Tom Paine on Poverty and Privilege

David Davis

We all know the answers to what socialism proposes as the wrong question.

After less than two years back in Britain I am bored of the first world problems of this plump and pampered land. I am particularly tired, for example, of the overused word “privilege”. To me, the great enemy of mankind is not privilege but poverty. Those of us who are not poor represent a problem solved. The question is how to increase the wealth of those who still are. As a purely economic issue, that’s a question long since answered.

History shows us that free markets cure poverty fastest. History also shows us that socialism increases poverty. Ask the millions of people in the former Soviet Bloc. It is a stupid, nasty, hateful doctrine; the moral equivalent of deliberately infecting the healthy with disease in order to reduce health inequality.

Socialism’s obsession with material goods ignores the fact that the ability to accumulate wealth, important though it is as an engine of economic development, is not that big a deal at a personal level. Faced with my late wife’s cancer, our life’s savings could ultimately only buy her more comfortable surroundings in which to die. Material rewards for a life of hard work are all very well, but any sane person knows that true happiness comes from things that have little or nothing to do with money; health, culture, education. recreation and family.

There’s a wonderful passage in one of Billy Connolly’s shows where he talks of a man at a dinner party who, asked what he did, said “I am a tobogganist”. Connolly has much fun imagining what his Glaswegian working class father would have said if he had told him that’s what he wanted to be. I have recently been reading about the famous photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank. Both came from rich families. Both walked away confidently from their material comforts (although Frank occasionally took money from his parents to help him along) in order to embark on artistic careers. Their equivalent, if you like, of tobogganing.

The confidence, perhaps even arrogance, of such people about the importance of their life choices derives from the fact that, unlike Billy Connolly (and most working-class children) they have no practical-minded parents telling them, with their best interests at heart, to “get a real job” The confidence, or indulgence, of their parents is helped by money, of course. If you can’t support your child for ever, you are understandably more anxious to see him support himself. But their “privilege” was more complicated than that. Their parents did not laugh at them when they aspired to be “tobogganists”. Rather, they expected of them, if that’s what they were going to do, that they should head for the highest Alp. That expectation is the true nature of privilege.

Yes, it’s easier with money but it’s also possible without. Chinese children do not do best in Britain’s schools because Chinese parents are, on average, richer. They do better because their parents, on average, value education more highly and expect more effort. A “tiger mother” may not feel like a privilege when you are under her care and control, but she is worth more than all the money in the world. Any parent, rich or poor, educated or not, can be a good parent – with better effect on their child’s ultimate happiness (and, incidentally, the nation’s prosperity) than any redistribution of wealth.

I remember two long-lost school friends in my scruffy home town up North. Their father was a dustman devoid of all aspiration. Their mother, however, had a dream. Both arrived at infants school able to read because she had pushed them around town in their prams teaching them to do so from the road signs. Unashamedly eccentric herself, she empowered them to be different from their contemporaries and not to give a damn about the relentless peer pressure to be stupid at our bog-standard comprehensive school.

She wasn’t Chinese. She was from the white working class; now the second-worst performing ethnic group in Britain’s schools. She did nothing any parent, grand-parent or aunt – rich or poor – could not do. I wish all the whingeing envy-ridden half-wits banging on about “privilege” would shut up and be like that scruffy, oddball, utterly splendid mother. She refused to be defined by her circumstances. So – if we have any dignity – should we all.

If you have economically under-privileged kids, if you teach them, are related to them or even just have them as neighbours don’t tell them they are doomed. Don’t encourage them to hatred and envy. Encourage them to dream of “tobogganing” and lend them the occasional book. Let them see you reading for pleasure (pretend if you have to) so they think of it as normal. Then they will be privileged kids too.

6 responses to “Tom Paine on Poverty and Privilege

  1. Fantastic article.

    Leicester deputy city mayor Rory Palmer said paying council staff at least £7.45 per hour—who already get lots of perks—is: “Morally….the right thing to do.” It is so easy to be generous with other people’s money. Yet new rules state that Jobseekers have to now accept jobs that pay the minimum wage of £6.19.

    Local government pension contributions account for one-quarter of monies received as council tax. New official figures show just 26 per cent of private sector staff saving into workplace pensions pay into a gold-plated final salary scheme – compared to a huge 91 per cent in the public sector. For low-paid private sector staff, any pension scheme is almost non-existent.

    Despite low earnings and rampant poverty in the city, it was also announced this week that Leicester City Council is amongst the top three councils in the whole of the UK who pay staff more than £50,000, with 459 people earning more than this figure.

    It seems that privilege depends on whether you work in the public sector.

  2. A libertarian Revolution would have to begin by abolishing, within seconds ideally, nearly all of “Public Sector Employment” – which as a phrase in itself is a tautology.

    The “cuts” have so far not extended to layers and layers of bureaucrats who prodice and provide nothing whatever: only to “services”, to make the populace think that “cuts” are evil and Tory: everyone know knows that Tories steal milk from babies in the night.

  3. The bureaucratic quanos in England have become like medievil castles, where a minority help themselves to everything, it ironic, just last week the government awarded themselves yet another £38.000 on their long term pensions, when those who ork in the private sector have lost over £70,000 due to pension changes, the state sector is sick, it is legalised injustice and and legal theft, by a minoirty, many are living, like Nero, taking the P at the British public, of course you are right about the tories, they would steal the bread from a dead mans stomach, of course the bureaucrats have never had it so good doing dirty illegal deeds on behalf of the government to secure cuts,they are effectively the mercenaries who do the dirty work, in return for jobs for life and a golden stolen pension, pot, I love the way they are cutting benefits, putting notices on the wall violence or agressive behaviour will not be toerlated, and then subjecting people to maladministration of law on traveling costs, or emergency payments, when the victims become angry ,In my opinion, quite rightly,they have
    them removed from the building, or get the police, we have people ending up in court here now, getting criminal records, on account of the DWP not paying people what they are allowed by law, and those sickly robed criminals at the Norwich Court putting them on trial, they. when it comes to the law, why are they at the DWP witholding something the law clearly states people are entitled to, we need to get rid of the justice system, it is a system of “Terror” against victims of state injustice, they are now resorting to making money out of people who are stuck in the most diabolic conditions of poverty, I hope if britain ever has a revolution, they are delt with by disposal, they are a gisgusting group of sickly inbred people, who intimidate anyone who stands up to them.

  4. Of course, just look at the freedom of information act this moring, judges
    enjoying free country retreat lush up’s with Mr jack straw at a cost to the
    tax payer od nearly £700,000, that’s good Mr Straw I like your letters when
    you were Home Secretary, in which you claimed you had no power to
    intervene in the case of illegally detained IRA suspects, pull the other one
    it got bells on it.

  5. Julie near Chicago

    David, what a delightful piece! And absolutely true, of course.

    The metaphor of infecting the healthy purposely so as to effect “equality of health” is excellent. As is Socialism’s “obsession with material goods”–although I think that’s only part of the famous unfairness of life in general that drives the Left impulse. Correcting that little flaw in Reality is what they claim as their objective and I think that correction is what they’re really aiming at with the “social justice” theme. It’s just that equality of money/wealth/property/living-circumstances makes so much easier a target to aim for than equality of, say, talent.

    But again, beyond that, it’s just plain an enjoyable posting. Thanks.

  6. It would be a good idear to abolish all state jobs, I’d vote for that simply
    on the basis of their power drunk totaliterian ideologies, “Great”. We could
    sack all the judges and the rest of the ginks, who inflict injustice.Would we be
    allowed to publically flog them as well. Or is that going a bit to far.