Monday, 9 November 2020

If the public is wrong about nearly everything, why are they right about Corbyn?

According to polling, most British people – 58% in fact – think it was right that Jeremy Corbyn was suspended from the Labour party for saying the scale of the problem of antisemitism within it had been “dramatically overstated” by political opponents and the media.

This is despite the fact that it obviously was. The British people were told in all seriousness that Corbyn represented “an existential threat” to Jews in the UK, that Labour was a “cesspool” of antisemitism, that it was “institutionally racist” (which the EHRC specifically refuted), that Corbyn was leading an “antisemite army”, that the “soul of the nation” was at stake in the General Election, that if elected Corbyn would be the first antisemitic leader in the West since 1945, even that (courtesy of ‘respected’ conservative commentator, Simon Heffer) he was planning to “reopen Auschwitz”.

A search of eight newspapers revealed there to be nearly five and a half thousand articles on the subject of Corbyn, antisemitism and Labour between June 2015 and March 2019. And that’s discounting the voluminous coverage on broadcast and social media.

The truth, as Corbyn patiently relayed in interviews about the EHRC report, was in reality only 0.3% of Labour members had been accused of antisemitism. On average, however, the public believed 34% had. Exaggeration by a factor of 100*.

In fact, the two polling results are not remotely divergent. If you believe – in line with what you have been incessantly told by the media for the previous four years – that the Labour party is a nest of vicious bullying and racism (such that a third of Labour members have been accused of antisemitism) and that Jeremy Corbyn had allowed this to happen, probably out of his own hatred of Jews, then you’re likely to think it right that he is drummed out of the Labour party.

And therein lies the problem, the elephant in the room. Thanks to our atrocious media – a description that includes the supposedly liberal-left Guardian and the ‘impartial’ BBC – the British public is staggeringly misinformed. But few people, certainly not the politicians and media organisations who live by these misconceptions, will admit this.

In 2013, that noted far-left organisation, the Royal Statistical Society, pointed that out on a range of issues public perceptions are wildly out of kilter with reality. So much so that we are really talking about two separate countries – perceived UK and real UK.

To take one example, 58% of the public think crime is rising when in fact there were 53% fewer incidents in 2012 compared to 1995 (if you want an update crime fell by 9% between March 2019 and March 2020).

The perception of benefit fraud (24% of the ‘benefits bill’) is 34 times greater than the reality (0.7%). Teenage pregnancy rates are believed to be 25 times higher than they actually are. More people think foreign aid is the largest item of government expenditure than believe it to be either pensions or education despite the latter two being vastly greater.

On average the public thinks 31% of the population are immigrants when 13% actually are. The average estimate is that black and Asian people make up 30% of the population when in truth it is 11%. The most common belief is that 24% of the population are Muslim when it is really 5%. And so on.

Electorally speaking, there are undeniable pitfalls in bluntly telling the public that many of their most cherished beliefs are nonsense. But there are also obvious drawbacks – an amply demonstrated by the last Labour government – in meekly accepting the ‘reality’ presented by the mainstream media. The atrocity of the Work Capability Assessment was enshrined into law because the Blair and Brown governments not only swallowed, but actively propagated, the idea that millions of people on sickness benefits could find a job if only they were motivated enough. The abuse at Yarl’s Wood had its roots in the belief that Britain was being overrun by asylum seekers and immigrants, a dehumanization that has become a thousand times worse since. The lies behind the Iraq War became second nature to the government and were unremittingly amplified by an obedient media so that millions were shocked when Iraq didn’t turn out to have any WMD. The consequences of that duplicity are immense. It is estimated that 2.4 million Iraqis have been killed as a result of the illegal 2003 invasion.

When fiction becomes reality, and will not be admitted to be fiction even when conclusively demonstrated to be so, you have a huge problem.

Jeremy Corbyn attempted to tell the truth, rather than embroider myths, about each of the above issues. He also promised to confront billionaire, tax avoiding newspaper owners, not curry favour with them as previous Labour Prime Ministers had done.  As a result he was the victim of what two (marginal) commentators, Peter Oborne and David Hearst, have dubbed “a carefully planned and brutally executed political assassination”. His suspension for ‘downplaying’ antisemitism is merely the coup de grâce. 

