August 13, 2011
Glen Newey at the LRB.
Lewis Namier famously described 18th-century British politics as 'aristocracy tempered by rioting'.
Namier's bon mot could be rewritten for our times as 'plutocracy tempered by riot'. Consumerism holds up varnished designer tat as the sine qua non of civic respect. Its supporting ideology holds that monetary access to consumer goods flows from desert, the sort of thing stockpiled by politicians' beloved 'hard-working people and their families'. But everyone - not least Keele University cleaning staff, employed for over thirty years, who get up before six every morning to earn the minimum wage - knows that that is all balls. Acquisitiveness and arson are, as far as this goes, two sides of the same coin. Consumerism may be a mug's game; but acting as though it efficiently metes out rewards according to desert is a mug's game run by the mugs. Small wonder when the lid is taken off that those who know the system is a put-up job fill their boots.