Ritchie and the middle class

I think this is just great. We’ve sociology professor insisting that the middle class really ain’t so middle. He defines it as the top 10% of households by income. OK, linguistic bit but I would call that the upper middle class or the haute bourgeoisie. And they’re all lackeys of the plutocrats at the top of course. And Ritchie enthusiastically bobbles his head in agreement:

In deciding who are the middle class (Letters, 18 December), one crucial source of information is the Office for National Statistics data on household incomes. This shows that in 2011-12, the top 10th of households with the highest incomes received 27% of all income both gross and after tax. (The UK has for households what amounts to a flat tax system other than for the poorest tenth of households who pay a higher proportion of their income in tax than any other decile.) This was far more than the next 10th down, who received about 16% of all gross and net income. The decile below that, the eighth highest, received about 13% of gross and net income. From the lowest 10th to the ninth decile, the difference in income levels rises in a smooth line, but between the ninth and 10th deciles incomes rise by nearly 70%. It is precisely these very much higher incomes, post-tax as well as pre-tax, which fund most private education in the UK, the main route by which the privileged pass on privileges to their offspring.

So if we think about household incomes, then we have an upper class of plutocrats who do not really appear in the relevant data set and who by the way pay very little tax because of their systematic use of the tax avoidance industry, a middle class of those in the top decile of households we know about, although they also often legally avoid tax, and the rest of us below them.

This is very much a return to the way in which the 19th century thought about a middle class, not as a statistical average but as a group between the great owners of property and the rest of the population. These days the middle class understood as the 10th of households with the highest incomes we know about contains those who assist the plutocracy by managing the rest of us on lower pay and conditions in work, and pensions and benefits when out of work, across the whole of the public and private sectors.

Professor David Byrne Durham University
Dr Sally Ruane De Montfort University

I have a strong suspicion that this analysis correctly explains behaviour and as such resonates.

And here’s what I like so much about this analysis. To be in the top 10% of households by income in the UK these days you need an income of some £80k or so. That’s the pre-tax gross income from all sources.

Professor Byrne is at Durham which pays full professors an average of £72,100. Add in a bit of money from his writing (extensive) and we might assume a wife who works for a bit of pin money. And thus our Professor is part of that 10% who are lackeys for the plutocrats. I’m not in that 10% every year but I am this: another lackey. And Ritchie, what with a GP wife on half time pay (c. £50k) and his own £35 k from Rowntree plus writing and report income from elsewhere….so is he.

We’re all lackeys for the plutocrats because we’re all in the top 10%.

Either that or the original analysis is total cock, your call.

30 thoughts on “Ritchie and the middle class”

  1. I trust that the income figures are inclusive of state handouts and subsidies? I’d hate someone to omit my winter fuel allowance and my wife’s Xmas bonus, or someone else’s council tax subsidy or subsidised house.

    I note that my wife and I have never been in the top 10%. Boo bloody hoo. What does that make us – proletarian? Surely not – the house is full of books.

    It’s a great mystery, especially when you realise that it was people like Professors of Sociology who so fucked up the state schools that people like us chose to groan and stump up for some private schooling.

  2. Good to know I’m an upper class plutocrat, or at least a well paid lackey of the plutocrats.

    Surely there’s been some mistake though, I’ve just checked my latest payslip and I’ve paid over £37k income tax and NI since April.

    Where do I apply for my plutocratic refund?

    This is basically Ritchie saying any peasant who owns a couple of cows is a Kulak and therefore a class enemy, right?

  3. “Either that or the original analysis is total cock”

    The stats didn’t ring true to me, didn’t seem to fit with another post of Ritchie’s from about a month ago. So I checked out the figures given by the ONS to see if it was indeed total cock; it is.

  4. Max – it can’t be easy doing a handful of lectures and tutorials a week, several months a year, for a mere high-five-figure salary and excellent job security and pension. Plus whatever else you can make from making your own textbook required reading, or getting appointed to a quango, or doing bits for the Guardian or BBC or whatever.

    Especially when you have to attend godawful chees and wine functions.

    Still, they should try to look on the bright side. As Dr. Ray Stantz noted:

    “Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities, we didn’t have to produce anything! You’ve never been out of college! You don’t know what it’s like out there! I’ve *worked* in the private sector. They expect *results*.”

  5. Count me in as another member of the plutocratic class. Doesn’t always feel like it though, when I’m up to my knees in mud, muck or engine oil (occasionally all three). There must have been a mix up at the Plutocrat’s Club. Someone’s forgotten to send me my valet, Bentley, private jet, Swiss bank account, and villa in Monaco. I’m not worried about the cigars, I don’t smoke.

  6. They are defining ‘middle-class’ based only on income? Eh? So a Cockney barrow-boy makes a shed-load in the City and suddenly he becomes middle-class? The country solicitor becomes proletarian if he has a thin year?

    Why does it have to be 10%? Why not 25%? 50%? If your only variable is income, the limit is entirely arbitrary.

    As said, twats.

