Mirror, mirror on the wall…
Mirror, mirror on the wall…Tony Wardle takes a little peek in the looking glass and finds something ugly staring back at him
When I was a lad, my dad had a vision of the future that was rosy indeed. It was informed by his experiences of the great depression and two devastating wars but also by the growth of new technology and his fight to advance trade unionism, leading to burgeoning working class assertiveness. Never again would ordinary people be used as disposable cannon fodder to fight imperialist wars, he said. No longer would they be grateful for the crumbs that tumbled from the tables of the ruling class and my world would be far more equitable than his. The old power structures would be demolished and rebuilt on democratic principles where everyone’s voice would count. He believed that, thanks to nuclear energy, electricity would be available on tap just like water was then and for a similar price – a flat rate of just a few pounds a year. The gains of automation and computerisation would increase productivity and remove drudgery from people’s lives, dramatically reducing the working week and vastly increasing their leisure time. The dream of a national health service was now a reality and with a welfare state, everyone’s needs would be tended to from cradle to grave.
For a couple of decades or so, it appeared as though he might be right and the dream had a further growth spurt in the 60s when old, establishment attitudes were ripped to shreds, new social legislation was passed and people took to the streets to protest against the Vietnam war. No more wars! They were truly exciting times. How naïve of him – of us.
The process was slammed into reverse with the election of Thatcher with a huge growth in inequality of income between the 1970s and 1990s (not a political statement but a fact). And we went back to war – in the Falklands. Blair and Brown did nothing to remedy the situation and added another, even more devastating war, the results of which we’re still living with.
If we want a more egalitarian society then we have to fight for it as powerful forces are constantly pushing us in the opposite direction
Far from creating a classless society, we have done the opposite, with 50 per cent of all rural land in Britain being owned by just 0.6 per cent of the population, most of them royals and assorted dukes and their families (Country Life). Where income is concerned, Britain is the second most unequal country in Europe with the lowest 10 per cent earning about £8,500 net while the top 10 per cent get nearly £80,000 net. For the top 0.1 per cent it is nearly £942,000 (Equality Trust).
Far from being highly taxed, top earners in the UK take home £39,500 more than the rest of Western Europe. My point is to show that wealth, ownership and, if you like, austerity, are all governed by political decision making. If we want a more egalitarian society then we have to fight for it as powerful forces are constantly pushing us in the opposite direction. Even under the coalition, with the supposed ‘moderation’ of the Lib Dems, the UK’s ‘shocking’ wealth gap continued to widen (International Business Times). A reduction in the working week that my dad foresaw was never going to happen as that is the last place any savings would be spent. How did we ever get to the present mass casualisation of work, zero hours contracts and millions of so-called self-employed, cleaning windows and digging gardens to get by?
What my dad totally underestimated (as did I and most other people) is the absolute determination of those who hold power, and their close friends in the media, to fight ruthlessly to hold on to it. Worse, there is no point of satisfaction, no figure at which they will say ‘enough is enough’; it is a never-ending battle to transfer money and power from the poorest to wealthiest. More than that, their aim is to shrink the state so that everything it does is privatised because you cannot make profits out of state-owned enterprises. It’s called neo-liberalism. According to columnist Owen Jones in his book, The Establishment, most people are so outraged by the thought of private health, benefits and education systems that they have to be softened up to accept the prospect. This is done by ‘outriders’, groups such as the Policy Institute, Tax-Payers Alliance, Adam Smith Institute and other ‘policy forums’ who are all part of the right wing, neo-liberal conspiracy who continually float these outrageous ideas until they seem normal and commonplace.
If you think this is fantasy, just remember that the Post Office has already been sold off! The Adam Smith Institute has produced a prediction for the year 2050, authored by its president, Madsen Pirie. When Russian communism collapsed, the Adam Smith Institute was one of the first organisations to scurry there – not to offer succour to traumatised citizens but to lead the race to flog off nationalised industries and so we can thank it, to some degree, for the modern breed of Russian multi-billionaire, omnipotent oligarchs, such as Roman Abramovich, who they helped to snaffle public property for a song. It gives a good indication of where its priorities lie.
I have to admit, I have a particular dislike for Dr Madsen Pirie, with his pinched mouth, bow tie and prissy articulation. Partly it’s political and partly because he was the obnoxious little swot in the year below me at Clee Grammar school, Cleethorpes. His predictions read like a fantasy but they have to be taken seriously as they indicate with absolute clarity the direction in which the establishment is determined to drive policy. Most of today’s teenagers will be millionaires and they will live past 100.
Jobs for life, of course, will be long gone. Just as my dad predicted, robotics will perform the more menial tasks while a new leisure age will emerge and all the serious diseases, even obesity, will simply be magicked away and new drugs will cleverly eliminate the dangerous effects of alcohol and lack of exercise. There will, of course, be no State hospitals or State employed nurses and doctors, the whole system being largely funded by insurance (carefully failing to mention the absolute catastrophe that a similar system has inflicted on millions of people in the US). The State will be responsible only for controlling outbreaks and epidemics and research (the expensive bits that are unprofitable). Similarly, the State will not own schools or employ teachers – it will provide the money but will have no control over how it’s spent. Companies may well own strings of schools and run them on a profitmaking basis.
Fossil fuels will still be in use in 2050, particularly gas, mostly obtained from fracking which will give us centuries of supply. Nuclear, of course, will be the other major option along with some solar power but wind has had its day. And here’s the good bit, it will all essentially be free! The number of self-employed people will go on increasing (of course) and there will be no such thing as retirement and no State pensions, only individual pensions and no government contribution to them. Trade unions will cease to exist (wishful thinking in extremis). There will be no water shortages in the world as desalination will provide plenty and housing, of course, will change, with parents contributing to the purchase of their children’s homes. Council housing will be a thing of the past. As for food, you can look forward to a massive growth in GMOs, which will offer pest resistance, self-fertilisation, bigger crops, an elimination of pesticides, walking on water and virgin birth. Animals? Not a mention, other than the widespread appearance of laboratory grown animal tissue.
He hasn’t mentioned animals because they simply don’t feature in his free-market thinking. Nor does antibiotic resistance, warfare, class divide, global warming, acidification of the oceans, fundamentalism, mental health and a hundred other consequences of living. The essential message is – do nothing because profit making enterprises will do it all for you. Sit back, swallow your credibility and hand the world over to Mr Pirie and his neo-liberal colleagues.
My advice is slightly different – keep fighting for humans and animals alike, defend everything that you hold dear, do not be seduced by people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
I had started to think that with the huge growth in veganism perhaps Viva!’s days will eventually be numbered. Reading this nonsense is a stark reminder that we must go on fighting, producing inconvenient exposés and challenging the status quo because if we don’t, there are those queuing up only too eager to roll back the gains we’ve made.
The World and the UK in 2050
Dr Madsen Pirie, Adam Smith Institute