Friday, 24 December 2010

A central contradiction

One of the things I work on is the idea of 'imaginative geographies' - how we imagine other countries. Once my present book project is out of the way, I'm going to be turning to another 'imaginative geography' - how we imagine the future, both now and how we conceived of 'things to come' across the twentieth century.

Well, some future are becoming obvious. Britain is, for one thing, about to get a lot older. Lower immigration, still-lagging birth rates and elongated lifespans mean that we're all going to be spending a lot of time in care homes - either visiting them or living in them.

So far so easy.

But this brings me to a central contradiction of our economy. What do we really, really want? Things that we can only provide collectively - guaranteed care for the elderly (as was mooted across party lines before the Election) more rail lines, access to the best medical care and top-class universities open to all.

That's not just because those things are admirable in their own right, but because otherwise our nearest and dearest are going to turn to us to pay - or for alternative care that'll take up all our time. Ask any one of the three and a half million women, or two and a half million men, who are carers in the UK. They'll tell you it's a full time job.

What are we asked to want instead? Bigger flat-screen TVs.

And while we are invited to want more and more short term rubbish, what we actually need to spend on and save for - pensions, for one thing - are looking more and more shaky.

I'll be thinking more about how we can square this circle next year, but this'll be the last post of 2010 before a long-earned holiday.

See you in 2011!