Every British newspaper, with the exception of the Morning Star, avidly supported Corbyn’s suspension. So Keir Starmer’s “difficult” decision will find virtually unanimous support amongst the media and the political class. Attacking your own unreconstructed radicals – what Americans call “counter scheduling” – is seen as the tried and trusted way for a centre-left party to attain electoral credibility.

But even if this approach leads to success, which is highly questionable, the victory will be a Pyrrhic one. Accepting the media’s presentation of reality will so tightly hem in the freedom of action of a future Labour government that searing injustices like the ones outlined above are almost certain. And there will be no economic boom to soothe the sores with broadly egalitarian spending.

Reinstate Jeremy Corbyn and start telling, not repressing, the truth.

*The number of complaints of antisemitism differs according to when the start date is set.  According to the party in February 2019 it had received complaints of antisemitism concerning about 673 members since April 2018, about 0.1% of its membership. Or 300 times less than 34%.

Monday, 26 October 2020

Chasing Unicorns? Orwell, socialism and patriotism

“England has got to be true to herself”, a famous English socialist once wrote. “She is not being true to herself while the refugees who have sought our shores are penned up in concentration camps, and company directors work out subtle schemes to dodge their Excess Profits Tax”.

George Orwell typed these words in 1940, in the middle of the Blitz as German bombs were raining down. His short book, The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius, has subsequently become the ur-text of a patriotic vision of socialism. Corbynism, it is claimed, fatally lacked this essential ingredient of popularity – indeed stamping on any tendencies in this direction. This was a major reason why it crashed and burnt in the 2019 election. Socialism still – in Orwell’s phrase – has not “really touched the heart of the English people”.

Keir Starmer, on the other hand, is determined to avoid such a fate, wrapping the Labour party (literally) in the Union Jack and signalling a deep emotional attachment to the monarchy. He even ordered in his MPs to abstain on a bill authorising the security services to commit murder and torture without legal repercussion – for fear of appearing ‘patriotically’ suspect.

Don’t sing ‘Rule Britannia’

But the interesting thing about The Lion and the Unicorn is that the patriotism it pays homage to is not the same patriotism that the Labour party in 2020 is seeking to identify with. Starmer’s conference speech was trailed to the media as rebranding Labour as the party of “flag, forces and family”. Blue Labour, the Labour faction which heralds ‘conservative socialism’, is committed to the triad of “family, faith and flag”. There is a subtle difference if you look carefully.

However, Orwell explicitly rejects the idea that the patriotism of the English working class revolves around these cornerstones. Its patriotism is “profound” but “the working man’s heart does not leap when he sees a Union Jack”. Rather, there is an ingrained hatred of war, militarism and uniforms, and – outside of war – a widespread refusal to join the army even in times of mass unemployment. “So deep does this feeling go” writes Orwell, “that for a hundred years past the officers of the British Army, in peace time, have always worn civilian clothes when off duty.”

In Orwell’s view, “all the boasting and flag-wagging, the ‘Rule Britannia’ stuff is done by small minorities”.

Of course, The Lion and the Unicorn was written nearly 80 years ago. Attitudes may have changed – witness the ubiquitous uniformed soldiers before kick-off at football matches and the pressure of conformity about poppy wearing. But Orwell made a crucial distinction between nationalism or jingoism and patriotism.

It is a similar story when it comes to religion or ‘faith’ as modern-day adherents like to call it. “The common people” says Orwell, are not puritanical and “without definite religious belief”. Though there is a “deep tinge” of Christian belief, in terms of organised religion, the Anglican Church is mainly the preserve of the landed gentry and the Nonconformist sects only appeal to minorities.

Defining patriotism

So what then is patriotism? According to Orwell, it is a purely defensive attitude and protective of a particular way of life. “It is bound up,” Orwell writes, “with solid breakfasts, gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillar-boxes.”

