Kwame An­thony Ap­piah

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The Red Baron

Michael Young was an in­con­ve­nient child. His fa­ther, an Aus­tralian, was a mu­si­cian and mu­sic critic, and his mother, who grew up in Ire­land, was a painter of a bo­hemian bent. They were hard-up, dis­tractible, and fre­quently on the outs with each other; Michael, born in 1915 in Manch­ester, soon found that nei­ther had much time for him. Once when his par­ents had seem­ingly for­got­ten his birth­day, he imag­ined that he was in for a big end-of-day sur­prise. But no, they re­ally had for­got­ten his birth­day, which was no sur­prise at all. He over­heard his par­ents talk about putting him up for adop­tion and, by his own ac­count, never fully shed his fear of aban­don­ment.

Ev­ery­thing changed for him when, at the age of four­teen, he was sent to an ex­per­i­men­tal board­ing school at Dart­ing­ton Hall in Devon. It was the cre­ation of the great pro­gres­sive phi­lan­thropists Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst, and it sought to change so­ci­ety by chang­ing souls. There it was as if he had been put up for adop­tion, be­cause the Elmhirsts treated him as a son, en­cour­ag­ing and sup­port­ing him for the rest of their lives. Sud­denly he was a mem­ber of the transna­tional elite: din­ing with Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt, lis­ten­ing in on a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Leonard and Henry Ford.

Young, who has been called the great­est prac­ti­cal so­ci­ol­o­gist of the past cen­tury, pi­o­neered the mod­ern sci­en­tific ex­plo­ration of the so­cial lives of the English work­ing class. He didn’t just aim to study class, though; he aimed to ame­lio­rate the dam­age he be­lieved it could do. The Dart­ing­ton ideal was about the cul­ti­va­tion of per­son­al­ity and ap­ti­tudes what­ever form they took, and the British class struc­ture plainly im­peded this ideal. What would sup­plant the old, caste-like sys­tem of so­cial hi­er­ar­chy? For many to­day, the an­swer is “mer­i­toc­racy”—a term that Young him­self coined sixty years ago. Mer­i­toc­racy rep­re­sents a vi­sion in which power and priv­i­lege would be al­lo­cated by in­di­vid­ual merit, not by so­cial ori­gins.

In­spired by the mer­i­to­cratic ideal, many peo­ple these days are com­mit­ted to a view of how the hi­er­ar­chies of money and sta­tus in our world should be or­ga­nized. We think that jobs should go not to peo­ple who have con­nec­tions or pedi­gree but to those best qual­i­fied for them, re­gard­less of their back­ground. Oc­ca­sion­ally, we’ll al­low for ex­cep­tions—for pos­i­tive dis­crim­i­na­tion, say, to help undo the ef­fects of pre­vi­ous dis­crim­i­na­tion. But such ex­cep­tions are pro­vi­sional: when the big­otries of sex, race, class, and caste are gone, the ex­cep­tions will cease to be war­ranted. We’ve re­jected the old class so­ci­ety. In mov­ing to­ward the mer­i­to­cratic ideal, we have imag­ined that we have re­tired the old en­crus­ta­tions of in­her­ited hi­er­ar­chies. As Michael Young knew, that’s not the real story.

Young hated the term “wel­fare state”—he said that it smelled of car­bolic—but be­fore he turned thirty he’d helped cre­ate one. As the di­rec­tor of the British Labour Party’s re­search of­fice, he drafted large parts of the man­i­festo on which the party won the 1945 elec­tion. The man­i­festo, “Let Us Face the Fu­ture,” called for “the es­tab­lish­ment of the So­cial­ist Com­mon­wealth of Great Bri­tain—free, demo­cratic, ef­fi­cient, pro­gres­sive, pub­lic-spir­ited, its ma­te­rial re­sources or­gan­ised in the ser­vice of the British peo­ple.” Soon the party, as it promised, raised the school­leav­ing age to six­teen, in­creased adult ed­u­ca­tion, im­proved pub­lic hous­ing, made pub­lic sec­ondary school ed­u­ca­tion free, cre­ated a na­tional health ser­vice, and pro­vided so­cial se­cu­rity for all.

