Thatcher decline caused crime

Jamie Doward in The Guardian reports a first of its kind study linking the “industrial collapse of Thatcher years” to a rise in crime.

“Four decades after Margaret Thatcher swept to power, research has found that in areas where the coal, steel, ship and railway industries were hit during the 1980s, young people were much more likely to find themselves in trouble with the police.”

Those people currently wringing their hands over the rise in knife crime might want to take a long hard look at this study. It confirms what anyone who doesn’t look the wrong way down a telescope knows, there’s a “link between offending and economic factors”.

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Thatcher’s authoritarian personality

Margaret Thatcher died on Monday. In death, as in life, she divides opinion. Personally I think she was the worst thing that happened to this country since the Second World War. All the problems we currently face have their genesis in her premiership. I think the financial collapse of 2008 was a direct result, not just of the economic strategies she initiated but more importantly a way of thinking she promoted. The senior managers and business brains of the banking sector were the Young Turks of the financial industry when she came to power. The mantra of rampant self-interest she espoused and they took to with such vigour is the same “I’m all-right Jack” attitude that made these big bonused bankers do business the way they have and continue to. Her devotees say she was a strong leader. For me she was a “strong leader” only to those who need that kind of guidance. To the rest of us she was nothing more than a bully. I think there was a callousness in her leadership that was nothing short of sadistic. She had a viciousness about her that I see in the “tough decisions” fiscal policy of George Osborne. No to a plan “B”, “C” or “D” is all-right when your worth £4.3 million, have a Notting Hill property worth £1.8 million and a wife who’s father is a life peer. A life peer who interestingly was also a member of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet. But I digress from the title of this post. Recent entries about Carrion, specifically those regarding Anthony Reiner, have made me realise something about Margaret Thatcher I didn’t understand before now. Her success was due in no small part to her authoritarian personality. At this point it might be a good idea for you to take a look at Erich Fromm’s 1957 article The Authoritarian Personality. (1) I referenced it in posts that grapple with the totalitarian mindset of prohibition and Reiner’s authoritarian personality. Fromm makes some interesting insights into the nature of the authoritarian personality, notably the symbiotic relationship between the passive and active authoritarian. If I were to characterise Reiner as a passive-authoritarian; the individual who belittles himself so that he can, as part of something greater, become great himself. I would characterise Thatcher as the active-authoritarian; the sadist who feels strong because she has incorporated others. To those who say she encouraged people to be free of the state, to go out there and do it for themselves, I say the free market is not freedom. Ask anyone struggling to pay a utility bill or trying to buy a house or even secure a living wage; how free do they feel? Market freedom is only freedom to those who have. If you already have it you’re free to take it somewhere else. What if you don’t? That argument aside, one of the most interesting thing for me in realising Thatcher had an authoritarian personality, is realising how many people have the emotional need to follower her. The irony of her message of self-reliance and freedom is actually a message of subjugation. You must supplicate yourself at the alter of Thatcher or you’re one of “them” and if you’re one of “them” you’re vilified, blamed for everything that is wrong with society; if we get rid of them, things will be better for us. And that people is the dynamic of totalitarianism. Which is perhaps Thatcher’s real legacy. Personally I do not mourn her passing. Unfortunately I have to live in the world she created.

Why aren’t there more riots?

A couple of days ago I flicked past Newsnight and heard the term “feral rich” for the first time. Two words you don’t often hear said together. They were referring to an article by Peter Oborne.

Originally written for The Telegraph, I found a copy on OpenDemocracy. Mr Oborne’s article highlights the “terrifying decline in standards among the British governing elite”. He points to the scandal over politicians expenses. The hypocrisy of the government’s efficiency adviser Philip Green, sending a billion pound divided off shore.

While their actions may well have been within the law, they were not in Mr Oborne’s opinion, or mine, moral. Mr Oborne notes that “an almost universal culture of selfishness and greed has grown up” among those at the top. He offers the example is Rotherham MP Denis MacShane who in the House Of Commons debate about the riots remarked “What the looters wanted was for a few minutes to enter the world of Sloane Street consumption.” This from a man who claimed £5,900 for eight laptops. Of course, as an MP he obtained these laptops legally through his expenses.

While Mr Oborne racks up a steady count of politicians all guilty of hypocrisy. Exposing the “get what you can” mentality that infects our society from top to bottom, and argues “that the criminality in our streets cannot be dissociated from the moral disintegration in the highest ranks of modern British society”. I think you have to go back thirty years, to the government of Margaret Thatcher, to understand the true causes of what happened a couple of weeks ago.

