Why are UK academics striking? A beginner’s guide

by Miriam Ronzoni on March 5, 2018

Ingrid has suggested that I write a short post giving a general overview of the current strike action in UK universities, as many CT readers based outside of the UK might actually not know much about it. I am very happy to do so.

UK-based academics are currently engaging in the most massive industrial action ever undertaken by the sector. After being on strike five days overall over the past two weeks, they are committed to an escalation that will lead them to strike four out of five days this week and to a whole week walk-out next week. If negotiations do not progress sufficiently after this, the promise is to move to an assessment boycott.

The reason behind the strike is a major reform of academic pensions, which Universities UK (UUK) –  the organization of academic employers – put on the table last year. The plan is to move from the current defined benefit scheme to a defined contribution scheme, whereby future pensions would entirely depend on how the invested contributions do on the stock market.  It is clear that this change is fairly radical and would make UK universities a much less attractive and competitive place to work. If this weren’t enough, however, four things make UK-based academics particularly angry. First, the current scheme is already a significantly downgraded version of the pension that was promised to all academics who started working in UK universities prior to 2010. Between 2010 and 2016, the old “final salary” scheme (whereby pensioners would get half of their final salary upon retirement) was replaced with a, broadly speaking, “average salary” scheme (whereby pensioners would get half of their average salary upon retirement). In 2010, UUK stopped offering the old scheme to new employees; in 2016, the old scheme was closed altogether. This change was hard enough to swallow, but academics were promised that it would make their pensions “bullet proof” sustainable. Now UUK claims that the scheme is not sustainable after all, which leads to the second reason for being angry. Over and above the question of “who is to blame” and should carry the burden if the scheme is not sustainable in spite of predictions, many experts question the valuations and analyses offered by UUK, arguing that “there is no deficit”, no problem of sustainability, and that the proposed reform is instead driven by an agenda of “aggressive de-risking” aimed at shifting all risk-carrying to employees. Third, UUK have refused to enter any meaningful negotiations with the Union of academics, UCU, up until now. Finally, many argue that the very way in which this decision was taken was dodgy and intransparent. Not only did only a minority (42%) of employers vote for the proposed change; on top of that, several individual colleges at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge were given an individual vote, thus allowing single colleges to count as much as some of the largest universities in the country.

Anxiety levels were high before the strike started: academics were afraid they would antagonize students; the Union, on the other hand, thought that such a massive strike was necessary given the circumstances, but was also concerned that strike fatigue might kick in after the first few days. So far, however, the momentum seems to be behind the strike. Students have largely supported the action, both officially and through unofficial acts of solidarity; pickets have grown larger every day; and UUK have finally decided to go back to the negotiating table. Watch this space, the next couple of weeks might prove very interesting.

The present post only aims at providing a very brief introduction – an entry point into the issue, as it were. For those who would like to dig deeper, Mike Otsuka has been offering a fantastic reconstruction and critique of the reform, so I would encourage you to plough through that.

Let me just finish by making two remarks.

First, UK academics are angry on many other fronts, as well. They believe that their sector is under attack; they think that universities are both being forced to undergo an unwelcome process of marketization and being deceitfully framed as “ivory towers” of privilege which justify unprecedented levels of intervention and monitoring on the government’s part. In sum, they think that universities are increasingly run like businesses with highly interventionist bosses and regulators, and that this is a mistake on oh so many levels. Again, digging into this topic would take us too far – at least another full post would be required –, but some academics believe that the current strike might constitute an opportunity for a broader push back. As an anonymous academic blogger puts it: “When we return to work, it’s our job as critical thinkers, as scientists and scholars, to say ‘no’. If an initiative doesn’t make sense, say so, and say no to it.”

Second, one may wonder whether academics, as comparatively privileged workers, are morally justified in striking to keep their privileges: after all, isn’t a defined benefit pension a rare luxury these days? I have tried to summarize my thoughts on why comparatively privileged workers may and should strike on another academic blog venture that I participate in, “Justice Everywhere” –  a site I strongly encourage CT readers to have look at because many brilliant young political philosophers (yours truly obviously excluded: only in my gerontocratic Motherland would I still be considered “young”) write in it.



Andrew Lister 03.05.18 at 11:36 am

“500 Internal Server Error” for those links, at the moment, for the “justice everywhere” links


Martinned 03.05.18 at 11:54 am

I am fascinated by how this strike works. A friend of mine is doing a masters at UCL. His professors are on strike, so there aren’t any lectures and they are not available for their usual contact hours, but he is still expected to turn in his coursework. Naively, based on Dutch experience, I would have expected the coursework to stop as well…


Katherine Kirkham 03.05.18 at 12:11 pm

I imagine the coursework requirement is a university/college requirement rather than a requirement from the lecturer/professor though? The university is still “requiring” everyone to do their work, but the lecturers are refusing to do it.


Miriam Ronzoni 03.05.18 at 12:25 pm

Martinned: course conevnors are not allowed to take final decisions on these matters in the UK (again, one of these days I must write a post about how little discretion UK academics currently enjoy); it is up to Schools, Faculties and Universities to come up with solutions. And of course, since a strike is a strike is a strike, and since the point is to maximise disruption, lecturers and professors are by and large not offering proposals on how to deal with the problem. What they are largely doing is telling students that they should reasonably expect Universities to come up with solutions that do not penalize them, but they are not coming up with the solutions themselves. Bear in mind, again, that if this continues thre will be a marking boycott at some point.


Chris Bertram 03.05.18 at 12:54 pm

Thanks Miriam! Great turnout on the picket-line in Bristol this morning. However this turns out, I think the damage to the Universities UK marketization strategy will be enormous. They’ve pushed the idea that we are a major export industry and that they are the buccaneering CEOs thereof whilst building the whole thing on bullying us into giving our labour for free and exploiting our good will and commitment to our students. Without our willing co-operation (which will be much less available in the future) they’ll have a shiny plexiglass Potemkin village.


ph 03.05.18 at 1:03 pm

Good for you! Many thanks for the background. Marketization is an appalling concept that is spreading like a cancer across the globe. I very strongly support the strike and hope that academics around the globe do so as well. Great news!


engels 03.05.18 at 2:23 pm

TBT the egalitarian justice of relatively high-earners striking to maintain their pay was discussed from a somewhat critical perspective here:


Omega Centauri 03.05.18 at 5:39 pm

What happens with TAs? They usually read/grade the coursework, so at least for a while I can imagine the system creaking along. At some point lack of lectures likely means that students are unprepared for the assignments (unless they are accomplished auto-didacts), but I can imagine that you might be able to string this out for a few weeks.


Miriam Ronzoni 03.05.18 at 7:43 pm

Andrew Lister I think the problem is sorted.


Miriam Ronzoni 03.05.18 at 9:15 pm

Omega: TAs are striking, too.


TM 03.05.18 at 9:54 pm

engels 7: Your memory is too good for CB ;-)


RickM 03.06.18 at 1:36 am


Tabasco 03.06.18 at 7:11 am

The OP is short on important facts. What does the “average” salary mean? Average over their entire careers or average over the last x years, where x is a number like 5? The latter is not unusual in defined benefit schemes.

Who does the proposed DC scheme apply to? Existing academics (including those close to retirement), new academics only, or what?

Of course you can always argue that the details don’t matter because it is a downgrading of employment benefits, which should always be resisted. But it is ironic that students suffer disruption to their studies over this issue, because very few of them will get the benefit of a DB pension scheme, not even those who have careers in high paying professions.


Chris Bertram 03.06.18 at 7:36 am

@engels @TM interesting that our stalkers, for that’s the best description of engels I can find here, have so much better memories of blogposts from years ago than we do …..

Having had my memory jogged, I also remember that what sparked the reflections at the end of the post were some remarks by a colleague to the effect that it was unjust that professors could no longer have the expectation of living in Clifton, a smart area of Bristol, and that we were now worse off than doctors and lawyers.

The current dispute, however, does not much concern the comparative well-being of current professors like me as much as the remuneration packages of far more junior colleagues. Having paid into the final salary scheme (discontinued a few years ago) for many years, the current dispute has a fairly small (though not completely insignificant) impact on my own expectations of retirement income. The real impacts are on my younger colleagues, who have not accumulated past benefits, who have racked up debt in order to embark on an academic career, and who, having made such choices in the expectation of a secure pension are now to be denied if (if UUK have their way). They, moreover, have had their pay held back to below inflation for several years and in many cases have only just escaped from a life of hourly-paid contract teaching at an effective rate of little more than the minimum wage. With mortgages to pay and small children to feed, they are also those who will find it the hardest to strike. (I can stay out out on strike forever if needs be). Such people don’t live in Clifton (unless in rented accommodation).

Though perhaps all of us would earn less in an egalitarian society and certainly in an egalitarian world, I don’t begrudge my colleagues the right to stick up for themselves, to demand than promises that were made to them are kept, and that they not be made still worse off than they have been at a time when the cash flowing to universities has built a lot of shiny buildings and funded the expense-account purchases of pornstar martinis for university leaders.


Chris Bertram 03.06.18 at 8:18 am

People like @Tabasco need to ask themselves why DB schemes are in crisis. The fundamental reason is that institutions and businesses made promises to their staff, but failed to allocate the funds necessary to keep those promises. Why did they do that? Because not funding the pension scheme was a cheap way of getting access to cash that they’d otherwise have had to borrow and pay interest on.

He may be right that those students will not have DB pensions available to them. But if they don’t then we’ll face a generalized problem in a few years of millions of old people with inadequate retirement incomes to fund their needs. And someone will end up paying for that, probably via taxation. So again we have a case of businesses and other institutions dumping risks and costs onto individuals and taxpayers. Perhaps the students have an interest in standing up against that?

(Should those students have ambitions to enter higher education as academics (a path that typically includes long years of debt and precarious pay and employment) they may well find that path less attractive give the cuts to the remuneration package.)


novakant 03.06.18 at 10:17 am

but some academics believe that the current strike might constitute an opportunity for a broader push back.

Let’s hope so – I think tuition fees are a scandal.


Dipper 03.06.18 at 10:52 am

One of the consequences of QE following the GFC was that DB schemes suddenly became almost unfundable. The flattening of yield curves as well as (I believe) government requirements for pension funds to buy long-term gilts lead to the price of the promise of a dollar in 20 years time going up massively. Hence a report last November putting the total deficit in the UK at £460 billion, which is about three years-worth of the NHS. Hence why pensions funds are at the heart of lots of business collapses and why lots of pension funds are collapsing into the Pension Protection fund (see this list). So not only are DB schemes becoming a thing of the past, but people receiving DB pensions as promised are also becoming a thing of the past, as explained to me by my Cambridge Mathematician taxi driver.

