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Aspirational Guff. Aspirational Facts.

June 10, 2015


Ah, this morning I read about David Miliband being all big-brotherly and consoling.  The deadline for UK Labour Party leadership candidates gallops apace and buzz word yet again is “aspirational”. Many of the candidates are taking the view (or spouting the view) that because Labour didn’t win, it must have been very wrong and it’s cowardly to pretend otherwise.  And the thing that it was very wrong about was not appealing to “aspirational” instincts.

This kind of stuff…

I’ve a novel suggestion, when it comes to thinking about aspirational aspirations – and it involves the injection of facts.  And the facts are that the UK is now just about the least socially mobile society in the Western world.  It’s a born poor die poor sort of society.  Like the USA. And here’s another fact – the nations with the highest levels of social mobility (aspiration) also have the most civilised and comprehensive welfare states. if you are prepared to acknowledge facts (though of course much political thinking and discussion takes place in factophobic echo-chambers), then a certain explanatory logic becomes clear.  Unfettered capitalism is not meritocratic at all.  Neoliberal economics creates a self perpetuating oligarchy that enables those born with capital to monopolise wealth and power.  Social democracy, on the other hand, by relieving people for certain base line anxieties to do with day to day survival, enables far more people to “aspire” to something better for themselves and their children. People, on the other hand, who are struggling to survive from week to week and from day to day are not aspirationalist – their aspiration is the next meal. Social democracy is therefore an aspirationalist concept. More people can and will aspire in a social democracy than anywhere else.  If the UK Labour Party is not prepared to say this out loud then it really does have to pack up and go home. The Conservative government newly elected (36% of the vote was it?  24% of the eligible electorate?) is the least aspirationalist government imaginable.  A combination of regressive taxation, higher university fees, weakened employee protection an unemployed internships all serve the interests of those with access to inherited wealth at the expense of those who haven’t.  They are not about rewarding aspiration but protecting the one sacred quality they care about – the ability to exit the right sort of birth canal.

Of course, nobody is louder than a factophobe.  When the facts fail to make your case, the solution is to usually to shout.  And given that the shouty factophobes have their palls running most newspapers, then they can get very loud indeed.  Welfare is therefore regarded as a “trap” rather than the means by which people escape poverty and plan for the future. Dependency is called a “culture” rather than a condition.   Rewarding people who already have money at the expense of those who don’t is called being  “aspirational”.

The great myth of meritocratic capitalism is based on the idea that inequality is a spur and an incentive, that removing “the safety net” of welfare will encourage a gritty determined work ethic.  All of which leads neatly to the next conclusion – that rich people work better when you throw even more money at them and poor people work harder when you kick them.  Labour Party leaders are being encouraged to make some sort of deal with this tissue of demonstrable falsehoods.  To say they’re being “aspirational” while conspiring with a culture of structural and hereditary inequality that has made the UK one of the least aspirational societies going.

The sorry fact that the sheer cacophonous polyphonic high octane volume of the lie of aspirational meritocracy is encouraging Labour Party aspirants give up on the truths that are in plain sight in favour of a short term deal with prevalent wicked nonsense. And now I’m depressed.


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