Today on the Guardian’s Comment Is Free we find a sad but revealing little article by one Ryan Shorthouse on that buzzword policy “social mobility”, the gist of which is that he is a graduate, and like zillions of other graduates he finally ran out of road in the educational system and found himself distressingly in the adult world after Uni clutching his degree, only to discover that it’s not worth all that he dreamed it would be worth. It starts with a whine that the bank lending him money actually dare to expect him to pay them a trifling amount for the privelege of doing so, and then rapidly descend into a general complaint that since the state helped him get his degree in post-modernist deconstructionistism, it should bally well make sure there are ample very well paid jobs for post-modernist deconstructionistists for him to choose from. This is “social mobility”, apparently.
One interesting thing to consider before we stride forward into the dimly lit uplands of Ryan Shortarse’s mental landscape is that although this is a standard “leftie” complaint, he actually is “political secretary” of The Bow Group, who declare themselves, the oldest – and one of the most influential – centre-right Think-Tanks in Britain. The Group exists to develop policy, publish research and stimulate debate within the Conservative Party. It has no corporate view, but represents all strands of Conservative opinion. So much for the great ideological left/right divide. Eager Bow Groupies are no doubt looking forward to their next event-
”I’m big so what are you going to do about it?”
A discussion on obesity with Anne Milton MP, Shadow Health Minister
Sounds like riveting stuff, Ryan. Glad you’re doing something useful with your life.
Anyway, back to “social mobility”. What do the Ruling Class mean by this? It all sounds very nice, the idea that the son of a humble ferret-wrangler can rise to the highest position in the land, the world is their oyster- indeed young Ryan Shithouse uses this very phrase-
With a degree in your hand, the world is supposedly your oyster.
Supposedly? Supposed by whom, exactly? The young Ryans of this world?
The problem with “social mobility” is that it actually accepts that there is a rigorous class system, a greasy pole which must be climbed in order to lead a life of reasonable comfort and success and- rather than address the real problem, the greasy pole- instead offers everybody the chance to try to shimmy up it. The problem is, there isn’t much room at the top of the pole. All you’ve created through “social mobility” policies is more people shimmying and sliding back down the pole, leading to fiercer competition to get to the top and more failures. You haven’t created social mobility at all.
What we should be asking is why the pole exists. Let’s ask, who is at the top of it. Well, young Ryan soon sorts us out-
But many talented twentysomething graduates are finding it hard to complete the next chapter – accessing the eventually fruitful professions of law, journalism, politics, publishing – because of the enormous financial barriers.
Without root-and-branch reform of the access to professions, gifted twentysomethings from modest backgrounds will remain trapped in jobs that pay the bills, rather than flourishing in experiences that provide an outlet for their talent.
There we have it. Lawyers, journalists, politics. The Ruling Class. Ryan Shitforbrains wants to be one of the elite, the rulers, the opinion formers. God forbid he should have to spend his life doing something useful that merely “pays the bills”.
Just a reminder again, The Bow Group. “Centre Right“.
The lack of understanding of what the economy is and does is depressing here. The purpose of working isn’t to “flourish in experiences”. It is to make or do something that is useful to other people so that they will trade what they make or do with you. When you create something useful to other people- your labour, or bespoke walking sticks, or bread, or music, it has value to them and they will pay you for it and then you can (merely) pay your bills. If you do a lot of stuff people want from you- that is, create a lot of value- you can trade it for a lot of other peoples’ stuff and do more than merely pay your bills. That’s how the market works.
There is a complete disconnect here between Ryan’s perception of reality and how reality actually is. And it’s probably not too daring of me to suggest that this view is commonplace today, particularly among graduates. They have been told their degree is a Willy Wonka Golden Ticket to the life of Reilly, and they damned well expect somebody else to provide it.
The Class System is alive and well, and strengthening by the day. There is nothing specifically wrong with lawyers or journalists- they provide services others wish to purchase, that’s fine. What is wrong is an inherent class belief that being a lawyer or journalist is inherently superior to being a hairdresser or plumber. Hairdressers and plumbers and the myriad other “lowly” jobs in the economy provide essential services to the market- that is, these people are vital to the wellbeing of their fellow humans. But we have a system which despises them as lesser mortals, and indoctrinates young children via the odious mass education system with the idea that success is defined as gaining entry to the limited supply of high class jobs, most of which are directly or indirectly supported by the State. We even have a special name for these upper class jobs- they aren’t jobs or even careers, they are “professions”. The Law in particular is naught but a mediaeval guild- a protectionist cartel- and it would be remiss of me not to quote Mussolini at this point, heh
It may be objected that this program implies a return to the guilds (corporazioni). No matter!… I therefore hope this assembly will accept the economic claims advanced by national syndicalism.
An economy cannot hope to survive when more and more people believe the same rubbish that young Ryan Shiftless believes. The professional classes- university educated academics in the frame here- have tricked themselves into believing that they are the economy. We hear often that we are a “knowledge economy” in which there is only employment for “knowledge workers” and everyone needs a degree. That is simply not true. The evidence, as young Ryan’s article shows, is that there are not enough such jobs to be done. An economy relies, more than anything, on diversity, that buzzword the Ruling Class love to use but cannot understand. It relies on all kinds of people doing all sorts of stuff, and that stuff has to be stuff that is of use to their fellow human beings. That is why the free market is so goddamned social and truly egalitarian; everyone can play, whatever their talents. There is no better class of jobs. The idea is meaningless. There are just useful things that other people want to purchase. That is all there is.
The colour of your collar doesn’t matter. Young Mr Shitarse, think not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your fellow human beings. What will they freely purchase from you, as goods or services? Figure that out- as everyone in a free market should do- and you’ll soon find yourself up to your neck in “experiences that provide an outlet for your talent.”
It’s time to stop telling children that joining the lawyers guild, or the journalists guild, or the doctors guild, is the only means of success in life. It’s time to stop the state supporting these guilds with laws and money and patronage. It’s time to stop pretending that handing out ever greater numbers of degrees in bullshit has any merit whatsoever. We don’t need more lawyers, journalists or politicians. We need people to make things and do things that other people need and want.
Let’s stop wasting resources on providing access to the greasy pole. Let’s take the greasy pole down.