you bother to make an effort to work hard at all?”
“No, why would I?”, he is happily smiling at the idea.
“But do you realise that in the end you would all end up as a bunch of idiots?”
My son gets it: “So, is that what socialism is?”
“No, it would be more subtle. Before the exam, you know that two best papers would get a score of 95, and the rest of you, no matter what is in your paper, would get a 92. Would you work hard in this case?”
“..Mmm, to be honest, no, as all my friends would get 92 anyway”. Then, after some thinking, “You know, socialism actually feels good”.
Me again, “But do you realise, that you all would still end up as a bunch uneducated idiots?”

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Poor laws developed under Elizabth 1 worked well until 1800- read GM Trevlyan Social History of England. . Between 1800 and 1900 the population increased from 10 to 40M and changed from 20% to 80% urban; the Poor Laws could not cope. The sudden opening and closing of markets in Europe under Napoleon’ Rule stopped long term planning of houses. The houses built by Wedgewood and Boulton in the 1780s where markets were expanding were far better than post 1800.
The Industrial Revolution started with Newcomen, Brindly, Darby etc, who were craftsmen and there was extensive upward mobility.
Many of those with get and go died in WW1 and 2 and then emigrated afterwards. Technical skills enable one to move better paid jobs, hence the Brain Drain overseas.
Also many of best people worked for British companies overseas post 1945, Marconi, Shell, BP, RTZ , Anglo American from craftsmen to top engineers. Why work under Scargill at NCB or Robinson at British Leyland when one can earn far more and do a far more enjoyable jobs overseas ?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  David George

It was Marx that realised the potential of unleashed envy, resentment and hate and gave it philosophical and moral justification.

This. There will always be a market niche for a political party that congratulates you on and excuses gross personal vices.

Saul D
Saul D
3 years ago

The growth of the welfare state with accompanying increases in the public sector led to the cosy ‘satisfying career’ in the public sector, but that’s hardly ‘self-made’. For better examples consider the self-made in retail (including Annita Roddick and Laura Ashley).

For social mobility the best place to look is the immigrant populations who came into the UK and set up small shops, and now have children in the professions or running UK businesses. The state can be supportive, but it is rarely causal.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
3 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

I agree. The immigrants who come to a country, and attain great success
often with minimal starting assets, are often the best example of what can be achieved with a sense of purpose and hard work.

When this is in a country such as the UK, they doubtless do enjoy the benefits of the welfare state – like everyone else.

But their ‘excess’ achievement is generated by their own efforts – not like nearly everyone else.

Self-made success, you might say.

rosie mackenzie
rosie mackenzie
3 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

In the case of immigrants, their children were treated better in the school and university system than British children, positive discrimination setting in very early. It was thought they needed more help, when in fact they didn’t. It was the native children without fathers who did, and didn’t get it. That remains the case today when, for example, Somerset children get half spent on them that London children do. The same goes for the coast.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Just another academic belittling those who have achieved something in the real world.

David Morley
David Morley
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I didn’t think much of the article – but I don’t think the author was doing that.

Jim le Messurier
Jim le Messurier
3 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

I rather think she was doing exactly that. By referring to the application of individual agency as a means to material betterment as a ‘myth’, she has indentified her enemy pretty clearly.

And that’s not to say that the provisions put in place by society – which some people refer to (disingenuously) as ‘socialism’ – to educate people and keep the whole place ticking over, aren’t important, or the bedrock of a society wothout which virtually nobody can thrive. Nobody is seriously suggesting we shouldn’t have roads, hospitals, fire services, schools or that these not be paid for by the state.

David Morley
David Morley
3 years ago

The two things I took away from the article are that no one is entirely self made, but also that there are lots of smaller success stories that tend to be off the radar. It’s only the rags to riches myth that she’s being critical of. And only because it distorts the picture. Most success involves far less spectacular moves up the social hierarchy. And many rags to riches stories don’t bear close examination at the rags end of the story.

Antony H
Antony H
3 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

Entirely reasonable, but who could get on their high horse about such a vanilla interpretation as that?

David Morley
David Morley
3 years ago
Reply to  Antony H

I felt it was an article that didn’t really go anywhere

Jim le Messurier
Jim le Messurier
3 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

I wouldn’t argue with the fact of the off-radar work being crucial, and there being some kind of mythological aspect to the idea ‘self-made man’ (or woman). As almost anything can be mythologized to some extent. But this is being used as a battering ram against the very concept of merit itself. Which is now, of course, racist.

https://www.sfchronicle.com

This is in West Coast US, but soon coming to a place near you. This article contributes to that drip of Critical Theory driven nonsense, unfortunately.

David Morley
David Morley
3 years ago

“But this is being used as a battering ram against the very concept of merit itself. Which is now, of course, racist.”

I honestly think you are projecting onto the author (or at least onto this piece) things that aren’t actually there.

Just an aside – are you aware that she has had to be accompanied by security guards on campus because of things she has said around the trans issue? She’s not an out of the bag middle class woke leftie.

Jim le Messurier
Jim le Messurier
3 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

I didn’t know that, and point taken.

pgstokes1
pgstokes1
3 years ago

Another historian writing about something they either know very little about, economics, or writing from a semi-religious political viewpoint, like a socialist.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  pgstokes1

I think part of the point of the article is that the myth of the self made man is also a something of a semi-religious viewpoint.

