Thursday, 21 August 2014

Scare off the lions with a smile

A checkout operative at our local supermarket always has a beaming smile and seems genuinely glad to greet each customer.  When I commented on this to him he said that in his culture, presumably in some part of Africa,  children were taught from an early age to smile or "The lions will get you in the night."  gloomy faces, tears, were treated with the same injunction. He seems astonishingly happy in, and seems even to enjoy, what for many would be a thoroughly boring and lowly job.

Similarly the little corner-shop grocery where I now buy the morning paper (see previous post) is run by an elderly man from the Indian sub-continent.  Yesterday we both looked gloomily at the array of over-revealed bosoms and naked female thighs displayed on the front pages of many of the "redtops."  I felt ashamed of my culture.

"They do it for the money," he said, "and then they spend the money on drugs and things. It doesn't make them happy.  Me, if I can have two meals and two cups of tea a day, I'm happy."

"What, only two cups a day?"

"Well, three on a day like this," presumably because, even though it is still the middle of August, the temperature was more suited to the Arctic.

In yesterday's paper Tom Clark (whose "Hard Times" is well worth a read) finds it "breathtaking" that such young as can find work have suffered a 14% fall in real wages ,taking them back a full 16 years to 1998 wage rates.

Well, I wasn't young in 1998, but I was pretty comfortable, as I was in 1988 and 1978.  Even back in 1958, just before I started teaching, although I wasn't exactly living the life of Riley I was perfectly comfortable and having a pretty good time.  We are now between three and four times richer in real terms than we were then.  What's to grumble about?

Much gloom is expressed that the present young generation are the first for many decades not to be able to expect a higher standard of living than their parents. Yes, I admit that my own generation (I was born in 1937) have been lucky in that we've enjoyed the fruits of the most rapid period of economic growth in history.  But it cannot and needn't continue.  When a child is born we expect him or her to grow until the late teens and then ranch maturity and stop.  The same goes for trees, although maturity may take a little longer.

I understand that before and up to the end of  Middle Ages, maybe for longer, succeeding generations expected life to be much like that of the one before.  Given the state of technology, their economies had reached maturity.    We need to accept that our economy is now sufficiently mature that, given a bit more willingness to share, we could all be living the life of Riley at a level beyond the wildest dreams of my grandparents.  If we don't then the lions will come and get us.


  1. Macmillan was there first with we've 'never had it so good.' He failed to convince the trade unions, as did Heath. Thatcher therefore decided to destroy them and Blair to emasculate them.
    Much depends on which class you are talking about but the gaps in wealth seems to be growing now. The greed of the Blairs does not do much to persuade anyone into philanthropy.

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    1. Previous attempt deleted by me because of unspotted typos.
      Second try:

      You're absolutely right. That's why the political debate needs to shift from "How can our society get richer?" (which, as you indicate, seems to benefit those at the top rather than those at the bottom") to "How can we more equitably share the affluence we already have?"

      Alas I don't see much sign of even a hint of a debate about this in the forthcoming election. Perhaps a little from the Greens, but Labour dangerously compromised into the "growth at any price" camp and the Liberal Democrats, with the Orange Book crowd in the ascendency, not much better