Amol Rajan: The new poverty and a happy, harmonious society


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The Independent Online

Janet Daley, the worst columnist in Britain, excelled herself last weekend. Writing over the weekend, Daley argued that being slightly poorer would enrich our lives. "Now don't get me wrong," she wrote, perceptively anticipating her critics, "I believe profoundly in the value of mass prosperity... And yet, and yet... through [the] very independence that comes with relative wealth, something has been lost." That something was solidarity, which in her description mainly involved giving each other lifts to the supermarket and doctor's surgery, and also not playing computer games.

Leave aside that Daley probably wouldn't be writing such a column if it were a Labour government presiding over the coming fall in living standards; and don't let's linger on the notion that a vastly salaried, American-born columnist who occasionally spews verbiage on news channels might be ill-equipped to lecture struggling middle-class folk on their lifestyles. No, ignore all that, and let's be brave enough to admit it: Daley is right.

Take food, for instance. Most of us ordinary folk are overweight, so a bit less money might force us into changing our eating habits. For one thing, we will move away from proletarian cuisine like baked beans to the sort of food associated with a higher, more advanced culture – like mung beans. For another, saving up for a meal in a new restaurant on a special occasion is a waste of time and effort; with the new poverty, we can cut this out altogether, and to hell with the consequences if that means restaurants go out of business.

The same could be said of those cheap flights abroad, another sin brought on by affluence. With the new poverty, we'll holiday in Margate, not Malaga, which is the patriotic thing to do. We'll start to give each other lifts to the supermarket and doctor's surgery again, and because computer games are beyond our reach, children across the land will swap Mario Kart for Thucydides. Best of all, because we've got lower disposable incomes, we'll have fewer children – and given the majority of this country is centre-left, that would proportionately reduce the pool of non-Tory voters. Result!

This, then, is the new poverty: a more happy, harmonious society in which crime disappears, neighbourliness is restored, the oceans stop rising, we only have Tory governments and, for good measure, cancer is eradicated. All that affluence-funded investment in research and development was useless anyway. I can't wait for Daley's next column.