Thursday, December 13, 2007
Work makes you free. Work more to earn more. Embrace the liberating dynamism of capitalism, and you will soon find that all those old barriers to your innate gifts are removed (these barriers usually come in the form of other - feckless, incompetent - people, which tells you much about the anti-social attitude this doctrine inculcates). However, the empirical research suggests that we are in a prison, and one whose stern contours are barely altered from over a generation ago. A new study by the Sutton Trust suggests that social mobility has not improved for thirty years. In fact, on many indicators, it has actually become much worse. The key findings are as follows:
* Intergenerational income mobility for children born in the period 1970-2000 has stabilised, following the sharp decline that occurred for children born in 1970 compared with those born in 1958.
* However, the UK remains very low on the international rankings of social mobility when compared with other advanced nations.
* Parental background continues to exert a very powerful influence on the academic progress of children:
* Those from the poorest fifth of households but in the brightest group drop from the 88th percentile on cognitive tests at age three to the 65th percentile at age five. Those from the richest households who are least able at age three move up from the 15th percentile to the 45th percentile by age five. If this trend were to continue, the children from affluent backgrounds would be likely to overtake the poorer children in test scores by age seven.
* Inequalities in obtaining a degree persist across different income groups. While 44 per cent of young people from the richest 20 per cent of households acquired a degree in 2002, only 10 per cent from the poorest 20 per cent of households did so.
This follows repeated studies which confirm the pattern: born poor, stay poor. Actually, the Centre for Economic Performance linked above is unequivocal that social mobility has not merely frozen since the days of the hated cloth cap and winter of disco (it was disco, wasn't it?), but actually declined substantially. That this painfully obvious reality is reasonably well understood, despite a barrage of spectacular misdirection at least gives us the beginning of a means to address the problem. Obviously, social mobility is not a panacea: equality is the correct demand. Social mobility only bears on social justice to the extent that it reveals a hardening of class domination. There is nothing inherently just in the ascendacy of those whose talents avail them in this age, over those whose talents were made for another age, or those whose disabilities make them dependent on others: in fact, if social mobility isn't a foil for social justice, then it is the creed of the sociopath.
Obviously, we cannot expect much assistance from our friends in the media, because when they aren't obsessed with a fucking canoeist or a fucking teddy bear, they're giving us the ruling class point of view about every important story. So, it's Richard Branson's take on Northern Rock, the government's take on pay restraint (in which reporters acquire the unique ability to read the mind of the Prime Minister: "Gordon Brown is very worried about..."), Al Gore's take on the environment (offered as radical dissent, ha ha ha). Which raises the question of what role the media plays in the class structure that we are trapped in. What, do you suppose is the corporate advertiser's position on the class struggle? How do shareholders feel about it? How do megalomaniacal reactionary corporate despots like Rupert and Conrad feel about it? How does the board of the Washington Post (which reads like a list of the most successful companies in Fortune magazine) feel about it? Obviously, the answer is that they don't feel any way about it because it doesn't exist. Because we live in a meritocracy, a class act all the way to the bank, where talent is both its own reward and the source of all rewards. Precisely so.