Mercifully he soon becomes less misty-eyed and then makes an astute point about English culture which, I believe, is still true decades later. The English – despite the contentedly defeatist attitude of much of the liberal-left which sought salvation, oddly, in the neoliberal European Union – are not irredeemably conservative, capitalist or right-wing. This fatalistic stance should have been exploded by the 2017 election in which a left-wing Labour party gained nearly 42% of the vote in England. But there is, Orwell says, a definitive privateness about English life:

The liberty of the individual is still believed in, almost as in the nineteenth century. But this has nothing to do with economic liberty, the right to exploit others for profit. It is the liberty to have a home of your own, to do what you like in your spare time, to choose your own amusements instead of having them chosen for you.

Undeniably, this feeling can be used to fuel a seemingly endless housing boom – rooted in the comfort induced by seeing the value of the house you own continually rising and in viewing your home as a haven against the world. But it can also be – and would be by a serious Left – utilized in the opposite cause. In a country where millions have scant security as private tenants, and are being evicted as we speak, and where wealthy individuals and businesses buy up hundreds of flats and houses for no other purpose than renting them or selling them on, “the liberty to have a home of your own”, but not necessarily one you are free to sell, is the kind of aspiration the Left should champion. In Marxist terms, we live in a world where ‘use value’ (the function of a house or flat to provide security, stability and shelter) has become the slave of ‘exchange value’ (seeing them as simply ‘units’ to make money from). That is why Orwell could proclaim a fervent belief in the ‘liberty of the individual’ but also advocate (in the political programme that accompanies The Lion and the Unicorn) the abolition of private land ownership in urban areas – and see no contradiction between the two.

Orwell the Red

Indeed, what is striking about Orwell ‘patriotic socialism’ is that the socialism involved is of the deepest red. The second half of The Lion and the Unicorn is devoted to espousing an “English Revolution” that would set free “the native genius of the English people”. Railways, banks, major industries and land would all be nationalised (Orwell recommends allowing private ownership of land of up to 15 acres in rural areas, but as seen above, would completely abolish private land ownership – and thus landlordism – in town areas), incomes would be restricted to a ten to one variation, the House of Lords abolished and private schools flooded with state-aided pupils or simply closed. Orwell even envisages the stock market being torn down!

However, it is interesting that despite Orwell’s intense anti-Communism, his economic beliefs do not seem vastly different in their fundamentals. Orwell defined himself explicitly as a “democratic socialist”, not a Communist, and clearly saw great danger in vesting political power in an all-seeing political party, but in economic terms, did not see any alternative to state socialism.  “From the moment that all productive goods have been declared the property of the State,” he writes, “the common people will feel, as they cannot feel now, that the State, is themselves.” Despite fighting in an anarchist/syndicalist revolution in Spain, and with a Trotskyist battalion, just four years previously Orwell seems to have imbibed none of their critique of state socialism, nor their advocacy – indeed living example of – workers’ control.

Nonetheless, by comparison with Orwellian socialism, Corbyn’s mellow social democracy appears – notwithstanding the hysteria it generated – quite tame. And Blue Labour, which might claim to be the inheritor in the Labour party of the Orwellian vision, seems oblivious to his decrying of the party’s “timid reformism”. In aligning with – at best tolerating – insipid centrist leaders like Starmer and Miliband there is an all too common wilful blindness to Orwell’s radical side.

Ashamed of their own country

But the incongruous thing – and probably a large reason Orwell is claimed by divergent political philosophies – is that he combines a frankly revolutionary socialism with unvarnished contempt for left-wing intellectuals. Orwell berates the “shallow leftism” of intellectuals and the “mechanically anti-British attitude” which was de rigueur on the radical left of the time. Much of the contempt stemmed from widespread left-wing support for Stalin and the Soviet Union. Orwell, by contrast, had seen Stalin’s inherent brutality – and well as his anti-revolutionary stance – at first hand during the Spanish Civil War. However, some of the critique transcends the circumstances of the time. In The Lion and the Unicorn and elsewhere (for example the essay ‘Notes on Nationalism’), Orwell develops the idea of “transferred nationalism” – taking all the emotions, affection and loyalty that might have been attached to your own country and simply directing them somewhere else – the Soviet Union, primarily, in his era. Despite its pretentions, this mental transference gets the protagonist no closer to “genuinely internationalist outlook”.

