UK an unequal, but open society?

by Dana on February 1, 2010

A new government report coming out of Britain has revealed the not-so-shocking news that over the last few decades, the country has become the most unequal since WWII.  While many lament the multitude of wealth gaps based on gender, class, and geography, and social mobility, City Journal zeros in on the race-gap.

[I]t listed the average net household wealth in Britain by religious affiliation. The figures were as follows (I convert into American dollars):

Muslim: $68,000

None: $224,000

Hindu: $337,000

Christian: $361,000

Sikh: $371,000

Jewish: $684,000

And makes the not entirely convincing argument that sounds vaguely American.

These figures conclusively demonstrate what statist social reformers have long sought to deny: that Britain, despite its obvious and pervasive class structure, has long been a very open society. The figures show that neither concentration of wealth nor prejudice—provided that they are not enforced by law or absolutely monolithic and universal, which was never the case in Britain—can prevent the ascent of a social group if it has a mind to ascend.

The idea is essentially contradictory: how can a society be considered open, if the definition of open seems still limited and greatly stratified by race?  The argument is essentially reduced to nothing but a cultural critique.

Back to the report, some interesting observations:

  • Inequality over the last 40 years is mostly attributed to gaps WITHIN social groups, rather than BETWEEN them.  Does this mean social mobility has essentially improved, or that the range of wealth within a social group has widened?
  • “Profound and startling differences” were found between areas: median hourly wages in the most deprived 10th of areas are 40% lower than in the least deprived.  In short, the north-south divide has not changed much.

How unequal is Britain?

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