Michael Gove, class warrior

Much is (rightly) being made of a revealing column Michael Gove wrote in his op-ed days arguing in favour of higher tuition fees. What has attracted most attention is his statement that:

anyone put off from attending a good university by fear of [a £21,000] debt doesn’t deserve to be at any university in the first place.

However, of far more importance in helping understand the mentality of those now running our country is this observation a couple of paragraphs later:

Those of us who are net contributors to the State, graduates or not, are getting a terrible deal for our money. We could guarantee far superior healthcare and schooling for our families if only the Government gave us back the money which it confiscates from us in taxes and then spends on the schools and hospitals which it runs so badly.

This shows a far more radically right-wing mindset than the present government is prepared to own up to publicly, but which surely informs many of its actions.

First, the mentality of being the “us” who are “net contributors” to the State, versus (by implication) the “them” whom “we” are “subsidising”.

Second, the view that taxation to fund public services is “confiscation” from those “net contributors”.

Third, the clear desire for the “far superior healthcare and schooling” which “we” could guarantee for “our” families if the government gave that money back and let “us” spend it ourselves – no mention of what implications this might have for “them”. But then, if “they” are afraid of a little debt, then they don’t deserve an education anyway, do “they”?

This is naked class-war politics. So much for “we’re all in this together”.


11 thoughts on “Michael Gove, class warrior”

  1. I don’t see the class-war politics, because I don’t see the classes. I see a Marxist interpreting something through the class-war hermeneutic because it’s about the only tool he has. Seems to me what he’s saying is that people who can’t make a rational calculation don’t belong in a university. Maybe that’s “class warfare” to you, but in that case, reality itself is engaged in naked class warfare, since not all people are exactly alike.

    1. How about “the class of those who are (or who at least regard themselves as being) ‘net contributors’ to the state”?

      As for the “rational calculation”: I’m not convinced this is a calculation that Christians are permitted to make. It seems to amount to saying “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money”. You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes, not someone who can make life decisions on the presumption that you will enjoy a long and highly-remunerated life.

      Oh, and as I’ve said before: I’m not a Marxist, I just play one on TV.

      1. That’s not a “class,” at least not in the Marxian sense, as membership in it is far too transient. You may as well call children a “class,” or people who are currently getting haircuts a “class.” (What *is* class warfare is castigating “the rich” and insisting they should pay ever-more taxes because they are morally undeserving.)

        Of course, that’s not to say the group of people doesn’t exist. Of course it exists, or the state would run out of wealth to redistribute or deploy in very short order. The basic laws of mathematics say that there have to exist people whose contribution in taxes exceeds the value of the services they receive back from the state.

        As for the rational calculation, I don’t think you really believe that. Christians should make *no* decisions whatsoever based on an expectation of what will happen in the future? That would make it immoral to spend only part of my paycheck based on the assumption that I’ll pay bills at the end of the month and still be living here next month.

      2. Josh: to clarify my point about the “rational calculation”, of course I’m not saying Christians shouldn’t make decisions based on their best-guess assessment of the future. For example, it’s rational to decide to set aside some money now towards a pension when you’re older, even if you can’t know for sure you’ll still be alive to collect it.

        However, to start weighing up the £30,000 to £50,000 a university education will cost you against the £400,000 additional lifetime earnings you can supposedly expect as a result seems to me to go a step beyond that.

        It reminds me of those surveys the newspapers like to publish every year or so about how raising a child costs £280,000 by the time their 18 or whatever. What normal person thinks like that?

        (Edit: it also strikes me, in passing, that quite apart from failing to take into account living costs – in his world, mummy and daddy cover those – Gove’s “rational calculation” also fails to take into account the “opportunity cost” of spending three years studying rather than earning an income. All this makes the “no-brainer” 20-fold return of his calculation look like a rather more meagre – what? – 5, 6, 7-fold gain, maybe?)

      3. Well, I am not arguing for myself. I think you’re unfairly representing Gove’s argument as being based in class discrimination, but that doesn’t mean I agree with him. Where I disagree with him is more along the lines of what you just said–each person’s decision-making takes into account a wide array of things, such as the years spent in school, the risk of not finding a job in the profession you learned in college, the opportunity cost of spending a chunk of your salary on debt repayment instead of saving or consumption, etc. Valuation must ultimately be done subjectively, which is why some simple cash balance like Gove attempts to do (and a statistical one at that, as though everyone is guaranteed the average) doesn’t separate the rational people from the foolish people.

      4. What I might say to Gove, actually, is that if the marketplace decides a college education isn’t worth the current asking price, then universities had better find a way to reduce their costs so they can cut prices and give the market what it wants if they don’t want to face declining enrollment and declining salaries for administrators.

  2. I’m also curious about your theory that taxes aren’t compulsory. You’ve alluded to this before, but you’ve never explained it. I thought that in the UK, people who don’t pay their taxes get hauled off to jail by the police. Are things different there?

    1. Where have I ever said that taxes aren’t compulsory? The statement I picked up on was Gove’s description of tax as confiscation: a word that carries clear connotations of an illegitimate seizure by force.

      Believe me, it’s possible to pay quite large amounts of money each year in tax without feeling that one is having it “confiscated” by an incompetent and coercive state, and without one’s motivation being the fear that if one doesn’t the police will come and kick the door down. I’m not saying I enjoy paying taxes or try to pay more than I have to, but I don’t burn up with resentment at paying what I do: it’s the admission price for living in a civilised society.

      Incidentally: yesterday the public sector educated my children, including involving them in a very enjoyable nativity production, and provided patient and attentive medical care to one of them (nothing serious, btw), having gritted the roads it had previously provided in order that my wife could make the necessary journeys to achieve this. Meanwhile, the private sector failed to turn up with this week’s shopping despite us waiting up till nearly 11pm.

      1. “Confiscation” doesn’t imply illegitimacy, but it does imply force. Over here, that nativity would have won your son’s school a nice little lawsuit, which they would have lost.

        That the public sector accomplishes something via bureaucratic management and taxation doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be more efficient if it were done via profit management and exchange. Nor does “this worked today” mean “this is financially sustainable” (e.g., your NHS), and a single example of a business not delivering doesn’t mean much–what percentage of promises do your politicians deliver on? In the USA, it’s very low. But unlike a bureaucracy, which gets rewarded for consistent failure with an expansion of power, a business that fails too often eventually must close its doors.

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