Professor Danny Dorling has drawn controversy for a recent stinging critique of Britain’s deepening economic and social inequality, in which he condemned the “One Per Cent”.
“The elite is shrinking,” Dorling said in his first lecture as Halfor Mackinder Professor of Human Geography on Monday. “It really is now only one per cent of the population who are maintaining their very high standard of living.”
This top one per cent, Dorling claimed, is “disproportionately made up not of people who are most able, but of those who are most greedy and least concerned about the rights, feelings and welfare of other people.”
He went on to suggest that the bottom 99 per cent needs to exercise more “control” over this shrinking elite.
In the lecture, entitled “Geography, Inequality, and Oxford”, Dorling, who was born and raised in Oxford, traced the rise and fall of post-war social equality in Britain by paralleling it with the history and changing socio-economic circumstances of the city.
He told the story of the Cutteslowe Walls, a series of walls built by private landlords in the 1930s to separate their North Oxford neighbourhood from a newly built council estate. Dorling suggested that the walls, which were torn down in 1959, symbolise the social and economic boundaries that began to crumble across Britain in the 1950s.
Yet since the late 1970s, Dorling said, inequality began to rise again, surpassing previous peaks of inequality in the 1930s and accelerating to the present day.
In comments made to Cherwell, Dorling said, “The main point I was trying to get over is just how unusual [in terms of inequality] we now are and how recently we have become this unusual.”
When asked what the bottom 99 per cent of Britons might do to better “control” the top one percent, as he suggests they must, he said, “You need only look at any OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development] country other than the USA; as in almost every other country (apart from the very poorest), they manage to ensure that the one per cent survive on far less than they do in the UK, but still do quite well.
“The examples I gave in the lecture were Switzerland and the Netherlands. In both these countries, and many others, top rate taxes were hardly reduced at all since the 1960s. This deterred top paid people asking for pay rises as high as they ask for in countries like the UK and USA.”
“Of course, having got yourself into a mess it is far harder to get out of it than it would have been hard to avoid the problem in the first place,” he suggested. “We now are where we are, but we can at least realise that other countries have done very well in the ‘global race’ without having to become as socially and economically as unequal as we have.”
Kate Bradley, a second year English student at Oriel and editor of the Oxford Left Review, said she agreed with Dorling’s comments, but was unsure whether they would have any concrete effect.
“I think it’s a good thing that someone in a position of power at Oxford has pointed out these inequalities,” she said. “However, I would also say that these are hardly new observations – the problem isn’t failure to diagnose the role of elitism in inequality, it’s a structural unwillingness to adjust to make society fairer.”
“As Boris Johnson’s recent speech on inequality showed, the British political class believe in principles which help them to maintain the status quo; it is not in the ruling class’s interests to listen to Dorling or any of the rest of us on this issue, so I question how much it helps to just repeat old criticisms with new evidence,” Bradley stated.