October 28, 2020

Multiplying the Old Divisions of Class in Britain

It is not as easy as all that, obviously. The 2010 election was enlivened at one point by a perfectly serious discussion of whether David Cameron, now the prime minister, counted as upper upper-middle class, or lower upper-middle class. But on Wednesday, along came the BBC, muddying the waters with a whole new set of definitions.

Having commissioned what it called The Great British Class Survey, an online questionnaire filled out by more than 161,000 people, the BBC concluded that in today’s complicated world, there are now seven different social classes. (“As if three weren’t annoying enough,” a woman named Laura Phelps said on Twitter.) These range from the “elite” at the top, distinguished by money, connections and rarefied cultural interests, to the “precariat” at the bottom, characterized by lack of money, lack of connections and unrarefied cultural interests.

That might sound kind of familiar, but Fiona Devine, a sociologist who helped devise the study, said, “It’s what’s in the middle which is really interesting and exciting.”

The middle categories, as the study defines them, include the “technical middle class,” a group that has a lot of money but few superior social connections or cultural activity; the “emergent service workers,” a young, urban group that has little money but a high amount of social and cultural capital; and the “new affluent workers,” who score high on social and cultural activity, but have only a middling amount of money.

“There’s a much more fuzzy area between the traditional working class and the traditional middle class,” Ms. Devine, a professor of sociology at Manchester University, said in remarks accompanying the research. “The survey has really allowed us to drill down and get a much more complete picture of class in modern Britain.”

Not everyone sees it that way. In a country that is not sure whether it is (a.) obsessed with class, or (b.) merely obsessed with whether it is as obsessed about class as it used to be (if it ever really was), the survey got widespread attention. But some Britons thought the researchers had not considered the correct criteria.

“There are only two classes: those with tattoos, and those without,” said one Daily Mail reader, commenting on the paper’s article about the new categories.

Another wrote: “What are they called in ‘Brave New World’? Alphas, Betas, Gammas and Epsilons? That’s well on the way to becoming a factual book. We already have most of the population on ‘Soma,’ ” a reference to the antidepressant in the book.

The study was published in the journal Sociology and conducted by Ms. Devine in conjunction with Mike Savage, a professor of sociology at the London School of Economics, and the BBC Lab UK.

Throwing out the old formula by which class was defined according to occupation, wealth and education, it created in its place a definition calculated according to “economic capital,” which includes income and savings; “social capital,” which refers to whom one knows from among 37 different occupations; and “cultural capital,” which is defined as the sorts of cultural interests one pursues, from a list of 27.

In the 1950s, the author Nancy Mitford argued that it was possible to tell which class people were in — upper class (“U”) or not upper class (“non-U”) — according to their choice of vocabulary. U-speakers said “rich” and “jam,” she observed, while non-U speakers said “wealthy” and “preserves,” among other things.

(“Almost everyone I know has some personal antipathy which they condemn as middle class quite irrationally,” Evelyn Waugh wrote in response. “My mother-in-law believes it is middle class to decant claret.”)

Mitford was being mischievous, except that she kind of wasn’t, since she was describing the way people actually spoke. In conjunction with today’s study, the BBC offered a modern adaptation of the Mitford test, a handy do-it-yourself online class calculator.

In their report, the researchers acknowledged that their Web survey showed a large amount of bias, in that the type of people who filled it out were the type of people inclined to fill out BBC surveys (well educated, and 90 percent white, for instance). So they conducted a separate face-to-face survey of 1,026 nationally representative people and then combined the two sets of results, arriving at the seven categories.

Cary L. Cooper, a professor at Lancaster University and the chairman of the Academy of Social Sciences, said that what he found intriguing was not what the study said about different social categories, but rather what it said about people’s desire to place themselves in one or another such category .

