Jetpack Envy

An Insatiable Sorrow

Madeleine Bunting (for, yes, it is she) once again shares her pain and bares her sweet, illiberal soul

Soon the state will have to turn to rationing to halt hyper-frantic consumerism.

Goodness. Not mere shopping, or even busy shopping, and certainly not the more prosaic, and rather more common, buying the things one needs. No, apparently “we” have unwittingly succumbed to hyper-frantic consumerism™. And so, bless me, the state will have to take a firm hand and save us from ourselves. Even conscientious Madeleine, surely a model to us all, will have to be brought to heel.

Is it enough to have halved family meat consumption, have foregone flights for several sun-starved years and arranged a life in which habits of cycling to work and walking to school are routine? No, it's just scratching at the surface… The lives of our children will have to be dramatically different from everything we are currently bringing them up to expect.

Madeleine is, of course, unduly fond of the word “we” and all too willing to speak for others, even those whose views, and needs, may differ markedly from her own.

All this consumption is not necessary to our happiness… A low-consumption economy wouldn’t mean misery. But what’s disturbing is how we continue to shop when it doesn’t make us happier… The more insecure you are, the more materialistic; the more materialistic, the more insecure.

Again, one has to marvel at how dear Madeleine rarely misses an opportunity to tell us how we feel about things she doesn’t like. However, her vision of a “low-consumption economy” may not bring joy to everyone, entailing as it does “a dramatic drop in household consumption.” This unquestionably righteous end will, it seems, be achieved not by “the good intentions of individuals”, but as a result of

the government orchestrating a massive propaganda exercise combined with a rationing system and a luxury tax.

At this point one might note that Ms Bunting’s opposition to propaganda and an overbearing state in, say, matters of counter-terrorism coexists quite happily with a call for an overbearing state, overbearing to a much greater and wider extent, in spheres our columnist finds personally congenial. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bunting’s blueprint for a stricter, happier, greener tomorrow is rather short on practical detail, and shorter still on its implications. Would a “luxury tax” compensate, even remotely, for the dramatically lowered tax base resulting from severely curtailed consumerism and the spread of hair shirt ethics? What of the redistributive efforts and public services that so animate Ms Bunting and her colleagues? What, exactly, would this rationing and luxury tax cover, and how might it work?

Would the state monitor all of my purchases, and yours, and rate each one on a scale of necessity, frugality and moral uprightness? Would the thermostats of public buildings be doctored to ensure suitably modest levels of heating? And what about private spaces – your home, for instance? How, and by whom, would a person’s improper energy consumption be compiled, judged and penalised? Will there be a national, perhaps trans-national, database (in which we’ll have great confidence), monitoring each individual’s compliance with designated quotas? And will such things, as Maddy suggests, make “us” feel more secure and so much happier?


Norm ponders Maddy’s permagloom and suggests we go shopping, while the Devil is a little more… blunt in his analysis.

Update 2:

Praise Gaia, a solution is at hand.   

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