As economist Peter Bauer put it in a pamphlet 30 years ago, British intellectuals have "class on the brain". So, nowadays, do British politicians. In the last three years of the Labour government, three official reports were commissioned on class inequality. They all concluded that Britain is an unfair society where lower-class children are blocked from realising their potential.But the writer is having none of it.
I recently published a review of what the evidence on social mobility actually tells us. I found that movement in Britain is extensive, both up and down.
If we divide the population into a professional-managerial class at the top, a manual working class at the bottom, and an intermediate class in between, more than half the population is in a different social class from the one it was born into. One third of professional-managerial people come from manual worker backgrounds, and one in seven sons born to professional-managerial fathers end up as manual workers.
It's strange to see such a description of 'class'. Of course a manual laborer's son can become a doctor (or could; I doubt if he could afford the tuition fees now), but he can't change his class. I was the first person in my family to go to university and become, as the writer would probably see it "middle class", but the fact is a good portion of the middle class families I encountered quite cheerfully explained to me that I was actually a working class oik - and always would be. "I hope you never again bring over the girl with the accent", one upper-middle matron told her son, my then-boyfriend.
So I came to America where they I believed they have no clue about this sort of thing. It turns out it's just because they can't rank my accent and give me a default class status. The LA Times, in an article on income equality, recently said,
One of the distinctive features of the Great Compression, as described in the book, was that "an investment banker went to Andover and Princeton, while a newspaper person went to Central High and Rutgers. But now the financiers and the writers both are likely to have gone to Andover and Princeton. The student who graduated from Harvard cum laude makes $85,000 a year as a think tank fellow, while the schlump she wouldn't even talk to in gym class makes $34 million as a bond trader or TV producer."
Yes, that sounds familiar - the schlump she wouldn't even talk to in gym class. Except in England, you wouldn't even be in the same gym class.