“People love filling in questionnaires,” Mr. Cooper said in an interview. “From a psychologists’ point of view, it’s very interesting that they love to pigeonhole themselves — ‘I am that kind of person,’ ‘No matter what people like to say, I am an X.’ ”

Britain remains a “status-conscious society,” he said, especially at times of social and economic insecurity. He attributed the public’s love of “Downton Abbey” and other class-related nostalgic entertainment to a yearning for a time when things were simpler, when “even though there was a rigid class system, at least it was stable.”

Back on the Daily Mail Web site, readers continued to debate the conclusions, and the limitations, of the BBC research.

“I couldn’t find ‘awesome’ class,” one commenter complained.

Another wrote: “What rubbish. Only three classes, working, middle and wealthy. You either have money, no money or some money.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/04/world/europe/multiplying-the-old-divisions-of-class-in-britain.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Cyprus Rises on Agenda of Overseers of the Euro

BRUSSELS — Finance ministers who oversee the euro are planning to meet here Monday and are expected to choose a new president for their group, as concerns mount about how to rescue Cyprus, which is the fourth country in the euro area to need a bailout.

The gathering of the Eurogroup, as it is known, will be its first monthly meeting this year. And though problems in Cyprus loom large, the ministers are expected to meet in an atmosphere of relative calm.

E.U. officials said Friday that the ministers could decide to hold a vote as soon as Monday night to elect Jeroen Dijsselbloem, 46, the Dutch finance minister as the Eurogroup’s next president. He is the only official candidate to replace the current office holder, Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg.

As president, Mr. Dijsselbloem would play a coordinating role among finance ministers when they make critical decisions like giving political approval for bailouts and pressing governments to shore up their finances to preserve the stability of the euro.

Assuming he is elected, Mr. Dijsselbloem will have Cyprus at the top of his agenda as it seeks to recover from a crisis partly triggered by its banking sector’s heavy exposure to Greek debt. Cypriot lenders took a body blow when those holdings were written down to help Greece manage its debt.

The amount needed to rescue Cyprus is about €16 billion, or $21 billion, which is small compared with the needs of Greece, which has been given or promised about €240 billion in bailout money so far. And yet, to Cyprus, it is a huge amount. Cyprus has a gross domestic product of only about €18 billion raising questions about how Cyprus could ever pay the money back.

But for the Eurogroup, it is a relatively manageable matter, compared with the turmoil of late last year, when the Eurogroup was forced to hold a series of emergency sessions to overcome a series of problems — most notably, sharp differences between Germany and the International Monetary Fund on restarting aid to Greece.

Another sign that a period of acute crisis has passed — for now, at least — will be the absence of Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the I.M.F., which with the European Commission and the European Central Bank makes up the so-called troika that has already overseen bailouts for Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

Ms. Lagarde, who is not a member of the group, regularly sat in on meetings last year, partly to push creditor nations like Germany to do more to keep financial problems in countries like Greece from festering and jeopardizing the stability of the broader European economy.

Mr. Dijsselbloem, in informally campaigning for the Eurogroup presidency, has already made his case to governments during a tour of capitals this month and has been endorsed by Mr. Juncker and other leaders.

But the French government has insisted that Mr. Dijsselbloem explain to the other 16 finance ministers in the Eurogroup how he intends to carry out the job before a vote is held on Monday.

A chief concern for the French is that the Dutch are among those Europeans who have made the toughest demands for fiscal rigor by countries in the euro currency union. The French president, François Hollande, has questioned continued austerity as a solution to the crisis.

The negotiations over Cyprus have been complicated by President Dimitris Christofias, who is the only communist leader in the European Union and is an opponent of raising money through the kinds of privatization of government assets that would be demanded by the troika. European officials also harbor concerns about the extent to which the island country, with its low taxes and lax bank regulation, has become a hub for Russian influence and for money laundering.

“The Cypriot case has all the ingredients to raise questions about the consistency of the euro project again,” Martin Lueck, an economist at UBS, wrote in a briefing note on Friday.

