Seeing as I posted the first comment on Tom Harris’s blog post that made the front page of the Daily Mail and have had a streaming torrent of (ooh) eight visitors here’s some comment on his points on my own blog.
I agree with Tom that it is sad that optimism is rare. In my own comment I pointed to three issues I myself find (slow rail links home, the poor quality of rental property and the long term effects of student debt), and others have pointed to some more interesting ones, my favourite of which notes that in an economic environment where the government is demanding below inflation pay rises those with student debts face interest rates rising high above the same inflation cap. So we have a government policy to squeeze the take home pay of graduates (and drop outs like myself). Not good.
I’ve come to the understanding that the optimism of the immediate post war period was there because society believed that utopia might still be possible and with hope of electricity too cheap to meter, an end to disease and poverty and education for all for example it was thought that the issues of society were possible to solve completely. Sadly now, we know all too well that we live in a world of scarcity not abundance, and that our choices have led and are leading us down a road to a world which we don’t like the look of. Knowing you need to turn back and think again isn’t nice.
Much is hysteria, we’re hardly drowning from global warming if the jet stream deflects a little and Glastonbury turns into a mud bath, and children are safer now than ever despite however many knives or paedos you see in the media. However, naturally, some fear is justified. We only get the one planet, and if we waste resources needlessly we don’t get them back. There’s a resources crunch behind the credit crunch at some level and talk of peak oil has gone from far fetched future to near term planning. Rail Minister Tom Harris (for it is also he) openly talks of a programme of electrification. That tells you all you need to know about the future direction of the oil price. He also dismisses a High Speed Line on spurious environmental and economic grounds, ironic considering he’d probably find a good north/south link rather handy in getting from his Glasgow constituency to Westminster and back.
We’ve had eleven years of Labour government, something I dreamed of in my teenage years. However, I have only voted Labour on a single occasion, as a second preference for Ken at the mayoral election this year. I have to remember sometimes that we have seen a Scottish Parliament, human rights legislation and a minimum wage introduced (which is itself going up by more than inflation anyway) because 14/28/42 days, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, Identity Cards, DNA Databases and other similar daftness weigh heavier on the mind. Lots of law has been created, and money spent (even without the wars) and it is hard to see what improvements have been achieved. Little in the way of great projects have been accomplished so it’s hard to feel much love. There’s no Open University or NHS that this government leaves behind. Nothing huge. More of a series of pet projects, some of which, like devolution are now overdue for renewal and improvement due to the half hearted implementation they were initially given.
What many have also noted, and rightly so, is that what you could read as the symptoms of a happy society – lots of large televisions, bigger and better cars, more books, people eating out more often – may well just be the activities of a society which deep down is depressed and having to occupy itself to cope.
I’m reminded of one of my favourite books, David Boyle’s The Tyranny Of Numbers (subtitled Why Counting Can’t Make Us Happy) which works well at explaining why it can be so hard to achieve happiness by focussing on the numbers. I like to look on it as an earlier and more insightful Freakonomics and it’s well worth a read.