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Public sector cuts, rioting and the Oedipus Complex

The recent riots in England were the result of the violation of incest taboo, in the form of the government’s public sector cuts.

A sizeable proportion of the cuts directly affect young people, who made up a sizeable proportion of the rioters. Writing in the Guardian, Polly Toynbee wrote:

Let’s reprise where cuts have fallen hardest. Nearly a million young unemployed, a shocking one in five out of work, rises to more than 30% in places like Middlesbrough. The young will suffer for it all their lives, as research shows most never regain their footing, destined to a life in and out of low-paid work. Connexions, the service that picks up the lost and gives careers advice to all is cut to shreds: over 30% cut already, professionals replaced with cheaper staff. Just when young people most need help on what school subjects to take, on BTecs, HNDs and apprenticeships, the government is replacing careers advice with an online service, with no one to question their choices and prod them forwards. The disastrous abolition of the educational maintenance allowance will make many wrongly opt out altogether. Add in the future trouble stored up in the cuts to Sure Start, teen pregnancy prevention, anti-gang or other early interventions and prospects look bleaker still.

In what Ucas calls “the most competitive year ever”, remember how 20 years ago anyone who could scrape together a couple of passes found a place on some university course somewhere, with little to pay. Once students pay the whole cost, the value of that degree needs to be cashable. Creeping credentialism means anyone without a degree competes at a disadvantage with graduates for jobs that never needed a degree before. Serious apprenticeships may look like a good alternative, but more people apply for precious BAE or Rolls-Royce places than for Oxbridge.

It is ironic that one of the government ministers forcing through these cuts is David Willetts, the Secretary of State for Innovation and Skills, as the one responsible for universities. In his book, ‘The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Stole Their Children’s Future’, he writes how the baby boomers have so concentrated wealth, adopted a hegemonic position over national culture and so failed to meet the future generations’ needs that they have broken the “intergenerational contract”. The baby boomers, represented by the current and recent governments, have acted like Oedipus’ father, Laius, who, when given a prophecy that his baby son would grow up to kill his father and marry his mother, arranged for him to be abandoned to die. Rather than live up to his parental responsibilities and protect the future, he chose to cling on to power by killing his child.

Of course, the pro-cuts lobby (whether Labour or Conservative) put forward the argument that spending has got way out of control and we need to sort our debts out, just like any household do. That sounds logical. But, surely, when households make cuts, the parents will first look to impose restrain on themselves before they even begin to think about reducing provision for the children. (Or am I just too middle class?)

But, the prophecy given to Laius did come true. Oedipus – against his wishes – did grow up to, first kill his father – in an argument in the street – and then marry his mother. Off course, he didn’t know they were his biological parents. But it was the father who had breached the intergenerational contract and focused on their own needs in the present. So, in keeping with contract law, the child is entitled to revoke it. If the present generation is going to think about its own interests more than future generations, why should the next generations not think about its own present interests too. After all, when you lose hope in the future, all you have is the present.  What the rioters did through their looting was to take what the baby boomer generation. just Oedipus took possession of his father’s wife.

The solution? Somehow the generational difference between the present and future generations need to be reinstituted. I would argue that only the present, baby boomer generation, who are in power at the moment, can do that. The problem is that it would involve a major redistribution from them to the younger generation. Will they finally take their parental responsibilities seriously?


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