Consuming Cornwall: Pasties, poverty, economics beyond growth (Part Two)

Not a sound basis for a sustainable economy
Not a sound basis for a sustainable economy

Click here for Part One.

Unfortunately, orthodox economics doesn’t look in much danger of being radically inverted any time soon. That’s a shame, because it’s what needed if we’re going to ever see an economic settlement that prioritises the needs of the majority, rather than leaving to be half-served as a side-effect of the dash for private profit.

Once the small matter of that kind of spectrum-shifting overhaul was out of the way, though, areas like Cornwall could be comprehensively lifted out of poverty, given stability and security while at the same time achieving something as momentous as it is pulsatingly urgent.

The next hundred years is likely to be the make-or-break century as far as human civilisation is concerned. Growth-obsessed hyper-capitalism has left us wobbling on the brink of environmental disaster. What we do in the next few decades will be crucial to determining how bad that disaster ends up being – it’s far too late to stop it altogether, tragically – and how well we weather it. And Britain needs to gear up to deal with this rapidly approaching new world.

Over decades, if needed, the government could invest in the people and the places that were socially scrap-heaped by Thatcherism, providing skills and training for the low-paid and the un- and erratically employed. Then it could give them stable, decently-paid jobs, building and operating wind and solar farms, constructing flood defences, desperately-needed council houses, new hospitals and new schools, and repairing and expanding transport infrastructure, among other things. It wouldn’t be just construction either – there’d be people in the offices doing the admin, people working in the canteens, people cleaning, plumbers, electricians and maintenance staff.

People will always ask where the money’s supposed to come from. We live in a country where the 1000 richest people, or 0.003% of the population, saw their wealth increase from £99bn to £413bn between 1997 and 2008. The richest 10% of British people have got more than enough money they don’t need to fund this kind of programme twice over.

That would do for the short to medium term. It would lift thousands of people out of poverty – not just because of the wages, but the finally affordable housing and the like too. Longer term, the whole economy will have to become about stability – if we’re going to survive within our environmental limits, we need to have economics without the obsession with economic growth. That means radically cutting down what we consume, and producing as much of what we do as locally as we can.

The kinds of industries have been flogged abroad over the last century – food production, all kinds of manufacturing etc – should be brought back to Britain, creating jobs aplenty. It wouldn’t be the most efficient way of doing things, but that would no longer be the point – economics would be about providing stable livelihoods and locally producing what people need to live comfortable, healthy lives, not massive profits or endless expansion.

Cornish people might wear clothes made in Cornwall, for example, eat food made in Cornwall (what kind of eco-socialism worth the name would be without state-subsidised pasties for all), live in houses build by Cornish builders. People would still come to Cornwall on holiday – even more than now, perhaps, as travellers were discouraged from making fuel-guzzling plane journeys. But the county wouldn’t be held hostage by tourism. It sounds incredibly, implausibly radical in 2014. Pre-industrialisation, people managed it for thousands of years.

In the current political climate it’s hard to think of a situation less likely to come about. But that doesn’t mean it’s not perfectly possible – and that it wouldn’t be the best thing both for the majority of humanity and the environment we depends on for our survival.


A Nation Of Prudes Obsessed With Sex

We’re more fixated with sex than ever, it seems, but still in a strange, repressed, unhealthy manner.

Soldier your way through the Political Compass survey, the internet’s go-to ‘what the hell am I politically’ test, and near the end you’re asked to pass judgement on the following statement: ‘These days openness about sex has gone too far’.

Presumably – I have neither the time nor the inclination to spend the necessary hours twiddling with the survey to find out for sure – if you agree, you’re nudged further to the authoritarian right, and if you disagree you join the teeming legions of people who’d be put in camps if the Daily Mail ever took over. Continue reading “A Nation Of Prudes Obsessed With Sex”

Elliot Rodger, Nerd Supremacist

Elliot Rodger
Elliot Rodger

Elliot Rodger was both pathetic and terrifying. The strange sub-culture that produced him was certainly the former. He showed that, at its most extreme, it could be the latter, too.

Lethal shootings are dismayingly common in the gun fetishist US, and, as grim as it is to say it, the one perpetrated by Elliot Rodger in Isla Vista, California last month was actually quite mild by American standards. South Korean student Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people at Virginia Tech back in 2007. 20 year-old Adam Lanza slew 26, most of them children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Connecticut in 2012. Elliot Rodger killed six.

Let’s deal with the morally obvious first. Each one of those six deaths was a calamity. Young, flourishing, entirely blameless human beings were ripped away from everyone that ever cared for and relied on them, and out of the only existences they’d ever have, by a psychopath with a Glock 34. Just because we live in a world where lunatics with guns can kill dozens, wars kill hundreds of thousands and poverty, starvation and preventable disease kills millions, that still doesn’t mean that each and every premature death isn’t incomprehensibly tragic. The death toll might’ve been relatively small. And it could’ve been much higher – police found over 400 rounds of ammunition in Rodger’s crashed BWM coupe, along with three semi-automatic pistols and Elliot himself, dead from a self-inflicted bullet wound. But for us, and a lot of other people on both sides of the pond, it seems, this was one of the most profoundly chilling incidents we’ve ever looked into. Continue reading “Elliot Rodger, Nerd Supremacist”

Old People: (and the politics of) ‘Fings Ain’t What They Used To Be’

Old people are routinely mocked as being backwards-looking, racist, chauvinistic, homophobic and staunchly conservative. But legitimate grievances are papered over by society’s blanket derision.

The other day, we were at one of those carvery pubs that sprinkle country A-roads, luring in meandering Sunday drivers with the smell of hog flesh and gravy. The paving slabs of pork and beef and lamb the chef sawed off Land Rover-sized carcasses smelt and tasted gorgeous if you could get over the eye-watering excess of it all. That said, having been horrifically scalded by a molten-hot veggie burger bought on Portreath sea front the day before (a rubbish attempt at being a bit sustainable), we weren’t in the best condition to chew through a door-step of pig meat. Still, with Pride of Britain-grade grit and dignity, we heroically nibbled on, trying to focus on something other than the pain where the roof of our mouth used to be.

Luckily, there was a group of old people loudly bemoaning the state of modern civilisation on the next table over. Being in the business of loudly bemoaning the state of modern civilisation ourselves, these scenarios always make for interesting eavesdropping.

What was striking, as ever, was the depth and subtlety of their criticism. If you actually take the time to listen to what old people are saying, rather than just assuming they want hanging brought back and all the brown people sent back home, you’ll often find their critiques to be a lot less one-dimensional than you’ve been taught to expect. Continue reading “Old People: (and the politics of) ‘Fings Ain’t What They Used To Be’”