No agreement with the Cypriot government in Nicosia is expected until after the departure of Mr. Christofias, who will not be running in elections scheduled for Feb. 17. If necessary, a second round of voting in Cyprus will be held Feb. 24. International creditors want to wait to negotiate a rescue program with the winner, who is likely to be Nicos Anastasiades of the Democratic Rally, a center-right party.

But even then there would be numerous hurdles to overcome before Cyprus could secure a rescue package.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and some other European leaders face pressure to shield taxpayers from paying the bill for further bailouts during an election year. Meanwhile, the I.M.F. will probably need to be satisfied that the terms of any deal with Cyprus give the country a reasonable chance of paying back its loans.

One of the most potentially explosive issues is whether to force depositors in Cyprus including wealthy Russians to take haircuts, or losses, on their holdings, to help reduce the burden of recapitalizing and restructuring Cypriot banks.

Holders of Greek sovereign bonds were forced to take losses on their holdings, under the most recent terms of Greece’s bailout. But any move to penalize bank depositors, as is under discussion in the case of Cyprus, would be a new twist in the euro bailout narrative. The measure would be sure to unleash opposition from authorities in Cyprus and in other countries with vulnerable banking systems, who would fear a flight of bank deposits to more secure jurisdictions.

But imposing haircuts “would fit nicely into the populist political discussion that has been gaining momentum in creditor countries, especially Germany,” Mujtaba Rahman, an analyst with the Eurasia Group, wrote in a briefing note last week. “This populism reflects concerns about the very integrity of the Cypriot banking system, the nature of the business it has been involved in, and the government and financial system’s proximity to Russia,” he wrote.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/21/business/global/21iht-euro21.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

E.U. May ‘Unravel’ if U.K. Quits, Official Says

Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, the body that groups the 27 E.U. member states, said that the European Union had benefited tremendously from British membership and that Britain’s departure would be like seeing “a friend walk off into the desert.”

But Mr. Van Rompuy also suggested that the strategy developed by Prime Minister David Cameron to restore dwindling public support for keeping Britain inside the bloc was likely to fail.

In an interview published Friday in The Guardian, a British daily, Mr. Van Rompuy said that renegotiation could undermine the one part of the European Union that Mr. Cameron says he values most: the single market under which around 500 million Europeans can do business without barriers.

“If every member state were able to cherry-pick those parts of existing policies that they most like, and opt out of those that they least like, the Union in general, and the single market in particular, would soon unravel,” he said.

The intervention from Mr. Van Rompuy highlights the fact that other nations are likely to resent a process under which Britain seeks to retain the parts of E.U. membership that it likes, while rejecting the rest. In order to renegotiate British membership terms, all other member states would have to agree on the changes.

And, if that sort of discussion begins, other countries may make demands too, including some that could weaken the single market which seeks to establish a level playing field on trading issues.

“All member states can, and do, have particular requests and needs that are always taken into consideration as part of our deliberations,” Mr. Van Rompuy said in the interview. “I do not expect any member state to seek to undermine the fundamentals of our cooperative system in Europe.”

Mr. Cameron argues that, to persuade euro-skeptical British voters to stay in the European Union, the country should loosen its political and social policy ties to the Union and refocus them around Europe’s single economic market. He wants to renegotiate the terms of British membership and seek approval for the result of that negotiation from the public, possibly in a referendum.

Britain formally joined in the process of European integration in 1973, when it acceded to the European Economic Community. Two years later, after a change of government and negotiations on the terms of membership, it held a referendum in which around two-thirds of those who voted elected to stay.

One theory in Britain is that the euro debt crisis presents a new opportunity to re-fashion the process of European integration because the 17 countries that use the single currency may need to rewrite the Union’s governing treaties in order to become more closely integrated. That could give Britain the chance to negotiate its looser relationship simultaneously as part of a grand bargain.