As a re­sult, the lives of the English work­ing class were be­gin­ning to change rad­i­cally for the bet­ter. Unions and la­bor laws re­duced the hours worked by man­ual la­bor­ers, in­creas­ing their pos­si­bil­i­ties of leisure. Ris­ing in­comes made it pos­si­ble for them to buy tele­vi­sions and re­frig­er­a­tors. And changes, partly driven by new es­tate taxes, were go­ing on at the top of the in­come hi­er­ar­chy, too. In 1949, the Labour chan­cel­lor of the ex­che­quer, Stafford Cripps, in­tro­duced a tax that rose to 80 per­cent on es­tates of £1 mil­lion and above, or about £32 mil­lion in con­tem­po­rary in­fla­tion-ad­justed terms. (Dis­clo­sure: I’m a grand­son of his.) For a cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions af­ter­ward, these ef­forts at so­cial re­form both pro­tected mem­bers of the work­ing classes and al­lowed more of their chil­dren to make the move up the hi­er­ar­chy of oc­cu­pa­tions and of in­come, and so, to some de­gree, of sta­tus. Young was acutely con­scious of these ac­com­plish­ments; he was acutely con­scious, too, of their lim­i­ta­tions.

Just as hap­pened in the United States, col­lege at­ten­dance leapt in Bri­tain af­ter World War II, and one of the main in­di­ca­tors of class was in­creas­ingly whether you had been to uni­ver­sity. The mid­dle-class sta­tus of mea­gerly com­pen­sated li­brar­i­ans re­flected a vo­ca­tional re­quire­ment for an ed­u­ca­tion be­yond sec­ondary school; that the bet­ter-paid as­sem­bly line work­ers were work­ing-class re­flected the ab­sence of such a re­quire­ment. Work­ing-class con­scious­ness—leg­i­ble in the very name of the British Labour Party, founded in 1900—spoke of class mo­bi­liza­tion, work­ers se­cur­ing their in­ter­ests. The emerg­ing era of ed­u­ca­tion, by con­trast, spoke of class mo­bil­ity, blue col­lars giv­ing way to white. Would mo­bil­ity un­der­mine class con­scious­ness?

These ques­tions preyed on Young. Op­er­at­ing out of a com­mu­nity stud­ies in­sti­tute he set up in Beth­nal Green, he helped cre­ate and nur­ture dozens and dozens of pro­grams and or­ga­ni­za­tions, all at­tend­ing to so­cial needs he had iden­ti­fied. The Con­sumers’ As­so­ci­a­tion was his brain­child, along with its mag­a­zine Which? (it’s the British Con­sumer Re­ports, and it’s still go­ing strong). So was the Open Uni­ver­sity, which has taught more than two mil­lion stu­dents since Young founded it in 1969, mak­ing it the largest aca­demic in­sti­tu­tion in the UK by en­roll­ment. Yet ed­u­ca­tion mat­tered to him not just as a means of mo­bil­ity but as a way to make peo­ple more force­ful as ci­ti­zens, what­ever their sta­tion—less eas­ily bull­dozed by com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ers or the govern­ment plan­ners of White­hall. Late in life, he even set up a School for So­cial En­trepreneurs. Over the decades, he wanted to strengthen the so­cial net­works—the “so­cial cap­i­tal,” as so­cial sci­en­tists say these days—of com­mu­ni­ties that get pushed around by those who were in­creas­ingly claim­ing a lion’s share of so­ci­ety’s power and wealth.

What drove him was his sense that class hi­er­ar­chies would re­sist the re­forms he helped im­ple­ment. He ex­plained how it would hap­pen in a 1958 satire, his sec­ond best seller, en­ti­tled The Rise of the Mer­i­toc­racy. Like so many phe­nom­ena, mer­i­toc­racy was named by an en­emy. Young’s book was os­ten­si­bly an anal­y­sis writ­ten in 2033 by a his­to­rian look­ing back at the de­vel­op­ment over the decades of a new British so­ci­ety. In that dis­tant fu­ture, riches and rule were earned, not in­her­ited. The new rul­ing class was de­ter­mined, the au­thor wrote, by the for­mula “I.Q. + ef­fort = merit.” Democ­racy would give way to rule by the clever­est—“not an aris­toc­racy of birth, not a plu­toc­racy of wealth, but a true mer­i­toc­racy of tal­ent.” This is the first pub­lished ap­pear­ance of the word “mer­i­toc­racy,” and the book aimed to show what a so­ci­ety gov­erned on this prin­ci­ple would look like.

