Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Your humble Devil has a letter in the Evening Standard today [not online].
Anthony Hilton interestingly compares the social inequalities generated by the City's current boom and that of the Victorian age, but misses a fundamental point: in the 19th century there was no welfare state.

While some Victorians invested only in fine living, a great many used their assets to finance orphanages, schools and hospitals, returning their wealth to the communities that helped enrich them in the first place.

The resentment felt by those of us on relatively modest incomes is not that bankers earn so much, but that their millions appear to be selfishly hoarded. Because people have abdicated all sense of social responsibility to the state, today's multimillionaires feel no obligation to help those who most need it.

It is admirable David Cameron should be talking about fulfilling a duty to society and seeking to reinvolve charities to achieve this. But if we are to persuade today's young bankers to emulate Victorian philanthropists, the state must take several steps back and allow people to reconnect with their fellow man.

Chris Mounsey, devilskitchen.me.uk

They've edited it a bit (and made it, frankly, a bit less prolix and a bit more hippy sounding), but the point is an important one, I think.

The fact is that these wealthy bankers can do whatever they like with their cash, and the government should certainly not be talking about imposing pay caps on private fucking companies, if only because the government's system of pay schemes is not exactly a blueprint for success, is it?

But it is nevertheless true that all of those things that are now serviced by the state are things that were, once, done through the philanthropy of the very wealthy.


Unity said...


If that is genuinely your view of Victorian Britain then congratulations - you've provided absolute and conclusive proof that the teaching of history in Britain's schools has gone completely and irredeemably to shit.

There are certainly some elements of genuine Victoriana that are long overdue a revival - not least of which is the concept of municipalism - but the reality is that but for the obvious exceptions - Rowntree, Cadbury, et al - much of what passes today for Victorian philanthropy was driven, instead, by self-interest and a keen understanding of the consequences of unrestrained exploitation as provided by the French revolution.

Some Victorian philanthropists were indeed, motivated improve the social conditions of the poor by notions of Christian charity - rather more were motivated by a combination of profit (a well 'maintained' labour force is a productive labour force) or the threat of angry 'peasants' with pitchforks, both of which provide far greater incentives for improving social conditions than abstract notions of charity.

To give but one example, Adam Smith deserves as much, in not more, credit as Wilberforce for bringing about the end of slavery and the slave trade as it was his economic theories that demonstrated that even a poorly paid workforce is more productive and profitable than slaves.

Devil's Kitchen said...


You're right and perhaps my use of the word "philanthropy" was inappropriate.

... rather more were motivated by a combination of profit (a well 'maintained' labour force is a productive labour force) or the threat of angry 'peasants' with pitchforks, both of which provide far greater incentives for improving social conditions than abstract notions of charity.

Ah, yes; the invisible hand. You are right, society was improved by enlightened self-interest.

It's good to know that I my political and social beliefs hold water...


Roger Thornhill said...

There is an excellent post over at Raw Carrot, who seems to be disengaging from blogging (a shame) showing how in Victorian times the local facilities appeared far better and almost all via voluntary contributions.

Yes, back then some was down to ego and self-promotion. Now it still is, if not more so. The difference being back then THEY DID IT WITH THEIR OWN MONEY, NOT OURS!

Anonymous said...

Did you honestly believe that that cunt Unity would write or agree with anything positive about the heartless capitalist mill owners and the like?

Unity said...


Sorry? There's something wrong with reminding DK both of the historical realities of Victorian social reforms and that he is more than capable of advancing a much better line of argument.

Necessity - the 'invisible hand' to which DK refers - actually drove most of the socio-economic reforms of the time.

Philanthropy had is place certain, but in reality it was not the moral values of men like Rowntree, Cadbury and the Lever Brothers that influenced the business culture of the Victorian period so much as their success as businessmen, which served to vindicate Smith's economic theories.

Rowntree did not demonstrate that behaving in a socially responsible manner towards his workers was good for the soul, so much as demonstrate that it was profitable and conducive to the maintenance of good social order, and its there that the real influence of wealthy Victorian philanthropists really lies.

Enlightened self-interest, I might add, also operated on both sides of the labour equation - you're forgetting that one of the main socialist innovations of the period was the Co-operative movement, which was very much the epitome of a voluntary endeavour directed towards helping people to help themselves.

There is considerably more to socialism as a concept/doctrine than simply Marxian state socialism, something that many on the right seem to have completely forgotten.

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