I did the following calculation. Average UK professors salary (£75K) x pension terms (pure guess, 70%) x average lump sum draw down (25) and I get to £1.3 million. So that is quite a large final pension pot. You can put your own numbers in, but are you happy with that amount of deferment of your income? Would you trade some of that final sum for a bit more cash earlier?

I’m not going to get involved in the rights and wrongs of your strike, but DB schemes have become financial land-mines exploding all over the place. Good luck sorting this one out.


Chris Bertram 03.06.18 at 11:58 am

I am impressed, as ever, by Dipper’s firm grasp of the particular details of the case at hand …..


Tabasco 03.06.18 at 12:10 pm

@Chris Bertram

It is not true that DB schemes guarantee an adequate retirement incone. It depends on the tbe size of tbe B. It is also not true that a DC scheme implies an inadequate retirement income. It depends on tbe size of tbe C, and a reasonable investment strategy, but you dont need the investing smarts of Warren Buffett to make it work.

What is true of course is that in a DC scheme tbe employee takes on the risk. If I were tbe union I’d be demanding compensatory salary increases.


Layman 03.06.18 at 12:49 pm

Tabasco: “It depends on tbe size of tbe C, and a reasonable investment strategy, but you dont need the investing smarts of Warren Buffett to make it work.”

What’s the evidence for this? In the U.S., we’ve done a giantsocial experiment in the efficacy of defined contribution plans, and the results are in.



Collin Street 03.06.18 at 1:07 pm

People like @Tabasco need to ask themselves why DB schemes are in crisis. The fundamental reason is that institutions and businesses made promises to their staff, but failed to allocate the funds necessary to keep those promises. Why did they do that? Because not funding the pension scheme was a cheap way of getting access to cash that they’d otherwise have had to borrow and pay interest on.

Pretty much, which is why you don’t get australian-style-superannuation defined-contributions schemes either.


Dipper 03.06.18 at 1:23 pm

@ Chris Bertram

you said “People like @Tabasco need to ask themselves why DB schemes are in crisis. The fundamental reason is that institutions and businesses made promises to their staff, but failed to allocate the funds necessary to keep those promises. Why did they do that? Because not funding the pension scheme was a cheap way of getting access to cash that they’d otherwise have had to borrow and pay interest on” and I was pointing out that QE meant that the funds needed to keep those promises soared very quickly to a very large number as a direct consequence of that QE policy. That could not have been foreseen. And where do you think companies that suddenly find these massive shortfalls in pension funds get the money from to plug them? Generally, they don’t. They go bust under the weight of pension fund debt. Hence that list in my post.


ph 03.06.18 at 1:41 pm

I teach 16 90 minute classes of up to 35 undergraduates each week at four different institutions, lecture once a week, commute hours per day, and handle my own admin, grading, and syllabus design all for less than 60k US take home and organize my own pension. I could increase my income, as I did for 20 years, by teaching six, or seven days a week during the term. A robust constitution helps, but I’m under no illusions about my ‘status’ on the totem pole. When part-timers such as myself leave a job, the only word heard is ‘next!’ I had lunch with my friend and boss last week, during which he described the faculty professional development program designed to improve teaching skills and educational outcomes – an excellent idea with the caveat being no part-time teachers are eligible – meaning that the people who actually teach the vast majority of the classes will be excluded. The luminaries will give themselves a good clap on the back for solving another problem! Lucky students!

Part-time instructors get practically no support from anyone (other than a few enlightened faculty) and do the bulk of the teaching. That’s how the system ‘works.’

Good luck with the strike!


engels 03.06.18 at 2:09 pm

I’d have thought the over-riding moral concern for anyone committed to egalitarian distributive justice wouldn’t be frustrated expectations etc but whether keeping the DB system makes Britain (or the world) more equal. I can’t see that anyone has seriously attempted to make that case and it seems rather counter-intuitive to me, given that the money has to come from somewhere and it seems pretty implausible, given the wider power dynamic, that that will be exclusively from even higher earners.

(Fwiw I’m not arguing against the strike. I have long thought there is a serious contradiction between the kind of egalitarian utopian theorising re-invented by Cohen and others and adopted by CT and the values of the labour movement, and I remembered trying to argue that contra Chris and Harry in the old thread I linked.)


Layman 03.06.18 at 3:31 pm

Dipper: “…QE meant that the funds needed to keep those promises soared very quickly to a very large number as a direct consequence of that QE policy.”

Objection. Assumes facts not in evidence.


engels 03.06.18 at 4:22 pm


Dipper 03.06.18 at 4:25 pm

@ Layman. Seriously? in addition to the deficit numbers I provided earlier a quick google will give you loads of articles pointing out the links but to save you some of your valuable time this one has the statement “Lower yields are extremely damaging for companies with Defined Benefit (DB) Pension Schemes.” and lower yields have arisen primarily because of QE.


Chris Bertram 03.06.18 at 5:32 pm

Contra Dipper’s assertions, had the universities not taken a pensions holiday in the past, the scheme would not now be in deficit. Perhaps he should come back once he has studied all of Mike Otsuka’s posts on the specifics of the USS case


rather than serving us up broad generalizations about DB schemes and the 2008 crash.


Dipper 03.06.18 at 6:38 pm

@Chris Bertram

Thanks for that link. I’ve greatly enjoyed reading the posts. You are all clearly in the wrong job, should give up lecturing and take up fund management because it is obviously just a matter of taking more risks and making more money. In the whole history of finance that strategy has never ever gone wrong. And you are clearly correct in your assertion that had the employers put more money into the fund in the past then ceteris paribusthere would be more money in there now, but again anyone with the ability to have predicted in the noughties that a global financial crash was on its way and would be followed by a completely unprecedented period of QE that would crush yields for a decade should now be retired in The Bahamas.

The obvious thing that strikes an outsider is that your pay package has completely the wrong split between money today and money tomorrow. Consequently for intelligent people you really don’t get paid much money. Apart from not having much money today, you are relying excessively on promises made to you being kept in the future. The whole construction of global finance, the basis of all financial mathematics, is based round the fact that when it comes to money people don’t keep their promises.

So aren’t you trying to solve the wrong problem? Shouldn’t you be working out how to get paid more money today?


TM 03.06.18 at 6:51 pm

CB 14: I agree with the sentiment and wish the strikers good luck. For the record, I think it’s important to make the case that academics, contrary to popular belief, are not generally among the well-off. Even those lucky enough to get a regular job in their middle years have often survived years of precarity.


engels 03.06.18 at 8:12 pm

academics, contrary to popular belief, are not generally among the well-off

They’re not well-off if judged against a reference group of people they’re likely to know socially (bankers, lawyers, managers, etc) but by any objective standard nationally and globally they are. I don’t have time to dig out figures now but I think there were some mentioned in the old thread I linked. And from Cohen’s and similar perspectives you’d also have to factor in the fact that their work is generally more subjectively rewarding than that of those other professionals. It is true that younger academics are (a) less well-paid than professors, (b) have mortgages to pay (c) fortunate to be where they are rather than trapped in minimum wage temp work like many other academics and non-academics but none of those considerations mean they merit higher pay than the national average on those views as I understand. I don’t think ‘being able to buy a house in Clifton’ is the relevant definition of privilege from the point of view of egalitarian justice, being better-off than average, all things considered is.


Tabasco 03.06.18 at 8:43 pm

Dipper gets it exactly right. Academics in tbe UK are very poorly paid yet have been promised a very generous pension, relative to their salary. If they were better paid they could save more over their working lives in a DC pension, and tbe ups and down of investment returns usually cancel out over the 40 years of a working life. But still, it’s a risk, and needs to be compensated for with even higher salaries.


Tabasco 03.06.18 at 8:54 pm

@Engels 31

A lower – mid manager at a telephone company is paid 25% more than a full professor. No one says they should be paid by investment bankers but academic salaries are ridiculous.


TM 03.06.18 at 10:07 pm

engels, most academics never become professors or anything of the like. I have three PhDs in my extended family and one never had a decent job in his life, one unhappily moves from postdoc to postdoc, and one has held a range of positions, some of which were ok and others not, and when you take the average over all of them, taking account of many years with little or no income, she would likely have fared better in material terms as a plumber. These are anecdotes but they aren’t unusual. Statistics about the earnings of academics are distorted, like all earnings statistics, by the fact of wide inequality within the group. Some do very well but where is the median? And *all* academics forego income during an extended period in their lives. Many of my former classmates finished school after the ninth or tenth grade, started earning some money, and have houses and cars and families and are materially ok, partly because they live in areas where the cost of living is much lower than in places where jobs for academics are available.

Further: When discussing the material situation of academics, you do NOT have to factor in their subjectively rewarding work, because that is an issue separate from the material situation, which is what I am discussing. But let me also point out that many academics are never lucky enough to be able to work in their chosen field, the one which might actually have been “more subjectively rewarding”.

I don’t know anything about houses in Clifton. I never heard of them. Apparently they are prestigious. I simply don’t know any academics who own prestigious houses, although I’m sure there are some. Btw I’m not in any way personally complaining. I work in a non-academic job under materially and otherwise sufficient conditions, I don’t own houses or cars and don’t miss owning them, I don’t regret having spent years of my life in a mediocre education system that nevertheless provided me immaterial benefits I value still today. But when I hear BS about the privileged life of academics -which is almost always born out of anti-intellectual resentment – I won’t stand it.


engels 03.07.18 at 4:26 am

she would likely have fared better in material terms as a plumber

As I said, I don’t have tune to do this properly but Glassdoor provides the following average salary figures for UK:

Plumber: £26,380
Lecturer: £39,000

Leaving aside the better pension, if those figures are correct a lecturer could spend 40% of her life out of the workforce and have the same lifetime earnings.

And note that there are a LOT of people in UK worse off than plumbers (around half the population if that figure is correct.)


F. Foundling 03.07.18 at 5:53 am

@ Chris Bertram 03.06.18 at 8:18 am
But if they don’t then we’ll face a generalized problem in a few years of millions of old people with inadequate retirement incomes to fund their needs. And someone will end up paying for that, probably via taxation.

This sounds optimistic to me. I find it easier to imagine that their needs simply won’t be funded. Old people don’t make revolutions.


Hidari 03.07.18 at 6:03 am

Interesting that it’s the ironically named ‘Engels’ who is producing Sun-type right wing propaganda of the ‘Ackademics? They’re doin’ al right int they? Not a real job though is it? Thas never done a real days work in tha life!’

The reality is, if you take a quick look at jobs.ac.uk, there are many academic jobs that are not lecturing jobs. CF here;


There are research assistants, research fellows, and postdocs just for starts, all of whom earn considerably less than lecturers.

There’s also the pernicious ‘pre-sessional’


where teachers do an awful lot of work for 1,2, 3 months and are then thrown on the scrap heap after the ‘course’ is over.

Finally many academic posts nowadays are part-time, job share, mat leave etc.

It should be noted that research assistant ‘jobs’ are dependent on funding, there is no chance of promotion or job security (ever) and involve an extraordinary amount of work. A job as a school teacher is in every way better than a job as an academic researcher (and I’m not attacking teachers!) and yet they are not considered to be fair game on the soi-disant left, as academics are.

Finally as a result of the equally pernicious RAE (soon to be replaced by something worse) academics are forced to write, sometimes large tomes, for free.

According to Total Jobs, incidentally (not a reliable source, I know) the average plumber’s salary is nearly £32000 pa. https://www.totaljobs.com/salary-checker/average-plumber-salary

But the ruling class laugh when we wilfully allow these ‘divide and rule’ conversations to predominate.


Tabasco 03.07.18 at 7:27 am

@ Hidari

All true, but it is a problem that won’t be fixed until British universities get more revenue.

Options are
a) more money from government (good luck persuading Mrs May)
b) more money from students (which everybody inside the sector except the most senior university managers will resist)
c) more students especially from outside Britain (Middle East, China, India) who can be charged very large sums to attend the former Bognor Regis Polytechnic, now rebadged as West Sussex University (but this is the hated marketization strategy).

Most contributors this blog would say that only option a) is acceptable. The problem is that the people who get to decide don’t agree.


Chris Bertram 03.07.18 at 7:44 am

Cough …. the universities did get considerably more revenue, and the real pay of academics declined over the same period.


Dipper 03.07.18 at 7:49 am


They could reduce other costs.

Why is econ/maths/physics/philosophy 101 delivered anew each year in lots of different universities? Why pay people to do what lots of other people are also doing at the same time and did identically last year? Just put the lectures on youtube and tell students to watch it in their own times.

Why have separate admin at each University? Why not do what many police forces/councils are doing and combine admin functions across universities?

And I’m not sure why this needs constantly explaining to clever left-wing people, but competition is good for both customers and workers. Soviet-style state run things, not so good. Centrally run state health service – low pay. Competing pharmaceutical companies – high pay. Centrally state-run Universities – low pay. Competing Fund Management companies – high pay. It is almost as if there is a theme here.


Dipper 03.07.18 at 7:50 am

@ Chris Bertram – 39 – where did the money go?


J-D 03.07.18 at 9:08 am

Whatever the merits of those comments, I can’t figure how they’re supposed to be relevant to the original topic.


engels 03.07.18 at 10:46 am

Ackademics? They’re doin’ al right int they? Not a real job though is it? Thas never done a real days work in tha life!’

I see we’ve reached the ‘working class people can’t spell’ stage of the discussion ahead of schedule… If anyone has evidence that lecturers really make less than plumbers I’m all ears.


engels 03.07.18 at 10:50 am

where did the money go?



Collin Street 03.07.18 at 11:32 am

Something I realised.

Suppose you have two people. They both are… abrupt, say. Lacking social graces and awareness. Average — maybe even slightly advanced — talent, but resistant to the feedback they need to be polished into actual useful skill. Very happy with themselves as they are right now and not eager to change, even if the change is an improvement.

You know, shitty people. These people are not going to have outstanding social success, or anything success really. But they’re also not going to look at themselves

So, what are they going to do? Well, they’re going to lash out, blame things on the actions of others, probably identify discrimination against People Like Them as the root cause of the lifestyle problems they’ve run into.

And, here’s the kicker: one’s a straight white man and the other’s a queer woman of colour.

… and we get the result that even though subjectively the two have identical experiences, the one has — accidentally — stumbled into a real social truth and merely misapplied it in treating it as the cause of her problems, but the other guy, he’s off writing like the protocols of the elders of zion or something.


Layman 03.07.18 at 11:32 am

Dipper: “…and lower yields have arisen primarily because of QE.”

Repeating the assumption doesn’t make it stop being an assumption.


casmilus 03.07.18 at 11:57 am


“Old people don’t make revolutions.”

They can swing a referendum result that young people will take the consequences of.

The background story here explains why working class representation in academia is low. If you’ve got a First Class degree, and don’t have relatives who can pay for the deposit on a house, why the hell would you be a lecturer? Ditto for conservative representation: if you have no ideological objection to working in the City, you bloody well go there. That’s why there’s so many physicists working in financial software.


engels 03.07.18 at 12:17 pm

as a result of the equally pernicious RAE (soon to be replaced by something worse) academics are forced to write, sometimes large tomes, for free

The practice of producing scholarly treatises by slave labour is indeed abhorrent and should be abolished.


TM 03.07.18 at 12:36 pm

Thanks Hidari 37. But careful, at least in the US, teachers are considered fair game for right wing attacks, due to the fact that they are one of few remaining unionized workforces (*). It is an old capitalist propaganda trick to claim that public sector unions are just defending privileges. As long as there are people worse off (and of course there are), they have no right to demand better or even to defend the advances won in the past. The left egalitarian answer to that is of course that all those who are worse off should get improvement, not that those workers who are relatively better off should have their pay and benefits slashed.

(*) Of course, public sector unions in the US will soon be a relic of the past, thanks to all the hard working revolutionary socialists who spent the election campaign making Trump look less horrible than he is.


TM 03.07.18 at 12:37 pm

*”But the ruling class laugh when we wilfully allow these ‘divide and rule’ conversations to predominate.”* Amen to that.


engels 03.07.18 at 12:51 pm

The left egalitarian answer to that is of course that all those who are worse off should get improvement

I too look forward to a brighter future when everybody in the UK to earns 30% more than the median income


M Caswell 03.07.18 at 2:45 pm

“I too look forward to a brighter future when everybody in the UK to earns 30% more than the median income”

Than the current median income? Why not?


Hidari 03.07.18 at 2:50 pm

I thought of replying to our troll friend’s ‘points’, before I realised: wait a minute. This is insane! The troll’s points would only make some kind of sense (albeit in Daily Mail land) were it the case that lecturers (and only lecturers*) were striking for more money. But of course, they’re not. All kinds of academics are taking action to prevent their pensions being stolen. So whether university employees are ‘rich’ or not is irrelevant. Something far more basic is at stake.

*It has been pointed out by a number of commentators that many academics are not lecturers.


Dipper 03.07.18 at 3:24 pm

@ engels 44

Your link suggests the money went to Vice Chancellors.

Pick a University at random, say Bristol. A quick google has about 3,000 Research and teaching staff of whom about 2,300 are full time. Assuming £25,000 annual salary per person that gives a total academic wage bill of £75,000,000 pa. The Vice chancellor gets £323,000 pa. So that’s a tax of just over £100 per academic.

You may think the Vice chancellor is getting paid far too much, and you may be right, but what he isn’t doing is taking a significant sum per person out of the pot of academic pay.


Dipper 03.07.18 at 3:43 pm

@ Layman

“Repeating the assumption [of lower yields due to QE] doesn’t make it stop being an assumption.

I would have thought the fact that massive being of bonds would force the prices up and hence push yields down would have been obvious, but it turns out it isn’t. There are alternative reasons why bond yields have continued falling.

Nevertheless, during initial discussion of QE “economists from the Worlds Pensions Council warned that artificial low government bond interest rates could compromise the underfunding of pension funds” (here)

If yields go down, then the cost of meeting future liabilities goes up.


engels 03.07.18 at 3:52 pm

[Correction—if anyone cares—the %s mentioned above should be 30 & 50 respectively]

Some better data here:

According to data commissioned from the Higher Education Statistics Agency by THE… the average pay of a university professor in the UK rose by £923 to £76,395 in 2013-14… For other senior academics, such as pro vice-chancellors and heads of school, there was a £1,056 increase to £79,230… [the average pay of] other academic staff… inched up by 0.9 per cent to an average of £42,793

For comparison, the median income for the 9th decile of single adult earners for the UK that year was £39 800 and for the top decile was £60 500.


engels 03.07.18 at 4:49 pm

Dipper—if you’re asking me to guess—some of it went on academic salaries (esp at the top), some on admin/VC salaries, some on buildings, some on marketing bullshit


TM 03.07.18 at 5:08 pm

engels: “I too look forward to a brighter future when everybody in the UK to earns 30% more than the median income”

You really are a joker. In an egalitarian society, everybody should get the average income (total income divided by the number of people, or households depending on which you are using), which in an unequal society is much more than the median. I explained that effect in a similar thread not long ago (I know you have a good memory), where I pointed out that if all US wealth were equally distributed, even those at the 80th percentile would get richer. Somebody by the nom de plume engels should get that!

I don’t know the figures for the UK but I would be very surprised if the average weren’t at least 30% higher than the median. Somebody able to help?

Another point is important when talking about what a just income would be. The overall average is a good starting point but it should be obvious that a mid career worker with dependants shouldn’t be compared to a 20 year old or a retiree. They should be compared to the population of similarly situated workers, whose income distribution would be somewhat higher than the overall distribution (which include students and so on). Needless to say I think that everybody whether plumber or academic, young or old should be able to make a decent living, and the UK would certainly be rich enough to provide that.


Dipper 03.07.18 at 6:03 pm

@ Hidari

to prevent their pensions being stolen.

There is a certain kind of person on the “left” for whom “left wing” politics is not about producing better lives for ordinary people, about them having more choice, more opportunities, more control over their own lives, it is about the “good guys” finding the “bad guys” and punishing them. So the reason there is underfunding is because bad people have stolen the pensions!”.

No. The reason that private sector pensions in the UK are about £400 billion under water is not because someone out there has stolen £400 billion. The reason is that the funds generated to provide future income were based round certain assumptions about future real returns, and the policies of QE across the west have made those assumptions incorrect by about £400 billion.

I’ve provided links, I’ve provided a list of private sector companies undergoing similar problems. If you want to see everything in political life as a manifestation of some playground “goodies versus baddies” style game, that is up to you.


Collin Street 03.07.18 at 7:17 pm

If yields go down, then the cost of meeting future liabilities goes up.

Dipper: I want you to think about this very carefully, because it’s important.

How does a person come to the realisation — what’s the process involved here — that they’ve come to erroneous conclusions?


engels 03.07.18 at 7:59 pm

“The highest-paid executive at the #USS received a 50 per cent pay increase last year, to £900,000”


Dipper 03.07.18 at 8:58 pm

please do educate me Collin Street. Go on. You know you want to.


engels 03.07.18 at 9:23 pm

In an egalitarian society, everybody should get the average income

Ie no one earns shove the median, which was the only point I was making, your habitual strawmansplaining (and abusiveness) notwithstanding. (The UK mean income in 2016 was £31 900.)


Hidari 03.07.18 at 9:34 pm

@59 You are aware that the whole point of the actual original post at the top of this very page was to make clear that everything you have said is total BS? If you don’t know that, maybe you should read it again, and click on the video link.

You might also stop to ask yourself why Chris Bertram, who, one might infer, knows something about this strike, does not take your oh-so-scientific and factual assertions as seriously as you obviously do.


engels 03.07.18 at 10:08 pm

Also some of the points you are raising seem quite similar to some of those I brought up (albeit rather less furiously and condescendingly) on the previous thread I linked. Anyway being called a stalker, a troll and a joker is probably enough intellectual discussion for one day so I’ll leave you guys to your correct opinions on everything.


Layman 03.07.18 at 10:13 pm

“I would have thought the fact that massive being of bonds would force the prices up and hence push yields down would have been obvious, but it turns out it isn’t.”

Objection sustained, then.


Tabasco 03.07.18 at 10:37 pm

@ Collins Street 60

Here’s how it works (simplified).

A pension scheme pays a pension of £20,000 per year to a retired academic. Where does the £20,000 come from? The scheme invests in bonds which pay an interest rate of 5% per year. This means it needs to invest £100,000. Where does the £100,000 come from? From payments into the pension scheme during the academic’s working life, plus earnings on the payments in during the working life, minus administrative costs.

But suppose that when the academic retires, the interest rate is not 5%, but 1%. The scheme has to invest £500,000 to yield the same pension. But it doesn’t have £500,000. It only has £100,000. Not realising decades ago that there would be a financial crisis and QE which would see a permanent fall in interest rates, it didn’t put enough money in during the academic’s career. Alas, it cannot go back in time and retrospectively put the right amount of money in.

Not only that, but if these interest rates stay low – no one can predict the future, but so far it’s been 10 years, a third to a quarter of an academic career – then it’s going to have to put five times as much away to fund future pensions of £20,000.

Lower interest rates = higher pension costs.


rwschnetler 03.08.18 at 12:15 am

The reason why they want to change to define contributions is because of life expectancy that increased over the years. Cannot afford to pay at last five year average salary for a period that can be very close to total contribution years to pension fund.


Tabasco 03.08.18 at 12:50 am


This is why pemsion providers are reluctant to sell annuities, unless they are priced sky-high. The people who want to buy them have genetics that will let them live until 110.


Collin Street 03.08.18 at 1:41 am

Here’s how it works (simplified).

This isn’t the answer to the question I actually asked, though.

… now that I check, nobody actually asked that question. I thought Layman did, but what he actually did was doubt the validity of the/your answer: there’s nothing in what he wrote to suggest that he lacks understanding of how low interest rates are supposed to affect pension returns, it’s just he doubts the size of the impact.

[the reason I framed my actual question as a question actually directly relates to the point my question was trying to communicate; if I’d framed it as a statement my meaning wouldn’t have been communicated effectively… precisely because of the point I was trying to articulate. Eh.]


Tabasco 03.08.18 at 4:42 am

To get to the size of the impact, you’d need to ask an actuary. You can be sure that the universities have got actuarial advice that says the problem is real and the DB scheme is unsustainable. Has the union got its own actuarial advice that says the opposite?


Collin Street 03.08.18 at 6:27 am

a: this still isn’t the question I actually asked, and
b: sustainability isn’t the union’s problem. Sustainability is the uni’s problem: they have commitments, and there’s no real difference between DB pension obligations and the obligation to pay their electricity bill: it’s up to the unis to find the money from somewhere, and if they can’t find the money, if they can’t pay their obligations… then they’re insolvent, aren’t they. Have to be wound up.

They’re free to attempt to renegotiate their contracts, but nobody’s actually obliged to agree to any specific terms other than the current ones. Also! Money is fungible; if the unis are insolvent then it’s not as a result of their pension plans alone but of all their outgoings, no? They should be attempting to renegotiate all their costs; what efforts have they made to cut their electricity bills, say? Or perhaps they could look at liquidating some capital assets to cover the current shortfall, readjusting their plans longer-term to match.

Multiple, multiple choices that aren’t being discussed by you. Shifting to a well-funded arms-length defined-contribution scheme like australian super, which managed to end DB pensions in australia twenty-five years ago to no huge objection.


Plucky Underdog 03.08.18 at 6:51 am

Tabasco — I’m no actuary, but even I know that pension payments involve drawdown of principal. On average, over large numbers of pensioners and the long term, the (notional) part of the fund associated with an individual pensioner is exhausted when the pensioner dies. Designing the fund so that this works smoothly and safely is a large part of what actuaries do. Low interest rates are bad news, obviously, but it’s not in the stark inverse proportion that you describe.


TM 03.08.18 at 9:36 am

engels 63, please! You aren’t conflating mean and median are you? Of course in an equal (or at least symmetric) distribution, mean and median would be the same. But in today’s society, the median is way less than the mean so there is no contradiction in demanding that everybody makes more than the (current) median.


Dipper 03.08.18 at 9:40 am

Colin Street @72 pretty much hits the main point of the pensions argument. “it’s up to the unis to find the money from somewhere, and if they can’t find the money, if they can’t pay their obligations… then they’re insolvent, aren’t they. Have to be wound up.”

This is the problem in organisation after organisation. There are only three groups of people organisations can get the money from; customers, workers, or owners. In commercial organisations in competitive environments customers and workers are out as they can move to other organisations, which leaves the owners, and they generally elect to go bust if the burden becomes too much. £400 billion is quite a burden, hence the Pension Protection Fund.

I had assumed until the issue of University pensions blew up that the government, hence the taxpayer, was on the hook for this. So I am somewhat surprised to find the universities have constructed a thing that means the government can avoid paying the pensions. Far be it from me to give guidance to University lecturers, but instead of spending time trying to prove their pensions have been mismanaged (although it does produce entertaining articles like this) they would do better arguing that the construction of a vehicle for holding pension funds that allows government-run institutions to avoid their financial commitments is not legitimate and they should have the same guarantees on their pensions as civil servants.


Tabasco 03.08.18 at 10:31 am

PU 73
I agree, but I did say it was a simplified explanation.

Collin Street 72
I agree in principle. As I said upthread, if universities could find sufficiently more revenue, everything could be paid for, including DB pensions. As I also said, if academics move to DC pensions they should get a salary increase to compensate them for the risk.


Layman 03.08.18 at 10:51 am

rwschnetler: “The reason why they want to change to define contributions is because of life expectancy that increased over the years. ”

Life expectancy in the UK has been increasing for a century. If anything, the increase in life expectancy since 1980 has been slower than the historic rate of increase. Which do you think is the case: That the university pension fund managers are culpable because they were too stupid to take broadly known facts into their calculations, or that the teachers are culpable because they stubbornly refuse to die?



Layman 03.08.18 at 10:54 am

Tabasco: “Not realising decades ago that there would be a financial crisis and QE which would see a permanent fall in interest rates…”

Again with this claim that QE caused low interest rates! Talk to Dipper, he’ll set you straight.


Hidari 03.08.18 at 11:22 am

‘Insurers need to set aside less cash for pension payments as century-long rise in UK life expectancy stalls due to bad diet, stress and austerity’



rwschnetler 03.08.18 at 12:23 pm

Layman @77: None of the options in your question make any sense.

The USS are trying to change tack now for what they believe is necessary to provide for future liabilities (as explained in: https://www.ft.com/content/d6976534-a500-11e7-9e4f-7f5e6a7c98a2).


Dipper 03.08.18 at 12:36 pm

@ Layman, Tabasco.

I will indeed set you straight. Here and here in The Guardian. Larry Elliott says (in 2012)“Shortfalls in pension funds have increased as a result of QE. When the price of a government gilt goes up, the interest rate (or yield) goes down, and the effect of the Bank’s £325bn asset purchase programme has been to reduce the supply of government bonds, pushing up their price. Gilt yields, which are used as a rule-of-thumb guide to the future income of pension funds and of the likely inflation rate, have crashed, thus widening pension shortfalls”


engels 03.08.18 at 12:52 pm

You aren’t conflating mean and median are you?

No; as I said, the mean is about £32K, the median is about £26K. Average pay for non-senior academic staff is about £40K (I believe).


Layman 03.08.18 at 1:22 pm

rwschnetler: “None of the options in your question make any sense.”

Oh, that was just snark. The main point was this: When the pension promises were made, it was a known fact that life expectancy was increasing and had been for decades; and since the pension promises were made, life expectancy increases have actually slowed, meaning that it is a smaller problem than would have been predicted at the time the promises were made; so unless the people making pension promises were unbelievably stupid, it cannot be the case that an increase in life expectancy caused the pension plan to be at risk of failing.

Dipper: “I will indeed set you straight.”

Finding someone else making the claim you made – to which I objected – doesn’t demonstrate the truth of the claim.


TM 03.08.18 at 2:29 pm

engels 82: it’s tricky because your source in 63 talks about “median equivalised disposable income” – don’t have the time to read up on all the statistical corrections they apply (I believe it’s after tax) – and it includes retiree households and I assume student households. You compare that to the average (not median) pre-tax pay of lecturers. As pointed out, there are many academic workers who make less than lecturers. And many of those have been at the low end of the distribution for extended periods before they landed their first (if any) decent job. Again as pointed out if somebody in their forties makes a bit more than the average, after years of making less, that is not a shocking injustice.

