Christmas Eve, watching The Muppet Christmas Carol, my favourite Christmas film, I am reminded of parallel’s to the recent major BBC show Ian Hislop: When Bankers Were Good. While some have emphasised a need to return to Victorian Values, is this a good thing?
Hislop noted the good work of people such as Samuel Gurney, Elizabeth Fry and Angela Burdett-Coutts, Bankers, Industrialists and the Landed Gentry who took it upon themselves to donate their money to charity and improve conditions for the poor working classes.
The Muppet’s, and Charles Dickens, note the selfishness, greed and cruelty of certain Victorians, embodied by the excellent Ebeneezer Scrooge.
Essentially, Hislop’s show was an endorsement of pervasive religion. Most of these people were dedicated Christians, often Quakers, who feared that the effect of money was a corrosive to the soul.
Is this a good value for our bankers to return to?
Perhaps, but I would rather it didn’t come from a religious stand-point. I could also argue that often, morality that derives from religion is in many ways selfish – it is motivated not by a true desire to help God’s children, but by fear of a rich man not being able to pass through the eye of a needle. Or whatever the metaphor is.
But my thoughts apart, would it be good to return to Victorian Values in today’s economic climate?
I fear not. For while it is true that workhouses were there to provide a home and work for the poverty-stricken and unemployed – why were conditions so notoriously bad, why was their funding so poor, why… just why. Victorian Values may have included incredible charitable works, but these were never enough. Class immobility was chronic – someone’s birth determined their life, and ultimately their death. Whether in a mansion or the poorhouse. When examples of the “self-made man” are touted, even today, as examples of class mobility, the very fact of their notability is evidence of class immobility. They are, truly, the exceptions that prove the rule. When someone breaks class boundaries, escapes their birth, and “makes good”, they show us by their rarity how difficult it is, and how impossible for most.
Randomly listening to businessmen, as if they are unsullied by self interest, and are concerned solely what is in the interests of business, not of businessmen, is foolish. At least, it is foolish to take them in higher regard than economists, academics, charities, lobbying groups (they are not necessarily negative), and others. We must have balanced discussion on issues of the economy, and not be biased towards “job creators”, or rather “money makers”.
We cannot depend on philanthropy – what if Burdett-Coutts had decided one year not to finance her philanthropic ventures? What if George Peabody had decided to evict his poorest tennants on a whim? This is why the government exist – to provide stability, a stable provider of the basic social provisions necessary in society.
There is a long post to be written on the nature of Social Liberalism, and the basics of the social contract we all sign with the state at birth being a justification for the morality of taxes, and indeed their necessity. But that’s not very Christmassy. So, I will finish with The Spineless Liberal’s Christmas message to you.
It is doubtless than a shift in values would be of benefit to society – a shift away from Thatcher/Reagan-era “Greed is Good” business and politics to a more charitable concept, a responsibility of one person towards another, an acknowledgement of the basic joins in society, the intrinsic ties between all people on this planet.
Perhaps it is Brian Cox, strangely enough, that made this point best. Recently, his show A Night With The Stars, describing quantum physics to a galaxy of British stars, taught me something wonderful. Due to Pauli’s Exclusion Principle, no two electrons can exist in exactly the same state. Merely by rubbing a diamond, Cox changed the vibration of all the electrons within. That necessitated every single other electron in the universe to alter. We are all connected, on the most basic sub-atomic level. Globalisation has made every world economy interconnected. The actions of one person are never in isolation. We are all connected to each other. It is time we took responsibility for one another. Bankers and Unemployed alike.