Put simply you reap what you sow. Mrs Thatcher’s period in office set in motion a series of social changes that we are only now starting to pay for. Her premiership brought with it a social shift that positivity promoted an ethos of rampant self-interest. It is my opinion that the recent banking crisis was caused by individuals who began their careers while she was in office. Her ethos rose with them through the industry. It was her brand of greed that ultimately brought the banks down.

Prompted the massive bail outs, that has lead to the cuts, caused the unrest we saw in May, and ultimately exploded in recent lawlessness. The looters wanted what those at the top of the pyramid have, and got it, the way those at the top get it, by taking it.

I think Mrs Thatcher’s legacy roots deeper still. She changed the nature of our economy, from manufacturing to service. In doing so she condemned an entire generation of people to a life on benefits. Those people who now live the nightmare of joblessness, are exactly the same people who would have found work in manufacturing. Those failed by the education system, are now forced to compete in an employment market that is saturated with graduates. The irony is, with graduate unemployment now at its highest since the mid-nineties, even the most menial job is hard to get. What’s left for those without a university education? Minimum wage jobs that make befits seem like a pay cut?

Cutting benefits is not the solution. Creating jobs is the solution. Jobs that pay enough to give people a decent standard of living. How can that happen, when the cost of living is rising, and those at the top of the Sunday Times Rich List are able to increase their wealth by eighteen percent? It can’t. Because to create jobs you have to spend money, and this government is intent on deficit reduction. A deficit that should be paid off by those who caused the problem in the first place. The bankers put their interests about everyone else, and we’re paying the price. Not just in cuts, but in the social misery of poverty. Those at the bottom don’t have the luxury of walking away from their debts, why should the “feral rich” at the top?

The question shouldn’t be why did the riots happen? The question should be. Why aren’t there more riots?

All that glitters is not gold

I heard something on the radio yesterday. The average age of a first time buyer, not supported by the bank of mum and dad, is thirty-seven. Thirty-seven years old before you have enough financial history to leap the hurdle of deposit and get a mortgage. Mid-life before you can start to buy a house of your own. And things are only going to get worse.

As the ramifications of the recent financial collapse continue to unfold. It is not inconceivable that the average age of a first time buyer will push beyond forty. This delayed ability to join the fraternity of home owners will have a devastating effect on any buyer’s ability to repay a mortgage before retirement. That’s a lot of people who will never be able to get a mortgage. Never be able to buy a house.

Some might look at the current situation and argue we are going through a “natural” period of correction. Reduced numbers of first time buyers will force down the inflated price of housing. Thus allowing more first time buyer’s to enter the market. Perhaps that is true. What is more likely is that those who already have equity will be able buy up cheap property and build their portfolio. Fuelling the ever increasing rise in prices. Pushing the average age of first time buyer’s up even higher. The truth is. A lot of people will never be able to buy. And will be forced to rent for their entire life.

The usual argument against renting is that it is a waste of money. You give away all that money. And have nothing to show for it. But renting is only an issue if you look at your life as the accumulation of wealth. If you look at rent as the cost of living. It becomes less of an issue.

So why are we so obsessed with owning property in this country? Margaret Thatcher made it the cornerstone of her monetarist agenda by selling off our stock of council housing in the eighties. She sold the family silver to socially engineer the reduction of the welfare state. She made property a pension. Ask yourself. What happens to all this house wealth in the end? It is rarely passed on to the next generation. More often than not. It is levied to pay for the home owner’s retirement. Or worse still. Sold to pay the cost of residential care.

So what’s going to happen to the increasing number of people who will never be able to buy? They won’t have the cash-cow of a property to fund their retirement. What does the future hold for them? Will they have to continue working well beyond the statutory age of retirement? Or will they be abandoned, forced to live in abject poverty? That won’t happen. The state will step in and help. What state? The current government stated aim is the reduction of the state. Less state. Less help. So private companies will come to the rescue and fill the gap. What sort of care will those who don’t have property to levy actually get? The answer. Not very good care. The state will pay them? I don’t think so. Charity then? Charity will step in to help the venerable. How very progressive. It’s that kind of thinking that consolidated the need for the labour movement in the nineteenth century.

Perhaps that’s where the future lies. The rise of a genuine labour movement in this country. Will people’s inability to buy actually change people’s understanding of the world? Perhaps the coming privations will galvanise enough of us to finally force real and lasting social change for the better. Perhaps it will reawaken left-wing politics in this country.

The sceptic in me doubts it. I would love to be wrong. But I think the vast majority of us have been blinded by the glitter of wealth for it’s own sake. We’re in love with the big screen televisions that stream advertisement for the cult of celebrity like “The X Factor” and the soon to be gone “Big Brother”. We’ve had these bright lights for too long. Perhaps so long. The glare has blinded us. Made it hard to see. All that glitters is not gold.

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