40 Years of Failure

When you are walking in the wrong direction, the smart thing to do would be to stop, evaluate where you are heading, and change course if necessary.

To continue walking in the wrong direction is not progress, but idiocy.

For almost half a century we have confused the two, purposefully striding down a street that leads to a destination nobody wants to reach.

I recently read a blog by a Professor of Cultural and Political Theory named Jeremy Gilbert whereby he argues that the problems we face today have not been born out of recent mistakes, but have in fact been due to “40 years of failure”.

That term resonated with me.

“40 years of failure.”

I have been on this planet for just over a quarter of a century. I vaguely remember the millennium. The year of the dome, the bug, and David Trezeguet’s golden goal. Its title had a science fiction edge to it. No longer were we to live in the 1900s – a century of global conflict and environmental destruction. We were passing into a new, brighter future. The mistakes of the past would not be repeated and the Millennium Development Goals suggested that the entirety of humankind would grow and prosper as one.

It has not taken me long to realise that this golden new age is in fact nothing more than the dying light from the final few embers. Rather than embracing a new beginning, I believe that we are walking blindly towards our end.

My generation has acquired the label “generation rent”. It is hardly the most inspiring of names. We are not the “baby boomers”, and we did not live through the “swinging sixties”. Instead, we have been enslaved with debt and exist in a broken neoliberal system.

Those that came before me received opportunities, investment, security, and support. They lived long and prosperous lives, but when it came to passing the baton, much of what they had benefited from was denied from us. Whether it is by chance or by design, we are now the first generation in human history who will not lead a better life than their parents.

I want you to think about this statement for a moment. Despite the money, the technology, and the ability to communicate and travel anywhere in the world, our lives will be worse than those of our mothers and fathers.

On November 13, 1974, Moses Henry Cass, the Australian Minister for the Environment, gave a speech in Paris where he said:

“We have not inherited this earth from our parents to do with it what we will. We have borrowed it from our children and we must be careful to use it in their interests as well as our own.”

At the time of Cass’ speech, university in the UK was free to attend; levels of carbon dioxide in the air were 333.2 parts per million; the additional rate of tax for the highest earners was 83%; the average house price was £9,927 – roughly three times the average annual salary; the NHS was free to use; UK poverty stood at 9%; foodbanks did not exist; inequality rates were at their lowest ever recorded; one in ten children lived in poverty; there were no UK billionaires; and UK debt was 59.7% of GDP.

Now, university costs £9,000 a year plus maintenance loans; levels of carbon dioxide in the air have surpassed 406 parts per million; the additional rate of tax for the highest earners is 45%; the average house price is £211,230 – over seven and a half times the average annual salary; the NHS is slowly being eroded and privatised; UK poverty is at 20%; more than one million people use foodbanks; inequality has rocketed; one in four children live in poverty; there are 120 UK billionaires; and UK debt is approximately 91% of GDP.

At what point do we stop and evaluate what we are doing?
When do we start to question the direction that we are heading?

In the 42 years since Cass’ speech there is no evidence to show that progress has been made. In fact, the opposite is abundantly clear.

Without question, it has been four decades of failure.

Education and knowledge are meant to be enlightening, but the more I read, question, and learn, the more angry I become. Why has this been allowed to happen? How has this situation developed? Why has nobody stopped and reversed this suicidal sleepwalk?

Rather than “generation rent”, I feel I am “generation betrayed”. What the fuck did everyone think: “Well we have had ours, who cares about the next lot?. Is this some form of generational collective punishment whereby our grandparents and parents want to discipline us for our ludicrous aspirations of leading a good life?

I am furious at the fact that I am being denied fundamental rights which should have been the previous generation’s legacy. Why the fuck do we have to struggle and fight for every inch, when it is our own parents who are holding the cards?

There is very little left for me, and there will be nothing left for the generation that comes after me. Imagine a child born today, and imagine what the world will be like in 25 years’ time if we continue to walk this path.

Shortsightedness and greed have led us to this point, and shortsightedness and greed will inevitably destroy us if we carry on.

A colleague of mine recently said that politicians need to be able to compromise, but it seems that the only compromise that they are willing to make is with our future. Look at where compromise has got us? Do we need more of this? Or do we need a resolute stance and an immediate reversal of much of what has gone before?

How we exist as a society is unsustainable. The situation that we are in does not require more of the same, nor does it require elements of reform, instead it needs a fundamental and radical reshaping, lest we look back in 60 years’ time and see a century of failure.

Recommended Further Reading
“The baby boomers’ last laugh? Why young Britain is losing out”


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