Jim le Messurier
Jim le Messurier
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

I would say that the ‘myth of the self made man’, is not a ‘myth’ so much as a nudge in the direction of plain common sense.

Nobody disputes the fact that the CEO was raised in a society which had provisions put in place to educate and nurture. Some in that society, however, do more with those provisions and gain more material benefits for themselves and those around them, than others.

And many immigrants to this country – who didn’t have those provisions in place in the societies where they came from – also manage to share this (according to you) ‘myth’. Their statistical representation among the wealthiest people in the UK would show this. The fact that the representation of immigrant communites is also high in the poorest sections of society tells us that it’s not just one thing. There are many, many factors at play.

But don’t try and tell us that the idea of individual agency being a crucial factor in success is a ‘myth’, or a ‘semi-religious viewpoint’, please.

Antony H
Antony H
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Like Trump’s claims to be “self made”.

David Hartlin
David Hartlin
3 years ago

I suppose no failures are considered self-made?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago
Reply to  David Hartlin

Probably the only “failures” not be considered to be “victims” are white males.

Jim le Messurier
Jim le Messurier
3 years ago
Reply to  David Hartlin

Huge point.

pgstokes1
pgstokes1
3 years ago

A further comment: the author seems to be setting up a straw man and then, in taking him down, says that the straw man is an example of all people. She seems to think that self-made men (not women?) only existed after 1945 and were successful because of the far-sighted policies of the Labour government (“welfare state and guaranteed full employment”). Putting aside the claim for full employment, the author overlooks those self-made people that came before. Any person who could be described as self-made has to exist in the society in which he or she lives. If the Labour government of 1945 created the conditions for self-advancement then that is a claim that can be examined and verified by evidence. The author doesn’t do that beyond a few anecdotal examples, which helpfully are explained in a way that supports her thesis. This seems to be question-begging on stilts.

Kathryn Richards
Kathryn Richards
3 years ago
Reply to  pgstokes1

Guaranteed full employment? I wonder where she got her figures from. Wonderland?

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
3 years ago
Reply to  pgstokes1

Absolutely right. If this is an example of Professor Todd’s academic standards, I really am appalled. The problem with using interview material as the basis of research is that the results one presents depend entirely on the questions asked and the answers selected. As with many academics one sees on TV, the Professor seems to have started with a strong political agenda and then selected the evidence to support her argument.

Baron Jackfield
Baron Jackfield
3 years ago
Reply to  pgstokes1

” If the Labour government of 1945 created the conditions for self-advancement then that is a claim that can be examined and verified by evidence.”

Indeed. The Professor’s hypothesis is destruction-tested by the simple fact that not everyone born in 1947 became as wealthy as Alan Sugar. She seems to have a blind-spot that not everyone has the same drives and ambitions.

Simon Cross
Simon Cross
3 years ago

“The Labour government of 1945 introduced free secondary education.”

One assumes that, as a Professor of History, she knows this to be untrue, and is just doing the usual leftist trick of repeating lies useful to their argument and hoping nobody calls them out.

The Fisher Act of 1918 (before the Labour party existed) made secondary education compulsory. The state assumed responsibility for secondary schools. Primary schooling had been universally free before that, and in fact my grandmother taught at a state primary school in that era. The Labour party had very little to do with universal education. The Conservatives, and – in particular – the Liberals drove it.

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Cross

The Labour party was established in 1900 (the LRC) or 1893 (the ILP), but I take your point. The 1944 Education Act was put through by Butler under the wartime coalition and opened up grammar schools to poorer children. I think the professor needs to do a lot more than she has done here to address whether grammar schools didn’t do a lot to broaden opportunity. It’s noticeable that her ‘golden generation’, born between the mid-30s and early 50s, were exactly the group who most benefited from grammar schools before they started to be removed from the later 60s onwards.

Kathryn Richards
Kathryn Richards
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

Under the 1907 education act (Liberal) all Grammar schools were required to provide at least 25% of places as free scholarships.
Many from poorer backgrounds benefitted from this.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

I think it is unarguable that grammar schools were almost solely responsible for the way in which opportunities were made available to people from poorer background in the post-war period. Thus their destruction by the Labour Party in the form of Shirley Williams was a particularly pernicious and evil act.

The secondary moderns were often, by all accounts, not very good. But the solution was to improve the secondary moderns and offer a better standard of Germany-style technical educations, not to destroy the grammar schools.

One cannot help but think that the Shirley Williams’ of this world felt threatened by the fact that poorer kids were getting ahead, and wanted to remove the ladder.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

On a quick skim of Wikipedia: Shirley Williams, daughter of a knight (St Paul’s and New College, Oxford), she attended St Paul’s Girls’ School, scholarship to read PPE at Oxford, Fulbright Scholarship to Columbia University. Abolished grammar schools, moved to catchment area of (at that time state subsidised, later fully independent) Goldolpin and Latymer school so her daughter would get the benefit of a proper education.

We all know the form.

rosie mackenzie
rosie mackenzie
3 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

And given an honorary degree by Oxford, when Mrs T was denied it because, the left said, Mrs T had destroyed education!

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago

I had thought that it was because she would not “jump” for that Swede…

rosie mackenzie
rosie mackenzie
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

Grammar Schools and National Service.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

‘Trade union membership rocketed: by 1979, more than 13 million workers had signed up, many of them in white-collar or professional jobs. By the end of the decade, the gulf between the rich and poor was narrower than it had been since the Second World War,..’

Yes, and the UK was ridiculed as the ‘Sick Man of Europe’, with strike-ridden industries turning out fault-ridden products. Unemployment was rising and inflation was a big problem. It took Thatcher to sort it out by creating an environment in which those who wanted to start businesses and employ people felt confident to do so. Sadly, over time, too much rein was given to the banks etc and the whole of society was financialized.

I am not inherently opposed to the state. It is just that the British state is often useless and always extraordinarily expensive. It has also created a form of aparheid in which those who work for the state have conditions and pensions unimaginable to those those who are paying for it.

iaincs.macdonald
iaincs.macdonald
3 years ago

This is in my view a deeply disappointing article. In essence it records in and astonishingly random ambulatory manner what most of us already know; that wives support their husbands. I think that we are meant to regard this as a hideous act of oppression. When in fact, it represents the oldest arrangement that I know of in the history of humanity. That it is new to her ontology is something which we should marvel at. The arrangement is one which many of us are very comfortable with. I can only imagine that the author has confused an academic ability sufficient to allow her entrance to Cambridge with common sense. I can imagine her as a Cambridge academic seeking to break up a fight between two drunks in a working men’s club in Bolton by the method of deploying her superior intellect and providing them with reasoned and logical argument why they should not come to blows. It would be as successful as her observations above are at impressing me. What would be interesting is a discussion as to whether or not all of this arises from sexism or from choice. I think that this is something unsayable in the woke atmosphere of Cambridge so I would suggest that we look for those answers in an environment where free speech is still permissible.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

Everything wrong with Oxford history in 2,000 words.

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
3 years ago

I know a great deal about my parents b.1910’s, their parents b.1880’s, their parents b.1850’s and their parents b.1820’s.
Those15 families, together with millions of others, made a positive contribution to
society and never received a penny of welfare.
Perhaps a professor of modern history could research the last 200 years of the self-made family.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
3 years ago

Deeply depressing to think this author teaches the next generation of people who assume they have the right to rule over the rest of us. Her argument is circular. History prior to the welfare state is considered irrelevant. Why? This was the era when Britain was the pre-eminent industrial power in the world and men who had grown up in great poverty made greater fortunes. Anyone born or raised in Britain post-1945 has been touched by the welfare state. Even those immigrants who were raised and educated abroad and came to the UK to make their fortunes struggle to claim that they owe nothing to the British state when that state spends 40% of GDP. So we come to the author’s remarkable conclusion: because there is no one who has been untouched by the welfare state, there is no one who has been untouched by the welfare state and made his or her fortune. And they call this scholarship? (Others have also rightly commented on the substitution of anecdotes for research).

Mark Benson
Mark Benson
3 years ago

The myth of the self-made man as seen through the eyes of the state-made woman; a ideologially-driven revisionist history of the 20th Century.
We know the script by now and the author doesn’t leave anything out.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago

I reckon the welfare state has an awful lot to answer for myself. Millions of bone idle, work shy grifters who contribute nothing to the fabrication of this country from cradle to grave. Gimme, Gimme, Gimme. Yes the welfare state needs a shake up alright and that’s a fact.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

Managers’ wives were expected to entertain the boss who could determine their husband’s next promotion.

This bit of Professor Todd’s research was conducted by watching old episodes of Terry and June.

She might also have pointed out that managers’ wives were expected to cope with their husbands’ trousers falling down, and – ooh no! Juuuuuuuuuuune! Here comes the real vicar!

Jim le Messurier
Jim le Messurier
3 years ago

This reads rather like the Labour Party or Lib/Dem Manifesto, expressed in the form of an article aimed at schoolchildren.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

That was rather a nauseating paean to the state.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
3 years ago

I just looked at the writers by-line. She is Professor of Modern History at Oxford. That is utterly unbelievable. How can a Professor sign off on such rubbish?

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Where have you been for the last 30 years? It is not remotely surprising.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

“Modern History?” It sounds a bit oxymoronic.

John Mcalester
John Mcalester
3 years ago

“The most seductive part of the self-made man myth was that anyone could become one,”

No everyone had the opportunity but it took hard work, determination, self sacrifice and a small level of good luck. So ipso facto they are self made.

Antony H
Antony H
3 years ago
Reply to  John Mcalester

Not everyone has the opportunity though, and perhaps that is part of her point. There are certainly some people who are really “self made” in my opinion – they are sometimes lucky, having been in the right place at the right time with the right idea, but the really successful ones tend to have an eye for an opportunity combined with an intense focus which ignores other considerations. Most of the ones I have met have had the benefit of helpful contacts too and the old school tie certainly helps here.

Gerry Fruin
Gerry Fruin
3 years ago

I cannot recalled a written article that made me so angry, actually furious. A childhood that eight decades later still gives me nightmares. The Army saved me. I left with skills that would land me a few life sentences in ‘civvie street’. That was the lot of just about everyone I knew. Nil education and zero expectations of a future. So how did those born in the war years get on?
Hard bloody work, grafting at anything paying a wage, trying to ‘better’ ourselves. Apprenticeships 5 – 7 years of learning genuine skills was one way. Now destroyed. Night schools for those who were slower to develop now long gone.
At the same time the Unions grabbed power and conned workers to believe they had their interest at heart. And we as a nation never really improved. British built meant not quality, but rubbish and we were a laughing stock.
Later as an employer I had positive interaction with the Unions! There constant demands for better pay, better conditions, workers rights, holiday pay, insurance boosts all fell on deaf ears I already had this in place.
Did this satisfy my employees. Did it hell. They had it easy because the Union was for ever wanting more. Strike threats, go slow’s were every day entertainment.
When I offered to form an already successful company into a co-op where they all had equal shares at no cost to them and I would resign with no payout. Guess what! A great silence descended.
Eventually I closed the company down. ‘The hard working man’ of political fame is a myth.
The workers, those who do, just get on and make the best of what they have. The whinging and whining we get through the MSM does not help.
Back to the fifties and they were hard times but not as hard as the thirties. Writers such as the one presenting this smirking piece know nothing about work.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago

I always thought “a self-made man” was one who achieved success on his own merits rather than by any kind of patronage. Surely the concept arose during the 19th century when poor and working class men could and did make fortunes by hard work and character due to the industrial revolution, and later on in the 20th century, rising through the ranks of the Armed Forces in the two world wars.

The term “a self-made man” has probably become bastardized in our time by the media, like so much else.

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
3 years ago

Sorry to kick this poor, bleeding article when it’s down, but I had to highlight the statement “The 1970s was a good time for equality.” This may have been true for income equality and activism about women’s rights and race. But anyone with a brain and a memory can tell you that women and ‘minorities’ are far better placed in society now than they were in the 70s. I don’t think it’s pedantic to make this point. An Oxford professor should be a lot more precise in her writing and thinking.

rosie mackenzie
rosie mackenzie
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

A lot of left wing people hark back to the seventies, in rather the same spirit they hark back to East Germany. They don’t just treasure the equality of poverty and lack of ownership under the brutal selfishness of union rule, but the fact that it was before Mrs Thatcher.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago

And quite a lot of time spent without electricity.

rosie mackenzie
rosie mackenzie
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

And water, rubbish collection, bakers, burials, transport, and a whole lot else.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
3 years ago

No chance to take ‘O’ levels at a Secondary Modern? I went to Chantry Sec Mod in Ipswich and took and passed 6.

Ralph Windsor
Ralph Windsor
3 years ago

It must now be almost as easy to secure a professorship in history as in, say, ‘gender studies’.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Ralph Windsor

I believe some universities now offer a degree in The History of Gender Studies.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Laughter is indeed the best medicine.

Dawne Swift
Dawne Swift
3 years ago

I certainly do not agree with this author’s analysis. Firstly re immigrants being largely in low status work – well, that’s the initial nature of most immigration from poorer countries. The strides taken by subsequent generations of those immigrant families in Britain is self evident, but if you need an example, take Sadiq Khan.

Whilst post war investment in rebuilding Britain played a part in wider availability of opportunities, the most important factors were the growth of grammar schooling from the 1920s onwards and the aspirations of working class parents: that having gone through the decimation of 2 world wars, things would be better for their children.

My own parents, born in 1929 to working class parents in Lancashire (school caretaker, mill worker, piece worker in the mines) went to grammar school and their prospects were transformed. But I agree that this wasn’t only through their own hard work and ambition, but also that of their parents. My paternal grandparents in particular were determined that their children should “at least” rise to the position of teachers. My uncle became a teacher and loved his job; my father took an NCB scholarship to university and rose to a very senior position. In turn their own childrens’ prospects were raised.

It was the ideologically-driven undoing of the grammar school system by successive labour governments which has resulted in the reduction of opportunity for working class families over the last 4 decades. The reluctance of successive conservative governments to reintroduce the system can be put down to conservative MPs being privileged members of society who do not want any competition from the bright, grammar school educated working class for their own privately educated children.

Walter Brigham
Walter Brigham
3 years ago

So as not to pile on I will try to offer a counter perspective from my vantage point as a conservative, privileged, white Christian male (by genetics and choice) from the US:

Economic equality is a wonderful but ultimately unattainable goal. There will always be the poor – even if only in spirit. Equality of opportunity is more possible and ultimately more fair even as it is used as an alternative by those committed to neither type of equality.

The essentiality of economic inequality is that its eradication does so much harm – to freedom, to opportunity, to incentives and ultimately to class mobility. In the US the bastions of equality warriors (NYC, DC, Boston, Chicago, LA, Seattle, San Francisco) have the MOST intrinsic, or if you prefer systematic, socio-economic inequality. Largely due to institutions that mis-educate, mis-house, mis-police, mis-subsidize those whom the ‘woke’ claim to help. Much of this results from the political ‘status-holders’ who promise much to many while insuring most flows to themselves (see Pelosi, Kerry. Clinton, Biden, Obama, Sanders, Warren, etc) .

The goal should be the maximizing the ability, through education and other common resources, of individuals to rise to be their best self and for the next generation to rise even higher. This requires opportunity and thus economic growth – for which free markets rightly recognized. Not socialized economies.

I will end here: Obama quickly deemed the downturn of 2008-9 as the ‘Great Recession’ to rally support for government spending and regulation. Democrats wanted a return of the glory days of maximum government management of well, everything. He conveniently ignored the more recent and relevant ‘malaise’ of the late 70’s. The high inflation and low growth of that time (thought impossible by big government proponents beholden to the Philips Curve) was the product of over regulation and untethered money supply. Even Jimmy Carter had begun deregulation of banks and airlines prior to his departure back to Plains, GA. Obama’s economic recovery was anemic with unemployment falling only as labor participation fell. Biden is taking us back to less growth, less opportunity, job killing regulations (minimum wage, energy shutdowns) and deficit driven inflation.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

All these stories of Maureen and Paul remind me of Corbyn at PMQs.

