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A Soupcon Of Whine

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.


  1. Nick M says:

    Brilliant post Ian.

    I am piggy rotten sick with the deranged idea that all must have degrees. I once shared a house with a girl who was studying “Licensed trade retail management” or to put it in the vernacular being a pub land-lady. She felt the system had shafted her. She’d piled up a mountain of debt and felt that she’d have been better off getting a job pulling pints and working her way up.

    All must be equal and all must have ponies.

    Ryan Sidebottom seems to think you ought to come out of university with a degree in shite studies and go into a think tank. Jeebus Christ on a polywell fusion powered space-hopper!

    Yesterday we had Steve round. We had a chat. He speaks a bit of Latin so I was somewhat confused. Steve cuts the grass. He’s a contract gardener. He makes a fair bit. By NeuArbeit terms he is a failure yet he has a job he likes and makes a few quid out of it.

    I regard him as a small businessman done rather nicely for himself.

    They would regard him as a failure.

    You are right Ian, so right, the snobbishness of the left is a thing to behold.

    And they also hate science and engineering graduates because, apparently, we are not “creative” enough.

    Nah, we only build bridges and re-wire stuff and probe the mysteries of the Universe but, alas, we care not a fig for the “lesser known lesbian poets”.

    We have a technocracy run by people who couldn’t change a fucking lightbulb.

  2. IanB says:

    We have a technocracy run by people who couldn’t change a fucking lightbulb.

    Quote of the day :)

  3. Tom Paine says:

    I am entirely with you on young Ryan, who plainly has joined the wrong party. It may work out for him though. Look how well Tony Blair did in similar circumstances.

    I am somewhat perturbed to find myself – in your eyes – a member of the ruling class. I wonder when that happened? Last time I looked, as a private practice lawyer, I was a hard-working chap entirely supported by fees freely paid by independent clients with competitors to choose from.

    My working life has been mostly spent helping business people to function despite the best efforts of legislators to regulate them into unproductiveness. Some lawyers may belong to the ruling class (Tony Blair, for example) but an independent legal profession equipped to overcome, circumvent or minimize the obstacles placed by government in the path of free citizens is surely of value? Our clients seem to think so, which – for a libertarian – ought really to be evidence enough.

  4. IanB says:

    Tom, as I said-

    “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.”

    What would be interesting to see is what would happen in Law if it stopped being a professional guild and was just a job like any other. As we descend further into the corporate state more and more state guilds are being formed, even among the lower classes- e.g. electrician and gas fitter guilds. That limits market choice, forces up prices and protects the guild members by outlawing the activities from being performed by non-members of the guilds. The Law isn’t a free market.

    And you only have to look at the number of lawyers in the Parliament (even though many have barely practised) in order to appreciate that something class-wise is going on.

  5. RAB says:

    Well talking of Lawyers and Journalists…

    In the early 70s I got a Degree in Law from one of the best Universities in the country, Nottingham(dont think I’ll get any arguement from Nick there!).

    I intended to be a Solicitor, because we were told very firmly, that if you wanted to be a Barrister it would be at least 15 years before you started earning big money.

    Now when you graduate in most subjects, let’s say Economics, you can start calling yourself an Economist as soon as you hit the street.

    But not Law.
    Law, addressing the “Guild” part, is the oldest closed shop Trade Union in the world.
    In order to practice I had to pass yet another exam, The Law Society part 2.
    And guess what folks? that exam is a damn sight tougher than anything I did at Uni.
    On top of that you have to get your Articled Clerkship. This is like an apprentership for x amount of years.
    Even worse not long before I tried getting Articles as they are called for short, you had to pay the firm who hired you for the experience and so called tuition!
    Well that limited entry to a certain class and access to money straight away, so it was abolished in the interest of social mobility.

    All this proved academic as it were, because I couldn’t get a job, because there wern’t any. Nobody was hiring. The economy was in tatters back then as it is now.

    Bit of a pisser! What am I going to do with this piece of paper now?

    Well the Govt was hiring back then as now, so I joined The Lord Chancellors Dept as an executive.
    I soon found that my Law degree was irrelevant to what I actually did all day, which was nuts and bolts mechanical administration. Any reasonably intellegent person could be trained to do it inside 3 months.But the bit of paper was nessessary apparently, to get me in the door.

    Now Journalism.
    I have been a music fanatic since the age of 11, and my knowledge of it is pretty comprehensive, as some of you may have noticed by now.
    So I thought I’d write a few articles for the music papers like NME, Sounds and Melody Maker.
    They liked them and kept taking my copy, and my second “Career” was off and running.
    But I didn’t need a bit of paper for this, back then nobody in Britain in newspapers had a degree in Journalism or Media studies, just talent chutspah and perserverance.Oh and always get your copy in on time! not hitting deadlines would have you out the door immediately unless your name was Hunter Thompson!

    What I’m basically saying here is there is an obsession with qualifications, however mickey mouse they may be.
    Our lovely Labour Govt decreed that 50% of us should go to University in the interests of equality and social mobility.
    But in my day only 10% went or needed to do so.There are only so many jobs for Chiefs and the rest for indians, as current graduates like Ryan Shithead is finding out.
    The way things are going you will need a diploma to be a roadsweeper soon.

    Some jobs, a very few, require high intellect and very specialist knowledge.
    I wouldn’t feel very comfortable with some bloke who just walked in off the street with a Black and Decker and an air of confidence, treating me for a brain tumour for instance, would you?

