Full refund within 30 days if you're not completely satisfied.
Philip Ball on the trouble with ash and oil in his new column (p66); and how scientists got lost mapping the genome (p64)
Columnist Sam Leith takes a look at Lib-Con style (p48) and finds Jonathan Coe’s latest novel “unceasingly enjoyable” (p73)
How did Greece—and the EU—get into this mess? Leading foreign affairs commentator Bronwen Maddox explains p31 Balloon Dog by Jeff Koons—the kind of shiny, superficial and selfindulgent modern art that Prospect’s art critic Ben Lewis hates p60
also in prospect this month: Andrew Adonis was transport and schools secretary in Gordon Brown’s government p38 Julian Baggini is a writer and editor of the Philosophers’ Magazine p21 Tom Chatfield is Prospect’s arts and books editor and an expert on videogames p67 Paul Collier is professor of economics at Oxford University and a fellow of St Antony’s College p22 Philip Collins is a Times leader writer and a former speechwriter for Tony Blair p20 Mark Cousins is a filmmaker, broadcaster and Prospect’s film critic p71
David Edmonds is a philosopher and radio producer p42 Duncan Fallowell is a novelist and travel writer p84 David Goldblatt is a sports writer and broadcaster p55 James Hawes is a Cardiffbased novelist and author p7 Robert Hazell is founder and director of the Constitution Unit at University College London p36 Ben Judah is a Moscowbased journalist p29 Joshua Kurlantzick is a journalist and US-based expert on southeast Asia p51 Alexander Linklater is an arts writer and an associate editor of Prospect p77
Ahmed D Mohamed is a PhD student in psychiatry at Cambridge University p68 Joseph O’Connor is an award-winning novelist p78 James Purnell is leader of the Open Left project at think tank Demos. He is a former Labour cabinet minster p82 Richard Reeves is director of the think tank Demos p20 Barbara J Sahakian is professor of clinical neuroscience at Cambridge University p68 Patta Scott-Villiers is an expert on aid to Africa p24 William Skidelsky is books editor of the Observer p8 & p69 Matt Ridley is a journalist and science writer p23
our regular writers: Anjana Ahuja writes for the Times p68 Peter Bazalgette is a former television producer p76 Michael Coveney is an author and theatre critic p8 Emma Crichton-Miller is an arts writer p9 Nick Crowe is a music writer and former drummer p9 Brian Eno is a musician p13 Ivan Hewett is the Daily Telegraph’s music critic p9 Ian Irvine is a freelance writer and journalist p80 Simon Johnson is a professor of economics at MIT p16 Martin Kettle is a Guardian columnist p75 Mark Kitto runs a coffee shop near Shanghai p28 John Lloyd is a journalist p8 Anne McElvoy is the Evening Standard’s political columnist p10 Stephen Nickell is an economist and warden of Nuffield College, Oxford p15 Edward Skidelsky is a lecturer in philosophy at Exeter University p80 Ian Stewart is professor of mathematics at Warwick University p93 Nigel Warburton is co-author of the podcast Philosophy Bites p14, p81 Cartoons by Birch, Len, Gray Jolliffe, Lowe, Alexander, Jorodo, Hunter, Bernie, Will, Ivor, Biff
6 · prospect · june 2010 If I ruled the world james hawes
The current generation of shameless spongers should be forced into national service to help cut public debt. And I don’t mean teenagers
We all know the problem, but none dare speak the truth. We maintain a vast sector who live workless and idle, bereft of any social function save that of state-subsidised consumers. Their useless days are spent in front of their television or computer or hanging about in parks, engaging with no one save their own age group, the temptation to regular stupefaction by drink and drugs just around the corner. For them, a regime of enforced social contribution, however much it might be resisted, would yield vast benefits in terms of mental and physical wellbeing, while helping to cure us of our public deficit by increasing national productivity without a corresponding rise in government spending.
I speak, of course, of our elders. Not those who fought Hitler, or dodged V-1s as schoolchildren, were rationed as young adults and did their national service: these stout Britons have the absolute right to swan about in red sportscars and so on for as long as they live. No, the villains are the so-called baby boomers, who should more rightly be named the eternal adolescents.
Born in 1945 or after, the eternal adolescents (general secretary, J Street-Porter) entered adulthood in a happy land of high wages, full employment, low interest rates, cheap property and social mobility. Hugely outnumbering the baffled heroes of the last hat-wearing generation, they enshrined teenage impatience as morality itself. As one of the founders of the psychotic Baader-Meinhof gang wailed: “Wait for socialism? But I’m 25 already!” The people of this generation regarded as self-evident the freedom to divorce, screw around without fear of offspring, drink their brains out, take drugs, embrace ludicrous fashions and evade intellectual rectitude at all costs. They occasionally justified their demographic revolt by pleading Strangelovian nightmares of nuclear annihilation, but the only real dangers they faced were those of terminal excess. Their ultimate term of abuse was “boring.” Their luck meant they could amass the sort of bricks and mortar of which their children can only dream.
As they now approach retirement, these perpetual teenagers are becoming abusers of a system designed to ensure a couple of years of autumnal dignity, not to bankroll a couple of decades of leisure. Not content with having had the easiest ride in history, these shameless spongers have the temerity to suggest that when they can no longer totter up an easyJet gangway, crack open the next bottle, or recognise their own children, the nation should provide years of ruinously expensive “care.”
By what right does this most unheroic of generations expect us to subsidise further decades of their self-indulgence? Little wonder that around the dinner-tables of fortysomethings conversation has suddenly turned—in a way which would have been unthinkable 20 years ago but was perfectly familiar to those who lived in Jane Austen’s time—to the topic of expectations. One might call this the “school fees for Molly versus care fees for Mummy” question. Eternal adolescents would do well to head off the growing interest in Voluntarily Accelerated Inheritance.
And so let them work! All new pensioners will get a gap year at 65, and then be called up from 66 until 69. The resulting billions of work-hours will be of virtually no cost to the taxpayer— who already pays for them and their bus passes anyway—because there will be none of the bureaucratic idiocy which so burdens our public servants. They will merely assist existing frontline workers. Our schools are short of staff ? Very well: the army of retired teachers on (unfunded) final salary schemes will provide free assistance for every classroom. Our streets lack policemen? Excellent: we already have on our national payroll thousands of men in their mid-sixties who would leap out of their armchairs, don neighbourhood watch armbands and accompany lonely bobbies: a mighty, merry force of witness and deterrence. We need more apprenticeships? Enough: on every building site, in every factory, at every workplace, let bands of experienced and horny-handed males pass on, with righteous self-importance, their lifetime’s knowledge to the skill-less and unfathered yoof. Let bands of de-retired matrons patrol the wards of our hospitals, hunting out the corners where MRSA and incompetence lurk.
By what right does this most unheroic of generations expect us to subsidise further decades of their selfindulgence?
Let London’s legions of Slovakian nannies yield up their rooms to elderly relatives who, if they are fit enough to bugger about down at the gym, can damn well help out with their own bloody grandchildren, not as a favour but because the government that pays them tells them to do so or else.
At a time when there are far more scary things than boredom, the family s ha l l b e r e b o r n ; th e g e n e r a t i o n s reconnected; the country saved. And the eternal adolescents shall finally, whether they l ike it or not, redeem themselves through that least teenage of notions: duty. James Hawes is a novelist and author. His latest book is “Excavating Kafka” (Quercus)
june 2010 · prospect · 7