Young’s vi­sion was de­cid­edly dystopian. As wealth in­creas­ingly re­flects the in­nate dis­tri­bu­tion of nat­u­ral tal­ent, and the wealthy in­creas­ingly marry one an­other, so­ci­ety sorts into two main classes, in which ev­ery­one ac­cepts that they have more or less what they de­serve. He imag­ined a coun­try in which “the emi­nent know that suc­cess is a just re­ward for their own ca­pac­ity, their own ef­forts,” and in which the lower or­ders know that they have failed ev­ery chance they were given. “They are tested again and again .... If they have been la­beled ‘dunce’ re­peat­edly they can­not any longer pre­tend; their im­age of them­selves is more nearly a true, un­flat­ter­ing re­flec­tion.”

But one im­me­di­ate dif­fi­culty was that, as Young’s nar­ra­tor con­cedes, “nearly all par­ents are go­ing to try to gain un­fair ad­van­tages for their off­spring.” And when you have in­equal­i­ties of in­come, one thing peo­ple can do with ex­tra money is to pur­sue that goal. If the fi­nan­cial sta­tus of your par­ents helped de­ter­mine your eco­nomic re­wards, you would no longer be liv­ing by the for­mula that “I.Q. + ef­fort = merit.” Those cau­tions have, of course, proved well founded. In the United States, the top fifth of house­holds en­joyed a $4 tril­lion in­crease in pre­tax in­come be­tween 1979 and 2013—a tril­lion dol­lars more than came to all the rest. When in­creased ac­cess to higher ed­u­ca­tion was in­tro­duced in the United States and Bri­tain, it was seen as a great equal­izer. But a cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions later, re­searchers tell us that higher ed­u­ca­tion is now a great strat­i­fier. Econ­o­mists have found that many elite uni­ver­si­ties—in­clud­ing Brown, Dart­mouth, Penn, Prince­ton, and Yale—take more stu­dents from the top one per­cent of the in­come dis­tri­bu­tion than from the bot­tom 60 per­cent. To achieve a po­si­tion in the top tier of wealth, power, and priv­i­lege, in short, it helps enor­mously to start there. “Amer­i­can mer­i­toc­racy,” the Yale law pro­fes­sor Daniel Markovits ar­gues, has “be­come pre­cisely what it was in­vented to com­bat: a mech­a­nism for the dy­nas­tic trans­mis­sion of wealth and priv­i­lege across gen­er­a­tions.”

Michael Young, who died in 2002 at the age of eighty-six, saw what was hap­pen­ing. “Ed­u­ca­tion has put its seal of ap­proval on a mi­nor­ity,” he wrote, “and its seal of dis­ap­proval on the many who fail to shine from the time they are rel­e­gated to the bot­tom streams at the age of seven or be­fore.” What should have been mech­a­nisms of mo­bil­ity had be­come fortresses of priv­i­lege. He saw an emerg­ing co­hort of mer­can­tile mer­i­to­crats who

can be in­suf­fer­ably smug, much more so than the peo­ple who knew they had achieved ad­vance­ment not on their own merit but be­cause they were, as some­body’s son or daugh­ter, the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of nepo­tism. The new­com­ers can ac­tu­ally be­lieve they have moral­ity on their side. So as­sured have the elite be­come that there is al­most no block on the re­wards they ar­ro­gate to them­selves.

The cara­pace of “merit,” Young ar­gued, had only in­oc­u­lated the win­ners from shame and re­proach.

Amer­i­cans, un­like the British, don’t talk much about work­ing-class con­scious­ness; it’s some­times said that all Amer­i­cans are, by self-con­cep­tion, mid­dle class. But this, it turns out, is not cur­rently what Amer­i­cans them­selves think. In a 2014 Na­tional Opin­ion Re­search Cen­ter sur­vey, more Amer­i­cans iden­ti­fied as work­ing-class than as mid­dle-class. One (but only one) strand of the pop­ulism that tipped Don­ald Trump into power ex­pressed re­sent­ment to­ward a class de­fined by its ed­u­ca­tion and its val­ues: the cos­mopoli­tan, de­gree-laden peo­ple who dom­i­nate the me­dia, the pub­lic cul­ture, and the pro­fes­sions in the US. Clin­ton swept the fifty most ed­u­cated coun­ties, as Nate Sil­ver noted shortly af­ter the 2016 elec­tion; Trump swept the fifty least. Pop­ulists think that lib­eral elites look down on or­di­nary Amer­i­cans, ig­nore their con­cerns, and use their power to their own ad­van­tage. They may not call them an up­per class, but the in­dices that pop­ulists use to de­fine them—money, ed­u­ca­tion, con­nec­tions, power—would have picked out the old up­per and up­per-mid­dle classes of the last cen­tury.

