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December 07, 2011


Liam Murray

"Some of the longer-term unemployed might respond to their plight by diminishing their desire to work. They will then seem lazy. But their laziness is the effect of their joblessness, not the cause."

Must the two concepts - cause & effect - be exclusive here? You rightly point out that only some of the longer-term unemployed lessen their desire to work - others don't, perhaps even strengthen it. In that circumstance, in a scenario where that latter more resilient person gets a job then he / she is indeed securing it because they're 'less lazy' than the person who gave up. Their continued joblessness is in part a function of them being lazier than people in a similar scenario.

All far more complex and subtle than that of course but I reject the idea that a diminished desire for self-sufficiency can be explained away or exempted from some degree of judgement.

Timmie London

I agree to some extend. Once you get into the mode of not being intellectually and physically involved as when you have a job, it gets really though to keep the motivation up.


"Recessions make us meaner" not sure I agree with that. If anything, I have seen more and more people in my community come together and help each other.


"In that circumstance, in a scenario where that latter more resilient person gets a job then he / she is indeed securing it because they're 'less lazy' than the person who gave up. Their continued joblessness is in part a function of them being lazier than people in a similar scenario."

I think you have made a major logical and moral leap here. Surely according to your own analysis, in this hypothetical situation the 'more resilient person' is more likely to get a job because ... they are 'more resilient' - not because they are less lazy.

Are you not guilty of a category error in equating lack of resilience with laziness and then making a negative moral judgement on that logical error?

 Luis Enrique

this is all true ... but possibly a multiple equilibria thing. You could see Nordic countries having more positive attitudes toward lefty ideals, so no innate tension between egalitarianism and democracy.


To note that 55+ are slightly over-represented in the sample.

Maybe the trend is is just a reflection of the baby-boomers completing their life journey from young 68ers to distrusting old stakeholders.


A fascinating and important issue I think. I was also a little incredulous about the recent ‘happiness’ statistics but, like you, it needs to be carefully interpreted.

I agree that there are many complex ideological processes at work in creating this phenomenon and I’m sure the one’s you mention are significant. However, I’m not so sure that your starting point i.e. that ‘recessions make us meaner’ is either theoretically and historically correct or, more importantly, the most helpful way of looking at the problem - even if it is generally true for Britain in the modern and late modern era.

I suppose in one sense it largely depends who you mean by ‘us’, however I think it might be more helpful to look beyond only a fairly limited period of history and these isles. If one does this then I think one can find numerous examples of the opposite happening – that hardship is met by increased social solidarity and apparent altruism in order to meet the threat. I think this can be seen in both relatively stable societies and in societies in political turmoil.

If it’s generally true that recession makes people meaner in modern Britain /western societies then it raises broader ideological and social questions why human solidarity during difficult times has weakened at this time and in this place – resulting in a more anti-leftist ideological milieu - not that the opposite never existed.

The main lesson I take from your analysis is that in the absence of countervailing social and ideological forces (I think the decline of Christianity and social democratic ideology and associated institutions is significant here)the majority of the population will be attracted towards even more highly personalised and egoistic worldviews until this can no longer be sustained because of changes impacting on their limited external worlds. I think the high reported level of national‘happiness’ is a function of this stage in the collapse of a hegemonic order. It smacks a bit of desperation and of covering up the cognitive dissonance you mention. At that point I think individuals may either respond to the remnants and ideologies of social solidarity in their midst (which could be libertarian-progressive or authoritarian-reactionary) or collapse into a state of anomie if these social alternatives seem unavailable.

I will admit that the social attitudes of the majority of the population do look pretty mean-spirited and on that basis the political outlook does look quite bleak. I think however that a tipping point will come on a social level at some point and a large segment of society may become receptive to an ideology and practice of solidarity. In the meantime I think the voice of movements like Occupy are important because they challenge the ‘Just World’ effect and are getting the idea into the public domain that there are alterative possibilities.

In short, I wouldn’t worry that the 'happiness’ phenomenon will last with anti-progressive effects – I’m sure it won’t. The issue however is whether when it is lost there are sufficient better alternatives around to attract the psychosocial forces in a healthy, positive direction.


But impossible to be an egalitarian and not be a democrat. After all, what's more inegalitarian than concentrating power in the hands of a few?

Jimmy Hill

Chris, have you ever read Converse's The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics?

His argument is that it is a mistake to even consider the general public as having any ideology, instead they just have a rag tag bunch of almost random opinions. Ideology is a pursuit of elites and because they think in ideological terms they project this on to the views of the general public.

This is good news for the left as it means there really is no anti-leftist ideology, just a bunch of opinions that look like it to those who think in ideological terms.

Liam Murray

Neil - as written yes, I'm making a category error but my reference to 'more resilient' was just my clumsy way of distinguishing between the two.

So, if Bob & Tom have both been unemployed for 18months and at that point Bob throws in the towel and stops looking whil Tom presses on and secures a role then yes, I think it's valid to make a judgement on Bob and give credit to Tom.


There is no mention of the fact of the press being owned by very rich people who often pay no tax in the uk and spend their time spreading right wing ideas so there will be no attempt to get them to pay up. That might have something to do with it as well. The fact that social reforms have happened in the past which would have seemed utopian before they did occur indicates that it is not inevitable that radical ideas will fail. The Scandinavian left seem to have been quite effective for most of the 20th century combining growth with egalitarian policies. You have to ask about the effectiveness of the trade Union movement and Labour Party leadership here. Getting into power by pandering to right wing ideology merely reinforces its hold on the low information voter. This is why the places with the worst inequality have the most right wing social attitudes. New Labour and new democrats alike are at fault. May be the "left" should get of their comfortable arses and fight to change the world rather than wring their hands and tell people they are relaxed about some people being filthy rich. We had this ideology in the puritan age as Tawney explained wealth was seen as Gods reward to the Godly. This superstition should be challenged today as it was by Tawney. May be the "left" should read some left wing thinkers for a change and stop apologising for rejecting the ideology of blaming the victim?

Dain (Mupetblast)

What Jimmy said.

All of these various biases - and recall that biases are not necessarily wrong, just a tendency one direction or another - can be used to conjure up a just-so story about why the public believes the way it does.

Did an adaptive preference or just world bias explain why so many in communist countries supported their regimes, or was it the triumph of leftist ideology?

I interviewed a young scholar once on the erroneous idea that the public is in the grip of mass ideological blindness:



Thirty years of Neoliberalism.

The left political elite quit the intellectual battlefield leaving it for the right to create the narrative.

If no-one is making an alternative case, the left has lost by default, by not turning up.

New Labour is Neoliberal.

We are all Neoliberals now!

David Grant

Yeah, I don't doubt there's been a hardening of attitudes towards the poor in the last ten or fifteen years. Wondering tho' how many of the 55% who think JSA is too high actually know it's £67.50 per week? Or know how many unemployed there are per vacancy in the UK? There's the rile of the media, as someone mentioned above. Perhaps they've been getting their information from the Mail?


I think you're missing a rather obvious side of the equation by focussing only on benefits, people know these things have to be paid for and they feel that they pay quite enough already thanks very much. So the JSA could be 30% higher or lower and it wouldn't make much difference to the opinion stats, it's the money people are having taken from them that has them upset.

One thing I do find interesting is your, (and the left in general), way of interpreting the stats. More individualism, less reliance on the state, etc. In your eyes this means that people have become "meaner" not that people may prefer non state led ways to help others, not that taking responsibility for their own lives could be a positive thing, etc.

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