Terence Blacker: Let the drones make money 24/7. The rest of us need our bank holidays

How We Live: Briefly, we can celebrate the change in the seasons, or a religious anniversary

Terence Blacker
Monday 09 April 2012 22:31
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The drones are moving in. Week by week, their dreary, work-centred view of the way we live becomes more pronounced and influential. Most sensible people know that what really matters is not to be found on a financial balance-sheet yet, weirdly, it is the life-hating grey people with their numbing talk of productivity who are being allowed to win the argument.

Examples of drone-think are to be found somewhere in the news on most days. This week, it was most strikingly represented by a series of pronouncements from the Centre for Economic and Business Research. The British bank holiday, according to the CEBR, has become a financial liability. On average, Britain has eight bank holidays every year, each of which costs the economy £2.3bn.

Awkwardly for this argument, the British work longer hours than almost any other European nation, and so the CEBR has turned to Asia to find data to make us all look like slackers. The average South Korean, it points out, works 2,191 hours a year; shockingly, his British equivalent manages a paltry 1,647 hours. The loss to our output caused by holidays, according to the CEBR's Daniel Solomon, "puts a downward pressure on productivity and hence GDP."

In a saner society, these remarks would be kicked out of the door with a sharp upward pressure to the seat of Mr Solomon's pants, but they will no doubt be taken seriously. His comrade in gloom, Douglas McWilliams, has suggested that, even if we do not reduce bank holidays, they should be at least spread throughout the year in a more economically viable way.

The influence of this kind of thinking should not be under-estimated. It has a powerful voice in government, droning under the name of Osborne, Alexander, or Pickles. Its assumption that we are put on this earth primarily to exert upward pressure on productivity and GDP is increasingly accepted as reasonable and responsible.

Before the Centre for Economics and Business Research starts re-organising the calendar, it is worth pointing out that the whole point of bank holidays is to loosen the grip of work – and work-junkies – on our lives. Briefly, we can celebrate the change in the seasons, or a religious, royal or political anniversary.

To allow the apostles of drone-think to decide when we can take a day off, based on the effect on GDP, would be a final admission that we live essentially as economic units in service to the national economy. This reduction of every argument to its fiscal basics is an assault on the lives of individuals, but is visible all around us. There was, for example, a time not so long ago when Good Friday was a moment for quiet and reflection, even for the non-religious. Now, with every year, it becomes more normalised as a day of productivity.

Similarly, the idea that supermarkets and large shops should close on holidays like Easter Day is increasingly under attack as outmoded.

In the world of drones, it is an offence against nature if there is any kind of interruption to the making and spending of money. Their complaint that holidays cost the national economy billions of pounds are based on an assumption that profit is now the only worthwhile standard against which the quality of life can be judged.

These are not small concerns. Thanks to the new technology, drone-think follows us everywhere. There is always an email an answer, business to attend to, a deal to grab. It is time to speak up for the parts of life which really matter. A world view which sees human leisure purely in terms of economic profit or loss is a threat not only to human happiness, but potentially to political freedom.

The drones may live in a miserable, money-obsessed world. They should be discouraged from imposing it on the rest of us.

A Titanic show of tastelessness

As MS Balmoral sets sail in its cruise to mark the sinking of the Titanic 100 years ago, its passengers, cheerily garbed in Edwardian clothes, may believe that they are marking a historic occasion.

In fact, their journey could hardly be more contemporary. Every aspect of this tasteless jaunt reeks of a culture hooked on sentimentality and fake melodrama. The number of passengers travelling is exactly that of victims who drowned in 1912. Some, pathetically, have expressed trepidation. Others have voiced a bogus respect for those who died 100 years ago.

No doubt, when the ship reaches the site of the sinking and holds a service at the precise time when the Titanic hit an iceberg, there will be blubbing on deck. Can we expect, in 89 years' time, tourists, amusingly dressed in early 21st-century "business suits", "trainers" and carrying antique "mobile phones", to be celebrating in Manhattan skyscrapers the 2001 attack on the Twin Towers? Somewhere along the line, reality has become fictionalised, another excuse for a costume party. It is all very odd.

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