And many white work­ing-class vot­ers feel a sense of sub­or­di­na­tion, de­rived from a lack of for­mal ed­u­ca­tion, and that can play a part in their pol­i­tics. Back in the early 1970s, the so­ci­ol­o­gists Richard Sen­nett and Jonathan Cobb recorded these at­ti­tudes in a study mem­o­rably ti­tled The Hid­den In­juries of Class. This sense of vul­ner­a­bil­ity is per­fectly con­sis­tent with feel­ing su­pe­rior in other ways. Work­ing-class men often think that mid­dle-class and up­per-class men are un­manly or un­de­serv­ing. Still, a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of what we call the Amer­i­can white work­ing class has been per­suaded that, in some sense, they do not de­serve the op­por­tu­ni­ties that have been de­nied to them.

They may com­plain that mi­nori­ties have un­fair ad­van­tages in the com­pe­ti­tion for work and the dis­tri­bu­tion of govern­ment ben­e­fits. Nev­er­the­less, they do not think it is wrong ei­ther that they do not get jobs for which they be­lieve they are not qual­i­fied or that the jobs for which they are qual­i­fied are typ­i­cally less well paid. They think mi­nori­ties are get­ting “hand­outs”—and men may feel that women are get­ting un­fair ad­van­tages, too—but they don’t think the so­lu­tion is to de­mand hand­outs for them­selves. They are likely to re­gard the treat­ment of racial mi­nori­ties as an ex­cep­tion to the right gen­eral rule: they think Amer­ica mostly is and cer­tainly should be a so­ci­ety in which op­por­tu­ni­ties be­long to those who have earned them.

If a new dy­nas­tic sys­tem is nonethe­less tak­ing shape, you might con­clude that mer­i­toc­racy has fal­tered be­cause— as many com­plain—it isn’t mer­i­to­cratic enough. If tal­ent is cap­i­tal­ized ef­fi­ciently only in high tax brack­ets, you could con­clude that we’ve sim­ply failed to achieve the mer­i­to­cratic ideal. Maybe it’s not pos­si­ble to give ev­ery­one equally good par­ent­ing, but you could push more rig­or­ously for merit, mak­ing sure ev­ery child has the ed­u­ca­tional ad­van­tages and is taught the so­cial tricks that suc­cess­ful fam­i­lies now hoard for their chil­dren. Why isn’t that the right re­sponse?

Be­cause, Young be­lieved, the prob­lem wasn’t just with how the prizes of so­cial life were dis­trib­uted; it was with the prizes them­selves. A sys­tem of class fil­tered by mer­i­toc­racy would, in his view, still be a sys­tem of class: it would in­volve a hi­er­ar­chy of so­cial re­spect, grant­ing dig­nity to those at the top, but deny­ing re­spect and sel­f­re­spect to those who did not in­herit the tal­ents and the ca­pac­ity for ef­fort that, com­bined with proper ed­u­ca­tion, would give them ac­cess to the most highly re­mu­ner­ated oc­cu­pa­tions. This is why the au­thors of his fic­tional Chelsea Man­i­festo—which, in The Rise of the Mer­i­toc­racy, is sup­posed to serve as the last sign of re­sis­tance to the new order—ask for a so­ci­ety that “both pos­sessed and acted upon plu­ral val­ues,” in­clud­ing kind­li­ness, courage, and sen­si­tiv­ity, so all had a chance to “de­velop his own spe­cial ca­pac­i­ties for lead­ing a rich life.” Even if you were some­how up­hold­ing “I.Q. + ef­fort = merit,” then your equa­tion was spon­sor­ing a larger in­equal­ity.

This al­ter­na­tive vi­sion, in which each of us takes our al­lot­ment of tal­ents and pur­sues a dis­tinc­tive set of achieve­ments and the self-re­spect they bring, was one that Young had learned from his school­ing at Dart­ing­ton Hall. And his pro­found com­mit­ment to so­cial equal­ity can seem, in the mode of school­house utopias, quixotic. Yet it draws on a deeper philo­soph­i­cal pic­ture. The cen­tral task of ethics is to ask what it is for a hu­man life to go well. A plau­si­ble an­swer is that liv­ing well means meet­ing the chal­lenge set by three things: your ca­pac­i­ties, the cir­cum­stances into which you were born, and the projects that you your­self de­cide are im­por­tant. Be­cause each of us comes equipped with dif­fer­ent tal­ents and is born into dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances, and be­cause peo­ple choose their own projects, each of us faces his or her own chal­lenge. There is no com­par­a­tive mea­sure that would en­able an as­sess­ment of whether your life or my life is bet­ter; Young was right to protest the idea that “peo­ple could be put into rank order of worth.” What mat­ters in the end is not how we rank against oth­ers. We do not need to find some­thing that we do bet­ter than any­one else; what mat­ters, to the Dart­ing­to­ni­ans, is sim­ply that we do our best.

