The title is not the sort of comment you expect in a book about pensions* but is relevant to nuclear families which is what the pensions crisis is all about. This is introduced with the example of parents who go away for the weekend, their teenage children have a small party for a few friends and end up trashing the house. But the situation with pensions now is the opposite as it is the Baby Boomers who have basically trashed their children’s financial future. The book with the intriguing title of The Pinch arose out of David Willett’s work as an MP where some of his younger constituents wondered how they would ever afford a house.
Like any good book, the introduction sets the scene explaining in a nutshell how the small English nuclear family developed, it being rare although not unique. Britishness is something different. Denmark and the Netherlands are similar in that the extended family is not the norm and share the same historical connection with King Canute – the king who sat on the beach and commanded the tide not to come in The cult of the individual in the USA for example, has very English roots.
Big families, small families
Larger families provide mutual strength and support but can stifle innovation and independence. Previous Inheritance law in the UK, sometimes called primogeniture where the eldest son got everything was unique. Other children had to make their own way in the world –
best known example perhaps being Dick Whittington had he been the eldest son, no one would ever had heard of him and he never would have been three times Lord Mayor of the City of London.
On the continent property is basically owned for the family as a whole and is not the gift of an individual owner who can disinherit one of his offspring. Strangest though is that this system came to the British Isles with the German tribes that invaded after the Romans left. Making a clearing in a forest for example, in the days before chainsaws favoured small families. This in turn created an outward looking society where you were expected to make your own future rather than have a clan direct it for you. With only the King being able to raise taxes and not the barons, plus a travelling system of courts it was more difficult for local barons to become tyrants. A system of law common to the whole realm enforced by an independent judiciary, encouraged commerce with laws of contract for example, to aid commerce. Laws were based on precedent (what did we do last time?) so were made from the ground up if you like, rather than being imposed from above.
Who gets what?
This independence encouraged other differences too. As part of an extended family where you could not be disinherited, you tended to ask your parents for permission to marry whereas as a free agent you had to make the choice yourself. As a parent, you decided who inherited what and there were many rules to settle property where a will was not made. If you ever do any family history research, you will come across these, some of which are works of art in their own right with beautiful illuminated script and lots of rhetoric. A typical example my Dad showed me went something like:
IN the name of GOD Amen and on this twentieth day of MMM in the year of our Lord 16** in reign of His Glorious
Majesty King HHH I Joe Bloggs being of sound mind, do hereby bequest and bequeath to my beloved wife Catherine the whole of my goods and …….
Modern ones are sadly rather plain by comparison.
Away from England, clans still exist in some form although the nearest English equivalent might be our football fans? Scottish clans with their tartans are best known although these are in many respects a Victorian invention, but that’s another story. Pakistan especially has a strong clan culture, where voting is done as a clan rather than as an individual even when living in the UK. This creates ghettos that are not interested in integrating with the new country. The UK midlands constituencies with lots of Pakistani immigrants are overwhelmingly Labour as guided by the clan heads. 50 per cent of marriages in Pakistan and 36 per cent of marriages in Saudi Arabia are to first cousins, marrying out is rare and generally frowned upon.
Use it or Lose it
Having only read the first chapter where pensions have not even been mentioned, let me recommend this excellent book. If you don’t want to buy it, reserve it at your local library which with some savage local spending cuts just over the horizon, might even help keep it open.