Monday, 27 December 2010

Ragged trousers

Back in my council employee days days we received a monthly e-mailed newsletter. A cynic like me generally regarded this as mere propaganda, back-slapping by senior managers on hitting a target which meant nothing to anyone remotely near the frontline, but one feature I loved was where another member of staff would pick their top ten books. Most interesting was the senior managers picks. The Executive Director tellingly plumping for Machiavelli's The Prince among his ten, recommending it as an excellent manual for any manager.

The Prince did not appear on anyone elses list, but one title seemed to be almost de riguer: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

Spotting it for £3 in a branch of HMV it has lain on my bookshelf for several months just waiting patientley for the right mood to take me. That mood would come folowing this particularly vacuous read (even by the standard of football books) by Colin Murray which left me gasping for something a bit more heavyweight.

My initial reluctance to read the book was inspired in part by the fact that I felt that it would, at over 100 years old, have little relevance to today.

How wrong could I be. The book shows how little has changed in 100 years. I am only a third of the way through and it has already dealt with how people in poverty are blamed for their own predicament rather than any blame being placed on the system. Perhaps if anything the book is more relavant today than ever as it shows how (despite the protestations of current and previous governments) work alone is not necessarily a route out of poverty. It also shows how the system leads to a grossly uneven distribution of wealth, again a lesson becoming more and more relavant as workers earn minimum wages whilst company directors protect their already huge profits by tax avoidance.

The book also reminds us us why we need a welfare state. Its all very well to knock it and to say that 'hand-outs' result in dependency and reduce the incentive to work, but do we really want the alternative?


  1. Oh, interesting. I actually bought this book a couple of weeks ago and haven't opened it yet. I can't remember why I picked it up but you've just inspired me to actually read it..

  2. This was always recommended by old socialists to raw but promising youngsters - on building sites, factory floors etc. With good reason