The ideal of mer­i­toc­racy, Young un­der­stood, con­fuses two dif­fer­ent con­cerns. One is a mat­ter of ef­fi­ciency; the other is a ques­tion of hu­man worth. If we want peo­ple to do dif­fi­cult jobs that re­quire tal­ent, ed­u­ca­tion, ef­fort, train­ing, and prac­tice, we need to be able to iden­tify can­di­dates with the right com­bi­na­tion of ap­ti­tude and will­ing­ness, and pro­vide them in­cen­tives to train and prac­tice.

Be­cause there will be a lim­ited sup­ply of ed­u­ca­tional and oc­cu­pa­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties, we will have to have ways of al­lo­cat­ing them—some prin­ci­ples of se­lec­tion to match peo­ple to po­si­tions, along with ap­pro­pri­ate in­cen­tives to en­sure the nec­es­sary work gets done. If these prin­ci­ples of se­lec­tion have been rea­son­ably de­signed, we can say, if we like, that the peo­ple who meet the cri­te­ria for en­ter­ing the schools or get­ting the jobs “merit” those po­si­tions. This is, to en­list some use­ful philoso­phers’ jar­gon, a mat­ter of “in­sti­tu­tional desert.” Peo­ple de­serve these po­si­tions in the sense in which peo­ple who buy win­ning lottery tick­ets de­serve their win­nings: they got them by a proper ap­pli­ca­tion of the rules.

In­sti­tu­tional desert, how­ever, has noth­ing to do with the in­trin­sic wor­thi­ness of the peo­ple who get into col­lege or who get the jobs, any more than lottery win­ners are peo­ple of spe­cial merit and losers are some­how less wor­thy. Even on the high­est lev­els of achieve­ment, there’s enor­mous con­tin­gency at play. If Ein­stein had been born a cen­tury ear­lier, he might have made no mo­men­tous con­tri­bu­tions to his field; a Mozart who came of age in the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury and trained on twelve-tone rows might not have done so ei­ther. Nei­ther might have made much use of their ap­ti­tudes had they grown up among the Ama­zo­nian Nukak.

And of course, the ca­pac­ity for hard work is it­self the re­sult of nat­u­ral en­dow­ments and up­bring­ing. So nei­ther tal­ent nor ef­fort, the two things that would de­ter­mine re­wards in the world of the mer­i­toc­racy, is it­self some­thing earned. Peo­ple who have, as The Rise of the Mer­i­toc­racy bluntly put it, been re­peat­edly “la­beled ‘dunce’” still have ca­pac­i­ties and the chal­lenge of mak­ing a mean­ing­ful life. The lives of the less suc­cess­ful are not less wor­thy than those of oth­ers—but not be­cause they are as wor­thy or more wor­thy. There is sim­ply no sen­si­ble way of com­par­ing the worth of hu­man lives. Put aside the vexed no­tion of “merit,” and a sim­pler pic­ture emerges. Money and sta­tus are re­wards that can en­cour­age peo­ple to do the things that need do­ing. A well-de­signed so­ci­ety will elicit and de­ploy de­vel­oped tal­ent ef­fi­ciently. The so­cial re­wards of wealth and honor are in­evitably go­ing to be un­equally shared, be­cause that is the only way they can serve their func­tion as in­cen­tives for hu­man be­hav­ior. But we go wrong when we deny not only the merit but the dig­nity of those whose luck in the ge­netic lottery and in the his­tor­i­cal con­tin­gen­cies of their sit­u­a­tion has left them less re­warded.

