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Social mobility improves

Polly Toynbee has been talking about the latest figures on social mobility in Britain, which suggest things are improving, but only slightly. She puts the problem down to educational and pay inequalities and points to the Nordic countries as exemplars.

Which makes me wonder what she knows about them. Although the figures are inevitably no more than an informed guess, Sweden is believed to have 20% unemployment disguised under other headings. Norway is an oil and gas economy, and both Sweden and Denmark seem to be going through the same problems as the UK is and need to reconstruct their tax systems so as to put their welfare states on a sustainable basis, which unfortunately they are not at the moment.

Nevertheless there are big differences which go back centuries. It would take a near-revolution to deal with the issues that were resolved in Sweden three hundred years ago and largely account for the differences today.

The big divide in Britain is not betwen rich and poor, or even well-educated or badly educated. Those differences are just the symptom of the real divide, which is this: there are those who own the land on which they live and work, and those who do not.

The latter must work as employees and take their chance in the labour market. Many so called Capitalists are also in the position of being rent payers.

The last time anyone seriously attempted to address that situation was in 1909, and the legislation was blocked by the Lords, paving the way for the limited reform of the Upper House which took place just before the first World War.

So what happened in Sweden that makes it so different? The king, Karl XI, took the land off the nobility. Just like that. The process was known as the Reduction. It took resolve but the task was achieved.

At a stroke this got rid of the special vested interest group which has stood in the way of policies that would have broken down the persistent inequality that plagues Britain, where the landowning interest actually strengthened its hold, by evicting the peasantry from the land in the English agricultural enclosures and the Scottish clearances. In Sweden, land ownership has remained dispersed, which has made things possible there which are impossible in Britain until the vested interest is identified and challenged.

In present day circumstances, the most effective policy would be to avoid making an issue of land ownership as such, but to collect the rental value of land and use it for public revenue, an equivalent policy to that of the Swedish king Karl XI. Most present taxes could then be abolished. But such is the power of the British interest group that the issue and proposed solution is scarcely mentioned in the newspapers or other media.