Anyway you seem to keep getting my point wrong, or misconstruing it. You mocked in 51 the suggestion that “everybody in the UK [could] earn 30% more than the median income”. But there’s nothing impossible about that when it is understood that I’m referring to the _current_ median income.

Final point, when the capitalist class enriches itself by depressing the labor income not just of the lowest earners but of medium high earners as well, it’s still a transfer of wealth from labor to capital and not some sort of Robin Hood redistribution to be applauded.


Hidari 03.08.18 at 3:10 pm

@82 You are not living up to the promise you all got us excited about in comment number 65.

Needless to say, the statement that the average pay for non-senior academic staff in a UK university is £40k pa is utterly demented.


Stephen 03.08.18 at 9:56 pm

Possible good news:

Interesting that according to that article the universities breaking ranks with Universities UK’s stance and going for a reasonable settlement seem be high-reputation, high-quality, high-income ones: Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Imperial, Warwick. Possibly they feel that they could afford to put more money into a pensions scheme. Possibly some less eminent places couldn’t.

Not sure where Bristol would be in that respect.


engels 03.08.18 at 11:35 pm

Hidari, I suggest you take it up with the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

TM, fair enough it was a cheap shot. I don’t think it’s jmpossjble to imagine a future society in which everyone is paid what a lecturer is now but it seems rather arbitrary. I’m sceptical that the subjective rewards of earning £43K (or £80K, let’s not forget, in the case of professors) in a society where the median wage is £26K derive purely from absolute standard of living it commands rather than say relative status and, dare I say it, domination. I don’t think any of us know what the total product to be distributed in a socialist economy would be but I don’t think we can assume it will be the same as the capitalist product. Given the upheaval involved in such a transformation I’m inclined to be pessimistic, at least in the early years/


engels 03.09.18 at 1:39 am

“When you imagine the horror of living on £7-10k a year, please also remember that this is the present reality for a great many PhD students, GTAs, and ECRs on fixed-term contracts – the people who deliver more than half of teaching hours”


TM 03.09.18 at 10:22 am

engekls 87, it’s a real mystery to my why you keep harping on people making £40K +- as if they were the filthy rich upper class. I don’t know what £40K will buy you nowadays in the UK. My understanding is that the cost of living varies a lot and is above average especially in those areas where academic jobs are found. Of course nobody disputes that some academics have confortable incomes. But your picture of academics moving in circles of highly paid bankers and managers (31), owning houses in prestigious neighborhoods (31), and relishing in the social “domination” of the lower classes (87) seems totally off the mark. Among the professors I know or have known, some of whom with good incomes, I don’t find any specimen of this stereotype. I don’t know a single one living in luxury and showing off wealth. The ones I know tend to work too much and some have too little exposure to the world outside of academica. They are arrogant in the way academics are arrogant and pay too much attention to academic fame (publications and impact factors and so on) but hardly care about materialist status indicators. They are prepared to spend resources on their children’s education because that’s what academics value, which has been criticized on CT as being unfair to other children but that’s a different reproach. By and large, I suspect academics are about as selfish as others and as likely to have a distorted view of society, based on their personal socio-economic situation and social networks. I also get the impression that many older successful academics are oblivious to the plight of the younger generation. As academics, they should strive to do better in this regard. But your stereotype of lecturers and professors running in upper class circles and looking down on everybody else seems far-fetched. Would be interested in other commenters’ views.


TM 03.09.18 at 10:28 am

As academics, they should strive to do better in *these regards*, meaning they should have a keen interest in society outside of their personal bubble and should have some inkling of social responsibility. (Why academics? one could ask. That would be another discussion.)


casmilus 03.09.18 at 2:38 pm

A few years ago when the anarchist sociologist LizaMcKenzie and her mates in Class War wanted to one of their protests against gentrifcation in the Aldgate/Wapping area, the Daily Mail ran a smear piece, in which the fact that she was on £40k was supposed to indicate some sort of hypocrisy. It’s not in this one, but this is the only one of their hit-pieces I could find:




McKenzie’s work on estates and attitudes in the “underclass” are some of the more enlightening stuff around the issue of Brexit and “the left behind”. Poor people speaking for themselves, not middle class right-wingers presuming to speak for them.


engels 03.09.18 at 3:37 pm

‘The Daily Mail thinks left-wing academics are middle-class, The Daily Mail is bad, THEREFORE left-wing academics are working-class’

(I like McKenzie but the smashing up cereal cafe stunt was infantile ultraleftist BS)


Layman 03.09.18 at 4:12 pm

TM: “But your stereotype of lecturers and professors running in upper class circles and looking down on everybody else seems far-fetched.”

I’m not an academic, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suppose that academics socialize with – and identify with – people with education levels and (dare I say it) class backgrounds comparable to their own.


novakant 03.09.18 at 6:45 pm

£40k is not a lot of money in London.


engels 03.09.18 at 7:51 pm

TM, all you’re really doing at this point (apart from misrepresenting things I’ve said—academics are ‘upper class’ or whatnot) is rehearsing your own subjective impressions and anecdotes. Obviously they’re different from mine or we wouldn’t be arguing. So what makes you think I’m going to give yours precedence?


engels 03.09.18 at 8:55 pm

£40k is not a lot of money in London.

I’m confident that in or out of London it’s more than £30K.


TM 03.09.18 at 9:17 pm

engels, if my partially anecdotal arguments don’t impress you, fine, but you haven’t offered *any evidence at all* for your claims about academics relishing “social domination”. Please offer some non-anecdotal evidence of your own or leave us alone.

Layman, if you have evidence that academics – not certain academics but academics in general – have an upper class background and run in upper class circles – bankers and managers, as the claim had it which I objected to – please provide it. And please acknowledge the fact that most academic workers are not highly paid professors.
Out of curiosity: do you really consider somebody with a £40k salary part of the British “upper class”?


engels 03.09.18 at 9:36 pm

Please offer some non-anecdotal evidence

That as far as I’m aware they’re not protesting at living in a society where a minority can dedicate itself full time to reading and talking about philosophy or poetry while those with neither the education nor the leisure to do so put food on their tables, in some cases literally.


Layman 03.09.18 at 10:16 pm

TM: “Layman, if you have evidence that academics…”

Blah blah blah. If I had such evidence, I wouldn’t have said “…it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suppose…”, I would have instead provided the evidence. That’s what constructions like “…it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suppose…” signify, that the supposition isn’t an evidenciary finding. Obviously you think it is unreasonable to so suppose, though also without evidence. What now?


steven t johnson 03.10.18 at 2:53 am

Playing numbers games with SES is a waste of time, in my opinion, little more useful than gibbering about privilege. About the only thing you can say on that re “academics” is, universities and colleges and college towns are in themselves better real estate than the average workplace. At the high end, approaching gated neighborhoods, resort conference centers, very snobby clubs.

A little more to the point is the way of life. Academic life is centered around the pursuit of tenure track, grants, institution building, book sales, patents and at the extrema, new tech enterprises. There are potential exits into high management, philanthropic foundations, government service. The occasional refugee from politics and business who takes up residence in academia should provide a clue about how academia is organized: It is organized as a petty bourgeois pursuit.

As with all the petty bourgeois, many are called for greatness but few are chosen. The academic dream is to trade on personal reputation, to provide non-freely reproducible intellectual goods, which is to say, the petty bourgeois dream of a seller’s market . Failing that, the hope is that reputation of the school, the brand, sells the service at top rates. At the bottom of the market, teaching is merely another service industry, where speed up and stretch out are the order of the day. (The overlap of academia and sports industry is another matter.) The effects of the system may be subtle, but they are ceaseless and pervasive. Nor are they always subtle.

There are two principles that should provide a starting point. First, insofar as education is reduced to processing of students into semi-finished labor power, then labor defense is appropriate. Second, no reforms of any kind will guarantee the ascent of the aspirant petty bourgeois to success. The inevitable conclusion I think is that any movement in the academy will fracture, spaghettified by tidal forces raising the elite and pulling down the lumpen.


Hidari 03.10.18 at 7:06 am

‘The 36 union fat-cats who are each picking up more than £100k’


‘Commuters vent their fury at ‘greedy’ Tube drivers…Felicity Moor, 32, who works in banking, was less forgiving.

“They earn a fortune for driving a train anyway,”‘


A tube driver’s salary starts at £49,673, incidentally (which an academics’ certainly doesn’t).

‘Binmen in a city hit by a crisis in refuse collection took home £45,000 in pay and overtime in a year, it emerged yesterday’


Isn’t it funny how the right wing media (and their mouthpieces, e.g. on this thread) only ever ‘discover’ how ‘highly paid’ some people are when they go on strike?


Hidari 03.10.18 at 7:15 am

But Engels does have a point at comment 98. I think it’s terrible the way all British Universities shut down their engineering and medical and chemistry and biology and computer sciences and physics and biotechnology and applied mathematics departments so that literally all British universities now only teach and do research into philosophy and poetry. I think that was a terrible decision.



Hidari 03.10.18 at 7:20 am

‘Petite bourgeoisie, also petty bourgeoisie (literally small bourgeoisie), is a French term (sometimes derogatory) referring to a social class comprising semi-autonomous peasantry and small-scale merchants whose politico-economic ideological stance in times of socioeconomic stability is determined by reflecting that of a haute (high) bourgeoisie, with which the petite bourgeoisie seeks to identify itself, and whose bourgeois morality it strives to imitate.[1]

In the mid-19th century, the German economist Karl Marx and other Marxist theorists used the term petite bourgeoisie to identify the socio-economic stratum of the bourgeoisie that comprised small-scale capitalists such as shop-keepers and workers who manage the production, distribution, and/or exchange of commodities and/or services owned by their bourgeois employers.



engels 03.10.18 at 10:20 am

Isn’t it funny how the right wing media (and their mouthpieces, e.g. on this thread) only ever ‘discover’ how ‘highly paid’ some people are when they go on strike?

For the last time: I support the strike, I’m just trying to figure out why. You guys aren’t helping.


engels 03.10.18 at 1:00 pm

Off the top of my head here are some of my personal demands, very open to supplement/revision

-free education
-reverse commodification, managerialism and marketisation
-free participation in all fields of academic inquiry for all those qualified throughout their lives
-radically reduce educational inequality throughout society and inequality in pay and conditions within academia
-adequate pensions for all regardless of employment history
-end the professionalisation of philosophy and abolish the discipline of political philosophy


hellblazer 03.10.18 at 4:25 pm

How many of the commenters above are (a) UK residents (b) working in UK universities (c) both?

