George Walford: A Prize for the Prince

In Denver teenage girls are paid $1 a day not to get pregnant. MPs could be freed of their party chains by introducing the secret vote to Parliament. Should all estate agents be put out of business (and their staffs out of jobs) by having conveyancing done between buyer and seller through a computer at the local library? Would the environment benefit most if each of us was to live as if expecting imminent death, or a life of five billion years?

If you’d like to know more about those ideas, and some 60 others of similar novelty, membership of the Institute of Social Inventions, with its quarterly Journal, costs £15 annually (£7.50 concessionary). [address]

Reading the Journal confirms the feeling that all the really great social inventions have already been made; there is nothing here to compare with speech, government, agriculture, politics, libraries, insurance, money, law, education, roads, buildings, production or the market. But why should there be? If the idea of progress is valid, then during the time we have been on the planet something of value must have been achieved, and the things most wanted tend to get done first. The Institute builds on an established base, working to perfect what has already been achieved in principle. It expresses, in short, the ideology of precision.

And the Prince? The Journal reports that the Prince of Wales won the Architectural Award for the ten principles of design set out in his book A Vision of Britain.

Over the last three decades life expectancy in the Southern Hemisphere has risen from 46 to 63 years and the adult literacy rate from 43 to 60 per cent. The mortality rate for children under five has been halved. (UN Development Programme for 1990, quoted in Freedom 16 June 90).

Within seven years after electricity had been introduced to the black townships around Johannesburg the birthrate per woman dropped from 4.1 to 2.7 (South African Institute of Race Relations, quoted by Anthony Sampson TLS 17 Aug).

“The average life-span [in Britain] has more than doubled since the Seventeenth Century… ” (Andrew Wear, in TLS 23 Feb) “Since the Seventeenth Century” – wasn’t it around then that capitalism got going?

Ken smith tells us that poverty is not age-old but has been introduced by the market system. (Freedom 16 June 90). He is, of course, right. Poverty is a relative condition; where there is no wealth there can be no poverty, and it was only with the advent of the market system that wealth, in the sense of a surplus over immediate necessities, began to appear in large quantities.

Starting with the parties and their policies, Beyond Politics goes on to trace the influence of ideology in the history of society and in some of the main fields of social activity outside party politics. It shows how the major ideologies arise and how they come to be what they are; it looks at some of the ways in which they interact and tries to work out what we can reasonably expect from them in future. It is now available. Details on back page of IC.

from Ideological Commentary 48, November 1990.