Posts Tagged ‘Hay’

Go to Hay

June 4, 2010

I went to the Hay Festival for the first time yesterday and loved it. The glorious weather helped of course – it really is a beautiful location. But I was really impressed by the festival: the speakers I saw were of very high quality and the whole thing is very well organised and relaxed. The visitors were nowhere as smug and posh as I had feared – lots of Lib Dems I’d say and there’s nothing wrong with a few Lib Dems.  There was a lot of grey hair but also quite a lot of younger people and kids.

I had deliberately gone for a day when there were lots of ‘ideas-y’ speakers not just novelists.  The best one by far was John Gray, a mega clever political theorist and writer, who spoke without any notes and made complex ideas really simple and interesting. I read his book Straw Dogs a few years ago and found it rather depressing but in the flesh he comes across as merely realistic and extremely well versed in history and politics.

One of his themes yesterday was that history tells us that progress is not steady and inevitable and that the gains we perceive have been made in our lifetimes can easily be reversed. He’s not talking really about science and technology, where advances are not generally lost, but more about economic and social wellbeing.

For instance he believes we are currently at a point of major discontinuity in terms of the global financial meltdown. He believes that in the future things will not be the same and that more banks and countries will default, that debt is simply unmanageably large and the world so interconnected and complicated that no-one really understands it. He thinks significant inflation will ensue in years to come, which means investing all in pensions and other intangible assets is pretty questionable.

Thought-provoking stuff and he comes across as very credible. You could call him pessimistic but perhaps just more realistic and prepared to tell it like it is than politicians.

I also saw Andrew Simms and David Boyle from the New Economic Foundation who are also in the ‘things will never be the same’/’we need a new model’ camp. They mentioned a number of interesting titbits which weren’t really explored (probably  because they want you to buy their book) but a couple that struck me:

1. Reducing the length of the working week is one of the few credible variables that could be played with in order to reduce our debt at the same time as  reducing our consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. They say they have done work that indicates you could do it without creating mass unemployment but I don’t know any more of what they propose.

2. Small island states are particularly efficient at using their fairly limited natural resources to deliver quality of life and wellbeing (whereas say the US has loads of natural resources but is very inefficient at delivering mass wellbeing).  This could be because geographical isolation forces them to plan well and creates cohesive communities that look out for each other.

Anyway. I could go on but a debrief beckons. Hay is definitely worth the trip.