The margins of all my lecture notes used to be full of doodles, usually faces. I wonder whether this is inherited – my mother often used to draw faces on random envelopes and other scraps of paper. You could tell if she had had a long chat on the phone, usually with my uncle, by the number of drawings she made. (Their chats tended to consist of him holding forth at length and her occasional ‘yes’, ‘of course’, ‘aha’, to let him know she was still there, sitting in the chilly hall where the phone lived. This was in the days when you answered the phone by reeling off the number: ‘Pontefract-two-double-five-four’.)
The same habit still resurfaces whenever I find myself at a meeting or something, listening, with a pen and a piece of paper to hand.
In a luxurious and secluded venue, a group of rich and powerful people sit, sipping brandy and discussing the great problems of the world, climate change and how to respond to it without losing their position of privilege. One says, ‘Maybe we have to face it – fossil fuels, consumerism and endless growth are failing – the crazy, green socialists are right – we can’t go on using resources and destroying the planet just to keep siphoning wealth from the poor. Things have got to change.’
But another smiles and says, ‘Don’t forget the other solution.’
‘Fewer people means less destruction of ecosystems and fewer poor people means less inequality. Just what those crazy greens want. If we didn’t have to support so many poor people the world would be much better off.’
‘But what about the gruntwork they do? I don’t want to slave in a care home or pick fruit!’
‘Most of that can be automated – and much of it is unnecessary anyway. We’re only farming them for the interest on the loans that keep them locked in to the system.’
‘Ok. How do you propose to downsize?’
‘Simple. Make sure universal healthcare fails and have a few wars … more brandy anyone?’
Today there is a march happening in London in support of the National Health Service. To my shame, I am not there.
But to express my solidarity with the marchers, here’s a post I put on facebook the other day:
If the NHS is ‘unsustainable’ while a privatised version would be ‘sustainable’, what does that imply? That people are more willing to pay for their own care via private insurance than for everyone’s care via higher national insurance or taxes (and probably to pay more overall, as private systems have to generate profit as well as cover costs)? – or rather that the current privatising government is populated and backed by people who would be reaping those profits?
If we as a country really ‘can’t afford’ the NHS, we wouldn’t be able to afford a private healthcare system either, unless of course the hidden factor is that in the private system some people just get left out altogether. But that ignores the social and human costs of not treating people – costs which the NHS was designed to avoid.
What we make we can break – but why must we?