There are two queries that have been put to me regarding the health of those ‘greedy bastards’ that feature in my greedy bastards hypothesis (GBH). The first was posed back in the early ‘noughties’. ‘Is your argument’, my interrogator enquired, ‘that the greedy bastards live longer than the rest of us?’ It made me question the clarity of my writing. ‘No’ I replied through gritted teeth. The second much more recent and pertinent question was: ‘How do the greedy bastards fare in terms of asset flows?’ I admitted that I did not know the answer to this query, which as far as I know has yet to be addressed empirically. This blog, in its way another clarificatory note on the GBH, has set me hypothesizing.
For neophytes, the GBH asserts that health inequalities in Britain are in large part a by-product of the strategic behaviours of an increasingly transnational (even ‘nomadic’, in Bauman’s sense) hard core or cabal within its capitalist executive (CCE). Members of this CCE buy influence, not least over policy, from the state’s power elite (PE). Together, the CCE and the PE constitute what I have called Britain’s governing oligarchy (GO) (thus: CCE + PE = GO). It is the influence that accumulated capital purchases – resulting directly or indirectly in the decimation of unions, job insecurity, low wages, zero hours contracts, outsourcing, shortage of public housing, private rent hikes and so on – that strangles those asset flows known to be crucial for health and longevity across a substantial segment of the population. Most vulnerable are those in the working class in general and those in its ‘displaced segment’ (eg under-employed, unemployed, unable to work) in particular. Expressed sociologically, class relations, epitomized in the CCE, drive material, social and, more circuitously, health inequalities by exercising substantive influence over the command relations of the state, epitomized in the PE. A precondition of tackling health inequalities in Britain is therefore the deconstruction of its GO.
A further remark or two about the greedy bastards comprising the CCE are in order. First, a brief justification of a technical term that dates back to the late 1990s. If the word ‘greed’ has any referents at all, it must apply to the city banksters before, during and after the financial crash of 2008-9. Well beyond these parasites, however, it is difficult to see how any rentier, CEO or common financier can be said to ‘earn’ in excess of 10 let alone 100 times the average wage. To stash away such sums while donating to or even serving in a political party preaching austerity for the masses (‘skivers’, ‘losers’, ‘chavs’) is to court disgust and worse. As Cameron once remarked before the 2010 election, for people in a wealthy country like Britain to have to rely of food handouts is a disgrace. But if it is one thing to grab as much food from the table as possible, a habit now running through the entirety of the GO, it is another to do so knowing that other people’s children are permanently hungry. The bastards! So there we are.
Second, it cannot be overstressed that for all the iniquities of this bunch, it was and remains the deep and enduring structures they surf and the cultures and ideologies they shape and promote that matter for the GBH. There are no irreplaceable members of the CCE, PE or GO.
Third, as I have recently penned a trio of tongue-in-cheek blogs on ‘Scambler’s classification of social class’ (see www.grahamscambler/blogs), it is appropriate to offer a paragraph or so here on the CCE. It is a CCE that is missing, or absent, from rival contemporary class/socio-economic classifications (witness the RG and its replacement NS-SEC, as well as the notoriously confused and confusing GBCS).
(In passing, I‘ve just done a spell check and been advised to change my name to ‘Scrambler’. I think Scrambler has almost as many citations as I have.)
I will not reproduce my class schema here, but rather indicate how it accommodates the CCE and the cross-class allies required to cement its dominance. I divided the capitalist executive – a mere 1% of the population – into three classes: (1) capitalist monopolists (the CCE); (2) capitalist auxiliaries (a soft core of heavy capital-owners who are ‘non-players’); and (3) capital ‘sleepers’ (insider higher management, light capital-owners who support ‘players’). ‘Players’ are major actors: the CCE, I infer, comprises no more than 0.1% of the population. A number of wealthy politicians, bureaucrats and celebrities whose capital fuels exorbitant lifestyles and/or family or philanthropic commitments tend to be capitalist auxiliaries.
The CCE (+ PE/GO) cannot function without the ‘co-option’ of significant but small numbers of people from other classes, a fact that also informs my non-patented classification, which has 15 discrete groupings).
There is a fourth and final remark and then I can get down to business. In a family of publications I proffered an ideal type of members of the CCE as focused autonomous reflexives (see especially the reference below). I put forward six characteristics: (a) total commitment (to the accumulation of capital); (b) Nietzshean instinct (ruthless Hobbesian need to vanquish rivals); (c) fundamentalist ideology (standpoint ideology admitting of no compromise); (d) cognitive insurance (‘psychopathic’ immunity from being labelled as greedy bastards); (e) tunnel vision (sidelining of extra-CCE matters); and (f) lifeworld detachment (delegation of life-support to significant others).
Given this ideal typical analysis, how might it be extended – once again, ideal typically – to embrace asset flows? Well, what are asset flows?
(There is an issue here, admittedly less salient for blogs than for publications: at what point does ‘setting the scene’ for readers it would be vain to presume are acquainted with one’s work transmute into self-plagiarism?)
I will simply list asset flows that I have defined on the basis of assorted but convincing empirical clues as health/life-enhancing: (a) biological, (b) psychological, (c) social, (d) cultural, (e) spatial, (f) symbolic, and (g) material.
In the absence of any telling data, how might we hypothesize the strength of flows across these assets in relation to the CCE? By definition the strength of flow of material assets, which I have elsewhere designated paramount for health, is exceptionally – even obscenely – strong (after all, they are ‘successful’ greedy bastards). Strong flows of material assets typically translate into equivalently strong flows of spatial assets. That should be positive news for the CCE. It is reasonable to hypothesize moreover that the psychological asset flow, denoting personal resilience, tends to run forcefully: as much seems to sit comfortably with focused autonomous reflexivity. The remaining flows present more of a challenge. I would hazard an informed guess that material assets secure a stronger, if not yet commanding, cultural asset flow in a financial capitalism than hitherto. Today’s postmodern or cultural relativity pays less attention to how wealth is gained than was the case in previous phases of capitalism in which possessors of ‘new’ as opposed to ‘old’ capital were tainted by enacted and felt stigma.
As far as the flows of biological, social and symbolic assets are concerned, there may be another story to tell. Not all biological assets are inherited: some, perhaps most, are companions of early childhood and have voices of their own that cannot be denied. It is intrinsic to the very traits that ‘pay off’ in terms of material and its derivative asset flows that the flow of social assets might be threatened. Who are members of the CCE’s friends? Indeed, to what extent are these ultra-competitive, Machiavellian actors capable of satisfying the commonly accepted norms of friendship? It is tough for focused autonomous reflexives to resist using people when they can and abusing them when they cannot. What of symbolic assets? If wealth can buy cultural assets, why not symbolic assets? Here Marmot’s Status Syndrome is pertinent. A multimillionaire financier can define himself (so rarely herself) as a failure relative to his (or her) reference group. In summary, the capital monopolists of the CCE can be born with a health debt, take hits through childhood, lack truly supportive partnerships and social, confidential and trustworthy – as opposed to instrumental/business – networks, and see themselves as failures because their annual bonuses are inferior to those of their peers.
How might all this pan out? Well, there are pluses and minuses. Asset flows tend to cluster, but a couple of sufficiently weak flows can annul several stronger ones. What the CCE wins on the roundabouts it may well lose on the swings. All this is of course eminently researchable, quite likely without collecting new data.
Scambler,G (2012) Archer, morphogenesis and the role of agency in the sociology of health inequalities. In Ed Scambler,G: Contemporary Theorists for Medical Sociology. London; Routledge.