Our expectations

None of us likes the fact that many of the world’s poor live without education, clean water, etc, while some of the rich have private jets.

But what would a more equal world mean? Would it mean that everyone had what I (middle-class British) take for granted? Could the world afford this? If not, do we have to equalise down as well as up? And what would that mean?

What do you and I expect as an absolute norm of life?

For one thing, we expect to be clean.

Frequent, perhaps daily, baths or showers are customary, even for those who don’t live particularly dirty or sweaty lives. Quite apart from the cost of providing us all with hot water in unlimited quantities and (almost) on demand, how much money and resources do we spend on the different potions and lotions we use to clean our skin, nails, teeth, hair, clothes and shoes?

Most of this goes far beyond what is necessary for health. (It was interesting to note that when 33 Chilean miners were rescued in 2010 after more than two months underground, one of the health issues they faced was not having been able to clean their teeth properly, but this is an extreme case.)

How much time, money and effort we spend in trying to cover up or remove the natural and individual scent of a human, a scent that a different society might actually enjoy and appreciate! Are we ashamed of being mammals?

Many women also spend a lot of time and effort removing most of their fur, but that is another, more daring, post.

And then there’s the trees that make the toilet paper…

Moving on from personal grooming, what a lot of stuff we buy to clean carpets, other floors, wooden surfaces, kitchen and bathroom surfaces, windows, toilets, patios, house-plants, car interiors, car exteriors, dishes by machine, dishes by hand, washing machines.

Because we demand that everything around us should be clean. My house is one of the less clean, but we still have cupboards full of bottles.

I don’t know if it would be possible to benefit the poor in the developing world by lowering our standards of hygiene, but would we be willing if it were?

We must also have light.

(Jane Austen alert) In a novel first published in 1818 but written some years earlier, Catherine Morland is staying at Northanger Abbey and discovers a mysterious old document at bedtime. Before she can read it, she accidentally extinguishes her candle.

“Catherine, for a few moments, was motionless with horror… Darkness impenetrable and immovable filled the room.”

So she has to wait trembling till morning to discover the horrible secrets of her hosts.

Catherine is in an old house, but one specifically stated to be set up with modern conveniences; the conveniences due to the very rich only a little over 200 years ago. But without rousing the household she cannot put the light on. Fear of, and in, the dark is a very primeval fear, and I sometimes wonder how much it has changed our psychology that if we wake in the night scared of monsters or hearing a mysterious noise, we can remove the dark instantly.


The above are two examples of aspects of modern life that would have seemed astonishing luxury to most of the human race for thousands of years, and are still unattainable to vast numbers. (More than a billion people have no access to electricity.)

What other examples are there?

Yet we still live in a society in which governments are regarded as electorally culpable if most people’s real income does not continually increase year by year.

Love from the PPI Blogger











  • Clint Redwood

    1st September 2017 at 10:18 pm Reply

    The last sentence is completely untrue. We live in a society where the government are there to allow the private sector to abuse their workforce more and more each year, and the public sector have a maximum pay increase 2% below inflation, resulting in a year on year decrease in the standards of living for anyone who doesn’t own their own company or have very high earnings.

    MOST peoples “real” incomes in this country have been decreasing since 2010. A few have increased significantly in this period.

    Nevertheless, we in the west need to expect our standard of living to decrease somewhat if we are to ever have a globally equitable society.

  • Penelope Wallace

    2nd September 2017 at 5:27 pm Reply

    I may agree with most of what you say, and still say that governments get the blame for this!

  • Stephen Hall

    6th September 2017 at 5:25 pm Reply

    Well I heard it said that the West has now reached, or passed, ‘peak stuff’. Decluttering is big business. These days a basic mobile phone and a microwave can perform most of the tasks that used to require a room full of gadgetry. So long as you have a Wi-Fi connection of course – the top of the modern Westerner’s hierarchy of needs.

    Food, clothes, gadgets, personal transportation devices – nearly everything has reduced in price massively in real terms over the past decades thanks to the globalisation and automation of production. As you say, we can meet most of our needs and many of our wants for a fraction of many people’s earnings (at least in the West).

    Capitalism relies on the money motivator, and so might be at risk of collapse were it not for the one area of life that has an apparently infinite capacity to soak up people’s spare wealth – property. This is where all that ‘excess’ wealth not required to meet other basic needs and desires is being diverted to, to the extent that the price of housing exceeds the real cost building the house by factors of 4 to 20, depending on how crazy your local property market has become. Essentially it is the price of the land that is spiralling, and my point is that the capitalist system requires this to be so, in order to preserve the money motivator. It is the last card it has to play before we move on to the next stage of economic history.

    It is basic economics that to keep the price of development land high requires a restriction in the supply of said land. And so I give you the Town and Country Planning Act. Often derided as a socialist imposition on private property rights, but in actual fact the running dog of capitalism.

    You ask for examples of modern luxuries unimaginable to previous generations, but it’s also interesting to think of some past luxuries unimaginable to modern humans. Here are some:
    – Living within 10 minutes of your place of work
    – Spending your daylight hours up to the age of 5 with loving members of your family rather than potentially indifferent strangers
    – All food being organic
    – Clean air
    – Long distance overnight European train journeys (nearly all gone now)
    – Caravanning holidays in Scandinavia – (no ferries any more :-()

    Progress eh.

    • Penelope Wallace

      8th September 2017 at 2:50 pm Reply

      There’s a lot in there, Stephen! I may borrow for a future post…

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