The same transference was in evidence during the EU referendum campaign and the endless negotiations that followed. Implicit in much of the liberal-left embrace of the Remain cause was the idea that virtually everything that made life bearable in England came from ‘civilised’ European influence, without which the country would descend into a corporate free-loading, racist hell-hole (ironically, in devoting most of their energies to taking down Jeremy Corbyn – and thus helping Boris Johnson – liberal Remainers ensured this vision would come to pass). The idea that a home-grown socialism was even possible was dismissively rejected as a contradiction in terms.

Thus, Europe (the institutions of the EU) became a purely benign endeavour, without conflict or desire, pitted against a country whose temporary, austerity-wreaking rulers (a trait they shared with the EU) were seen as representative of its eternal character. But genuine internationalism involves the recognition that all countries (including pan-governmental entities and repressed or colonised nations), have their own elites and plebeians, their own fractures between capital and labour, their own bigots and mobs, and their own interests which leaders will attempt to pursue.

Orwell, notwithstanding his unabashed patriotism, is aware of this. Thus, in his treatment of India (at the time part of the British Empire) he can recognise both that Britain, out of fear of trade competition and a desire to make rule easier, has artificially held back Indian development and that, partly as a consequence of British domination, the average Indian suffers most keenly at the hands of his fellow-countrymen. “The petty Indian capitalist exploits the town worker with the utmost ruthlessness,” notes Orwell, “the peasant lives from birth to death in the grip of the money-lender”. That kind of analysis seems strangely sophisticated today.

Return of the ‘drowsy years’

However, in one important way, Orwell’s essay is rooted in its own time; a time when Britain (and its Empire) seemed the only obstacle to the total domination of Nazi Germany. He likens Britain to a family with the wrong members in control – the dividend drawers, the landed class, the “functionless” owners of industry – who are holding back the intelligent and capable. The ruling class, in Orwell’s view, are not corrupt so much as “unteachable” and mired in self-deception. While Nazi Germany has the SS man, we have the rent collector.

War, said Orwell, was the greatest of all agents of change. It speeds up long-term processes and brings previously unacknowledged realities to the surface. In the midst of the Blitz, the “drowsy years”, as Orwell encapsulated the 1930s, were well and truly over and it was possible, necessary actually, to become both revolutionary and realistic.

But now the dividend drawers, the owners of industry, the tax evaders are back, if they ever really went away. Rent is the (anti)-lifeblood of the economy. Students are cajoled into returning to halls of residence so that they can pay rent to the owners. The spectre of city centres devoid of commuters petrifies the owners of commercial and residential properties who see their rental streams drying up before their eyes. Hedge fund managers and bankers are exempted from quarantine regulations because of their alleged contribution to the economy. The company directors of Orwell’s time who try and dodge “Excess Profits Tax” have been superseded by a multi-trillion dollar tax avoidance industry orchestrated by banks and green-lighted by governments.

The outright treachery that frightened Orwell has been replaced by ordinary corruption. The reverence for the impartiality of the law even if it is unjust, which Orwell believed characterised England, now pales before the staging of show trials of those who embarrass the rulers of the world. The “right to exploit others for profit” is deemed sacrosanct while a bill allowing MI5 agents to murder British citizens with impunity is waived through the House of Commons with the connivance of the Labour party. The drowsy years are back with a vengeance and nothing seems likely to jolt us back into attentiveness.

Monday, 31 August 2020

It's only Marxist if the Labour Party does it


Reports that Chancellor Rishi Sunak is ‘considering’ raising corporation tax from 19 to 24% are fascinating not least because of what they say about our mainstream media.

Because no-one in the MSM seems to have noticed that even mooting such an idea completely contradicts the foundations of Tory economics.

Sunak, it is alleged, is mulling increasing corporation tax by 5 percentage points in order to boost revenue by £12 billion. But the crux of Conservative economic thinking going back decades is that the way to increase the tax yield is actually to cut rates on the wealthy and big business.

This conviction underlay George Osborne’s decision to reduce the top rate of tax from 50 to 45p in 2013. And it undergirded Tory minister David Lidington’s 2017 assertion that corporate tax yield has been ‘shooting up’ since tax levels started plummeting precipitously after the coalition took office.