As for Todd’s ‘strong welfare state’ it has already put the country two trillion in debt. How much more debt does she want?

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

At least enough to fund some decent drinks parties for the senior common room and her pension.

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
3 years ago

In reality, the self-made person is a myth. They owe their chances to … blah, blah, blah.
Yes, but why particularly men?

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Gordon Black

‘Self-made man” is a classic phrase coined on February 2, 1842 by Henry Clay in the United States Senate, to describe individuals whose success lay within the individuals themselves, not with outside conditions.’

It’s being used because it’s a well worn and well known phrase.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago

Very different, pre-global trade times of course, but even famous auto-pioneer Henry Ford, not exactly renowned for his all-round cuddliness or his socialist tendencies other than of the alleged national variety, realised that it made good economic sense to pay the workforce that built his cars enough of a wage that they might also be in a position to one day buy one.

Despite historically high levels of employment in the UK, pre-covid anyways, there are 14m living in what is defined as poverty and 8m of these are described as ‘working poor’ ie whilst they have jobs they do not provide enough for them or their families to live on.

This is reflected in the rising number of food banks, most notably post financial crash since 2010, and exponentially increasing number of visits to them since then.

This, to me, is highly suggestive that the social contract in the UK between the state and worker has been broken and that this in turn potentially has serious implications for our democracy.

Figures consistently show that Western economies generally have become addicted to the heady, quick fix drug of financialisation since the end of the 1970s where capital and profit is far more inclined to be invested for greater, quicker gains in the debt-fuelled, non-productive financial economy than in the far more pedestrian productive real economy that essentially underwrites all this hoopla.

In the UK, asset prices today are six times higher than GDP rather than the three times higher they were 30 years ago, and for ‘assets’ you can, for the large part, read ‘land and property’.

Now people can play the ‘architect of your own destiny/misery’ card as much as they like, particularly if they’re in the fortunate position to do so, but it doesn’t change the facts that this is a highly undesirable, let alone unsustainable situation that could eventually impact us all.

David Morley
David Morley
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

“In the UK, asset prices today are six times higher than GDP rather than the three times higher they were 30 years ago, and for ‘assets’ you can, for the large part, read ‘land and property’.”

Do you have a source for this? Not disputing it, just interested in a source.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

Interest rates now being 1/150th of what they were 30 years ago probably has a lot to do with it.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

It comes from Robert Verkaik’s new book, ‘Why You Won’t Get Rich. How capitalism broke its contract with hard work.’

David Morley
David Morley
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Thank you very much.

Jeff Mason
Jeff Mason
3 years ago

The author’s article smacks of jealousy among many other ills. If a person is successful in Britain it is only because of the welfare state. Men only succeed because of their wives and mothers. This is utter nonsense. The guarantee of full employment after 1945 would discourage entrepreneurs rather than encourage them. They don’t need to work hard and innovate because the government promises a cushy job. They innovate because it is in their nature to do so. People who take risks and work hard will do so regardless. The welfare state is a hindrance to this kind of activity, not a help. High taxes and regulation are an anchor. Private companies have to compete for employees against do-nothing civil jobs. It’s a great deal for the lazy and the bureaucrats but those two groups aren’t exactly famous for creating new industries or useful products. Capitalism, for all its real and imagined faults, still does the best job of providing the best lifestyle to the most people.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago

Whilst I’m not lobbying for either extreme, the lumbering, hopelessly inefficient state vs the nimble, autonomous, capitalist red in tooth and claw narrative largely turned out to be a fallacy when the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 came round, and the eyewatering financial actions undertaken by numerous governments during covid have surely put this lie to bed once and for all.

All too often it’s a self-serving affectation.

The Amazons, the Googles, the Facebooks of this world wouldn’t exist in the first place and continue to prosper without the existence of reasonably well-functioning, stable, legally sound, taxpayer funded and sustained societies to do so in, and those who effectively claim otherwise are deluded.

As the Australian comedian Steve Hughes helpfully explained, it’s like those who like to believe they’re anti-society or anarchists but still want to use the toilet instead of just doing their business in their own back yards.

‘No-one’s an anarchist after a curry’.

Mark H
Mark H
3 years ago

“There is no objective reason why care work should not be a profession”

Apart from the fact that the professions are defined by the need to internalize and use complicated information and methodologies. Which was the point of grammar schools – to identify the kids, regardless of social status, with the potential to become professionals.

Or is “profession” now being watered down to be a synonym for “job”?

Duncan Salter
Duncan Salter
3 years ago

legislation had been passed to outlaw sex and race discrimination

Outlawing race discrimination was good but outlawing sex was a bit draconian.

lesterfwilson8
lesterfwilson8
3 years ago

When I retired as head of the largest spinal surgical department in Europe 5 years ago, my salary was £83k.
This was slightly more than half the salary of the Head of Nursing.

Cynthia Neville
Cynthia Neville
3 years ago

Why do I get the feeling that Selina was a big fan of Obama’s slimy comment’You didn’t make that’? Nonsense from him and equally nonsensical from her

Pagar Pagaris
Pagar Pagaris
3 years ago

What an appalling article.

