From the March 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard
Do you think everyone has an equal chance of success in life? That whatever family circumstances you were born into make little or no difference to the prospect of your getting on in the world? If so, think again. Danny Dorling, a Professor of Human Geography, was interviewed in the Guardian of 8 February. Where you are born, he claims, is the main thing that determines your status, health and wealth in later life. And by the end of your first two decades, your future is mostly decided:
‘By 18 or 20 your life is largely mapped out for you. You’ll either have interesting jobs where you use your mind your whole life, or your life will be working in a servile occupation.’
In addition, inequality in Britain has increased: in 2000, the wealthiest 1 percent owned 23 percent of the wealth, compared to 18 percent in 1990.
This is all very well, and certainly Dorling’s website at http://www.worldmapper.org is worth a look. But Socialists have news for the good professor: what determines your standard of living, your control over your life, etc. is which of the two main classes you belong to. The overwhelming majority of people are members of the working class: selling their mental or physical abilities for a wage or salary (or else depending on another family member who does so). A small minority are members of the capitalist class: they own enough property, whether in the form of land or shares, so that they do not need to work for a living. The contrast between interesting jobs and servile occupations is a division within the working class. The capitalists, as millionaires and billionaires, do not have to get a job — though they often have some cushy number with a title such as Managing Director or Chair of the Board, where they make sure that the interests of shareholders in a company are being looked after properly.
These classes are not castes: it’s certainly possible for a person to move from one to another. Members of the working class do occasionally become capitalists, largely through a sizeable slice of luck. But in almost all cases, the class you are born into determines whether you will grow up as an exploiter or a wage slave. So, if ‘where you are born’ determines how your life will pan out, that has to be seen as a matter of class, not of geography.