Polly Toynbee has one of her pearl clutchers today, it seems that where people do actually have a meritocracy and its associated inequality then people are just fine with meritocracy and the associated inequality. Given that Polly thinks inequality is bad, d’ye see, this means that there must be some malign influence. Instead of, well, peoples’ lived experience leading them to a conclusion about how they’d like their lives and country to be. You know, in opposition to how Polly would impose it upon us.
Why don’t people rebel? The wonder of decades of rising inequality across the west is how placidly people put up with it. UK wages are still below 2008 levels, and a growing sector of jobs are nasty: non-unionised, achingly hard, with workers treated worse, the boot on the employer’s foot despite low unemployment. You might call Brexit a kind of protest, but that can be overdone. The vote was swung largely by comfortable older Tory voters in the shires, led – or misled – by privileged ideologues. Those on the progressive left have been perplexed that rising social injustice hasn’t led to much sign of the oppressed rising up, either at the ballot box or through more physical acts of protest. New research out on Wednesday suggests some explanations – though these will be of precious little comfort. Looking at surveys across 23 western countries since the 1980s, Dr Jonathan Mijs of the London School of Economics International Inequalities Institute monitors how, as countries become less equal, attitudes of the majority shift in the wrong direction.
Note that moral insistence with the “wrong”. We might also note that inequality fell in the recession, as inequality does fall in recessions. Complaining that incomes are still below and also about inequality isn’t really being joined up logical therefore. But, Polly, you know.
The report is here:
Unequal societies, where the poorest and wealthiest in society tend to live separately, create conditions where inequality is more likely to be accepted, new research from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has found. The research shows that belief in meritocracy, the view that success depends on hard work rather than social structures, strengthens with rising inequality. Additionally, concerns towards levels of inequality are also shown to be much lower in societies where popular belief in meritocracy is high. The research highlights that inequality in the United Kingdom is rising, a trend which is repeated across developed nations, where the top 10 percent of households on average take home a third of all income, and own two-thirds of all wealth. It notes that inequality is often marked by greater social distance amongst citizens; children tend to live their lives in either poor or wealthy neighbourhoods, have friendships from the same background as them, and attend different schools to those from other income groups. Citizens are also more likely to have relationships in their own circles, and work in increasingly polarised labour markets.
In a society where effort and talent enable different outcomes – a meritocracy – people are happy with the resultant inequality.
Well, actually, there is an and here. From the paper itself:
Inequality is on the rise: gains have been concentrated with a small elite, while most have seen their fortunes stagnate or fall. Despite what scholars and journalists consider a worrying trend, there is no evidence of growing popular concern about inequality. In fact, research suggests that citizens in unequal societies are less concerned than those in more egalitarian societies.
The and being, well, people are happy with the rising inequality so therefore nothing need be done about the rising inequality. This is a democracy, right?