It is a commonplace of modern social thought that western societies are dividing into two opposite castes: those who are doing well (and whose children will do well) and those who are being left behind (and whose children will be left even further behind). This thought is common both to left and right: they differ mainly in the supposed causes of the division, the significance they accord to it and the correctives, if any, to be applied to it.
I am generally rather sceptical of alleged divisions into two of societies as complex as ours. First, no one agrees as to where the fracture actually is. Between the richest and the poorest, the most and the least educated, the healthiest and the unhealthiest, there are many gradations, imperceptible when viewed close-up. Nor does the alleged division into two allow for social mobility or for the possibility that a young person currently at the bottom of the pile will slowly mount that pile, even if he does not ascend to the top of it.
There are, moreover, an infinite number of ways of dividing society into two, for example those who try to do so and those who don’t, those with flat feet and those without, and so on ad infinitum. The significance of the social dichotomies is not a natural fact but has to pass through the human mind in order to attain any importance. No society is divided but thinking divides it so.
Nevertheless, one cannot help but reflect on the consequences of the rise in property prices by comparison with salaries, for example. It means that many of those without expectations of inheritance are unlikely ever to own their own house (and in France I recently read that 70 per cent of those who inherit more than 50,000 euros are themselves aged more than 70). Whether it is desirable for everyone to own a house is another question: I have changed my opinion somewhat on that question.
Be that as it may, on the Ligne13 of the Paris Métro recently on the way to St Denis, I could not but help observe the inhabitants of a different social world entirely different and separate from the one that I inhabit. I was almost the only European in the carriage; and I have rarely seen so many faces (packed together) exhausted by ill-paid work. I had to pull myself together to remind myself that attempts to close social divisions are often worse than the social divisions themselves.