Friday Ephemera

Comedy Economics

Courtesy of the New Economics Foundation, allegedly “the UK’s leading independent think tank.” The NEF was founded in 1986 and its members have spent the intervening years carefully blueprinting their socialist utopia. Here’s what they’ve come up with.

“Our consumption habits are squandering the earth’s natural resources,” says Anna Coote, Head of Social Policy at the NEF. “Spending less time in paid work could help us to break this pattern.”

We – that’s thee and me, apparently – would then become warmer, kinder, more compassionate people, more in tune with Gaia and sensitive to her needs. Much like the mighty thinkers at the NEF.

We’d have more time to be better parents, better citizens, better carers and better neighbours.

I’m feeling warm and a little fuzzy. It’s almost too good to be true.

If we are to seize these opportunities, the inevitable consequence is a much shorter standard working week, with 21 hours as the goal.

Ah. So by “better parents” and “better neighbours,” Ms Coote actually means poorer parents and poorer neighbours. Parents and neighbours with little if any disposable income. Parents and neighbours who default on their mortgages and rent payments. Parents and neighbours who find themselves evicted and their homes repossessed. These will be the warmer, kinder, more compassionate beings of whom the legends foretold.

Andrew Simms, Policy Director at NEF, said, “A cultural shift will throw up real challenges, but there could also be massive benefits for our economy, our quality of life and our planet. After all, hands up who wouldn’t like a four-day weekend?”

A four-day weekend entails... oh yes, a three-day week. Hm. I’m pretty sure something along those lines occurred here during the Seventies. And it isn’t generally regarded as a high point in British history, whether viewed in terms of quality of life, prosperity or indeed social cohesion. Despite the ominous precedent, the brains trust at the NEF are convinced that, once implemented, their recommendations would “heal the rifts in a divided Britain” and leave the population “satisfied.” That’s satisfied with less of course, and the authors make clear their disdain for the “dispensable accoutrements of middle-class life,” including “cars, holidays, electronic equipment and multiple items of clothing.” 

A 21-hour working week could help distribute paid work more evenly across the population, reducing ill-being associated with unemployment, long working hours and too little control over time.

Control of your time – your working time – will, however, be handed over to the state, which knows what’s best for you. As do Mr Simms and Ms Coote, who seem uninterested in the preferences of the electorate and insist we’ll have to “change our idea of how much is enough,” one way or another. The ramifications for employers, including the doubling of their workforce to do the same work as before, are noted only in the most optimistic and rudimentary terms. Nor is it clear who will be buying their products and services when everyone is scraping by on three fifths of their previous income.

It would make it possible for people to have more time to care for others, to participate in local activities and to do other things of their choosing.

Inexpensive things, I suspect. Maybe basking in our common humanity would while away the evenings.

As work gets redistributed, incomes will become more equal, thus reducing the vast range of social problems associated with inequality.

Behold the egalitarian plains, they are lush and they are green. The loss of your home, business and disposable income - to say nothing of the potential boredom and cash-strapped frustration - will not entirely be in vain. No doubt you’ll be voting for this at the earliest opportunity. Readers who remain unconvinced may wish to comb through the NEF document, which is peppered with remarkable things, not least an apparently paranormal knowledge of what will make “us” happy. How this uncanny insight was arrived at remains somewhat mysterious, but its particulars include the “freedom” to dig our own potatoes and darn our old socks. Because freedom is now defined as unpaid manual labour. Take one for the team, people. You know it makes sense.

The New Economics Foundation is of course funded by the British taxpayer.