Complaints about the lack of equality between classes and genders but no argument for the allegation that the self made man is a myth.

When the Ugandan asians arrived here in the 1960s with absolutely nothing, they prospered through capitalism not because of the welfare state.

They started businesses and made money- the antithesis of what this silly woman seems to want people to do.

Ken Charman
Ken Charman
3 years ago

Through gritted teeth I forced myself to read to the end and also listened to the author discussing her views on Radio3 last week. What does this line of opinon, promoted through academic research prove? Not much other than if you enter the social economic landscape through a predetermined gateway you face no trouble selecting evidence to promote your polemic. Bringing set opinions and preferences to the table is fine, but not if we are supposed to see them as objective, academic and balanced. Some of us lived this and don’t recognise the story based on “studies”, “surveys” and “interviews”. I was born a working class male (1956) into what is now the bottom 1% of UK postcodes on the multiple deprivation index, passed 11+ 1967, working class grammar school 1968 to 1975, Bradford University (also working class) 1976-79, union member Tilbury docker 1980 and Ford car worker 1980-82, middle class non union professional 1982 -1987, entrepreneur / business owner 1987 – 2021. Do I and my contemporaries, like Alan Sugar, who climbed up deny the role of free healthcare and education in journey? We do not. Do we claim our good fortune is solely down to our talents and efforts. No we don’t! The author paints a false picture of the sadly lost era of social mobility because it suits her agenda to rebuild unions, state fund university education, portray men as exploiting women etc etc,

The truth is different. The 11+ was the key to our good fortune. Post war economic growth in the mixed free market free societies of the 1950s and 1960s increased demand for educated technical professional labour. Militant unions played their full role (alongside incompetent managment) in wrecking it. At Tilbury docks and Ford Dagenham the unions were mafias, trying to overthrow by demanding pay and terms that were destructive. (I was there, closed shop deals meant you had to be a union member). Unions were evil in their cornyism and corruption.

The feminist slap in the face stings most: what rubbish! Working class families (like mine in East London) are matriarchal. Of course women propelled sons (and daughters). Nobody could hide who was pushing you on. It was mothers and wives. This was the era when women broke through and men of my generation deserve at least some acknowledgment for making way and supporting female colleagues who climbed the ladder alongside us. We saw it as fair and also in our interest.

So, why did social mobility end? Many reasons but this true “observer”, a front row witness and actor in events, is very certain of the main reason. The introduction of comprehensive education and abandonment of the 11+ kicked the only ladder away. Sure the 11+ was cruel, and was easier for middle class kids to pass, but it was a quantitative standard test that a working class kid (me) could pass. History now shows that awful and brutal
though it was, it was the only way. The comprehensive system replaced it with selection by postcode and house price, which slammed the door in the face of bright working class kids like me. And now, to compound the injustice “academics”, like the author, claim that universal university education is a key to social and economic progression. In reality, there are not sufficient technical / professional jobs in a globalised, digital economy to pay back the investment in degree level education for >50% of young people. The main beneficiaries of this myth are third rate academics in fourth rate universities.

One final point. Social mobility is useful because it puts people like me, who grew up working class, in the room with middle class decision makers so that we can fight their leftie romanticism and rightie exploitation. Just as important as social mobility is the need to provide people who don’t go to university with good incomes and a respectable equal status. In fact that is more important if we are to have social mobility where people are less fearful of moving down.

Books and theories like this should be identified as politicised campaign material and stickered with an appropriate warning. For now, people like me can object and provide witness rebuttals, but given the compulsory, one-dimensional politics of today’s academia, the author’s fabrication of truth seems likely to prevail in the end. It is a major systemic failure that academia is so exclusively liberal-left.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago

Perhaps it was ever thus, but Mrs Thatcher, much like Reagan in the States, unfortunately, was a classic case of overcorrection. The start of the pendulum starting to swing way too far the other way.

I’m certainly not of the opinion she was all bad, but her economic policies essentially became a byword for political expediency, were increasingly driven by ideology rather than commonsense and were essentially divisive in outcome if not original intent.

Castrating the unions and deindustrialising the Labour heartlands whilst replacing them with nothing else much at all might have made good political sense and played well with her own natural constituency at the time (and possibly with some even now) but in the longer term was it really such a great idea?

Overcompensating for the union led strife of the 1970s led indirectly to the selling off of a good many UK publicly owned businesses on the cheap and, arguably, to the ‘justification’ for the public bailing out of ‘private’ too big to fail banks and their ‘self-made’ bankers in 2008.

The profound consequences of which, both unfairly positive and unfairly negative depending, many are still living with today.

Derek M
Derek M
3 years ago

“He owed his chances to the Labour government of 1945, which established a welfare state and guaranteed full employment.” Really? The fact that this article was written by a professor of modern history at Oxford explains a lot about our modern educational system. More ideological assertion than historical analysis

Peter KE
Peter KE
3 years ago

Poor article, left wing biased.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
3 years ago

I skimmed away. I reread some. The comments section was more on-target about reality. I stand amazed at this piece that so misses the mark from my reality. Each generation rests on the efforts of those before them. Once our personal and family needs are met, we show compassion and help others. Thus it seem we progress in life.

mark taha
mark taha
3 years ago

There have always been self-made men. Maggie’s father was one of them.