Because the “knowing WTF one is talking about” klaxon is going off here…


engels 03.10.18 at 6:36 pm

Tl;dr universalise the university and in so doing, abolish it


engels 03.10.18 at 7:45 pm

Steven Johnson’s comment is pretty good


engels 03.10.18 at 10:03 pm

‘Son, we live in a world with lectures. And those lectures have to be delivered by men with PhDs…’


Layman 03.10.18 at 11:07 pm

hellblazer: “How many of the commenters above are (a) UK residents (b) working in UK universities (c) both?”

If one must be a UK academic to have a meaningful view of the strike, then the strikers are doomed. The whole point of a strike is to galvanize the opinions and support of other people.


F. Foundling 03.11.18 at 1:05 am

I fully support the strike of UK academics, and would also support such a strike in my country if one were to take place. Opposing academic strikes because most non-academics are worse off is like opposing First World worker strikes because Third World workers are worse off; it means accepting/supporting the bosses’ Divide-et-impera-plus-Race-to-the-bottom strategy. That said, as for the current discussion, the stuff about ‘relishing social domination’, ‘looking down on’ the masses (and on anyone else that one can find a pretext to look down on), and adoration of status indicators of any kind (material, academic or other) – in addition to a readiness to lie, betray and generally do anything that is likely to help one achieve higher status or generally benefit one – perfectly describes the mentality and attitudes that are prevalent the (non-UK) academic circles that I have been able to observe. Not that this is unique to them either.


Blue Stater 03.11.18 at 1:38 am

I haven’t seen any mention here of the US academic retirement firm TIAA (unsurprisingly, since this audience seems largely British). That is a DC scheme; different universities have different contribution models, but the standard one is 5% from the employee and 10% from the employer. Usually people divide their contributions evenly between a fixed-income portion and a portion that depends on stockmarket performance. At retirement one’s contributions are turned, typically but not always, into two equal annuities, one fixed, one variable. TIAA did rather well for me; I retired early, 16 years ago, at about 80% of my last (and highest) salary. But of course about a third of my contributions came at a time when the Dow-Jones industrial average was 800 or below; it is now 25,000, so the variable part of my contributions appreciated significantly.
Is there a British equivalent of TIAA? What do British colleagues who know about TIAA think about it as compared to the current and proposed UK schemes?


Collin Street 03.11.18 at 3:32 am

@Layman: of course, note that gellblazer’s explicit claim relies on it being impossible to understand a person’s situation to any useful degree without actually being in that situation, that acquiring understanding of a person’s situation is a-priori impossible.

I think that’s a nonsense, of course, but I invite you to consider what might cause a person to conclude this.


engels 03.11.18 at 2:21 pm

Opposing academic strikes because most non-academics are worse off is like opposing First World worker strikes because Third World workers are worse off; it means accepting/supporting the bosses’ Divide-et-impera-plus-Race-to-the-bottom strategy.

Just to be clear, the principle I’m interested in is something like the following ‘support strikes for pay only if the workers in question earn less than median income’ (alternatives: ‘less than mean income’, ‘less than per capita gdp’, ‘less than the value of what they could conceivably get under a socialist economy’, etc). It’s not obvious this leads to a ‘race to bottom’, on the face of it it appears to lead to a race to the median.

I’m aware this isn’t a common position in the labour movement. It seems to be a natural consequence of an ‘egalitarian theory of justice’ put forward by political philosophers like GA Cohen, and on a previous thread it seemed CTers had interpreted it this way. (Obviously there are plenty of ways you can avoid a contradiction in general or just in this special case, eg focussing on class struggle and realpolitik or Chris does, ignoring the distributive issue and talking about broken promises, bullying, etc—I’m just not sure I’m entirely convinced.)


engels 03.11.18 at 4:20 pm

Also while ‘divide and rule’ is definitely a time-honoured strategy of elites another is suppressing justified grievances with claims that ‘we’re all in this together’. I think Steven’s right that the conditions under which the work is carried out are crucial but I think income is part of the picture. Anyway I’m not sure anyone’s really interested in the specific issue I was so I’ll leave it there.


ph 03.12.18 at 12:02 am

The other side of the story: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5487089/Anglia-Ruskin-graduate-sues-university-Mickey-Mouse-degree.html

I was enrolled in two different doctoral programs in the UK. In the first case I managed to winnow the fact from my prospective thesis supervisor during the enrollment process that she planned to move to a new position at a different university. I received the clear impression that the school (far higher up the ranking scale than ARU, btw) was much more interested in recruiting a customer ready to pay full fees. As a result I put more work into securing a place a better advisor and entered a Russell group institution, where I worked under a marvelous thesis director. I thoroughly enjoyed our time together. As for the school, I came away, nonetheless, with the distinct impression that students were indeed treated as customers and received regular invitations to consider a career outside my discipline – selling chemicals, for example. Given that I had enjoyed some modest success in sales on the back of a highly imperfect high school record, and that I was, again, paying substantial fees to be trained in my discipline, I regarded the invitation to consider sales, again, at least an affront, and perhaps an acknowledgement that all the time and money students were investing might come to far less than we expected/had been led to believe.

Not every student needs to go to university. We’ve had this discussion before. Germany, I believe, funds 28 percent of the population to attend university and the job situation there is stable?, or at least better than my own. Students have every right to expect candor, at the very least, when registering to pay (higher) tuition fees. In my own case, as an adult, I knew enough to press for facts before signing on the dotted line. If there’s no job on the other end of the degree, what exactly are we doing when we invite students to commit to the experience?

One of our children planned to go directly into work from high school, allowing us to select an excellent vocational high school which more than prepared him for his current white collar position. What he was not taught then he learns at work. At 22, he has four years of work experience under his belt has a permanent contract, travels with friends and family members on his own dime, and takes courses for enjoyment at the open university.

There are a variety of ways of improving the education system and understanding that ‘marketization’ is not the same as meeting student need. Universities play can play a key role in developing minds, and providing new skills. They can also be playgrounds for the immature. There are too many graduate programs promising too much and delivering too little. I know a number of examiners in specific fields who’ve admitted privately that candidates should never have been admitted in the first place, and certainly have no business matriculating. But still do. Consider what Newton, Darwin, Wallace, and Hume managed to accomplish without the ‘necessary’ machines, shiny buildings, parking lots, and student services. Hard sciences need their tools. The rest of us can make do with cracked desks, if hard choices need to be made. And they clearly do.


M Caswell 03.12.18 at 12:41 pm

“Consider what Newton, Darwin, Wallace, and Hume managed to accomplish without the ‘necessary’ machines, shiny buildings, parking lots, and student services. Hard sciences need their tools. The rest of us can make do with cracked desks, if hard choices need to be made. And they clearly do.”

Cracked desks won’t get you very far in saving money. With no shiny buildings, no climbing walls, no flatscreens, slim administration, and minimal student services, you’d still need highly-trained teachers with a life-long commitment to the vocation (even Hume had that much at Edinburgh), and that costs.


Dipper 03.12.18 at 12:45 pm

just watched today’s Daily Politics and came here to rant. My recommendations to UK academics are as follows:

1. “The strike is about pensions but its also about University education in this country” said by a striking lecturer (I paraphrase). No. have a single specific aim that you can win. Pensions.

2. Arguing about the deficit, how pensions have been managed. Stop it. You won’t win these arguments. There are strict rules on pension funds to stop people playing games with them. You will not win arguments about how pension funds work and the rules around them.

3. People made commitments to you. You need to hold them to those commitments, so concentrate on just that. If they can just walk away from commitments now and get away with it, then they will keep walking away and your pensions will be worth nothing. If they cannot keep them, then you need to draw blood. Get people fired, get an organisation closed down.

So be focussed, precise, and make failure to keep commitments hurt. That’s about it.


Chris Bertram 03.12.18 at 2:50 pm



engels 03.12.18 at 6:43 pm


Dipper 03.12.18 at 6:45 pm

@Chris Bertram – always happy to help.


J-D 03.12.18 at 8:00 pm

People made commitments to you. You need to hold them to those commitments, so concentrate on just that. If they can just walk away from commitments now and get away with it, then they will keep walking away and your pensions will be worth nothing. If they cannot keep them, then you need to draw blood. Get people fired, get an organisation closed down.

I have never heard of any strike in which the strikers offered to cease strike action if the Council fired the Vice-Chancellor (or if the board fired the CEO, or any other equivalent). Now that the idea has been put in my mind, it intrigues me. If it has been tried, how has it worked out? If it hasn’t been tried, why not?


Hidari 03.12.18 at 9:27 pm

‘Open letter rejecting the UCU/UUK agreement at ACAS

We the undersigned, call on the UCU national leadership to reconsider its position reached in ACAS negotiations with UUK on the 12th March 2018.

The current agreement kicks a serious solution to the pension dispute in the long grass, committing to a three year process of re-evaluation. It further does so at the very moment we are strongest and able to force a more decisive victory.

The employers’ valuation has been demonstrated to be bogus, yet the UCU leadership is now accepting to increase our contribution while we re-evaluate. Employers’ contribution however will rise by only 1.3%.

In three years time we will be demobilised and pressured to accept a worse deal. In our opinion we should keep going and throw UUK’s offer out all together.

Furthermore, the UCU is effectively calling on us to both reschedule as well as calling off the action before having put it to the membership, two positions that are absolutely unacceptable.

In solidarity,

Over 2,000 people have signed so far! See the list of signatories: https://tinyurl.com/ybajrsz6

Link to the UCU/UUK agreement for those who haven’t seen it:



Tabasco 03.12.18 at 10:49 pm


But correct nonetheless.

What the universities are proposing to academics is equivalent to unilaterally cutting their salaries. As Nancy Reagan once said, Just Say No. Or if more words are required, they should tell the universities to either tip enough money into the pension funds to fix the problem or give academics an equivalent salary increase.


ph 03.12.18 at 11:46 pm

@117 Yes, and that’s exactly where the money should go. One Ivy league librarian complained to me that the school spends 2k per chair in that particular library. The good news in that the procurement process is entirely free of graft and kickbacks. Salaries, yes; flat screens – no. And the from the IT folks tell me, by the time an institution decides on a hardware solution pretty much all the tech is ‘outdated.’

