IDS gets that responsibility runs from bottom to top – why doesn’t the schools minister

Alex Hern asks whether Nick Gibb's focus on "got to have it now" culture wrongly focuses on celebrity over city greed.


The schools minister Nick Gibb yesterday attacked Britain’s “got to have it now” culture, arguing that it creates unrealistic expectations of wealth in young people.

Speaking in the Commons, Gibb said (pdf):

“The “Got to have it now” culture means that young people have high aspirations for branded or designer goods, often without the means to pay for them. They have unrealistic expectations about the lifestyle that they can afford, which are fuelled by the glittering trappings of celebrity.

“We all have a job to do in moving young people’s aspirations away from that empty and often destructive perception of what success means.”

While the level of private debt in the country certainly is concerning – and Martin Lewis’ campaign for financial education in schools, which Gibb was speaking on, should be encouraged – he appears to be ignoring the elephant in the room.

The condemnation of a lifestyle aimed at emulating “the glittering trappings of celebrity” ignores the fact that there is a tiny, lauded section of society that earns far more than all but the most successful of celebrities. Just as the vast majority of people won’t make millions as singers or footballers, so too will the vast majority, no matter how hard they work, never be paid the millions that CEOs are.

The link is more than just people emulating lifestyles they can’t afford, however.

The high pay commission report (pdf) states:

The former chief economist at the IMF, Raghuram Rajan, has argued that high levels of inequality contributed to the financial crisis.

Rajan, in his recent book Fault Lines, demonstrates that high levels of wage inflation at the top and wage stagnation for the rest of the population led to a growth in easy credit.

As the rich got richer and average wages stagnated governments could not simply stand by as the poor and unskilled fell farther behind.

Ian Duncan Smith came close to an understanding of the problem in his discussion of the causes of the riots. Although also focusing on celebrity culture, the Guardian reports that:

He claimed the fantastic rewards given to bankers who then went squealing to government for protection had added to the sense in some communities that there was “a rule for one, and not for the other”.

This problem doesn’t look set to go away, either. The high pay commission predicts that by 2035, the top 0.1 per cent of earners will hold 14 per cent of the national income, equivalent to the levels of inequality seen in Victorian England:

There seems to be a growing belief in the government that this “X-factor culture” is to blame for many of the ills of society. If this is defined to include celebrity greed but not city greed, then only half the issue will be dealt with. In this issue at least, we need more IDS’ and fewer Nick Gibbs.

See also:

Unless pay gaps are reduced, we’ll end up with Victorian levels of inequalityShamik Das, November 22nd 2011

What does responsibility actually mean to those at the top?Zoe Gannon, June 14th 2011

Will the government drop bankers’ pay legislation?Zoe Gannon, November 16th 2010

Public unaware of just how much those at the very top are paidZoe Gannon, November 9th 2010

Ed Miliband: greater income equality should be an “explicit goal”Will Straw, July 8th 2010

GLA leads the way on pay ratiosMalcolm Clark, June 17th 2010

David Miliband backs High Pay CommissionWill Straw, June 15th 2010

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.