We know that our conditions of life are deteriorating. Most young people have little prospect of owning a home – or even of renting a decent one. Interesting jobs are sliced up – through digital Taylorism – into portions of meaningless drudgery.
The natural world – whose wonders enhance our lives – and upon which our survival depends – is being rubbed out with horrible speed. Those to whom we look for guardianship in government and among the economic elite do not arrest this decline – they accelerate it.
The political system that delivers these outcomes is sustained by aspiration: the faith that if we try hard enough we could join the elite – even as living standards decline and social immobility becomes set almost in stone. But to what are we aspiring? A life that is better than our own – or worse?
Last week a note from an analyst at Barclays’ Global Power and Utilities group in New York was leaked. It addressed students about to begin a summer internship – and offered a glimpse of the toxic culture into which they are inducted.
‘I wanted to introduce you to the 10 Power Commandments … For nine weeks you will live and die by these … We expect you to be the last ones to leave every night, no matter what … I recommend bringing a pillow to the office. It makes sleeping under your desk a lot more comfortable … the internship really is a nine-week commitment at the desk … an intern asked our staffer for a weekend off for a family reunion – he was told he could go. He was also asked to hand in his BlackBerry and pack up his desk … Play time is over and it’s time to buckle up’.
Play time is over – but did it ever begin? If these students have the kind of parents featured in the Financial Times last month – perhaps not. The article marked a new form of employment: the nursery consultant.
These people – who charge from £290 an hour – must find a nursery that will put their clients’ toddlers on the right track to an elite university.