Greed is good: Boris Johnson

Interesting snippet from the Mayor’s Margaret Thatcher Lecture:

Like it or not, the free market economy is the only show in town. Britain is competing in an increasingly impatient and globalised economy, in which the competition is getting ever stiffer.

No one can ignore the harshness of that competition, or the inequality that it inevitably accentuates; and I am afraid that violent economic centrifuge is operating on human beings who are already very far from equal in raw ability, if not spiritual worth.

Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests, it is surely relevant to a conversation about equality that as many as 16 per cent of our species have an IQ below 85, while about 2 per cent have an IQ above 130. The harder you shake the pack, the easier it will be for some cornflakes to get to the top.

And for one reason or another – boardroom greed or, as I am assured, the natural and god-given talent of boardroom inhabitants – the income gap between the top cornflakes and the bottom cornflakes is getting wider than ever. 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.

My colleague Andrew Rawnsley picked up on this in his Observer column, and perceives a link to Aldous Huxley’s dystopian vision.

Aldous Huxley called Brave New World, his dark depiction of a future for humankind in which everyone is conditioned to know their place, a “negative utopia”. Children are born into various castes, which are sub-divided into “Plus” and “Minus” members. Each caste is designed to serve predetermined roles in society from which they can never break free. There are the Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons who are bred to do the menial tasks and chemically manipulated to prevent them from wanting to be anything more than they are. At the top sits a tiny elite of Alphas who wield the power.

I don’t know whether the mayor of London is familiar with Huxley’s novel. He might like one of its conceits: to sustain the placidity of the population, recreational and promiscuous sex is strongly encouraged by the state. I am sure he would protest that this was not his intention, but the vision of society that he promotes is not entirely remote from Huxley’s chilling dystopia. The mayor, who presumably regards himself as an Alpha Plus, is effectively telling the person who cleans his office, whom he dismisses as an Epsilon Minus, that their unequal fates are preordained at birth.

“Why on earth enter this territory?” asks one close ally of David Cameron. “Anything that has the whiff of eugenics is just not smart. A lot of people read that and thought, ‘Oh, fuck, Boris. Do you really want to say that?'”

The good news, as Rawnsley observes — and doubtless Tory strategists agree — is that Johnson is doing sterling work reinstating the Tories as the Nasty Party. Long may he continue in this important work.