If it ain’t broke, goes the old adage, then don’t fix it. Of course, one has to define broke. The Arab spring might have stretched a long way but, as the oft-under credited Robert Hooke demonstrated (pardon the appalling level of sub-punnery, I can’t help myself) if you remove the force before you’ve broken it completely, you’re likely to end up with something that looks a lot like what you started with. What’s the elastic limit of a dictatorship, I wonder? You don’t find out until you try.
Which brings me (somewhat torturously) back to the idea of broke. By the ‘I can’t come out tonight I’m broke’ standards of your friends, the global economy might well seem to be broke. If not broke, then certainly stretched to breaking point. Do that to a spring and its behaviour becomes non-linear and the same could be said of David rich-boy Cameron urging us towards ‘responsible capitalism’. Fans of Joel Bakan’s ‘The Corporation’ may well regard that phrase as oxymoronic and the gestures in the direction of shareholder power and co operative style business models may seem pretty poor – if we’re aiming to fix a broken economy then changing the rules on takeovers and executive pay is akin to putting a new coat of varnish on the decks of the Costa Concordia.
The problem that we have is that the only real way to convince those whom we must, for the sake of convenience, label the ‘elite’ (remember kids, it’s not just the cream that floats to the top…) to change things is either brute force, by breaking the system to the point where it has to be fixed, or by constructing and propagating an argument so elegant and compelling that they are forced into a Buddhist-type enlightenment and are freed from the desires and delusions that convince them that their lives are only worth living if their wealth elevates them beyond the reach of the common man.
Make no mistake, anyone far enough up the ladder knows that they have more money than they need. It’s a scoreboard. So how do you get the message across? How do you demonstrate that your milkshake brings all the boys to the yard and your life is better than theirs? Well, I guess if you haven’t had the revelation yourself, it’s hard to argue convincingly. That’s a tricky one if you’re struggling to heat your home, you’re shivering in front of a TV ‘talent’ show and the most cheer that you can imagine is getting your hands on a new wi-fi enabled Bauble 2.0©.
On the other hand, there are a thousand pleasures out there available to the non-wealthy that may well be hard to reach from the top of the ladder. Sharing the little you have for a good dinner with friends, making stuff with your kids, quality time and ringing up your mates on a nice evening for a kickaround in the park.
So: relinquish desire, conquer envy, attain enlightenment and bring in the new era through rational debate or wait for the system to break down completely, grab your rioting kit and hit the streets?
I’m just popping out to lay a sizeable bet…