  7. Again the standard bollocks about the bottom decile whose tax payments include employer’s NI contributions on servants and air passenger duty and customs duty on luxury goods in excess of the duty-free allowance brought back from their trips abroad and stamp duty on purchase of houses above the stamp duty threshold and VAT on more than 100% of their aggregate disposable income and …
    There are quite a few poor people in this bottom decile but most of the genuinely poor are in the second decile – much (?most) of the “bottom decile” are rich divorcees/students with rich parents with no income as defined by the household survey, investment bankers on gardening leave. The whole thing is heavily distorted by New Labour choosing to omit from the household survey institutionalised individuals (prisoners, soldiers in barracks but not officers in married quarters, students in halls of residence but not those in flats and houses, anyone homeless or in a hostel) so they hid the true extent of poverty – but also put all the students without grants, just loans, living in flats/houses – a few thousand Old Etonians but tens of thousands from other public schools in the bottom decile. Another distortion is that the income in the bottom two or three deciles is significantly understated (so the %age taken in tax is overstated) since the benefits actually paid out by HM Treasury/DWP were one-and-a-half-times as much as those recorded in the Household Survey – this was so significant that ONS felt bound to state this in the preface.
    Did the professors fail to read the survey, or did they choose to ignore the ONS warning and fail to notice the composition of the tax charge on the bottom decile?

  8. We are on less than 20% of that £80k. What does that make us? Business owners but part of the prole class? Business owners and mixed in with the unemployable?

  9. Martin – it’s a tough one, but Ritchie’s fellow socialists in Cambodia had a solution: liquidate as a class enemy anybody who wears glasses.

  10. No, the middle class are the hated bourgeoisie.

    Ritchie envisages himself being part of the nomenklatura under the Courageous State.

  11. Any analysis which equates the British class system with wealth is a load of cock. Kate Fox put this to bed nicely in her book Watching the English. Being lower, middle, or upper class in Britain just isn’t about wealth, otherwise we’d have Wayne Rooney as being upper class and the skint dukes as lower class.

  12. @ Agamemnon
    I have to defend Murphy (please don’t faint): it is the two professors (with incomes noticeably higher than mine) who claim not to be middle class and complain about being managed into lower incomes. Professor Byrne is doubtless incensed by the so-called austerity programme which limits his pay rise just before he retires on a final-salary pension of a bit over twice median earnings for those in work.
    The two professors and Murphy presumably classify themselves as “intellectuals” in the sense of “workers and intellectuals” who will rule the Courageous State. It appears that professor Ruane was a former pupil of prof Byrne who attended a lower second-class university before doing a post-grad at LSE and Murphy went to a third-class university – hence I say “classify themselves”

  13. @John77, if my recollections from my brief time in British academia (about 10 years ago) are correct, salaries for profs have risen considerably. The pension scheme is very generous, but cost about 6.5% of gross salary back then. I just wish they’d stop sending me bumf every year and put the money in my pot instead.

    Incidentally, I know one old codger, knocking on 80, who wants to carry on and is on such an old contract that they can’t legally remove him (unless he buggers the bursar,I guess). They took away his lab space, and have been moving him from one broom cupboard to another for years. I think he will die at his desk, which is probably how he wants to go.

  14. Who cares what class anyone else is?

    What matters is behaviour and well-being. Oikish modes of speech matter a bit, but only superficially. I know one of my oldest friends affectionately as ‘barrow boy’. He calls me ‘Tarquin’. But he’s bright, and very successful – materially, more than me. And in my profession, at the Bar, social mobility has always been high. Cleverness, efficacity, those are the things that count.

    Obsessing about class is mental masturbation for inadequates.

  15. @ JamesV
    I do not deny that salaries for profs are a multiple of those when I was an undergraduate: I was presuming that the government’s so-called austerity programme has restrained above-inflation rises in the period since prof Byrne turned 65.
    Incidentally, I know one emeritus professor who is hanging onto his lab space as being a higher priority than his salary (now abandoned).

  16. @ Edward Lud
    “Who cares what class anyone else is?”
    Some people do: (i) the aristocrats I have met had, almost universally, better manners; (ii) my mother liked the vicar’s choice to pair my father with a dustman for sidesman’s duty (not just because Mr A, three inches taller, the picture of health, as we envisaged it in those days, in his best suit, looked more impressive).

  17. john77, re your aristocrats, I anticipated the objection with my emphasis on ‘behaviour’. But equally, behaviour is broader than manners. My Old Etonian pupil master had impeccable manners, but he was a cad. A likeable cad, as many are, but a cad nevertheless.

    Which reminds me. What’s the difference between a cad and a bounder?

    A bounder fights bravely behind enemy lines, then goes home on leave to seduce the colonel’s wife. A cad, on the other hand, merely stays at home and seduces the colonel’s wife.

  18. john77, plus, the best manners are generally the product of the most expensive schooling. And that’s scarcely the preserve of either the nobility or of the aristocracy.

  19. “What does that make us – proletarian? Surely not – the house is full of books.”