Mr. Van Rompuy suggested, however, that such a rewriting of the treaties might not happen because it might not be necessary.

“The treaties allow a considerable degree of flexibility and much can be done without needing to amend them,” he told The Guardian. “It is perfectly possible to write all kinds of provisions into the treaties, but amending them is a lengthy and cumbersome procedure needing the unanimous agreement of every single member government and ratification.”

Mr. Van Rompuy’s comments come at a sensitive moment, ahead of a widely anticipated speech by Mr. Cameron, expected in mid-January, during which he might make the promise of a referendum explicit. Many of his own lawmakers now want Mr. Cameron to promise a straight “in or out” vote, though he has so far resisted.

The political mood within Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party has hardened against engagement with Europe, partly because of the rise in popular support for the U.K. Independence Party, which has campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union and for tighter immigration controls.

UKIP is expected to do well in the next elections to the European Parliament in 2014, which will be held under a proportional electoral system that favors smaller parties. The party is unlikely to win many, or even any, seats in British parliamentary elections, expected the following year, because these will be fought under a first-past-the post system that tends to favor mainstream parties.

The smaller party could, though, take enough votes from the Conservative Party to deprive it of the seats it will need to form the next government.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/29/world/europe/eu-may-unravel-if-uk-quits-official-says.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

BSkyB Shares Down Again as Prime Minister Signals Bid Delay

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Doug Glanville: What ‘3,000 Hits’ Means

Derek Jeter’s march to his 3,000th hit brings into focus the way that numbers can tell a story.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=5ffc4368dc18b2ea7e138f9ead70b057

British and Dutch to Sue Over an Icelandic Debt

The prospect of legal action, likely to take more than a year to resolve in an international court, arose this weekend after Iceland’s voters rejected a deal for the country to repay Britain and the Netherlands over 30 years starting in 2016.

It extended a bitter dispute that began in 2008 when Iceland’s overstretched banks failed. With assets eight times the country’s gross domestic product, the banks could not depend on the government to bail them out as some European countries, like Ireland and Britain, had done for their banks.

As a result, the 400,000 depositors in Britain and the Netherlands, who had been lured by the high interest rates of Icelandic banks, were reimbursed by their governments. Those countries are now seeking to recover that payout, which approached 4 billion euros ($5.8 billion).

The deal submitted to the voters was approved by the Icelandic Parliament in February. It had better terms for Iceland than an earlier accord, which was modified in hopes of winning voter backing.

The government of Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir had pushed hard for approval, arguing that Iceland, amid a financial rescue program backed by the International Monetary Fund, needed to put the issue behind it if it hoped to re-enter international financial markets and join the European Union.

But after a devastating recession and with animosity toward bankers still running high, Iceland’s electorate was not swayed. With close to 90 percent of the ballots counted, 59 percent had voted no.

There is also a strong residue of anti-British sentiment dating back to 2008, when Britain used antiterror laws to freeze the assets of one of the failed institutions, Landsbanki.

More than anything, the vote was driven by a view that the liability was just too much for a small economy to shoulder, no matter how favorable the terms.

Speaking on a television program over the weekend, Danny Alexander, a treasury official in the British government, described the referendum result as “disappointing,” and said Britain was obliged to do all in its power to seek repayment, especially while running a fiscal deficit of close to 10 percent of its gross domestic product.

The case will be taken up by the European Free Trade Association Surveillance Authority, an international court based in Brussels.

Government officials in Iceland said that they expected the process to take more than a year but added that they had enough central bank reserves to cover the country’s short-term financial responsibilities.

The International Monetary Fund in the past has said that a resolution of the dispute over the depositor claims is not a condition for its Iceland program to proceed as long as other creditors do not abandon the country.

In a statement, the government said over the weekend that it was committed to the I.M.F. program, though it said the next review of the program, due April 27, would be delayed several weeks for unspecified reasons.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/11/business/global/11krona.html?partner=rss&emc=rss