VICTORIAN REDUX

Posted in Quick Hits on December 4th, 2017 by Ed

For the past few years I've noticed with great interest that the modern aristocracy's attitudes are reminiscent of – and in some cases identical to – those that prevailed among the landed aristocracy in Britain prior to the agricultural depression of the 1870s. I'm sure that's neither the only nor the best historical comparison; it just happens to be a period about which I've consumed a fair amount of information. So the links stand out.

During that age of Darwinism and formalized class distinctions, the theories about the poor that prevailed among the privileged ranged from patronizing but kind of coming from a place of good intentions to legitimately contemptuous. Malthusian social and economic theories were, shall we say, quite popular among that class of privileged people who identified the main problems with overcrowded London as 1) too many people, and 2) too many people with character flaws that kept them poor (drunkenness, licentiousness, etc.)

And more than a few people still think that way: too many people, and too many people who lack the Character and Good Breeding to avoid poverty and the loving embrace of Charity. Here's a quote from Chuck Grassley (R-IA) after the tax bill vote:

I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.

And here's Thomas Malthus from An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798):

The laboring poor, to use a vulgar expression, seem always to live from hand to mouth. Their present wants employ their whole whole attention, and they seldom think of the future. Even when they have an opportunity of saving they seldom exercise it, but all that is beyond their present necessities goes, generally speaking, to the ale house.

Can you spot the differences? Me neither.