Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Britons may be slaves after all

New StatesmanIt is always a little nerve-wracking when someone whose writing, and whose point of view, you admire enormously takes it upon themselves to review your book.

Bryan Appleyard's review of my book Broke: Who Killed the Middle Classes is in the New Statesman this week.  But to my intense relief, it is a generous, thoughtful article, comparing it to another new book called When the Money Runs Out (Stephen King) - and he has not only read the book (a rarity among reviewers) but believes it is "convincing" and "persuasive", and "with some startling asides".

BrokeHe also doesn't try to belittle the difficulties the middle classes have been having (like the Conservative reviewers have done).  Nor does he feel that somehow anyone writing about the middle classes must have it in for the working classes (like the left reviewers have done).  In fact, he takes the problem seriously and - better than that - puts it into context.

This is how he concludes:

"There are many more ideas but the attempt to find a story to justify the sacrifices necessary for recovery is the foundation of them all. It is this that joins these two books. Boyle is attempting first to evoke and then to restructure the old story of the busy, sane, thrifty and inventive middle classes in the melancholy pools of the 21st century; King is attempting to wean us off the tales - or fantasies - of inevitable and unending growth.  Neither is certain of success, because the hard truth may be that the crash marked the beginning of the end of the story of western success. We may never look with satisfaction in the mirror of money again."

I believe this hits the nail squarely on the head.  The real issue is much bigger than whether the middle classes can recover.  It is whether the vast majority of the population can claw back some kind of economic resilience at all - or whether the game is now up.

Except for the handful of those at the top of society - actually less than one per cent - then it seems to me that the rules have changed completely.  They have changed so slowly that politics has not shifted to take account of it, and - unless mainstream politics can grasp what is going on - then we will be unequipped to avoid the equivalent of economic slavery in the medium term, the very opposite of the property-owning democracy that the current generation was led to expect.

We have none of the concepts and few of the institutions that we need to avoid this, just a vague idea that somehow the way in which we understand money is faulty and no longer works.

This is a failure of economics of course.  But it is also a failure of our politics, because our politicians regard our current difficulties as a bump in the road rather than the foothills of an entirely different landscape.

This sounds depressing, and some of the reviews have emphasised this.  But I've tried to write a book which sketches out a roadmap to a different political future, and - more than that - I've tried to write a book which is also fun to read.  It might be challenging, but it is also strangely amusing...


David Williams said...
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David Williams said...

A friend recently went to a funeral in Liverpool, her home town, and was chatting to the people there. The funeral of Maggie Thatcher was about to take place and they discussed how let down they felt.
The conversation went along the lines of, "She told us that we should buy our council houses and be home owners and be better off. In the beginning it seemed like a great idea and we all did it. Then people started getting older and when they needed care their homes were seen as resouces that could be used to pay for the care.
"When they lived in Council houses their children could carry on living in them after their parents died - they either took over the tenancy or they went back into the pool of affordable housing. Now the children don't have the house or the social housing to live in. It's a disgrace."