A very late Financial Dashboard this month, and a bit of a crossover post. For the last couple of years I’ve used the Financial Dashboard posts to track my budget, bills and set myself goals. I feel I’m fairly well into my financial planning now, and as such posting and sharing my goals each month doesn’t make particularly interesting reading. I’ve not had time to write the Full English posts since the start of COVID, and it’s unlikely to make a return any time soon. To an extent it’s also been superseded, by Indeedably’s fabulous Sovereign Quest featuring automated daily/weekly curation (1), and Dr Fire’s Wednesday Reads (2) (as well as Monevator of course). Instead for the future the musings which used to occupy the Full English will sometimes appear here.
Some time ago Indeedably suggested I read Slate Star Codex, now Astral Codex Ten, a US-based blog about… well… most things (3). SSC/ACT has had a huge impact on my thinking (mostly for codifying some underlying cognitive trends), and I truly appreciate the recommendation. Before going any further, I would recommend reading the Book Review: Fussell on Class, and their post A Modest Proposal For Republicans: Use The Word “Class” (4, 5). In it Scott Alexander suggests the US Republican party should start using the word “class”. Here in the UK we’re already obsessed with class, so that’s less of an issue, but do the old class boundaries still apply?
The upper class is still (probably) distinct, though oil oligarchs, millionaire footballers and bitcoin influencers are blurring the view from below. For an interesting take on this, read this Reddit post (6). The middle class has allegedly been hollowed out, but I feel the old definitions of white-collar, moderately wealthy, moderately educated middle class has expanded. University educations are widespread, home ownership has been driven to the core of our political ideologies, and most people expect a few holidays a year, a modern car, and all the accoutrements of modern living. Where are the working class? With the disappearance of the industrial manufacturing sector from the UK’s landscape, the loss of DB pensions and general move away from the honourable lifetime spent working at the same company, cared for and honest, the old-working class definition no longer seems to apply. Plenty of builders, plumbers, electricians earn more than the average HR manager. Skilled manufacturing operators also earn more than the office temp.
Assuming that the old definition of the working class is kaput set me wondering how you could now classify groups, with an eye on the political spectrum. Historically the upper classes voted Tory, the working classes voted Labour. The Tories supported the upper class economic moat, whilst Labour were the voices of unions and the working class. Labour still markets itself as the voice of the working man, yet culture has moved as evidenced by the loss of the ‘red wall’ and traditionally safe Labour seats. How do we now divide up the voting public? The Republicans, and more specifically Trump through populism, has appealed to and cemented a base in the working class in America. This may be a harbinger of a political realignment – the theory that sharp changes in party ideology, power base, demographic base etc result in shifts in establish political parties on a roughly generational basis leading to entirely new power structures (7). Other authors have suggested populism, Brexit and Trump are symptoms of this event (8). The last major realignment we experienced here in the UK was in the 1970s, with Thatcher and the interventions industry and home ownership that have ultimately resulted in neoliberalism.
Working with a realignment hypothesis, I set to trying to identify for my own purposes where the new divides fell. The US working class isn’t so clear in the UK, so who are the populists appealing to? Farage and Boris Johnson are opportunistic (I won’t call them smart) enough to hitch themselves to a bandwagon towards a specific voter. That voter is typically older, less well-educated, and less-liberal. They were less likely to be working. They were more likely to either own their own home, or be in council or housing association rental (9). Odd dichotomy that.
Leave voters were also more likely to perceive external and internal threats to their quality of life and standard of living. They were more likely to think life would be worse in the future, and better in the past.
My conclusion was that the new system of class is based not on qualification or income, but on quality of life and financial security. The upper class remain the upper class, generationally wealthy and able to cross borders and financial rules without issue; they are the financially invulnerable. The old middle class are now the financially secure with minimal risk to their future quality of life and lifestyle; liberal, well educated or trained, in secure employment fields where they are able to look beyond their current situation to the experiences of others and wider society. The new financially insecure class are the populist target. Underemployed or not working altogether, in temporary or insecure work, looking to try and build security in their employment, home and personal environment. Boris Johnson appeals to this insecure class, offering rhetoric of job, border and house security. He’s been quick to drag the Tories to a new working-class heartland. This new financial security class system is actually by-product of neoliberalism; right-to-buy, defined contribution pensions and raids on existing pension schemes, creeping privatisation, and changes to the broader societal contract. The ‘what does society do for me’ mentality.
That working class heartland, now hollowed out into an insecure class, has shifted from Labour to the Tories. How do Labour adapt? They continue to sell themselves as the party of a working class that no longer exists, even as they split apart as the old unions collide with the socialist-leaning environmentally conscious members in their midst. Can they shift to be a party of the middle, financially secure class? It will mean shedding their old image and tag-lines, and maybe too many of the old guard remain. Certainly I have family members who self-define as working-class Labour-supporting people, and aren’t too sure about being defined as a liberal intelligentsia.
And finally, does this make FIRE a class-rebellion? The ultimate social-climb scene? Forget the ambassador’s parties young fellows, get thee to the FI Chautauqua.
We live, as always, in interesting times.
The goals for April were:
- Simplify and improve flexibility of online investment tracker
- 16/8 fasting
- Set up new ISA
- Final repainting and touches to downstairs rooms
Checking the assets and liabilities:
These are taken, as always, from my Beast Budget spreadsheet. I saved around 30% of my salary, which isn’t bad considering it was a surprisingly expensive month. My net worth took a 4.5% jump as we had our property revalued for a new mortgage. New invested money went into a Vanguard account, and where it has gone into my old favourite, the FTSE Developed World ex-UK Acc Fund.
If you fancy a free share, sign up to Freetrade with this link (I also get one).
Goal failed: Simplify and improve flexibility of online investment tracker
Just didn’t get the time to do this, and am unlikely to in the short term.
Goal passed: 16/8 fasting
I did this for about a week, and it worked fairly well but was a struggle around some of my work/ life commitments. Planning to use it flexibly for the future, aiming to not eat between 8pm and the following midday.
Goal passed: Set up new ISA
Cheated a bit by going back to Vanguard, but it’s nice and easy to just add into a new ISA there. Easy to visualise, track and minimal faff.
Goal passed: Finish repainting and touches to downstairs rooms
As part of a big reshuffle ahead of an impending arrival, the downstairs rooms of our house have been touched up, and my office is in the process of moving downstairs. Said impending arrival also incurring some expenses with new furniture.
- Groceries – Budget £200, spent £243.91, last month £274.70 – Same rules apply as last month, too much excitement in the middle of Lidl
- Entertainment – Budget £100, spent £100, last month £127.98
- Transport – Budget £250, spent £233.97, last month £294.80
- Holiday – £150, spent £0, last month £0
- Personal – £100/ £246.48/ £54.62
- Loans/ Credit – £50/ £250/ £200
- Misc – £50/ £191.14/ £325.34
- Fees – £300 /£476.77/ £103.62 – GMC/ RCPsych, various others
In the garden:
Everything has been bloody slow with the cold, and I’m very glad for our greenhouse. Various cucumber/ squashes seeds have been sown under cover. Companion plants, beans and next round of leafy veg coming along nicely. Potatoes sown. Everything else just ticking over, but we avoided any frosts, so no death.
Happy May everyone!