The theory, as most things seem to in British politics, comes from America. In 1974 – so the story goes – economist Arthur Laffer met Dick Chaney in a Washington bar and drew a diagram on a napkin showing that increasing tax rates beyond a certain levels causes tax revenues to decline, not increase. Apparently, high tax rates compel the wealthy to work less or evade taxes (which obviously the government is absolutely powerless to prevent).

Though the napkin itself did not survive, in the next decade when Ronald Reagan was president, the ‘Laffer Curve’ justified swingeing cuts in personal taxes for the rich and seemingly endless reductions in corporate tax rates.

And the ethereal napkin, despite its empirical emptiness, has continued to guide the policy of western (in fact most) governments. Just four years ago, Theresa May was proposing a corporate tax rate of 17% and was prepared to go even lower to attain the most ‘competitive’ rate in the G20.

Up to now, however. If the theory is correct Sunak should be advocating further tax reductions precisely in order to increase revenue. But instead he’s arguing for a tax rise, in the process damning the entire theory as completely wrong-headed.

Before this latest leak, cracks were already showing. In the last election campaign, Boris Johnson committed to delaying May’s corporation tax cuts in order to fund the NHS, which is utterly nonsensical is you believe, as Johnson did, that cutting corporate tax increases the tax yield. But Sunak’s musings, even if they are not acted upon, drive the proverbial coach and horses through Conservative economics.

But it won’t be just the Conservative party that will be affected. At the last election, as we know, Marxist Anti-Christ Jeremy Corbyn – who proposed raising corporate tax to 26% (2 points is all the difference between sensible economics and wealth devouring Stalinist madness) – was banished to the outer darkness by all that is holy. The new model Labour party has bought into the idea that he lost because he was ‘too left-wing’. Indeed, Blairism and Brownism were conspicuous by their unquestioning acceptance of the precepts of the Conservative economics and the private good/public bad dogma.

But now the Conservative party itself seems to be rejecting some of those very precepts. So what is the Labour party to do?  Shadow Chancellor Annaliese Dodds, who recently mooted a wealth tax only to find herself out on a limb, is surrounded by convinced Blairites in the shadow Treasury team. Bridget Phillipson, Pat Mcfadden and Wes Streeting would have great difficulty – probably more difficulty than Conservatives who have a pragmatic side – in backing corporate tax rises. Indeed Phillipson can’t even commit to abolishing hospital parking charges for NHS workers.
   
It may be that the Sunak story is all wind and no substance. Some of us still remember Theresa May’s ‘burning injustices’, her call for responsible capitalism and proposal for workers on company boards, the sum total of which, in the fullness of time, was the banning of toilet charges at mainline train stations. But even if Conservative corporate tax rises turn out to be oxymoronic, the mere fact that they were put ‘out there’ and not denied is incredibly significant.

Monday, 27 July 2020

Despite what Jordan Peterson says, the world is not your lobster*


I’ve been enticed back into reading about Jordan Peterson and his exemplary lobster. For the uninitiated, Peterson – ‘classical liberal’ and self-help guru – believes we should be inspired by the not so humble lobster, willing to fight all-comers (well other lobsters) for the best places to live. The lobster (and also the merciless wren, the chicken, the chimpanzee etc.) is an example of nature’s dominance hierarchy which is a “near-eternal aspect of the environment”. Older than trees in fact.

Humans, according to Peterson, are just as subject to the unforgiving laws of this dominance hierarchy. Despite our cultural pretensions and elaborate societies it still operates under the surface. “It’s inevitable,” avers Peterson, “that there will be continuity in the way animals and human beings organise their structures”. Thus, brutal economic inequality – the fact that 85 ultra-wealthy people at the top of society have as much as three and half billion at the bottom – is given a biological justification.

Read the memo: it’s inevitable, get used to it and don’t – the ultimate Peterson sin – start getting resentful.

The immediate temptation, to which many have succumbed, is to say Peterson’s examination of the natural world is hopelessly partial. Why choose to focus on the lobster or the status-obsessed chimpanzee and pass over the egalitarian, sharing bonobo or the unaggressive, vegetarian gibbon? An argument that can be traced back to Kropotkin’s highlighting of mutual aid among animals, in contrast to the simplification of the survival of the fittest.

