Improving Us From Above
August 25, 2013
The academic Robert Skidelsky - that’s Baron Skidelsky, of Tilton - shares with Observer readers his vision of the good life. Or, more accurately, his vision of How Other People Should Be Made To Live™:
Society would be organised so the average person only has to work for a living three hours a day. For one thing, it is possible that person might enjoy his work so much he would want to work longer at it without more pay. There would I think be a huge proliferation of hobbies and adult education. A big expansion in travel. These things would fill many of the hours.
Quizzed, albeit briefly, on the practical implications of this time-rich, low-budget, very organised utopia – implications that include closed borders, consumption taxes, an end to economic growth and of course boredom - Mr Skideslsky replies,
It would require some restriction, I suppose.
The exact nature of this “restriction” is left oddly unexplored. This, after all, is an Observer interview. However, we do learn that,
Advertising… could be limited to a certain number of hours a week.
And someone, someone much wiser than the herd, would have to be put in charge of all that organising and limiting - of advertising and pretty much everything else. After all, says our deep thinker, “a change in philosophy would have to come first.” Hm. Why does that sound familiar? Perhaps Mr Skideslsky, like the Guardian’s George Monbiot, imagines a publicly subsidised “class of intellectuals” – people much like himself, in fact – who would correct the public’s preferences and guide us to “the good life.” (The same Mr Monbiot, incidentally, who thinks “wealth causes misery” and therefore “we” should be more like the peasants of Southern Ethiopia, who “smile more often” than we do and whose fields “crackle with laughter.”)
“Why don’t more people aspire to living a good life?” asks our architect of tomorrow, before blaming Margaret Thatcher. Why doesn’t the rabble want what he knows is good for us? And what’s good for us, apparently, is not earning more than Mr Skidesky deems “enough.” It seems we shouldn’t want to travel the world, as Mr Skidelsky does, or sunbathe by the pool at the Caracas Hilton, as Mr Skidelsky did, or own a house as comfortable and spacious as his. “Keynes never owned a house in his life,” says he, “neither for that matter did Virginia Woolf.” And so why should we, the little people? Mr Skidelsky imagines his inferiors “living good lives, surrounding themselves with beauty.” It’s just that he’d rather we didn’t get to own much of it, or have enough money to make more of it happen. Utopia, you see, will “require some restriction.”
Robert Skidelsky is the father of Edward Skidelsky, a sociology lecturer and Guardian contributor who also wants the state to make “us” embrace “less acquisitive modes of living,” thereby saving us from the morally corrupting horror of expensive cars, sushi boxes and pre-washed salad.