Silly spending on expensive cosmetic solutions to real challenges needs to end. Students need to read, watch, listen; do, and talk. Money for libraries as in information, yes. The rest goes. Software updates have as much to do with plugging holes in ‘connectivity’ than anything else. And don’t get me started on textbooks. Higher ed is almost as full of grifters as any other body. Unions started off being about safety, work-standards, and wages. Surely the teaching and learning body should have a (the primary) say in how funds are allocated.

The managers are there to serve us, not rule.


engels 03.12.18 at 11:55 pm

Okay, last thought: maybe the principle should be ‘support industrial action over pay iff. you expect Britain (or the world) to become more materially equal if the demands are met than if they’re not’. Again, it’s not my position, I know it’s not widespread but it seems recognisably egalitarian; it also provides plenty of wiggle room in the definition of equal and the estimation of consequences. I wonder if anybody thinks that this is the case with this strike…


engels 03.13.18 at 12:11 am

I have never heard of any strike in which the strikers offered to cease strike action if the Council fired the Vice-Chancellor (or if the board fired the CEO, or any other equivalent). Now that the idea has been put in my mind, it intrigues me.

True story: there was a strike in the US once to get the director of a company re-instated after he was removed by the board. Sadly can’t remember the company but think itmat have been some kind of ethical supermarket (Erik Olin Wright talks about it somewhere)


ph 03.13.18 at 2:52 am

@127 I’ve heard first-person accounts confirming the practice. Resolutions of strike action decades ago, at least, often involved the ‘transfer’ of a particularly difficult manager. Such transfers used to be a regular tool served by management negotiators as a substitute for policy changes.


J-D 03.13.18 at 4:59 am


Faustusnotes 03.13.18 at 5:30 am

Haha an absolute gem from pH here. Darwin managed to accomplish much without the necessary machines. Haha!

The beagle cost 572000 pounds in today’s money, was completely refitted for her second voyage – including a lightning conductor, five sympiesometers and a state of the art gun turret. She then went on a five year voyage that was crucial to the development of Darwin’s theory.

I mean, if Darwin could achieve so much with just that, why should a modern academic need a flat screen?


ph 03.13.18 at 11:10 am

@130 Well, I studied Darwin under the direction of an extremely reliable Darwin authority. Then, there’s you with your questionable knowledge and odd fixations.

I ask my students: what is the most important lesson Darwin teaches us?

Darwin teaches us the importance of changing our minds.

That’s what separates Darwin from his peers, that, correspondence with Wallace and a host of other experts, and an excellent pr campaign. The stability of species was the accepted wisdom of the day – that and phrenology. Lamarck was regarded as a crank.

Darwin needed to be willing to read Malthus and Lamarck with an open mind, allow impressions to form while boxing up all those samples, and let his training and expertise in geology carry him forward. His personal wealth was more likely an impediment than a boon. He could afford to invest years soaking seeds in salt water, for example, when clues to plant migration abounded in the pigeon coops he almost certainly never cleaned, or examined.

There are lots of great Darwin stories. Right time, right place probably fits best. If a different naturalist had been on board the Beagle, and that almost happened, we’d be stuck with Mendel, who managed to actually get to DNA while studying as monk, and without all the fuss and expense of Darwin. Wallace would have still needed to have written somebody, perhaps Hooker, or Lyle. And then he might have gotten the full measure of respect he actually deserves.

I wonder what Mendel’s research budget was – eight years studying peas? Oh yes, what role did the lightning rod and all those clocks play in Darwin’s thinking?

We need communities of scholarship broad enough to include all experts – the monk Mendel and the entrepreneur Wallace. Another interesting figure, btw, is William Bullock who managed to combine a career as a first-rate anthropologist and entrepreneur. The 19th century was a dynamic time – had women been ‘allowed’ to play a larger role, we’d probably have gotten farther faster.


Layman 03.13.18 at 11:35 am

ph: “I ask my students: what is the most important lesson Darwin teaches us? Darwin teaches us the importance of changing our minds.”

The voyage was inconsequential, then? That is an odd retelling of the tale.


ph 03.13.18 at 12:16 pm

the most important – think about that phrase for a moment.

And as for the substance, actually being able to change your mind – I’d never ask such a thing of you – you’re the very definition of a mind made up.

Lucky you!


Faustusnotes 03.13.18 at 12:27 pm

Brilliant pH, you’re a legend.

Also I don’t know what century you’re living in but flat screens are no longer a consumer option – if someone has a computer it is impossible to buy any other kind of screen.


ph 03.13.18 at 12:34 pm

@132 and 130 You are aware, I hope, that as far as the folks footing the bill for the voyage were concerned – you know the folks paying for all those clocks – Darwin’s presence was, at best, entertainment for the Captain.

Darwin gathered data, as much as he interpreted for the Geological society. We’re into the weeds a bit now, but Darwin’s work post Beagle was principally as a geologist. He went on the Beagle – a voyage dedicated to cartography not natural history – in his capacity as a connected pair of hands, capable of boxing up the right specimens and shipping them to experts.

Anyway, we happily have a great deal of very detailed information on Darwin. In reviewing some I learned a bit more about the editing of the Beagle books and Darwin’s collaborative role in these.





Faustusnotes 03.13.18 at 2:29 pm

Good try pH but pathetic. The issue you raised was that Darwin didn’t need resources to do his work. Now you admit that he needed a 500k boat and a five year round the world research tour. So you want to shift the issue to claim the funders didn’t care for his work. As usual, you’re all irrelevant bluster.


engels 03.13.18 at 3:33 pm

Why the Global 1% and the Asian Middle Class Have Gained the Most from Globalization

“At market exchange rates we find the threshold for the global top 1% by annual income is US$51,400 per capita household income…” [=£36 700]


TM 03.13.18 at 6:19 pm

engels 137: You realize you are quoting a *per capita* income statistic? Also, it’s not corrected for purchasing power (although PPP corrections have notorious problems). Of course you have already rejected the very concept that purchasing power differs by location (contrary to your 96, it is very well possible that £40K in London buys less than £30K in a cheaper place).

“Darwin teaches us the importance of changing our minds.” I love the irony, this coming from kindeystones.

The saying is attributed to Konrad Lorenz: “It is a good morning exercise for a research scientist to discard a pet hypothesis every day before breakfast: it keeps him young”. Sadly, he never got around to discarding his own pet hypotheses (about innate aggression and the like) but it made for a good quote.


Ogden Wernstrom 03.13.18 at 9:20 pm

Darwin’s chief weapon was the ability to change his mind.

…and correspondence with experts. Darwin’s two chief weapons were the ability to change his mind and correspondence with experts.

…and an excellent PR campaign. His THREE chief weapons were the ability to change his mind, correspondence with experts and an excellent PR campaign.

What he really needed was a secure, well-endowed position at a university – some sort of Comfy Chair.


J-D 03.13.18 at 11:39 pm


“Darwin teaches us the importance of changing our minds.” I love the irony, this coming from kindeystones.

I had the same reaction. It’s comedy gold, isn’t it? I wasn’t going to mention it, but now I want to let you know that you are not alone (and to thank you for letting me know that I am not alone).


ph 03.14.18 at 12:02 am

Historical examples aside, (which overwhelmingly confirm that, open-mindedness, quality of thought, and forums open to all (the last staunchly opposed by TM and F on ‘moral’ grounds) are far more critical to intellectual progress than bright shiny toys.

Hard science requires funding. The rest of us need simply to do the hard thinking, liberating ourselves to the best degree of our intellectual and partisan blinders.

Not for everyone, of course.

@139 Very droll. As one tenured colleague used to observe – ‘I no longer publish, or attend conferences. Why should I?’

@138 It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest you know so little about the history of ideas.

@136 The British Navy paid for a map-making expedition. Darwin was a passenger.

Btw, given that you live in Japan you seem remarkably indifferent to Anglo-Japanese connections, case in point – the role Japanese culture played in creating the Darwin family fortune during the bakafu. You should read more, you might like it!


engels 03.14.18 at 12:33 am

TM, rather than this endless empty pedantry if you don’t like any of my figures or calculations why not provide your own?


Layman 03.14.18 at 1:14 am

ph: “…are far more critical to intellectual progress than bright shiny toys.”

But you aren’t arguing that Darwin didn’t have (and need) bright shiny toys and a cushy posting. You’re just saying he was accidentally provided with them. So what? Without them, what happens with Darwin?


M Caswell 03.14.18 at 1:20 am

ph’s examples raise an interesting question about the material conditions necessary for intellectual pursuits.

Mendel is an interesting case. Wikipedia informs us that he became a friar, in part, to pay for his (extensive, university) education. “As the son of a struggling farmer, the monastic life, in his words, spared him the ‘perpetual anxiety about a means of livelihood.'” His great scientific work was accomplished as a friar- that is, as a person whose living expenses were ‘funded.’ Room and board, free rein to research what he wanted, with some teaching responsibilities- many modern academics would jump at the post.

Darwin also needed leisure. I recently read a remark of Bertrand Russell’s: “The [leisure] class might produce one Darwin, but against him had to be set tens of thousands of country gentlemen who never thought of anything more intelligent than fox-hunting and punishing poachers.” Leisure is and always has been expensive. Let a rich society award it to as many as possible!


engels 03.14.18 at 1:30 am

“The [leisure] class might produce one Darwin, but against him had to be set tens of thousands of country gentlemen who never thought of anything more intelligent than fox-hunting and punishing poachers.”

Well said (the corollary for the tenured professoriate is left as an exercise for the reader).


Ogden Wernstrom 03.14.18 at 1:34 am

Well, I studied phrenology under the direction of an extremely reliable phrenology authority. Then, there’s you who equate it with creationism.

I ask my students: what is the most important lesson trolls teach us?

Trolls teach us the importance of changing our arguments.

That’s what separates trolls from our peers, that, a flood of correspondence and a host of personae to inhabit, and an excellent annoyance campaign.


Faustusnotes 03.14.18 at 2:18 am

The last paragraph of kidneystones’s latest is quintessential arsehole. How can you possibly know whether I am indifferent to a topic that hasn’t been raised by anyone and wasn’t under discussion?

You really are a piece of work.


engels 03.14.18 at 1:05 pm

…in the past two years, the income of British universities from tuition fees alone increased by 14.2%, while the expenses on staff-related costs increased by just 3.6%… The source of the conflict between universities and staff is further driven by the fact that universities are not corporations with shareholders who, given that they own the company, have a strong say on how revenues are spent. In contrast, in the universities, there is serious debate to be had about balancing growth with looking after employees.

