And that\’s why they hate it so

I\’m often rather preplexed by the unthinking hatred of the US displayed by so many lefties here in the UK. No, not just the (rather too common) idiocies perpetrated by the government of the place, but a visceral hatred of everything American, from Mickey D\’s through Hollywood to fat people and even, in the hilarious case of Martin Amis, bitchy backbiting over the way he had his English teeth fixed to the American standard.

Perhaps this is a clue:

Yet today’s New York Times reports on a recent poll by the Pew Research Center that finds that the number of Americans who consider themselves to be middle-class is nine in ten (“So You Think You’re Middle Class?” Dec. 23).  That’s 277 million (out of a total of 308 million) Americans

The Left in England (and Britain too) is a slightly strange mixture of that great flowering of the working classes which was the friendly societies, the mutuals, building societies, often (although not exclusively) based on the Non-Conformism of the Weslyans, Methodists and so on, and a more rigidly Marxist view of the world. It\’s that latter which gives us the near insane rejection of markets for example, where the former is just absolutely delighted to use them, participate in them, but in a non-capitalist (strictly defined) manner.

But that very Marxism, as filtered through the last century and a bit, leads to an exaltation of everything proletarian and a visceral rejection of the middle class values (despite it being true that most expressing such views are determinedly middle class: Tommy Sheridan might be of good proletarian stock but there\’s something very petit bourgeois about marrying an air stewardess, the perma-tan and the suburban sex parties).

So the US is hated precisely because it is the bourgeois writ large. And really hated because along with that false consciousness of the inhabitants, is the horrible realisation that it\’s not only the richest large society the world has ever seen but that it won against the proletarian vanguard.

Hmm, mebbe I\’m reading too much into it but I do think there\’s definitely a strain of that going on.

12 thoughts on “And that\’s why they hate it so”

  1. Hmm. Re Marty, I’ve always read him as someone who loves the US and is mostly embarrassed at his inferior Limey physique, but YMMV.

    Re the whole thing, the point is actual false consciousness: in the US, people who take home next to no money and have little chance of advancement (unless you marry money or have rich parents, income mobility in the US is still as low as elsewhere) still view themselves as middle-class, and therefore support policies that will, objectively, fuck them – rather than policies which would help allocate a higher share of income to labour rather than capital.

    I’m a leftie who’s also an economist; I’m not talking about corporation tax, because we all know that’s a fictional proxy for labour-n-capital-n-consumer tax.

    I’m talking about land and wealth taxes, which have very few negative economic consequences but which low-income Americans (and Brits, to a lesser extent) think are terrible because they imagine their work might actually make them a gazillionaire one day.

    They’re wrong. And the reason why right-wingers love America-as-a-concept (rather than ‘liking and respecting as people almost all the American people I’ve met’, which definitely the case) is because America-as-a-concept is about accepting, despite the facts to the contrary, that trickle-down is true and that fighting for the working class is irrelevant because in the future, they’ll all be rich.

    In a society structured like the US, they never will. In Australia (parity dollars), garbage men and shopworkers and laundry workers get paid $15 an hour, and that works for them, and the rest of us accept it.

    In the US they get poverty wages, which they’re prepared to tolerate because they might be the next slumdog millionaire, even though 90% of the people who believe that won’t. It’s a society fundamentally built on a lie. And I guess the thing which makes lefties particularly angry is the fact that nobody there seems to mind.

    (see: libertarian – including mine – anger about the fact that Singapore restricts almost every basic human right you can think of, but that Singaporeans are still jolly happy with it).

    Tim adds: Garbagemen not so much….that combination of public sector unions and the Mafia does rather well for their incomes.

    But I think I’m arguing for a rather different set of bourgeois values. For example, it’s very difficult indeed to find a politician arguing for more publicly owned housing (an entirely mainstream, even if I disagree with it, opinion here) for they just don’t think that publicly owned housing is the solution.

  2. True on the bin-men. The fact that public sector unions and the Mafia intersect somewhat probably helps.

    But in general, the US is somewhere where the wages for working-class non-exportable jobs are low, the UK is somewhere where they are medium, and Australia is somewhere where they are high. And that’s entirely due to the power of, and views of, the people who do those jobs in those countries (exportable jobs are set by international prices + productivity; non-exportable jobs are set by labour power + productivity). I reckon the American belief in “I’ll be a millionaire one day if I work hard enough” is a strong factor in this. In the UK, “next year, Rodders, we’ll be millionaires” is a bitter joke, rightly.

    And publicly owned housing is a bit like public healthcare, in that for UK median-income people between 1950-1985, living in public housing was a perfectly normal thing with no attached stigma, whereas US public housing and healthcare has only ever been “let’s not make the poorest of the poor die in the street”.

    Tim adds: That last is true: but again, I would argue that what I’m pointing to is why that last is true. The US simply is a bourgeois nation. If you can take care of yourself you should and yes, we do also have to make sure the poor don’t die in hte street.

    This is very different from the UK, where the existence of council housing is, to many, seen as positively desirable, not just an unfortunate necessity. Which israther my point again.

  3. I reckon the American belief in “I’ll be a millionaire one day if I work hard enough” is a strong factor in this.

    I personally know a family who left Greece in the 1970s to go to the USA, and are now pretty damned wealthy with the son – aged 3 at the time of emigration – has an MBA and is probably a millionaire. They managed this by working their arses off in restaurants in North Carolina for a decade followed by buying into a restaurant in which they worked there arses of for a futher two decades. Becoming wealthy through hard work is possible in America, more so than anywhere. That most hard-working people don’t become wealthy because of bad luck or otherwise is no reason for the population to believe they should structure society such that getting wealthy through hard work is almost impossible, as it is in the UK. I get the impression they prefer the opportunity to succeed over an entitlement to mediocrity.

