Tuesday 16 June 2015

Gambling and the corruption of modern Britain

When I was a child, official gambling was generally supported by pro-business conservatives, and opposed by socialists: by the Old Left.

The Old Left typically opposed gambling for two main reasons:

1. Protestant Christians, especially nonconformists such as Methodists, were opposed to gambling; and British socialism had strong connections with nonconformist churches - for example, socialists of this type were often against smoking and drinking alcohol.

British mainstream Nonconformism has utterly collapsed in its official status, and what remains are almost wholly hollowed-out non-religious organizations - deeply complicit in mainstream leftism - nowadays, in essence, a Methodist church is just another NGO.

(Of course, some low level individuals in specific Nonconformist churches will be real Christians.)

2. Because the gambling habit (or addiction) was seen as taking food from the moths of 'the poor' - and socialists were wary of the poor being vulnerable by their short-termists to being manipulated by advertising and appeals to hope of  'getting rich quick'.


In general gambling was opposed by Middle Class and Respectable Working Class English values - the upper classes seemed to gamble on horse racing especially - although they could usually afford it; the disreputable, 'undeserving' poor would drink and smoke and gamble at the cost of their families well-being - but decent people did not gamble. It was even thought to be a little dodgy to bet matchsticks in a game of cribbage - it might encourage something worse.

There were very low levels of corruption in England at this time - I never came across anything more significant than a pushing at boundaries of the private medicine/ state medicine boundary (although I was shocked even by this). 


The UK National Lottery was launched by the John Major-led Conservative government in 1994 and promoted by government as a 'good thing' - because money from the lottery would be allocated to 'good causes' such as charities, the arts and so on.Far from being killed-off, the lottery was then embraced by Tony Blair's 'New Labour' government.

At this time, mid nineties, I came across a couple of examples of systematic corruption. The first was related to the Arts Council - which is the government agency tasked with funding the arts.

With another chap, I had started a small cultural magazine which was self-funded. After an issue or two, we were approached by the local Arts Council who said they wanted to support it and asked us to apply for a grant. We did, although the process was more time-consuming than expected, but to our surprise this invited application was turned down. We were invited to re-apply with a more sophisticated business-plan - and the Arts people said they would fund this application, and recommended a particular person who would 'help us' write the business plan - this business plan person, we discovered, had-a-relationship-with one of the people at the Arts Council who had proposed funding the business plan. Clearly we were being used to allocate Arts funding to a person with a personal connection with the Arts administrator.

This was a big shock - but it was the kind of thing that was in the air. What was shocking was how blatant it was - we sensed that the individuals involved did not perceive it as graft, but in a bureaucratic context felt moralistically correct in what they were doing: proper business plans were regarded as a good thing ('accountability'); but unfortunately proper business plans cost thousands of pounds; however luckily the administrator just happened to know somebody who could do the job in the way required (it was a coincidence that they shared a bed, but that only meant they knew they could be trusted). In the end, most of the grant money allocated to 'support the arts' was going into the Arts administrators pockets, but that was (unfortunately) necessary in order that these things be done in a properly transparent and auditable fashion...

Of course, all the great and good were continually clamouring for more money to 'support the arts' - a 'good cause' - but from the inside, a small amount of money actually supporting the arts (or, at least, ideologically correct arts) was just the minimal necessary price to pay in order to justify spending most of the budget (by various means) on their own salaries and bonuses and artsy lifestyles.


About the same time, but under the New Labour regime, I heard from an insider that the National Lottery money was being used in a systematically corrupt fashion. The 'lottery money' - very large amounts of it, in chunks of tens to hundreds of thousands of pounds - was being allocated to 'good causes', and the 'goodness' of causes and the subsequent allocations were being made by committees appointed by 'the great and good' and was, mostly, being shared-out among this same group as mutual favours.

Also around this time, but gradually and incrementally, the national system of school examinations (O-levels/ GCSEs and A-Levels) became systematically corrupt - with systems being modified to allow easy and undetectable cheating, and this kind of cheating therefore expanding to endemic proportions and going-through the college and university system (where is had already become endemic in many subjects and institutions).


So, nowadays, Britain is a much more corrupt place than ever it was thirty or forty years ago; people hardly even notice it, and when they do they just shrug and try to find ways to join in.

What is noteworthy, is that the corruption has been introduced from above, was associated with the decline of Christianity, the decline of the Old Labour party, the rise of political correctness and identity politics- because it was usually considerations of 'inequality' or 'injustice' that were used to dismantle (mostly) fair and honest systems in order to divert resources to 'deserving' groups.

