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The Great Inequality Debate
Will Our Neo-Victorians Reach Out to Our Dickensian Lower Class?

Something strange is happening in England: citizens are drinking less. The Economist reports on the decline in drinking and the rise of “dry pubs” in the land of Churchill and Kingsley Amis:

Yet Britain is in many ways becoming more abstemious. In 2001 the average household consumed 1.5 litres of alcoholic drinks a week; by 2011, the latest year for which figures are available, that had fallen to 1.1 litres. The young in particular seem to be giving up boozing: over the same period, the number of 18- to 24-year-old men admitting to drinking heavily at least once a week fell from 37% to 22%; women became less sozzled, too. This year four times as many people gave up booze for “dry January” as did so last year, says Emily Robinson of Alcohol Concern, a charity. Dry bars benefit from this fad: Redemption’s customers quadrupled between December and January.

Drinking isn’t the only place where temperance and re-moralization are gaining ground. Abortion rates in the United States have dropped, reaching their lowest point since Roe v. Wade and falling by one-third in the past decade. Teen pregnancies have similarly dropped by half. A Pew analysis of marriage rates found that U.S. marriages increased by three percent between 2011 and 2012 (for the three years prior to 2012, rates had been declining).

An additional factoid shouldn’t surprise anyone who has read or followed the discussion over Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: 87 percent of the increase in the marriage rate comes from nuptials between the college educated. And while abortion is dropping dramatically, it’s becoming increasingly common among the poor and minorities. What we’re seeing is a broadly re-moralized upper class and an increasingly Dickensian lower class, crushed by poverty, family breakdown, and drug/alcohol use. The re-moralization of the upper class is nothing new historically; Anglo-American culture frequently swings between bacchanalian excess and restrained respectability. The first Victorians, for example, were preceded by the decadents of the Regency Period.

The question that remains, though, is whether our neo-Victorians will dedicate themselves to reaching out to lower classes. In the past, domestic Christian missions would call people both to religious repentance and to the habits that would make their lives better. For the horror of every Grandgrind type, there were many earnest Victorians who spearheaded successful reforms focused on personal responsibility. Will today’s elites do the same?

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  • Kavanna

    This is more of what Murray wrote. “Re-moralization” will be possible and work only if it’s accompanied by “recovery, not dependency,” to quote the better 2012 presidential candidate. Dropping out of the labor force is the other half of what’s happening. Dropping in to the labor force is the other half of the cure.

    The teen pregnancy rate has actually dropped by more than 2/3 in the last 25 years. The main reasons have been raising the drinking age and cracking down on teen drug use. A sober teen sitting alone in a room is unlikely to do something stupid. A group of teens, drunk or stoned, is another matter. Other changes have helped, of course: abstinence, and especially raising and enforcing the age of consent, another major shift in the last 30 years.

  • Andrew Allison

    The primary way in which the Victorians reached out to the Dickensian lower class created by the Industrial Revolution was, arguably, to hire them as servants. I’m fairly sure that wouldn’t go over too well in the land of the freebies.

    • free_agent

      We do, however, have an increasing number of “in-person service jobs”, to the point where the wages for such jobs are rising. They aren’t servants, because there is no sense that the master has any long-term responsibility for them. They’re closer to rent-a-servants…

      • Andrew Allison

        Servant: a person who performs duties for others, esp. a person employed in a house on domestic duties or as a personal attendant.

  • Richard T

    The US is not exactly short of Christians with missionary inclinations.

    My take is that people lower down the scale often end up imitating those a step above them, but with a delay of a generation or so. Whether from soap opera characters or from parents who are better at “Do as we say” than at “Do as we do”, much culture — moral and otherwise — from above does gradually percolate down, needing no conscious effort (except by the writers of soap operas, and even they may be unaware of what they are doing).

    Unless ….

  • TommyTwo

    Fred Siegel: “Charles Murray wrote about this brilliantly when he talked about people who can’t preach what they practice. So you have upper middle class people who teach their children all the virtues, are enormously attentive, but can’t preach what they practice, because that would be square, and they’re hip.”

  • Fat_Man

    “Will Our Neo-Victorians Reach Out to Our Dickensian Lower Class?”

    No. Don’t be silly. The true Victorians were religiously motivated Englishmen. They had a very strong sense of duty (satirized in “The Pirates of Penzance or The Slave of Duty” Written by W. S. Gilbert and Composed by Arthur Sullivan, and their religious convictions caused them to reach out to the poor and downtrodden.

    Our elites, OTOH, are the worst ever. They have no concept of duty, and their religions are Marxist Atheism and “Environmentalist” Gaia worship, neither of which has a system of morality. Marxism sends the lower orders to the gulag and environmentalism theorizes turning them into soylent green.

    Our elites hate and fear the lower classes, particularly the middle classes of flyover country — the bitter clingers. They structure their lives in complete isolation from under classes of their own precincts. They are willing to patonize them, and sink them in welfare dependency, but not to empower them to improve their own condition. There is no more pathological class relationship in the world than the US elite and the racial under classes.

  • free_agent

    One possible explanation for this pattern is the pattern of inequality in current society. There has been a loss of pay in mid-middle class jobs, a rise in the number (and somewhat in the pay) of low-end in-person service jobs, and a sharp rise in pay at the upper end of the middle class grading into an extremely sharp rise in pay at the very upper end. The result is that if you’re below the economic median, your income doesn’t depend a great deal on your percentile ranking, and so there’s not much incentive to improve yourself, and not much disincentive to debauchery. On the other hand, if you’re above the median, there are strong incentives to sobriety and hard work, and as you get toward the top end, the incentives to claw yourself up another percentile in the rankings amount to millions of dollars over a working lifetime.

    As for reaching out to the poor, I don’t expect much success at that until the next “system of mass prosperity” gets rolling — there’s nothing for the upper classes to offer until then.

  • Boritz

    “We’re from the upper crust and We’re here to help you.” is only the second worst offer you could get.

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