    But for damn near everything else, a bit of guts, intellegence and common sense will do nicely.

  6. Kevin B says:

    I reckon dear Ryan is purely writing for effect. As a ‘centre right’ secretary of the Bow Group he’s more or less guaranteed a place in a New Tory quango when Dave gets into office. (What, you think Dave’s going to abolish quangos?).

    Of course if young Ryan is really looking for ‘experiences that provide an outlet for his talent’, then he could always join the Army. They’re recruiting pretty hard these days.

  7. JuliaM says:

    “Just a reminder again, The Bow Group. “Centre Right“.”

    I’ve read it a few times now, and I can’t reconcile it with the utterances of Master Shorthouse…

    “But I didn’t need a bit of paper for this, back then nobody in Britain in newspapers had a degree in Journalism or Media studies, just talent chutspah and perserverance.”

    But our MSM is so much better and more professional now, for those qualifications and professional standards…

    Isn’t it? ;)

  8. IanB says:

    “Just a reminder again, The Bow Group. “Centre Right“.”

    I’ve read it a few times now, and I can’t reconcile it with the utterances of Master Shorthouse…

    So far as I can tell, as of 2009, the only three officially recognised political ideologies are “leftwing” (authoritarian social democracy), “centreright” (authoritarian social democracy” and “rightwingextremist” (BNP).

  9. El Draque says:

    Yes, I think it’s time to pull up the ladder . . . .
    Both my daughters finished recently, with degrees, in solid professions and not whimsy, so to make sure there’s no competition in future . . .

    Yes, let’s close down the degree courses.

  10. IanB says:

    You’ve missed the point, El Draque. It’s about abolishing the need for a ladder. We can only do that by removing the state patronage from which your daughters expect to benefit.

  11. [...] Counting Cats says graduates need to stop pretending they live in Willy Wonka [...]

  12. Daphne says:

    I don’t understand social mobility in the context you’re discussing. (probably having to do with speaking the same language and not understanding each at all) Americans measure social mobilty by dollars; the more you have, the higher you rise – degrees be damned.

    I understand upward social mobility as defined by increased income or increased knowledge/talent put to a practical use that’s valued by some segment of our society.

    I don’t see the objective of obtaining a degree or multiple degrees as an accomplishment in itself or as an entree to respect or upward social mobility. It’s what you do with the knowledge that earns the benefits and confers respect. The degrees themselves are absolutely worthless unless they’re properly applied to real life and developed as a tool of value.

  13. RAB says:

    Well let me try to use an analogy without sounding like and old Simon and Garfunkel lyric.
    It’s tickets and destinations.

    The ticket I was sold as a child of ten, and more especially my parents, was that if I didn’t pass my 11plus and get to a Grammar School, I would end up a “failure”.
    I would be consigned to the lower paid scrapheap of life.

    So I duely bought my ticket by working hard and passing my exams but the destination I had envisaged as being the reward for all this effort didn’t materialise in quite the way I expected.
    I expected to be a rich lawyer, but if you have read my comment above, you will know that I am not.
    Oh I am fairly well off, but that has nothing to do with the Law. Circumstances changed all that. I never became a lawyer as I intended.

    What I did benefit from, from the system of education I underwent, was one of Attitude.
    I was deemed to be intellegent because I had passed for Grammar school, so I was encouraged to believe I could do anything, with a little effort on my part by my teachers.
    Latin, Calculus, all manner of arcane things you will never need in general life, I was encouraged to believe I could master.

    And it is that attitude that is lacking in the Comprehensive system in Britain today.
    Instead of imbueing an attitude of “Can do, will do” the system funnels pupils towards passing exams and gaining bits of paper that have been dumbed down so far as to give you no real education to speak of, or understanding of the subject you are studying. The end result is a piece of paper that gains you admittance to a job that you probably cant do properly.But without the State sanctioned bit of paper, they wont let you do it at all!

    This is the result of our socialist educational system.
    All shall be equal, all shall have prizes, irrespective of how smart or dumb you actually are.
    This is nonsense on stilts of course.
    People are not equal, life is unfair so let’s get past that one.
    The best you can aim for is equality of opportunity, and I am all for that, but you wouldn’t select the England football team on the basis of the first eleven punters to turn up at the Stadium on match night, so why the fuck do they think mixed ability classes are going to benefit anyone.

    Life itself, when you get to the real world is going to separate the winners and the losers, so it is best to start alerting folks to that fact right from the start.

    I have a degree in Law, but I make my living writing.
    Nick M has god knows how many, Astrophysics for one, yet he fixes computers for a living.
    Paul Marks has a load in History and Economics, but has spent a lot of his life as a Security Guard.

    What I am saying here is that circumstances shape our lives, not the bits of paper a benevolent Govt bestows on us, to allow us to do them.

    The one thing a good education allows you to do is improvise, to think outside the box. If the State denies you that education in the name of “equality for all” then we just end up equally dumb, equally bovine, and totally dependent on them for our every breath.
    That is exactly what has happened in the UK these last 40 years.

    Oh and going back to a comment Nick made earlier, It’s the expectation that these bogus, in the main, bits of paper confer on the recipients…

    I have a degree in Licence trade Management! I do not wash glasses!

    Attitude see?

  14. Monoi says:

    What I find strange is that this moron did his degree seemingly without knowing what he could do with it when he obtained it!

  15. [...] a kind of follow up to my post regarding young Ryan Shortarse about how young graduates are appalled that their degrees don’t march them automatically into [...]

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