The best known example, thoroughly documented, is university admissions; which are now highly corrupt in multiple ways on the excuse of social engineering 'equality', indeed so corrupt that their corruption is hidden from itself because there is no clear idea of what would constitute 'fairness'. ought to be.


Corruption and dishonesty seem to be the natural state of things in the public life of most parts of the world - but this was not the case in Britain, especially not among the middle class and skilled working class. But it turned out that when Christianity collapsed from the mid-1950s onwards, it was not long before the honesty collapsed too (of course there was a lag and the change was incremental, while those who grew up in the old system were gradually replaced).

Now there is corruption and no prospect of change, because there is no anti-corruption group which is powerful enough to influence the national ethos. Almost all groups, including religions, are themselves corrupted by inclusion into the systems of conditional subsidies and control, conditional tax breaks etc.

The agents of corruption of exactly the bureaucracies which were themselves supposed to cure the problem of corruption due to 'unaccountable' individual discretion. 


The clearest evidence of the corruption of modern Britain is gambling. Thirty years ago, gambling was almost invisible; and the few 'betting shops' had plain windows. Now most shops have prominent advertisments for gambling - at the checkouts. There are manyfold more betting shops - prominently displayed. TV advertising has very frequent adverts for online betting organizations.

For example, sports betting (on football, cricket etc - as well as horse racing) is represented as participating in your favourite sport, as contrasted with merely watching it.

The idea is that people who are serious about sport will 'put your moeny where your mouth is' and bet on it.

I remember the same thing was fashionable in libertarian economists circles about a decade ago - serious economic forecasters were supposed to make bets about the future. Such bets were advertized and praised.

In a broad sense, gambling - along with drinking alcohol to the point of intoxication and serial promiscuity and foreign travel - has been incorporated into the core of the mainstream 'fun' lifestyle towards which 'young' people are supposed to aspire.

The representative modern aspirational Briton is a thin-Falstaff (of either sex).   


But is betting, is gambling, a good thing? Or is it evil or perhaps neutral?

In the past, most serious British Christians would certainly have said gambling and betting were a bad thing; gambling something that should not be encouraged, and should indeed be strongly discouraged.

It was a fact of life, like drunkenness and fornication, was it was a low-life kind of fact. But now gambling is part of government, sustains a vast bureaucracy, a source of funding for 'good causes', advertized to the point of ubiquitous hype - and by this advertizing a factor sustaining much of the mass media; and to be hostile to gambling, to criticize the pervasive culture of betting, is seen as an aggressive, kill-joy form of uptight, repressed, freedom-limitation.

So, the rise and rise of gambling in Britain is a microcosm of the modern condition. 



as said...

I like and appreciate posts like this which use detailed concrete examples. They are much easier for me to understand than the abstract philosophical posts.

Bruce Charlton said...

@as - Thank you for persisting! Blogging daily I cannot stick to one subject, or one style - but write whatever is on my mind. Sometimes I am deliberately abstract, because the environment of political correctness makes this necessary.

JP said...

The 'lottery money' - very large amounts of it, in chunks of tens to hundreds of thousands of pounds - was being allocated to 'good causes', and the 'goodness' of causes and the subsequent allocations were being made by committees appointed by 'the great and good' and was, mostly, being shared-out among this same group as mutual favours.

"Environmentalism" works the same way - a "good cause" provides a fig leaf for the Great and Good to funnel taxpayer money to their friends. Doubtless we could easily come up with other examples.

Albrecht said...

You write, "… to be hostile to gambling, to criticize the pervasive culture of betting, is seen as an aggressive, kill-joy form of uptight, repressed, freedom-limitation."

Isn't this is the typical attitude toward anyone today who points out any obvious fact such as that massive debt is unsustainable, divorce is a disaster, sodomy is pathological, drug use leads to enslavement, the lottery is a tax on foolishness and so on?

Bruce Charlton said...

@A - My point was that while much is written concerning the topics you list - I have not read anything critical of gambling that goes further than asserting it is (mostly) a 'waste of money'. but this surely applies to most expenditure nowadays; and if that was the only problem about gambling, then there would indeed by no need to condemn gambling - after all, gambling is economically reducible to a calculated risk, which is not irrational per se. I am saying that aside from economic considerations, there is a Christian tradition that gambling is intrinsically prone to lead to wrong.