All is politics, all is politics


Johann Hari seems to have got a tad confused really:

Far from being some dreamy call to kumbaya, collective political action is the single biggest reason your life is incalculably better than that of your great-grandparents.

Hmm, I don't know about yours but my great grandparents were, well, among them at least, an Irish publican, a Norfolk vicar and a newspaper printer in Leeds. Their lives were, by current standards, harsh, even though they were none of them at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Real incomes per capita have grown, at constant prices, by about three times since 1900. As they started out, in the 1880s, transport was still a horse, a bicycle or a train, no one at all had flown in a heavier than air craft (although grandfather, it has to be said, went on to crash such no less than 8 times): antibiotics of any sort, let alone penicillin, were still decades away. The germ theory of disease was really only just getting going and an infected blister would kill the son of a US President in 1924.

Telephones, radio, the gramophone, each had either only just been invented or were still over the horizon: entertainment was live either at the theatre or (eek!) around the piano in the front parlour. Food was grossly expensive as a portion of income, deficiency diseases were rife. Dentistry had advanced little beyond the barber surgeon and in fact, for most diseases, treatment other than bed rest was non-existent.

Umm, you know what? No, I don't think collective political action is what has made my life so different from that of my great grandparents. I think I'll stick with the more reasonable explanation, that these longer, better fed, more mobile and more healthy lives have been brought to us by that strange mixture of capitalism and free markets that drives so much of the world.

For I can see many parts of the world that have had lots of collective political action and many of them seem to be still lacking food, medical care and all sorts of modern technologies: while I cannot see anywhere at all that has been capitalist and free market for the past century that lacks them.

And as for kumbaya: words fail me as they so obviously did the lyricist.