Immiseration for thee for not for mee


engels 03.14.18 at 7:27 pm

It has been pointed out to me that the pension changes exacerbate inequality within academia, so that should be noted (and apologies for overdoing the snark a bit at some points above).


TM 03.14.18 at 9:30 pm

J-D 140 thx.

engels 142: I don’t have to prove anything. It’s you who is desperately trying to prove something, though it’s not entirely clear what (e. g. 148, it’s not clear at all who “thee” and “mee” is supposed to be). I thought you might appreciate my pointing out the flaws and contradictions in your arguments, or do you not care at all about their quality and persuasiveness?


engels 03.14.18 at 10:56 pm

I thought you might appreciate my pointing out the flaws and contradictions in your arguments

Not really, no.


engels 03.15.18 at 1:17 am

(To be clear: were you to engage with the substance of my arguments, point out material flaws and explain how they affect my reasoning that could be helpful, especially if you dropped the chest-thumping tone, but at this point I’d rather just agree to disagree.)


ph 03.15.18 at 4:17 am

@144 There are better (free) studies of Mendel easily available via Google Books.

I don’t see anything controversial in observing that research in the hard sciences often involves large amounts of capital. Nor, do I see anything controversial in arguing that allocating limited public funds requires an eye on outcomes rather than comfort and cosmetics.

Re: intellectual development and motivations. Profit, efficiency, and power are probably the most reliable drivers I’d say at a guess. The virtue signalling on the other thread over ‘military scientists’ fits this discussion nicely because military forces invest enormous amounts on communication, educational, and industrial research. Military scientists such as Da Vinci designed killing technologies, a fact perhaps overlooked by our moral and intellectual superiors.

The Birmingham Lunar Society produced as much, and probably much more, solid research for profit than did the Royal Academy at the time, although there’s some overlap of individuals involved there. The first application for Mendel’s science, as I recall, was to manipulate genes in silk worms, one of many state-sponsored research projects in Meiji Japan.

Greed works, as does desire for fame and fortune. There enough third-generation dunces frittering away family fortunes to confirm that money alone means little.

Could I use more for my own research? Absolutely, but I’ve no objection to waiting my turn as long as available funds are not going to vendors of shiny, new, toys designed to make our campuses more ‘appealing’ to prospective ‘customers.’


ph 03.15.18 at 4:23 am

A quick follow-up. The Great Exhibition of 1851 and sundry other events prior and post confirm the role the state plays in rewarding technological innovation. Wallace’s interests as a naturalist may well have dove-tailed with his desire to obtain and sell particularly exotic and unique specimens. I’m not aware that Darwin was actually interested in financial applications for his research, though he may have been. Certainly the family had a keen interest in improved methods of producing high-quality ceramics, but it isn’t at all clear to me how Darwin’s research would apply there.

Money helps – problem is we don’t seem to have enough at the moment. T’is ever thus!


ph 03.15.18 at 5:13 am

Duh – what comes from looking at the trees.

All the European explorations of the Atlantic and Pacific were driven by profit – the crown normally took a healthy chunk off the top for the awarding of the charter. That’s 5 centuries of cash and power-driven exploration. More, if we count the Scandinavian explorations – which we must! That’s plants being ‘discovered’ and imported for exploitation – tobacco being just one. France, btw, resisted consuming ‘pommes de terre’ to the point of starvation – oranges, of course, spices and peppers earlier.

This 2015 article from the New Yorker on the impact of Japanese and Chinese ceramics on European consumption and manufacturing is highly readable and well researched.


Collin Street 03.15.18 at 5:49 am

He’d certainly know all about bakafuu.


Collin Street 03.15.18 at 5:57 am

If you don’t understand the word, you can’t use it, and if you can’t spell bakufu — the word is a fairly transparent compound of two reasonably common words — the chances that you understand it such that you can be confident that it’s the best word to use are basically zero.

But the thing about being a narcissist is that your ability to learn from your mistakes is close to zero, and that means you can’t learn at all. No matter how smart they are all narcissists are stupid… which builds to and justifies the core insecurity. If you’re a narcissist then that hidden fear that you’re useless and everybody is laughing at you is basically true… so what are you going to do about it?


ph 03.15.18 at 8:42 am

@157 Thanks for this. Just to be clear, the book of what I don’t know is practically infinite. I know that much.

The question, some might say, is not what we know, but we can teach. I’m not at all clear what it is that think you can teach. You are unpublished on your chosen topic (please correct me if wrong); have no followers that I can discern; and practically no interested audience for your prognostications and postulations about the inner workings of the minds of people you’ve never met.

Yet, you are one of a very small minority of commenters here, best as I can tell, who possess no other outlet for intellectual output and engagement. So, we must thank you for bringing us your very best. Such as it is. How lucky we all are!

Can’t wait to read the book!


ph 03.15.18 at 8:59 am

My last was a bit too severe. I’m sorry, Collin.

I sincerely wish you ever success in your pursuits. I’m sure there’s an audience who would be interested in your theories.


engels 03.15.18 at 4:31 pm

University cleaners announce biggest ever outsourced workers strike in UK higher education


Faustusnotes 03.15.18 at 11:16 pm

Haha kidneystones, thoroughly owned by Collin and made to look like a genuine narcissistic poser, and what a spiteful little comeback. Please please just go away! And take your knowledge of “the bakafu” with you!


Bruce Baugh 03.16.18 at 2:12 am

Miriam, thank you for the post. I learned from it and am glad to have read it.

Sorry it got weighed down with such an impressively sterile set of comments.


Collin Street 03.16.18 at 2:20 am

The other interesting point is that baka and baku only sound alike in english: in japanese the u is devoiced, virtually silent.

(Bakufu, of course, means government by dream-eating tapirs)


ph 03.16.18 at 7:55 am

Collin, you know as much about Japanese phonemics as you do about mental health, and the UK strike.

The u in Japanese is NOT devoiced, as you assert. Try to pronounce Tokugawa with ‘devoiced’ or ‘virtually silent u.’ Or better yet, Udon, or Ume, or Umi., or any number of everyday words that practically anyone with even a passing familiarity with Japanese might know. Any lack of voice in any vowels has much more do with with speech patterns, context, and specific words, than some ‘rule’ of the kind you seem to believe exists. Really, is there no end to this? Not even a hint of common sense, or basic knowledge?

Predictably, your equally-disturbed companion, who actually lives in Japan, evidently knows just as little. What a clown show!

I retract my apology, t’was clearly wasted.


ph 03.16.18 at 8:03 am

Thank you for the great OP. I support the strike. I do think the issues I raised about the priorities of spending fit well with the topic and apologize for meandering.


Collin Street 03.16.18 at 10:02 am

Fuck sake.

You couldn’t just drop it, could you. I mean, you could have held silent after you’ve been deathlily insulted, even I wouldn’t hold that against you… but no, your ego won’t stand letting me get away with it OR with dealing with the deeply-offensive nature of my claims… so you have to quibble and you fuck that up.

Devoiced finally or between two voiceless consonants, as k and f/h both are but g very much not. Subject to a blocking sandhi effect if the previous vowel was devoiced, as in kutsushita ningyou where the second u is voiced to stop the whole thing sounding like a stage whisper.

(Note that particles are clitics and count as part of the word here… which we know largely _because_ of this effect.)

Guess it’s about curtains here.


ph 03.16.18 at 1:07 pm

166@ I take part of my earlier back. You clearly are familiar with some features of Japanese, and with linguistic phenomena. That said, your description of language behaviors, short though it is, still manages to be unclear, inaccurate and incomplete.

‘Devoiced finally’ Good grief!

‘Finally’ is an adverb of time, you may be interested to learn, not place. What you may mean to say is: ‘u’ in the terminal position is sometimes elided or changes to a short mid-vowel. What you quaintly call the ‘whole thing’ is known in linguistics as an ‘utterance.’

This terminal ‘u’ behavior, in the case where the sound is not elided, is often one of vowel change. Hard u – a long, front vowel – is replaced by a weak schwa or similar short mid-vowel – difficult to discern, but present.

This little exercise – which demonstrates that you do know something about language terminology, but rather less about linguistic behavior and description, and even English! – has nothing at all to do with the OP. Except under the tortured reasoning of Dr. Collin Street and his magical mind-revealing powers, in which a typo, error, or omission is evidence of (I really love this part) an inability to learn, and even narcissism.

So, that’s your contribution to the thread – a loopy claim – supported entirely by your belly-button lint and totally devoid of any connection to the OP.

But it did give you the opportunity to be insulting and offensive, which doesn’t bother me in the slightest, but is almost certainly deathly boring to practically everyone else.

So, if you’d like discuss any topic related to the OP, I’ll consider it. If not, feel free to waste the time of others. I’ve nothing further to add.

Really, please unvoiced labio-dental fricative followed by a rounded, long mid vowel.


Faustusnotes 03.16.18 at 2:03 pm

Jesus fuck kidneystones are you really this stupid?


Collin Street 03.17.18 at 7:18 am

This is cruel. I am sorry.


Dipper 03.17.18 at 12:03 pm

Well this is rapidly becoming my go-to thread for pronunciation tips for the Japanese language. Perhaps you two could get together and write a book.


engels 03.17.18 at 12:43 pm

I have to say if ‘pre-moderation’ doesn’t prevent discussions like this I don’t really understand what the point of it is.


Faustusnotes 03.18.18 at 9:29 am

Japanese does not have a schwa and the U is routinely devoiced at the end, as in -masu.

The problem with your use of “the bakafu” isn’t just in your apparent lack of knowledge of how to spell it, but the way you used the phrase as if by itself it represents a distinct era rather than requiring a qualification (eg the Edo bakufu). You don’t escape the clear fumble here by pretending it was simply misspelt because it was also misused. It would be like a Japanese person referring to “the dynasty” and expecting us to understand which British era they were talking about.

You were the one who claimed darwin didn’t need resources for his research and when shown to be comprehensively wrong about that tried to deflect by saying I was “indifferent” to the history of anglo-japanese relations (without evidence as usual). You then tried to show your great knowledge of this and were soon revealed to be a fraud. Now you say you will only respond to comments directly related to the op, even though everyone of these detours and diversions is entirely your fault.

This kind of behaviour is why you need to just go away, and why everyone else on here needs to stop engaging with any of the useless things you say.


engels 03.18.18 at 12:54 pm

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