Mr. Aslet would do well to ponder a moment.
Naturally, the northern Europeans behaved better, the Germans and Scandinavians disciplined by Calvinism and hygiene. Britain tried hard to clean up its act in the post-war years, introducing legislation for clean air, washing the soot of generations from St Paul\’s and other buildings, introducing Best Kept Village competitions and Keep Britain Tidy campaigns. Cleanliness became something of which we were proud, like other communal endeavours, such as the National Health Service.
Now we are shamed by countries such as Japan and Singapore, where they would no more think of littering than a taxi driver might forgo his white gloves. The CPRE says there has been a 500 per cent increase in litter since my parents were tut-tutting in the 1960s. What has happened?
It is partly the rise of selfish individualism, at the expense of the shared values of restraint. The Sixties had something to do with it; shared values seemed part of the stuffiness and conformism that young people found so repressive. (Reader, with my then shoulder-length hair, I was one of them.) Then came Thatcherism, which, for different reasons, had the effect of exulting the individual over society. To the yuppie, litter was something for other people to pick up.
Hyper-individualism, decline of the community blah, blah….Thatcher!
It\’s actually much, much simpler than that.
We used to have a system where you paid a flat fee through your rates (now council tax) which paid for a team of men to come around and cart away your rubbish.
Now you still have to pay that flat fee (one that isn\’t quite so flat, or at least is flat at a much higher altitude) and you also have to pay per amount of rubbish that you wish the team to deal with.
Those fees can be quite substantial for things like fridges etc.
Thus, to absolutely no one\’s surprise at all, fridges are turning up behind hedges rather than in the care of those team of men we\’ve already paid for.
It\’s not the rise of individualism or the triumph of neo-liberal economics that\’s causing the problem: it\’s the simple ignorance of the economics of incentives on the part of our rulers that is.
Think, just for a moment. Not all that long ago getting rid of a junk car was, while not exactly highly profitable, at least an income generating operation. Get it to the scrap yard, fill out the registration doc to show that it had been junked and receive £25 or £50. Now, you make the same trip, same car and same document, but must hand over £25 or £50 for the privilege of having your car junked.
If we were to ponder, before such a change happened, on what we think might happen, we would predict that there will be a rise in cars simply abandoned on the streets. We have turned getting rid of a car from an activity which provides an evening\’s drinking for a couple to something that swallows an evening\’s drinking for a couple. We have, while only changing the incentives by £100, moved the financial incentive from positive to negative.
What has happened since this change? We have more cars abandoned on the streets.
So why is anyone surprised?