Friday, May 20, 2011


Last Saturday's arrest of DSK made me wonder about tumbrels and scaffolds. Then this week, I began to re-read Howard's End, and I came to this sentence
The boy, Leonard Bast, stood at the extreme verge of gentility. He was not in the abyss, but he could see it, and at times people whom he knew had dropped in, and counted no more.
And finally, and as if on cue, watertiger sends me this Guardian column about what keeps those tumbrels idle and the scaffolds disassembled:
As psychologists will tell you, fear of loss is more powerful than the prospect of gain. The struggling middle classes look down more anxiously than they look up, particularly in recession and sluggish recovery. Polls show they dislike high income inequalities but are lukewarm about redistribution. They worry that they are unlikely to benefit and may even lose from it; and worse still, those below them will be pulled up sufficiently to threaten their status. This is exactly the mindset in the US, where individualist values are more deeply embedded. Americans accepted tax cuts for the rich with equanimity. Better to let the rich keep their money, they calculated, than to have it benefit economic and social inferiors.
Whether you're on the extreme verge of gentility or a solidly middle class wage slave, the abyss and its attendant anxieties feel perilously close during good times and bad. It's not "Hey, one day I could be rich!" but rather, "Hey, one day I could be poor!" that helps maintain the status quo. Keeping you anxious by, say, selling you credit rather than giving you wage increases for thirty years running, simultaneously keeps a small number of people obscenely rich, and those tumbrels in garages and those scaffolds in warehouses. Neat trick.

Howard's End is very worthwhile, by the way.


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Chuck said...

Just a superb post! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

George Carlin said it best:

"The upper class keeps all of the money, pays none of the taxes. The middle class pays all of the taxes, does all of the work. The poor are there... just to scare the shit out of the middle class."

res ipsa loquitur said...

Carlin was a genius. Died way too young.

Anonymous said...

Forster is always worthwhile - a very good writer, and one with a social conscience.

Anonymous said...

Makes me think of the cartoon in recent New Yorker with caption reading they will continue to work to "keep the status quo."
status quo good? change bad?

pansypoo said...

lottery winners and instant teevee fame abounds in the stoopids midset.

Henry Holland said...

The movie version of Howard's End (and Maurice and A Room With A View as well) is excellent, with Sam West at his peak of beauty as the hapless Leonard.

This post reminded of these John Lennon lyrics:

Keep you doped with
sex and
'til you think
You're so clever and
classless and
But you're still fucking peasants
As far as I can see