Friday, November 19, 2010

Young's Gaffe

Lord Young is in trouble and has apologised for a gaffe stating that most people have never had it so good.

Specifically, if you have a mortgage and you still have a job, then with interest rates lower than ever, you have more money to spend that you did in normal economic times.

There are two big problems here. One is that "a job and a mortgage" accounts for a minority of households. So the remark, while true of the hypothetical middle-Englander Young probably had in mind, is not true of "most people".

The second is more telling. There seems to be something implicit in ever saying "most people" that pushes people's irrational tribal-brain buttons. Because if most people are X and a minority are Y, are you saying, and am I hearing that X matters and Y doesn't?

If, in a democracy, you say most people want better railways, that kinda suggests that support for better railways matters politically, and democratic governments ought to represent that interest group.

On the other hand if you say that most people want a heterosexual relationship, that doesn't imply any kind of political demand for priority or favour for heterosexuals from the government. Or does it? Why did you bring up the question of what kinds of relationships people want? Is it a dog-whistle? Are you framing some question as straight v gay?

Young's remarks, we are told, are insensitive to those who have lost their jobs, or fear they will. Is this really the problem? The government's institutions for dealing with unemployed people show total crass disregard for their feelings and always have done. Having been entirely forgotten about by some Lord is probably something of a mercy by contrast.

No, the problem here is the politics of framing an analysis in terms of, say the better off 60% versus the worse off 40%. It might not even be intended, but those are the buttons that are pushed. And many - particularly on the left, and the far right - see politics entirely as an exercise in identifying or creating, promoting and exploiting tribal divisions in society. They get very upset if you pick the wrong dividing line to exploit. I get upset even if you pick the right dividing line. Politics should not be about dividing people into groups, but respecting them as individuals.

And it is a fact of recessions that most of the pain falls on relatively few people. Surely it is more insensitive to deny this than to mention it.

1 comment:

Guy Otten said...

Right on !