Yes, peo­ple will in­evitably want to share both money and sta­tus with those they love, seek­ing to get their chil­dren fi­nan­cial and so­cial re­wards. But we shouldn’t se­cure our chil­dren’s ad­van­tages in a way that de­nies a de­cent life to the chil­dren of oth­ers. Each child should have ac­cess to a de­cent ed­u­ca­tion, suit­able to her tal­ents and her choices; each should be able to re­gard him- or her­self with self-re­spect. Fur­ther de­moc­ra­tiz­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties for ad­vance­ment is some­thing we know how to do, even if the state of cur­rent pol­i­tics in Bri­tain and the United States has made it in­creas­ingly un­likely that it will be done any­time soon. But such mea­sures were en­vis­aged in Young’s mer­i­to­cratic dystopia, where inheritance was to hold lit­tle sway. His deeper point was that we also need to ap­ply our­selves to some­thing we don’t yet quite know how to do: to erad­i­cate con­tempt for those who are dis­fa­vored by the ethic of ef­fort­ful com­pe­ti­tion.

“It is good sense to ap­point in­di­vid­ual peo­ple to jobs on their merit,” Young wrote. “It is the op­po­site when those who are judged to have merit of a par­tic­u­lar kind har­den into a new so­cial class with­out room in it for oth­ers.” The goal isn’t to erad­i­cate hi­er­ar­chy and to turn ev­ery moun­tain into a salt flat; we live in a plen­i­tude of in­com­men­su­rable hi­er­ar­chies, and the cir­cu­la­tion of so­cial es­teem will al­ways ben­e­fit the bet­ter novelist, the more im­por­tant math­e­ma­ti­cian, the savvier busi­ness­man, the faster run­ner, the more ef­fec­tive so­cial en­tre­pre­neur. We can’t fully con­trol the dis­tri­bu­tion of eco­nomic, so­cial, and hu­man cap­i­tal, or erad­i­cate the in­tri­cate pat­terns that emerge from these over­laid grids. But class iden­ti­ties don’t have to in­ter­nal­ize those in­juries of class. It re­mains an ur­gent col­lec­tive en­deavor to re­vise the ways we think about hu­man worth in the ser­vice of moral equal­ity.

This can sound utopian, and, in its fullest con­cep­tion, it un­doubt­edly is. Yet no­body was more prac­ti­cal-minded than Michael Young, in­sti­tu­tion-builder par ex­cel­lence. It’s true that the stir­rings of Young’s con­science re­sponded to the per­sonal as well as the sys­temic; dy­ing of can­cer in a hos­pi­tal ward, he wor­ried whether the con­trac­tor-sup­plied African im­mi­grants who wheeled around the food trol­leys were get­ting min­i­mum wage. But his com­pas­sion was welded to a sturdy sense of the pos­si­ble. He didn’t merely dream of re­duc­ing in­her­ited priv­i­lege; he de­vised con­crete mea­sures to see that it hap­pened, in the hope that all ci­ti­zens could have the chance to de­velop their “own spe­cial ca­pac­i­ties for lead­ing a rich life.” He had cer­tainly done ex­actly that him­self. In the imag­i­nary fu­ture of The Rise of the Mer­i­toc­racy, there was still a House

of Lords, but it was oc­cu­pied solely by peo­ple who had earned their places there through distin­guished pub­lic ser­vice. If any­one had mer­ited a place in that imag­i­nary leg­is­la­ture, it would have been Michael Young.

That was far from true of the House of Lords he grew up with, which was prob­a­bly one rea­son why his pa­tron Leonard Elmhirst de­clined a peer­age when of­fered one in the 1940s; in the cir­cles he moved in, he made clear, “ac­cep­tance would nei­ther be easy for me to ex­plain nor easy for my friends to com­pre­hend.” So it’s more than a lit­tle ironic that when Young, the great egal­i­tar­ian, was of­fered a peer­age in 1978, he took it. Naturally, he chose for him­self the ti­tle Baron Young of Dart­ing­ton, hon­or­ing the in­sti­tu­tion he had served as a trustee since the age of twen­ty­seven. As you would ex­pect, he used the op­por­tu­nity to speak about the is­sues that moved him in the up­per house of the British Par­lia­ment. But there is a fur­ther, fi­nal irony. A ma­jor rea­son he had ac­cepted the ti­tle (“guard­edly,” as he told his friends) was that he was hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ties meet­ing the ex­pense of trav­el­ing up to Lon­don from his home in the coun­try. Mem­bers of the Lords not only got a daily al­lowance if they at­tended the House; they got a pass to travel free on the rail­ways. Michael Young en­tered the aris­toc­racy be­cause he needed the money.

Michael Young, Lon­don, 1997

Chil­dren at a meet­ing to de­mand a play­ground in Beth­nal Green, Lon­don, 1962

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