TRACKING THE FUTURE OF CITIES
Mayor declares that inequality was essential to foster “the spirit of envy” and hailed greed as a “valuable spur to economic activity”
Mayor’s around the world are getting into all sorts of trouble lately. While one makes headlines for crack-smoking and prostitute-soliciting, another makes eyebrow-raising comments about the foundations of a progressive society.
Not known for his humble beginnings, London’s Major Boris Johnson is widely believed to be priming his return to national politics and was making a speech in honour of Margaret Thatcher and to an audience of conservative think-tank employees when he let slip that, despite all we know, envy and “keeping up with the Joneses'” are the real drivers of good.
Aligning himself with 1980’s style Thatcherism, he said: “I stress – I don’t believe that economic equality is possible; indeed some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity.”
He also shared his provocative belief that more should be done to help those with a high IQ, apparently to the detriment of the “as many as 16% of our species (who) have an IQ below 85”.
It is, alas, truly sad that a mayor, and an aspiring country leader, would believe such rubbish. Eastern-bloc style socialism is not a viable alternative to what we currently have, but the world’s major cities would benefit from much greater equality, not less.
Inequality drives envy, yes, which drives conspicuous consumption, high debt-levels, inter-class animosity, crime and social strife. Not to mention the enormous and needless stress on our environment such “keeping up with the Joneses” creates.
Was Boris on holidays when the riots struck London two-years ago? Does he not have the hindsight to understand that inequality in one of the world’s most unequal cities was at its root?
While this blog applauds Johnson’s investment in bike-share schemes and his enthusiasm for public transportation and expanding the city’s bike-path networks, a mayor who believes inequality is progressive is an ignorant mayor indeed.
In our attempt to make city life better, research has shown that sustainable behaviour is much more likely to occur in cities with greater levels of equality, presumably because people are somewhat freed from the pressures of consumer life and are able devote more time to thinking about the rest of society as a whole, rather than merely comparing ones material possessions.
We need more cities of immense equality, where common goals and common good are the drivers behind people’s actions. We need real democracy in which everyone can participate, and education which focuses not only on paper-intelligence but how everyone can contribute to society in a meaningful way with their own innate talents. And we need income equality as well, not perfect income equality, but a shrinking of the enormous (and widening) gap between rich and poor that cities currently suffer from. Only then will the real work ahead of us begin.