    Merely circumstantial evidence, dearieme. You don’t state that you actually read them. Only using them to reach the top shelf or throw on the fire to keep warm doesn’t count.

  20. I hide cheap whiskey behind cardboard simulacrae of books.

    Not sure whether it’s best to reveal the quantity of whiskey, lest it reveal the paucity of my reading.

  21. @ Edward Lud
    The *best* schooling, not the most expensive schooling.
    My prep school headmaster was a gentleman; the headmaster of my much more expensive (even net of my scholarship) public school was influenced by salesmanship; the behaviour in the former was noticeably better than in the latter (albeit it improved a bit when the head went off for a year to a lectureship in the USA and the elderly* second master, who had been passed over when the Head was appointed, managed it for a year).
    *he wasn’t very new when he taught my father.

  22. @ Edward Lud
    “I anticipated the objection with my emphasis on ‘behaviour’. But equally, behaviour is broader than manners.”
    Yes – obviously I cannot comment on their treatment of their wives, but manners are a symptom of how they treat other people who are not in a position to exercise power over them. I have very limited knowledge of aristocrats so I can only comment on what I have observed, which implies rather than proves better behaviour.
    Only a fairly small minority of Etonians (or Harrovians) are aristocrats, so just saying that your pupil master was an Old Etonian is not, per se, relevant.

  23. Back to the subject of the post. There is a lovely comment on Ritchie’s blog from someone called Gary. He did some research into the ‘facts’, rather more than I did actually, and discovered that they were wrong, just wrong. He used a different source to me, but we are essentially agreed.

    I refer to this because Richard Murphy’s response is a classic of the genre. Gary deliberately – deliberately no less – chose the ‘wrong’ statistics. This is fascinating as Richard doesn’t bother to state his source. Given, however, that he pulled his post directly from the letters page of the Guardian and, as I say, doesn’t refer to anything deeper, one wonders how he can be quite so certain.


    I take your point regarding the ONS stats; there certainly are some anomalies thrown up. However, it doesn’t seem to matter here, they still don’t support the underlying claims in the letter.

  24. As I know Ritchie reads this blog may I send a seasonal message to him:

    Fvck off you bloated cvnt and take your Courageous State and shove it up your public and third sector-funded family’s collective arse. I hope your union paymasters take your beloved model trains out on strike over the holiday period.

  25. @John77, academic and related salaries were deliberately increased very rapidly under the labour government. Fair enough since they were dreadfully low. I started my first postdoc on about £15k, junior lecturers got around 22. Profs were on about 45-50, theoretically negotiable (upwards) but only the superstars (i.e. those with job offers from Harvard) got substantially more than the basic pay.

    Part of the problem is you could get an industrious Chinese happy to work really hard for that kind of money, so why not. Academics are the last people likely to complain loudly about forriners tekkin all their jerbs.

    Still, nice to learn I can still out-earn a professor having defected to industry (and left the country). I daresay we have also been more heavily affected by the downturn than the government-run academic behemoth.

  26. I know this is an old post, but still.

    In the comments to Ritchie’s post, I am accused on being abusive and using ambiguous data, so my comment was deleted. I reproduce the deleted comment here in full:

    I presented to you earlier a link to the source data on this. I include it again for your convenience. The data includes, inter alia: VAT, Duty on cigarettes, petrol, wine and spirits, Vehicle Excise, TV license, Stamp Duty, Betting taxes, Insurance premium tax, Passenger Duty, NI, Income Tax, etc, etc.

    It is the definitive and comprehensive base data on which any analysis and interpretation must rest, and it comes in excel so that you can perform your own analysis.

    And if you were to play with it (as I have) you will see that the very first assertion of the original Guardian letter writers is wrong (27% before and after tax). The testable arithmetic fact is that the top 10% of households make:

    – 32% of total Original Income in UK (i.e. ‘earned’ income)
    – 29% after accounting for State benefits in cash (e.g. income support)
    – 27% after accounting for non contributory State benefits (e.g. DLA)
    – 23% after allowing for for Direct and Indirect Tax (examples of which I gave you above).

    And yes, that *is* the total tax rate. Including Income tax at the appropriate rate.

    It is therefore *not* a reasonable interpretation of the facts to assert that the top 10% of households make 27% of all income before and after tax, and that we have a de facto flat tax system for households in the UK (which the letter writers claim).

    This is really basic stuff William. I have led the horse to water now, but I can’t make it drink. It’s really about your commitment the Enlightenment values and the pursuit of evidence-based opinions.

    Good luck:


    [then a followup comment moments later]

    Oops. Also meant to answer directly your point

    about where I am getting this from. I am getting it all from the ONS, which is the source our host instructed us to use, and also the source used by the letter writers (and reconciles to the HMRC data

    I evidenced for you earlier). It will be obvious if you clicked on the link.

    Feel free to share other independent data which challenges this.

    I know I am not the first to witness his censorious coverups, and its hardly Watergate, but my opinion of him on the stupid/nasty equation has shifted.

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