David Morley
David Morley
3 years ago

A bit of a disjointed article, which never quite seemed to make its point, and then ended with a flurry desiderata.

I’m left thinking – OK, so what should we do?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

Vote Labour, I would think.

Charles Levett-Scrivener
Charles Levett-Scrivener
3 years ago

The school leaving age was raised to 14 by the Liberal-Conservative Coalition in 1918, the “Fisher Act”;
The school leaving age was raised to 15 by Rab Butler, the Conservative Education minister in the War time coalition. in 1944
The school leaving age was raised to 16 in 1972 by the then Conservative Government

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

And the grammar schools, which gave bright working class kids a fighting chance, were abolished by Shirley Williams and the Labour government.

Tom Fox
Tom Fox
3 years ago

I think that a better understanding of the distribution of cognitive ability in the population will provide a clearer understanding of the apparent stalling of social mobility in recent times. It is NOT true that anyone can be a huge success, and the reason is that a significant proportion of people are not very bright. I am all for providing the very best and most rigorous education, but however well you teach a dull child, you will not make him a brilliant one.

I think that what we see now in terms of the stalling of mobility in white working class communities is what you would expect if social mobility was working well. Here is why. Up until the 1950s and 1960s, many bright working class people had seen their horizons artificially closed down. Poro kids could not go to grammar school because of costs involved (uniform) and also because of low expectations and closed minds among their parents , schools and society in general. Post WW2, things were different and bright , working class children did not in general see obstacles put in their way. As the article points out, absent the barriers, many did far better than their parents had done. They went to university and entered professions, or they went to night schools and progressed in engineering and in trades, starting their own businesses and doing very well. They bought houses outside their old working class areas and had children who did well were middle class in their outlook.

So what of those that were left on the council estates? These were in general of lower intellect and ability. Since intelligence is substantially passed on through genes, the occupants of sink estates produce less than stellar offspring. Not only are they disadvantaged by their genes in general, they are also culturally primed towards lower ambition. Schools drawing their clientele from such estates generally see much lower performance, NOT because their teachers are idle and unambitious, but because the children are in general dull and uninterested. This phenomenon can be seen right across white working class areas.

So what of the trend among some poor migrants to produce stellar kids? This underlines and supports my hypothesis. Many migrants are energetic, intelligent and determined to get on. They are not like a large proportion of the white working class ‘left behind’ masses. Those who get up and leave their difficult situation in Poland or India, or Lithuania, are not usually the dullards of their society. On the contrary, they are generally bright and motivated. They come here and do menial jobs, but their children are intelligent like them, and they have been trained to expect to do well at school and to have ambition well above the ambition to live on the dole or in a menial job. I hypothesise that THIS is why some London inner city schools see spectacular performance from children who seem to come from poor homes.

Social mobility and meritocracy – a term invented by Toby Young’s father Michael Young will naturally lead to a group left behind. Indeed, Michael Young predicted that this would happen. In a mature meritocracy, there will always be the left behind.

Antony H
Antony H
3 years ago
Reply to  Tom Fox

And then there is Toby Young, proof if any more was needed that a meritocracy is not what we have and that genes are not the be all and end all of intelligence.

Mark H
Mark H
3 years ago
Reply to  Antony H

In what way is he unintelligent? Or are you unhappy that he has views that diverge from yours?
NB I don’t know whether your are criticising him from a Right- or Left-wing perspective; these days both fringes have this annoying habit of ascribing low intelligence to those with whom they don’t agree.

Antony H
Antony H
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark H

Toby “the risk of a ‘second wave’ is a steaming pile of bullsh!t” Young…I don’t care if he disagrees with me and I would probably be having along, hard look at any ideas of mine he agreed with. If you can’t see him for what he is then that’s not my problem either but I would suggest a long, hard look too.

Mark H
Mark H
3 years ago
Reply to  Antony H

Fair point if he said that, though that statement is dishonest rather than a sign of unintelligence. Can’t see how you can assume he always takes up a dishonest position though. People can be honest when is suits them.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Tom Fox

I can’t argue with what you say because I don’t know enough about the subject. I think you have your opinion and that is that.

There is one problem with your analysis and it is the same with anybody who tries to prove a point. The problem is that you don’t really have very bright and very dumb in every distribution – extremes are not often found in nature. What you will have is a normal distribution with the greatest number in the middle somewhere. It is quite possible that you are correct for the 5% at each end of the distribution but you can’t really explain the middle 90%.

The mails below help with this. Grammar schools! Those in the middle could be ‘rescued’ by attending a school which helped them to pull away from their background. Those who missed the grammar school had a lot of problems for the future (as far as intellectual ability went).

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Also there is the question of teachers. I went to a grammar school and I remember that some teachers made me work harder by giving me confidence.

Mark H
Mark H
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

We live in an area where there are still grammar schools, but these tend to be monopolised by middle-class parents who try to game their system to get their kids in. I wish there wasn’t this artificial scarcity that still makes it hard kids without middle-class advantages to study at a grammar.
The flip side is the limited opportunities for skilled workers to earn a decent living, and the low social status given to skilled tradespeople.

fhealey1212
fhealey1212
3 years ago

Yes, we feckless individuals just can’t make it without the government supporting our pathetic efforts. I didn’t make it through medical school because of creativity and cooperation, I made by competing against others to learn more, know more, do more and care more. Others fell by the wayside for a reason. Others achieved more than me because they were BETTER! Society is a hierarchy which used to be built on talent and intelligence not a wish and a prayer.
The cream doesn’t rise to the top by committee but by hard work.
But if we want equal outcomes over equal opportunity then Manchester United has a new forward! Move over you so called athletes!