Civilised hierarchies

However, this argument rather misses the point, or to be more precise, it concedes too much before it gets to the bone of contention. Because human hierarchies – that is actually existing hierarchies that have dominated the history of human civilisation before reformers, revolutionaries and utopians messed with them – are radically and qualitatively different to animal dominance hierarchies. In fact the latter don’t merit the appellation ‘hierarchy’ at all, the word originally applying to the rule of the high priest in ancient Greece, a uniquely human dispensation.

Only in early hunter-gatherer societies, can human arrangements be said to resemble dominance ‘hierarchies’ among animals in the sense that charismatic and talented individuals might acquire power. And even then, the evidence suggests tribal members were aware of the dangers of power becoming entrenched and embodied in certain individuals and took steps to ensure that, uniquely in the natural world, economic relations, family structure and political life were regularly shuffled.

The history of civilisation in all parts of the world, by contrast, and despite its undoubted benefits, is the history of dynasties, aristocracies, land-owners and empires on the one side and serfs, slaves, indentured labourers, and workers on the other. Slavery was an unmissable feature of ‘civilised’ society for thousands of years. It’s not a Western invention or imposition; it was only abolished in China in 1908.

In such societies, the facts of birth and inheritance were all-important. Intelligence, cunning, physical strength, charisma – or whatever other attributes Peterson thinks differentiates winners from losers – would at best have enabled the lucky incumbent to progress within their caste or class. Only very rarely would they have permitted them to rise within the hierarchy itself. Hannah Arendt’s description of the “caste conceit” of the British aristocracy in the 19th century – “the pride in privilege without individual effort and merit, simply by virtue of birth” – could be applied to ruling castes and classes throughout history the world over.

‘God hath placed them there’

Such hierarchies were, in Murray Bookchin’s description, were “clothed in ideologies” because they were anything but natural. They were, however, intended to endure and such longevity was not merely secured by immense military power but also because most people, especially those oppressed by such hierarchies, were assiduously convinced of their, often divinely-ordained, legitimacy. Something animals obviously can’t be. Lobsters don’t bequeath their hiding places to their offspring nor insist to other lobsters left with stringy pieces of seaweed as camouflage that it’s blasphemy to object to such inequality because it’s been prescribed by the great lobster god.

Hence belief systems like the medieval ‘Great Chain of Being’ in which everyone – serfs, vagabonds, yeomen, lords etc. – had a recognised position because ‘God hath placed them there’.  In 17th century England, parish priests issued weekly instructions for servants to obey their masters and behave “lowly and reverently” towards their betters.

In such societies, the personal attributes and characters of rulers might be a source of regret or rejoicing, but they were irrelevant for determining the power they wielded. As Bookchin noted about now infamous European monarchs:

Figures like Louis XVI of France and Nicholas II of Russia, for example did not become autocrats because they had genetically programmed strong personalities and physiques, much less keen minds. They were inept, awkward, psychologically weak, and conspicuously stupid men (even according to royalist accounts of their reigns) who lived in times of revolutionary social upheaval. Yet their power was virtually absolute until it was curtailed by revolution.

But, but ...  I’m guessing Peterson would instantly interject were he to be – unlikely I know – reading this: what you’re saying might be true for human hierarchies deeply ensconced in tradition and time-encrusted practices, but since the advent of liberal-democracy and capitalism and the demise of ancien regimes it has been possible for people born in difficult circumstances to, through their own native ability and self-discipline, rise in society and transform their lives.

“… the most valid personality trait predictors of long-term success in Western countries,” says Peterson “are intelligence … and conscientiousness.”

As a precursor, “success” needs to be defined. Because so much intelligence, conscientiousness and talent that doesn’t fit into money-making purposes and interest those organizations that hire people to do their bidding (and into which democracy is not permitted to intrude) simply withers or is actively suppressed.

