If you’re reading this blog despite having that somewhat overblown title, you’re very welcome. You see, I’ve been mulling over an issue for a while now. It’s one of those big issue things that will become an increasing problem over the next few generations. I wonder if we could do something now.
The human race doesn’t have a great track record of the current generation doing something to protect the next generation. We are so busy grabbing our own pile to sit on top of – and pass to our kids to make sure they’re ok too – that we don’t stop to wonder how society and the world is going to look in fifty years time. That’s someone else’s problem.
The boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) are the obvious example of this. They are the ones with the final salary pension schemes and the large houses with inflated values (do take a look at Martin Bamford’s excellent film Boom! Demographics Are Destiny for much more on this).
I keep having this image come into my mind:
For me the most glaring example of this is the belief in personal freedom of choice, the right to do what we please as long as it doesn’t harm others. This was the philosophy behind the recently announced pension changes, and I’ve written on this before. In short, I worry that personal freedom is going to be the downfall of humanity.
Having read that, if you’re willing to read on, I’d like you to do something for me. Let’s imagine that there is no such thing as personal freedom. Just in theory. That we don’t all have the right to do what we want. Just take a trip with me for the sake of argument, see where it takes us.
And please, don’t comment about this being ‘leftie’ or ‘pinko’ – let’s leave political party allegiance out of this. Politicians are the last people who should be put in charge of the future of the planet.
Malthus’s Theory Of Population holds that if we keep having more kids, one day there will be too many people for the planet to sustain. That’s pretty obvious, really, but then he did say this in 1798. In China they adopted the policy of 1 child only per household. There were many unpleasant side effects, so I’m not saying this it was a perfect policy, but between 1997 and 2007 this ‘averted’ 200 million births (Wikipedia’s phrase, not mine). Could a policy of this nature happen in the Western World? No. What party would get voted in on that basis. And yet will the planet survive if it doesn’t?
Housing is an issue because of this. Governments always have quotas for new houses. New estates of Executive Homes get built on countryside (then the roads get called ‘Orchard Close’ after the group of trees they just demolished. Councils have no sense of irony.). In Clevedon, North Somerset, a town of 21,000 people is serviced by SIX supermarkets. Big ones too. And they are just building another. Not houses. Another supermarket.
Suppose we put a cap on three supermarkets per 20,000 population (I’m making this up as I go along, but do go with me). How many more homes could be built?
Suppose we made a rule than not one more inch of green land could be built on. What would be the effect? Better use of brown field sites? An acceptance that we can’t all have the house we dream of? Surely such a policy will be essential at some point in the next 200 years, so why not now.
And what about pensions? Why are we all building up a huge pot of money for retirement, sitting atop a large pension fund like Scrooge McDuck on his gold. It is income we require in retirement, not access to the capital. I’m tempted to suggest something unthinkable, like forced annuity purchase to give guaranteed income and certainty, or maybe a State scheme we pay into, perhaps through some sort of tax, that will ensure a subsistence level of income. Oh, hang on…
Much of this sounds pretty unpleasant. But if we continue to set freedom of choice as non negotiable, the planet is going to die from over population, the remaining animals will have their land covered with concrete, and the wealth will continue to accumulate in the hands of the few leading to… well, who knows.
Maybe it’s time for some fresh thinking. And let’s hope we don’t all end up like this: