© Ricardo Pinto, 2015, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU
There has been a lot of discussion about elitism, the Establishment, the 1%, etc., partly driven by the seminal work on wealth and income inequality by the French economist Thomas Piketty (see Capital in the Twenty-First Century). This has been exacerbated recently by the on-going discussion about David Cameron and his Oxford days, including allegations about some of the initiation rituals involved (see #piggate). This post examines elitism in Britain and Germany by analysing the people who make-up the Cabinets in both governments, as a means of establishing the extent to which they form part of elite or not.
First it is important to be clear what we are referring to when we talk about the elite or the Establishment, as illustrated in the box below.
1. The choice or best of anything considered collectively, as of a group or class of persons.
2. Persons of the highest class: only the elite were there.
3. A group of persons exercising the major share of authority or influence within a larger group: the power elite of a major political party.
4. Representing the most choice or select; best: an elite group of authors.
1. The existing power structure in society; the dominant groups in society and their customs or institutions; institutional authority (usually preceded by the): the Establishment believes exploring outer space is worth any tax money spent.
2. The dominant group in a field of endeavour, organisation, etc.: the literary Establishment.
The elite is thus a small group of people who control a disproportionate amount of wealth and/or power. It is not easy to ascertain people´s wealth but there are surrogates that can be used for privilege and power. The Prime Minister and the rest of the Cabinet are generally considered to be the single most powerful group of people in any nation. Therefore, in assessing the elites and the Establishment, it makes sense to begin with this particular group of people.
In assessing the issue of whether the people concerned are part of the elite / the Establishment / the 1%, I look at two indicators for which information is relatively objective and easily available:
- Whether they were privately/independently educated in the form of a fee paying school education or not: Britain has a well-established tradition of independent, fee paying schools. Germany too has such schools though their origins and emphasis are different. In both countries the state school system is free but some choose to educate their children privately. Since these involve significant costs compared with state schools, it is generally the privileged that tend to attend such schools. In the case of the UK, 7% of the students go to such schools compared with 6% in Germany;
- Whether they attended the elite (two top) universities in their respective country or not: in the case of Britain, this would be Oxford University and Cambridge University, often conflated as “Oxbridge.” In the case of Germany, only a couple of universities make it into the top 50 universities in the world, namely Heidelberg’s Ruprecht-Karls-University and Munich’s Ludwig-Maximilians-University. The barriers to attending the elite universities are normally much higher than the rest but the rewards associated with graduating from the top two universities are also disproportionate (the subject of the next post).
It goes without saying that those lucky enough to have both attended a private school and graduated from the top two universities of their respective country are bound to be rewarded with disproportionately higher life-chances compared with their fellow citizen without the benefit of such privileges.
In this post, I explore the issue using official information provided by the respective governments, supplemented with research on cabinet members who are coy about their educational background. The results of the analysis for Britain and Germany are presented in the Table below.
Table 1. Educational Background of the Cabinet in the UK and Germany (2015)
Note: the private/independent schools are as easy to identify in Germany as in Britain. Furthermore, it is not always possible to match-up government ministries / departments in the two countries. Sources: www.gov.uk, www.bundesregierung.eu and Wikipedia
So what does the above table tell us about the UK and Germany, based on the educational background of their respective cabinets?
- Independent school: 9/21 UK vs 1/16 Germany: 42.8% of the UK cabinet attended independent schools compared with only 6.2% in Germany. There is an incredibly high level of concentration in the UK, given that only 7% of the adult population attends independent schools. The German cabinet simply reflects the national trend of 6% of pupils attending such schools;
- Top 2 universities: 13/21 UK vs 1/16 Germany: an even greater proportion (61.9%) of the UK cabinet attended Britain´s top two universities. To put this in context, only 1% of the adult population of Britain attended Oxbridge. This also contrasts with only 6.2% of the cabinet in Germany attending its top two universities. An astounding 38% of the British cabinet attended Oxford alone. If you think this is something new or specific to the Conservative party, you’d be wrong; it is merely a matter of degree. Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair are all Oxbridge educated, as were 12 of Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet. Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour party, was educated in an independent school but did not complete his higher education;
- Independent school and top 2 universities: 9/21 UK : 0/16 Germany: whereas none of the German cabinet were privately educated and went to the country’s top two universities, a staggering 42.8% of their British counterparts did, David Cameron and George Osborne included, thus being doubly privileged.
Based on the indicators of private / independent education and/or attending Oxbridge, as well as being a member of the Cabinet, the elite or the Establishment is very much alive and in rude health in Britain. Independently educated pupils, especially those from the elite schools, disproportionately go to Oxbridge (taking 44% of the places at Oxford and 38% at Cambridge) and end-up in the Cabinet. Coincidence is not the main factor at play; layer upon layer of privilege and entitlement piled upon each other is closer to the truth.
By contrast, the German cabinet is positively plebeian. I shall leave it to the reader to determine which they prefer and why.
The recent and totally unexpected election of Jeremy Corbyn as the Leader of the Labour Party (who has not exactly grown-up in the proverbial social housing estate or attended an inner city state school) appears to be partly a reaction to the “more of the same” politics by the ruling elites. No such trend is evident in Germany.