David Morley
David Morley
3 years ago

As noted elsewhere, I wasn’t very impressed with the article. To be honest it read like an exam answer where the candidate jammed everything in at the end in a big rush to finish.

But there are some good points in there which people have dismissed.

That self made men are not entirely self made. They are products of their time. At times we get a glut of them, at others they are thin on the ground.

Hard work may be a necessary condition of success, but it is not a sufficient condition. We don’t see those who worked hard but didn’t succeed. They never make the headlines.

Rather than focus on the very successful, we should look at the smaller, and more widespread successes and ask what made them possible.

And I suspect the author has had partial success. There is no better proof that one has hit upon a potent and active myth – than people’s annoyance at having it questionned.

tom j
tom j
3 years ago

Elon Musk..

A.N. Other
A.N. Other
3 years ago

I read the headline and thought “That’s am interesting angle, I must read that book!”.
I immediately went to Amazon and added it to my wish list for future purchase.
I then read the article. I immediately went to Amazon and deleted it from my wish list!
An article with lots of opinions but low on facts and analysis.

She discusses a period when the country got a lot richer. We all got richer. All my close mates ended up starting or running successful decent sized businesses. All were working class like me. Many were born into very poor families.

Plenty of luck involved and we all took advantage of the increased opportunities opening up. But many of our school contemporaries are still where we were. I dont fully understand why this is but I’m sure I wont find the answers in her book. And that’s a major disappointment in a book on social mobility. A fail “Professor”.

Andy Powys
Andy Powys
3 years ago

Thank you @SelinaTodd.
May I recommend this from @MichaelJSandel, from YouTube :
https://youtu.be/Qewckuxa9hw

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
3 years ago

I read this after reading a new article in Foreign Policy Magazine. Google up

foreignpolicy The Death of the Carbon Coalition — article by Thomas Oatley and Mark Blyth.

I’d be interested in seeing a similar article about how and where wealth was created in the 50s 60s and 70s in Britain. Anybody got one? Because this article sure wasn’t that.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
3 years ago

Actually, Boris’s family were pretty badly off once his father had gone, and he went to Eton on a scholarship. Still, there’s nothing like a good stereotype, is there?

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
3 years ago

An important contribution to the debate about how our society can excel in innovation and education in order to create prosperity for all.

My feeling is that the Principle of Interdependence needs to be deeply integrated into the fabric of our society so that value and worth flow up and down the socio-economic ladder.

Wilfrid Whattam
Wilfrid Whattam
3 years ago

Aside from your argument based on propitious circumstance, it is not possible to be self-made. I don’t believe in free will, and see each of us as the product of our genes and our nurture – both of which just happen to us. Sam Harris gives a better explanation than I. We are what we are and we will do what we will do (no willing is involved), though we may be tempered by external influences. The worst person in the world (let’s say Hitler or Pol Pot) can no more help being what he/she is, than the most saintly person can. If you are naturally a psychopath then, without blame, I’ll lock you away, and may even throw away the key!

Jack Henry
Jack Henry
3 years ago

I would have said we’re the product of all of these things, including Will. “No willing is involved” seems a little extreme? It depends how literally you mean it I suppose. I know there are some who have advanced the idea that consciousness literally doesn’t exist! I saw online a good riposte to that once: if it’s true, those who believe they have some degree of will and consciousness have no choice but to believe it, therefore why argue against them…

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

We are all possessed of enormous amounts of free will, assuming we are equipped with a basic knowledge of good and bad, and a reasonable education. (I will concede that neither of these attributes is possessed by millions of people in the UK).

As an experiment I have often altered or ‘selected’ my behaviour with clients in an act of ‘free will’. In doing so I have chosen to be miserable and difficult or I have chosen to be friendly and accommodating. You won’t be surprised to learn that the latter is a more successful tactic in terms of being like and given further work!

Duncan Salter
Duncan Salter
3 years ago

If you don’t believe in free will then “worst person in the world” is a meaningless value judgement. Without free will there can be no morality and then you can’t rationally complain if someone else decides you are the psychopath and need locking up. Of course, you could be right about there being no free will but in that case all thought, discussion and action are devoid of meaning as they are just the result of the laws of nature playing out as they must.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago

“I don’t believe in free will” he was mysteriously compelled to utter by forces beyond his comprehension…

David George
David George
3 years ago

I don’t know how anyone can take Sam Harris seriously. We’ve no free will but we can just make up our own morality and impose it on ourselves?

Paul Booth
Paul Booth
3 years ago

What a load of nasty comments have followed. Dr Todd has written an interesting piece – you may disagree with some or all of it – but put counter arguments, why don’t you?. Thinking is hard, so try it some time.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Booth

project much?

Kathryn Richards
Kathryn Richards
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Booth

I think that if you look there are plenty of facts given to refute her strange assertions.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Booth

Well it is certainly ‘interesting’ that a Professor of History should be so ignorant of many basic historical facts.

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Booth

Criticism, sarcasm, irony, censure and even mockery are not “nasty” … if warranted.