There’s more than a touch of false pride and narcissism in the attempt to officially announce a new geological era: the anthropocene. The end of a geological era is marked by a radical discontinuity, with many extinctions. “Civilized” humans are creatures of the Holocene, the era that began when the ice melted. We may have been the agents of the next era but if that it is true we are unlikely to be part of it for very long.
Critics of the UK government attack them on single issues (currently the flooding) on an ad hoc basis. Of course they blame the obsession with reducing the deficit and reducing public spending to 36.5% of GDP (I like that 0.5%). But it’s worse than that. This government is not even trying to run the country it is nominally in charge of.
It is surely the duty of a government to take note of the actuality: the present, ongoing state of things in the country and the world and to act accordingly. This is why we have a census, to make projections and plan wisely for future need.
We are clearly in an era of large, obvious, and in some cases unprecedented challenges to the status quo.
Climate change, with huge pressure on flood defences, food production, security of power supply etc, is a problem no government has had to face before. It is a challenge for the state – no private company is going to solve this problem. There are real grounds for believing we need to renew our military defences – with Russia, IS, and perhaps China, the threats. We are witnessing drastic population growth, both from immigration and a higher birth rate, creating a need for new schools, and putting huge pressure on hospitals. Unchecked globalisation has left the country dependent on foreign firms for much of its essential infrastructure. This is particularly apparent in the energy sector, where new investment is needed just to keep the lights on, let alone on to achieve decarbonisation.
All these problems require a strong state, stronger than in recent years, prepared to be bold and to allocate resources wisely.
Bu what we have is a government determined to run a country in which provision by local authorities, and every governmental agency is cut. They are running the country of their dreams – in which the problems mentioned at the head of this piece are irritating blips which they hope to swat away while they get on with their LONG-TERM PLAN.
So what is the Long-Term Plan? We have had almost 30 years of the great financialization experiment in the UK, begun by Mrs Thatcher, designed to free Britain from the dead hand of government inertia and to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit.
What has happened in that time is that we have lost the ability to make trains, nuclear power stations, computers, even the white goods of the home and consumer electronics. We can make wings and engines but not whole planes. Well, to be charitable, perhaps it was best to leave some of these to the Japanese and the Germans but where then are the new industries to replace them? We are not major designers of software or indeed major players in any of the new industries such as renewable energy. In the current industrial wilderness a few islands stand out. ARM Holdings design chips for most of the world’s mobiles; we still have Rolls Royce, although currently in the kind of trouble that sounds familiar; there’s Dyson and JCB. But these few do not an economy make.
Typical of the degraded state of UK industry is the transition from ICI to Ineos ICI was a real northern powerhouse of innovation, inventing and/or developing polythene, perspex, terylene, the beta blocker drugs and countless other chemical innovations. Ineos bought some of the rump of ICI after the pharmaceuticals department was spun off as Zeneca (Now AstraZeneca) and sweats it; Ineos is not a research-based organization.
Thirty years of financialization has resulted not in buzzing entrepreneurship but in hedge funds and private equity companies, sweating assets with no thought for investing in the future. Financialization has created world safe for financiers and an industrial wasteland. This is the extractive economy as described by Robison and Acemoglu in Why Nations Fail, familiar from many third- world dictatorships. This is the kind of economy we are forging; although forging is the wrong word for this lame collapse into a rich-men-beggar-the-rest economy.
There used to be the notion of strategic industries. I read that the government still has a golden share in Rolls Royce, our only aero engine maker, but we have ceded control of strategic industries such as steel and aluminium to foreign companies. Aluminium is no longer smelted in England, only in Scotland (which might of course become an independent country not supportive of England’s military ventures). In WW2, household saucepans were smelted down to make spitfires. In an emergency in which a war disrupted world trade, how would Britain fare?
Despite all this, the old Imperial interventionist instinct is still there but Britain can now hardly put 6 planes in the air. The first thing the Coalition government did in 2010 was to sell all our Harriers, 72 of them, to America, seriously degrading our ability to mount air-support operations. The US is not sentimental about other countries’ defence equipment but still operates Harriers and wanted ours for spares; we can be sure this was useful kit. Joined up government?
No, this government is ruling the wrong country: a figment of its own deluded, incoherent imagination.
I'm a writer whose interests include the biological revolution happening now, the relationship between art and science, jazz, and the state of the planet