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Wednesday 20 April 2011

The Aspirational Mousetrap

People make political and economic choices, so it’s told, substantially through self interest, hence the idea that the well-off vote Tory and those less so choose Labour. And this is supposedly true for the USA, except that the near 50% that choose the GOP are not universally well off, maybe even more so than the 35% of voters who chose Young Dave’s jolly good chaps in last year’s General Election.

Why many of those voters choose a party that is more inclined to back rich against poor, strong against weak, and establishment against change, is not that they are part of that comfortably off and strongly entrenched select body, but aspire so to be. So there is no shortage of stories telling that the 50p tax rate is A Very Bad Thing, Inheritance Tax is coming to get ordinary families, and private schools must keep their charitable status.

Thus the illusion is maintained: everyone can become a Premier League footballer (or footballer’s wife), or they can make their fortune in The City, or they can build a business through sheer drive and commitment, or they can be an inventor, or they can become a media personality, or they can otherwise break through and disprove the myth of glass ceilings. Or they can win the Lottery.

And so the 99.9% of the electorate who will never achieve any of these goals – no matter how diligent their toil – are kept believing that the finger may someday emerge from the cloud and point to them. Moreover, enough of that 99.9% are sufficiently convinced that they will support politicians who would not otherwise give them the time of day.

This is particularly true in the USA, where previously hard won benefits – like collective bargaining, Medicare and Medicaid – are under attack from the right, cheered on by the "Tea Partiers", themselves egged on by the same kind of Astroturf lobby groups as the so-called Taxpayer’s Alliance in the UK, at present engaged in a campaign of routine mean spiritedness against the least well off, dressed up in a cover called “freedom”, “simplicity” and no doubt “choice”.

This apparent paradox was addressed yesterday by former Countdown host Keith Olbermann – who, unlike the customary right wing characterisation, has not gone away – in a “first guess” segment. The conclusion, that those aspirational mice believe that someday they will become cats, is as true today in the UK as in the USA, as is the sad fact that those mice cannot, or will not, admit that mice is what they are, and will always be.

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