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Anywheres and Somewheres

The main fault line in contemporary society is not between right and left, or capitalists and socialists. Rather, argues David Goodhart in The Road to Somewhere: The New Tribes Shaping British Politics, it is "between the people who see the world from Anywhere and the people who see it from Somewhere."

Anywheres (about 25% of the UK today) dominate British culture and society. They pass exams, do well at school, go on to a residential university, work in a major city at some stage, marry late, and comprise almost all of the political, journalistic, corporate and artistic elites. They (we?) have identities which are “portable” and “achieved,” and pride themselves on being tolerant, meritocratic, egalitarian, autonomous, open to change, internationalist and individualist. Ironically, though they almost all voted Remain, they are actually the ones who “leave” their place of origin and move somewhere else.

Somewheres (about 50% of the UK today) “are more rooted and usually have ‘ascribed’ identities—Scottish farmer, working class Geordie, Cornish housewife—based on group belonging and particular places.” (60% of British people live within twenty miles of where they lived when they were fourteen.) This, rather than education or class, is what joins them together; they earn, live, work and vote in widely differing ways, but they are typically more local in outlook, communitarian, stable, patriotic, traditional, mindful of security and tied to specific places. Many (though by no means all) of them voted Leave, but by and large they are the ones who “remain.” They also have larger families, and give more to charity.

Broad brushstrokes, for sure, and Goodhart admits as much. Everyone contains elements of each, which means that occasionally we will all find ourselves united by a common identity (as in the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony). Both groups have an extreme subset: a handful of Somewheres (5-7% of the population) are Hard Authoritarians, and a handful of Anywheres (5%) are Global Villagers. As people get older, they often move between the two (usually from Anywhere to Somewhere). Then there are the Inbetweeners (25%), who are either both or neither, depending on the issue. That said, Goodhart argues, the categories are backed by a striking variety of empirical data—from whether you agree that “young people do not show enough respect for traditional British values” to how far away you live from your mother—and have substantial explanatory power when it comes to a whole host of contemporary issues, of which Brexit is merely the most obvious.

At the risk of bastardising a nuanced and often brilliant* book—but then, what else is this blog for?—here are some of the key insights that leaped out at me.

1. The Elephant Curve. You may have already seen this extraordinary graphic on global income growth, which is pictured above, but if not: most people in the world got substantially richer between 1988 and 2008, either because they are part of the emerging middle class in the developing world (percentiles 5-75), or because they are part of the global elite (95+). But two groups did not get richer at all, and may even have got poorer: the very poor, locked out of development because they have so little to start with (0-5), and those on lower or middling incomes in rich countries (75-90). This is not just economically but politically significant, especially when combined with #2.

2. The Decline of Male Employment. Lower income men in the last two generations have faced a triple-whammy: i) the dramatic increase of women in the workforce, competing for jobs that would historically have been all-male, ii) the continued rise of automation in manufacturing and, more recently, in services (automatic checkout, driverless cars, etc), and iii) globalisation, in which the competitive advantage will usually go to the country that pays the lowest wages. This is not only politically important; it also has crucial pastoral implications, as we discussed on a recent Mere Fidelity episode with Diane Schanzenbach:

3. The Dignity of Work. For most Anywheres, work is fulfilling because it gives a good income and an opportunity to realise one’s individual talents. But for many Somewheres, this misses a vital component of the value of work, namely that “it is also about feeling valued and respected through working on behalf of others, particularly one’s family, and through making a public contribution.” Consequently, initiatives to dramatically increase attendance at universities (which dramatically decrease manual skills training) seem logical to Anywheres, who typically make the decisions, but create a “wild mismatch between career expectations and the grim reality of actual job opportunities for those not on track to good universities … A concern of most Somewheres is how to retain dignity and honour in the mundane and middling while living in a world in which status, as well as wealth, is so unevenly distributed.”

4. Somewheres and the Family. Goodhart reiterates the point made by Putnam, Murray and others about the family: high status (and income) Anywheres “talk blue, but live red,” while lower status (and income) Somewheres “talk red, but live blue.” (Put differently, Anywheres insist that all family forms are equally valid for raising children, but in practice they generally prefer two married parents who stay together and have a small number of kids; for many Somewheres, the reverse is true. The rhetoric is different from the reality, on both sides.) This accentuates #1 and #2, because when lower income men do not have children at home, they are less likely to work, which makes them less marriageable, and so on. “Most of these depressing statistics apply in particular to working class whites who more than any other group have lost their place in society and have no encouraging narrative of advance, unlike young women and ethnic minorities.”

5. Debunking Globalist Myths. Some of Goodhart’s best work occurs in exposing the falsity of many widespread claims about globalisation. The world is not experiencing unprecedented migration flows. Only 3.3% of the world live outside the country they were born in. Thomas Friedman’s bestseller The World is Flat is almost entirely wrong. The nation state is not powerless in the face of global markets, as we realised during the financial crash (as Mervyn King put it, the banks were “global in life and national in death”). Many things that you might think were international are overwhelmingly national, including stock market equity (80%), Internet traffic (83%) and Facebook friends (85%+), let alone telephone minutes (98%) and mail (99%). Much of the globalisation narrative, he argues, is simply “globaloney.”

6. Debunking Londonist Myths. Londoners have great PR, and we pride ourselves on being open, tolerant, inclusive, rich, aspirational, creative, happy and successful. The statistical reality, however, is somewhat different. London has the highest levels of anxiety and the lowest levels of life satisfaction of any region in the UK. It loses population in every age group except 20-29. Only 13% of Londoners trust their neighbours. Four of its boroughs are among the twenty most deprived in England, 27% of its citizens are classified poor, and since 2009, pay for the lowest decile has fallen by nearly a quarter. More of us say we don’t find our work fulfilling than in any other region (41%). Astonishingly (at least to me), London is also the city in which the highest percentage of white British people say they are uncomfortable with the proportion of ethnic minority people in their neighbourhood. And of course 40% of Londoners voted Leave. There are more Somewheres here than I realised.

7. The Persistence of National Particularism. It is one thing to say that all human beings are equally valuable; it is quite another to say that we have identical obligations to all human beings, regardless of proximity or nationality. For some more extreme Anywheres, the existence of national borders is tantamount to racism, since it necessarily discriminates in favour of those individuals who happen to have been born in your country. But this argument proves far too much; “if the nation state is an illegitimate expression of bigotry, like racism, then the legitimacy of democracy and the welfare state, which today exist only in national forms, is also thrown into doubt.” As such, moral particularism persists. “All humans are equal but they are not all equally important to us” (emphasis added).

Goodhart finishes with some policy proposals, ranging from transport investment (HS3 rather than HS2), to compulsory voting, to ID cards, to more investment in technical education and apprenticeships and less in subsidising rich kids (like me) going to university. But the heart of his book is less about policy than it is about attitude: Remainer-Anywheres should listen to, seek to understand, and show respect for, the concerns of Leaver-Somewheres, even where they (we!) may disagree on the best responses. From where we stand in 2019, it would appear that Somewheres are not going Anywhere.

You can get The Road to Somewhere here.

*Although given that he is the editor of Prospect magazine, someone really ought to teach Goodhart how to use a semicolon.

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