Source Direct: Winners and Losers, Strivers and Skivers

If you lose your job during the pandemic, that’s not your fault, right? Sadly, and absurdly, that isn’t the majority view in Britain today.

IF YOU LOSE your job during the pandemic, that’s not your fault, right? Sadly, and absurdly, that isn’t the majority view in Britain today. A full 47 percent of people believe that being made unemployed in the covid era is about individual performance on the job, rather than historic bad luck (31%).

The same study also captures contrary attitudes. Large majorities are worried about regional inequalities and widening gaps of income and wealth. And there is firm opposition to people buying advantages for themselves in healthcare and schooling. What people believe about inequality is thus a scrambled up mess of fact and fiction, progressive and conservative, lucid and ludicrous.

All of which is nothing new. This contradictory “meritocratic” outlook has dominated British social attitudes for decades. Even throughout the Thatcher-Blair era, people were vastly opposed to elitism, income inequality and the rich feathering their own nests. Conversely, they approach benefit claimants through (often racialised) stereotypes about drugs, alcohol and indolence. And they have high opinions of wealthy individuals who appear to “earn” their success. This much has been steady for decades.

However, that these beliefs persist now, given all we know, shows that they are  deeply impervious to facts. I hardly need to stress the numbers of “ordinary”, non-feckless workers being thrown on the scrapheap as businesses close due to the lockdown. Not only does the pandemic and its economic impact dominate the news. It dominates social media feeds. And, anecdotally, most people know at least one person who has been terminated, through no fault of their own, simply because they were unlucky enough to live through a historic pandemic.

So coronavirus has provided an extreme illustration of just how fact-resistant beliefs about inequality can be. It shows that ideology can be extraordinarily hard wired. People, for instance, understandably tend to distrust those who inherit wealth or who get rich due to luck. However, they tend to believe the meritocratic “bootstrap” stories of particular billionaires, even when they have no foundation in fact.

The obvious case is Donald Trump, that man of the people, actually born into wealth and privilege. His Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, equally managed to pull off the Texan cowboy schtick, though he was a (feckless) son of the East Coast elite. These familiar examples illustrate a wider trend. There are vanishingly few cases of millionaires who pull themselves up from rags to riches.

What is striking in these attitudes is their mixture of pragmatism and ideology. It’s understandable that people celebrate hard work and bemoan laziness. And obviously, every social class will have some who are workshy and some who never stop. But assumptions about who puts in the effort and who takes a loan of the public are often out of kilter with reality. So are beliefs about “wealth creators”, that lingering flatulence from the New Labour era, which trades on the assumption that work itself creates no wealth.

Decades of moronic media reporting and political consensus is doubtless to blame. But the real trouble is, the economic system built on this ideological foundation hasn’t provided real growth for a decade, and isn’t about to soon.