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May 30, 2012



But if social mobility is increased with greater equality (as recent studies suggest), then the desire for more social mobility may (indirectly) serve egalitarian ends (or treat those ends as means, but the outcome will be the same).

Luis Enrique

I never know what to make of arguments of this form: there is a state of affairs that I think is bad (capitalism, inequality) and something else that people like which makes this state of affairs more tolerable (consumer goods, social mobility) therefore this thing that people like is bad.

You see it in Adam Curtis type thinking, those devilish capitalist keep everybody happy by feeding them consumer goods, telly and sport - what we need is for everybody to be unhappy, then presumably: revolution!

now maybe the idea of social mobility does make inequality more acceptable, but does that mean you really want top jobs going only to people whose parents had top jobs, and Oxford barring anybody born in a council estate? i.e. do you really think social mobility is a "bad" you wish for less of?

anyway, it turns out that if you really want to increase social mobility then you need to decrease inequality, so really I don't see the problem being "for" social mobility. If your primary objective is to reduce inequality then isn't equalising opportunity helpful?

of course you could always oppose social mobility and plot revolution instead, I suppose.


@ Luis - my preferene would be for greater economic and social equality, and let social mobility do what it will.
I don't need to take a view on the desirability of greater social mobility, given large inequality, coz it ain't gonna happen.
@ Etzel - haven't you got it the wrong way round? My understanding was that equality eads to greater social mobility, not vice versa.

Churm Rincewin

Well of course you’re absolutely right. As you point out, banking prospered when it was run by the old boy network, and only turned toxic when ghastly lower class people – or, as you amusingly put it – “the sons of electricians” took over. And Michael Young is spot on when he points out that those who have advanced on merit tend to be “insufferably smug” compared to the beneficiaries of nepotism whose humility and sense of fairness is beyond question – Ian Cameron and Boris Johnson come immediately to mind. No smugness there.

You also touch on the very important point that greater social mobility creates isolation amongst people from poor backgrounds who have “made it”. They simply don’t know how to behave – how could they, without a proper family background, a decent public school and an Oxbridge education? I’ve met captains of industry who think that a napkin is called a serviette. No wonder they’re shunned.

So I join you in your support for privilege and nepotism. Let’s continue to restrict advancement in the professions to the well-born, and have no truck with meretricious ideas of ability, talent, or merit. We'd all be better off if people would just know their place.

gastro george

Social mobility, of course, means entirely different things in societies with different levels of inequality. Part of the obsession with social mobility in very unequal societies is the paranoia about the catastrophe of losing your place at the trough. In more equal societies, mobility is less traumatic.

Slightly OT, but it's interesting to see the continual reference to grammar schools as an agent of social mobility. They were so good that at the time 80-odd percent of the working class left school at 15 with few qualifications. Not those plucked out to go to grammar school, of course. And these were the golden days of social mobility ...

Account Deleted

We are currently suffering from social mobility nostalgia, as the Braggs and the Bakewells approach their dotage.

GG is not off topic in being bemused by the harping on about grammar schools. These benefited a small minority in the 50s/60s, one that is now disproportionately represented in the "meritocratic" sectors of TV, journalism and the arts, where this nostalgia is manufactured.

Social mobility was not as extensive then as they'd like to believe, and those nostalgic sectors have proved among the worst in entrenching privilege in recent years (Allegra Stratton clearly has no experience of poverty).

Social mobility is thought important because it is evidence of equality of opportunity, but mobility requires a "from" and a "to", so it is in fact continuing evidence that equality of opportunity has only a limited impact.

Class mobility is also by definition exceptional. The majority have always followed their parents' station in life, and probably always will. There's nothing intrinsically wrong in that.

Equality of opportunity is a busted flush. Equality of outcome is what we should be aiming for (see: http://fromarsetoelbow.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/thats-totally-radical-dude.html for some ideas). The goal should be a society in which social mobility is meaningless.


"banks prospered for years when they were run by the old boy network, and collapsed soon after meritocratic physics PhDs and sons of electricians took over."

There you go again Chris. For someone usually so perceptive and analytical you seem to be blinded to reason whenever a Physics PhD hoves into view.

Is there something in your past you're not telling us? Some incident in the college bar?

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