Yea, even unto the Middle Ages

However, the other side of the coin is that liberal capitalism’s reputation for social mobility – progressing up the income scale during your lifetime – has been greatly exaggerated even on its own terms. So many of our current political leaders have emerged from privileged backgrounds and wealth amassed before y’know everyone had a crack at it. David Cameron is descended from King William VI and was brought up in a stately home, Boris Johnson’s full name is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and Donald Trump inherited his fortune from his property tycoon dad.

Social mobility’s heyday under capitalism was actually in its post-war social-democratic incarnation when the rich were heavily taxed and finance forced into productive investment. Since the 1980s, after capitalism became more purely capitalistic, it’s gone down. A 2017 report found that in the US after the ‘inflection point’ of 1980, inequality skyrocketed and social mobility started “declining sharply”. The British Social Mobility Commission reported last year that inequality is now “entrenched from birth to work” and according to the UN Development Programme a “great new divergence” is taking place around the world, leaving educated young people stuck in low wage, dead-end jobs:

“What people perhaps 30, 40 years ago were led to believe and often saw around them," an UNDP administrator says, “was that if you worked hard, you could escape poverty.” Yet in many countries today, he says, upward social mobility is “simply not occurring” anymore.
This is modern-day capitalism, where intelligence and conscientiousness aren’t, after all, enough to help you lead a better life. And by the way, this conclusion is not impaired by Peterson’s revelation that human and lobsters share “basic neuro-chemistry” so you can administer an anti-depressant to a lobster and it will fight “harder and longer”. Anti-depressants have been administered to millions of human beings since the late 1980s, making evidently no difference to rates of social mobility.
Entrepreneurs and capitalists
Why, you might ask, does it have to be this way? Because capitalism is at heart a system where great wealth is extracted by people who do nothing to earn it. It isn’t, despite the advertising, a justice dispensing machine where, notwithstanding the rough edges, diligent and creative entrepreneurs are rewarded for the improvements they bring to people’s lives.
As author David Schweickart has astutely shown, the entrepreneur is capitalism’s “white knight”, routinely unveiled to justify ‘returns to capital’ that have nothing to do with inventions or improving methods of production. Vast fortunes are made and replenished daily simply by virtue of the ownership of real or financial assets:
In a capitalist society, enormous sums are paid to people who do not engage in any entrepreneurial activity or take on any significant risk with their capital. Trillions flows to shareholders who make an entirely passive contribution to production.
In fact, despite the enormous changes wrought by the economic system known as capitalism, the capitalist bears an uncanny resemblance to the landowners and landlords of past centuries who commandeered immense wealth and power without doing anything to deserve it. Indeed, capitalism has frequently coexisted with small coteries of landowners in most parts of the world. Which is why land reform was such a seminal political issue for numerous countries in the 20th century – something you might be aware of if you manage to get over a fixation with capitalist white hats and communist black hats.
Don’t complain
The awkward problem is that wanting human society to replicate the daily fights for survival, nourishment and safety evident in the animal world requires not a laissez-faire approach, but massive government intervention in society. It demands severe taxation of the rich and punitive restrictions on inheritance. It compels instituting downwards as well as upwards social mobility, which means abolishing private education that works, in effect, to over-promote a small section of the population and lavish resources on them. And even then, the result would be a pale imitation of animal ‘hierarchies’.
But western societies are intent on the diametrically opposite policy. Every time in recent history – for example the 2008 financial crisis or the current Covid-19 crisis – the wealth of the moneyed and propertied has been threatened, governments stepped in to artificially protect it and institute bogus stock market booms.
Isolated conservatives and ‘classical liberals’ may have objected to this massive transfer of wealth from poor to rich but the vast majority – Peterson included – raised not a whimper of protest.
The grain of truth in Peterson is the emphasis on personal responsibility and the insistence that, whatever your circumstances, no-one, apart from yourself, determines how you react. But others before have expressed this anti-determinism better. “It makes no sense to complain since nothing foreign has decided what we feel, how we live, or what we are,” said Jean-Paul Sartre, trickily also a Marxist, in 1943.
But ignoring the structures of society that are not amenable to individual efforts to change them but can, nonetheless, still be changed collectively, is not only wrong but is liable to lead to depression and resentment, the very things Peterson says he wants to alleviate.