In bracing for Brexit, Xavier Rolet, Chief Executive of the London Stock Exchange cautioned Europe that Brexit could trigger a financial crisis if France and Germany try to demolish London’s status as a global financial centre. The OECD warned that a no-deal Brexit would wipe out around £40bn off UK economic growth by 2019. But does prosperity purchase the kind of childhood we desire for our children?
Lord Richard Layard, at the Wellbeing Research Programme at the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance, is blunt in his view that a child’s emotional health is far more important to their satisfaction levels as an adult than other factors, such as if they achieve academic success when young, or wealth when older. Professor Layard’s work challenged the educational policy of Secretary Gove who callously instructed schools not to focus on ‘peripheral’ issues like children’s moral, social and cultural development in favour of academic excellence. Gove’s successor, Secretary Nicky Morgan reversed his policies because she understood the impacts of consumer society on generation ‘Y’.
They are socially networked, ethnically diverse, tolerant of difference, with confidence spilling over into entitlement and narcissism, unrealistic expectations that sometimes lead to disillusionment and are politically and religiously unaffiliated. Without shame they are not expected to delay or repress pleasure. Rather, they are urged to enjoy all they can consume inside life’s ‘Vanity Fair’. No need for discipline and obedience, because at every level everything is possible – inside the alternate-facts and fake-futures of augmented reality. Unconventionality is the fabric of the fifty veils they weave and wear.
Oedipus, an amulet of patriarchal society which their loving parents once pinned inside their shirts is replaced by vanity, by Narcissus and their fascination with the selfie. Fullness of consumption means fullness of life. I shop therefore I am. To shop, or not to shop – that is the question.
From cradle to coffin, the stores are the pharmacies that cure all afflictions. They unfeelingly unfriend others, dispose of things by ordering a new version with better features. Bergdorf and Isetan are their high-temples. Shopping lists are their hymnals as they circle these shrines to rid themselves of things they no longer want and to replace them with better ones. But economic inequality is the barrier to the varied and countless temptations that are made and multiplied each day and whose absences are violently resented by those who cannot buy them.
The Occupy Movement against economic inequality, which began in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street and the Spanish 15M movement, established three encampments in London. One outside St Paul’s Cathedral, one in Finsbury Square and one inside a disused UBS office which they labelled the ‘Bank of Ideas’.
Reacting to the mutiny of the humiliated must always be measured because it can only deepen the self-same humiliation that caused the rebellion in the first place. And curfews fail because they are just prisons for problems. The new Education Secretary of England, Damian Hinds, plans for an increase in faith schools and to discontinue a policy which compels new Catholic schools to accept 50% non-Catholic pupils as he grapples with an education system besieged by parents. But former Education Secretary, Justine Greening warned it would lead to ‘increased segregation’ and ‘education apartheid’. Allowing more Catholic-only schools would also mean more Muslim-only and Jewish-only schools.
The 50% cap, introduced a decade ago, was aimed at stopping the ‘ghettoisation’ of schools. Mr Hinds denounced the 50% cap, saying: ‘A half-Catholic school is not the same thing as a Catholic school.’ If we follow Layard’s thesis we can conclude that prosperity must be built outside of the trappings of opulence and inside the non-material forms of the future, families and the meaning of life. For millennials it will never be inside walled gardens. Like Oliver Twist they will ask politely – ‘Please, sir, I want some more.’
Well-being and freedom to live a decent human life must be the ultimate objective of economic planning because a child’s early emotional health is central to their satisfaction levels in adulthood – even much more than amassed wealth when older.