  4. I genuinely don’t believe that getting wealthy through hard work in the UK is impossible, or even “more difficult than in the US”, having met many people who’ve managed it. It involves luck with property prices and hard work and luck with business.

  5. “1950-1985, living in public housing was a perfectly normal thing with no attached stigma”: oh look, an anti-Thatcherism snuck in, weakened only by being palpably untrue.

  6. “I genuinely don’t believe that getting wealthy through hard work in the UK is impossible, or even “more difficult than in the US””

    I’ve done it here I’m the UK, and not by flipping property but by building businesses. It IS easier in the US: access to capital is much easier.

  7. Maybe a measure of social advancement ease would be by comparing the earnings of professional criminals.
    The USA would seem to be way ahead of the UK.
    Mark you Australia is notr far behind – they call it the ‘mate culture’.

  8. The usual exaltation of markets here but never a mention of the the property market which bubbled big-time in the States and ruined their economy and did n’t do ours any good .An American who was wildly popular over here was Henry George whose policies influenced the early Labour Party more than Marx,a typical figure being Ramsay Mac who intro’d a full Henry George style Land Value Tax in the 1931 budget, only for it to be scuppered by his coalition partners.Markets in most things might stand some chance of working if the land market were sorted out,precisely as Henry George , a full on laissez fair Tory in all other respects bar land, suggested very eloquently.(So I agree with Jb basically.)

  9. So Much For Subtlety

    john b – “Re the whole thing, the point is actual false consciousness”

    Really? I would think any argument that begins with an assumption you’re smarter than the people actually living in America and experiencing the reality of America is not going to end well.

    “And the reason why right-wingers love America-as-a-concept…. is because America-as-a-concept is about accepting, despite the facts to the contrary, that trickle-down is true and that fighting for the working class is irrelevant because in the future, they’ll all be rich.”

    By any objective measure, trickle down is as true as any concept is likely to be in economics. And America proves it. Poor Americans are still rich by world standards. There are no facts to the contrary.

    “In a society structured like the US, they never will. In Australia (parity dollars), garbage men and shopworkers and laundry workers get paid $15 an hour, and that works for them, and the rest of us accept it.”

    The Australian dollar is at parity now, but it has been traditionally somewhere in the range of 66 to 75 cents. So you can’t compare those wages at that rate. Nor has Australia had massive illegal immigration which pushes down wages in those sorts of jobs. What you also ignore is that Australia has spent the last 30 years pursuing neo-liberal market reforms, especially of the labour market, which makes them closer to the US than the EU.

    “It’s a society fundamentally built on a lie.”

    And yet dos it matter? America is a huge country with a wide range of costs of living. It is also a country where people know if they do not vote for the Left, the economy will grow and everyone will be richer over the long run. Which has been true up to now. They may not get to the top, they may not want to get to the top, but they know they will be better off.

    “(see: libertarian – including mine – anger about the fact that Singapore restricts almost every basic human right you can think of, but that Singaporeans are still jolly happy with it).”

    In 1962 Singapore was poorer than many African countries. A GDP per capita of about $510. Now it is over $40,000. I think that would reconcile a lot of people to the lost of a lot of human rights, but in reality, actually Singaporeans have virtually all the important ones still – more so than their neighbours.

  10. So Much For Subtlety

    john b – “But in general, the US is somewhere where the wages for working-class non-exportable jobs are low, the UK is somewhere where they are medium, and Australia is somewhere where they are high. And that’s entirely due to the power of, and views of, the people who do those jobs in those countries”

    Except that the Australian dollar is at a close to all time high. You can’t compare wages at those rates. It is also, in a way, proof of trickle down economics. The Australians have freed up their economy under both Liberal and Labour governments. Chinese demand means their economy has continued to grow in the past few years. Their dollar has risen. It is because of the success of their economy that wages look so good.

    “non-exportable jobs are set by labour power + productivity”

    Nor is Australian immigration running so high. I assume that is what you mean by labour power and not the declining Trade Union movement which in Australia hardly exists outside the traditional heavy industries and the government sector.

    “In the UK, “next year, Rodders, we’ll be millionaires” is a bitter joke, rightly.”

    Except it is not. In Australia John Howard got a lot of “working class” votes by appealing to what he called Aspirational Voters. Maybe not people who wanted to be millionaires, but people who expected to greatly improve their situation. Those people are a powerful group in Britain because, as anyone can see, the UK working classes have made enormous progress in the last 60 years. They have moved from inner city slums to suburban competence. Which is why Old Labour died.

    “And publicly owned housing is a bit like public healthcare, in that for UK median-income people between 1950-1985, living in public housing was a perfectly normal thing with no attached stigma”

    And that’s the problem. You can’t be half pregnant and in the long run you can’t be half collectivist either. The disintegration of the traditional British willingness to look after themselves as free and independent people – to accept what amounts to a half way house to serfdom to the government – was never going to be sustainable in the long run because the values of the middle class disappear when the life style of the middle class goes. We are a nation of feckless, incompetent, whining, petty thieving drunks and wife beaters because that is what social housing has made us.

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