Oh dearie me

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?

19 thoughts on “Oh dearie me”

  1. “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.”

    Err, no. I scrapped a car a few months ago (uneconomical to repair) and got £40 for it.

  2. Aslet is just engaging in the usual authortarian conservative BS. Everything from litter to AIDS is apparently to be blamed on all that terrible individualism, freedom, etc. We should go back to the National Service, compulsory church attendance, zzzzzzzzzzz

  3. Brian, follower of Deornoth

    Of course it’s a surprise! Everyone wants to pay more tax, don’t you know. All our opinion polls tell us so. We all know that taxpayers can just pick some more off the money tree so extra taxes won’t change anything apart from the wonderful state having more ability to do good.

  4. When i moved out of a rented apartment i had a fridge to dispose of ( i have no car).

    The council wanted to charge £50 for collecting it.

    That’s abit of a piss take i said, “ah but it covers the collection of 3 items”, but i don’t have 3 items just a fridge……

    You get the idea.


  5. Aslet’s jump from litter to Thatcherism is as wrong as the jump from litter to dumping fridges and cars.

    The logic behind the dumping or fridges and cars (and builders’ rubble and other classes of junk) is certain. Yes, it’s to do with the one-off costs for “recycling” or “landfill”.

    There is no overt additional charge for litter, unless you get fined for doing it. I’m tempted to agree that the rise of selfish individualism – a.k.a. a lack of respect for other people, for other peoples’ property, and a lack of concern for what other people think (all of which might be added together to be described as a lack of courtesy) accounts for the litter problem.

    Those used to be the things which parents taught their children. In more recent decades, say, after the mid-Sixties, parents have come to believe that they don’t need to teach their children anything even approaching good manners and courtesy (too busy working, the schools should do it etc), and the rise of the benefit-oppressed – courtesy of socialism – has come to mean that in that particular group, no one respects anyfink, because it’s someone else’s problem, innit?

    So now we have feral groups of yobs who know few dare to take issue with them. We’re in deep trouble for the future, as a result.

    Still, fashionable to blame old Maggie, eh? It’s only been 20 years, after all.

  6. Forget disposal of cars, fridges etc.

    What have economic incentives got to do with the bulk of littering such as casually dropping cigarette ends, empty fast food packaging, drinks cans and bottles, sweet wrappers etc?

    The other day I berated a teenage girl who opened the door of her mother’s car, leaned out and placed, yes placed, a half-empty cola bottle on the pavement as mother prepared to drive away.

    The car park’s waste bin was 20 feet away.

    That attitude, and the same goes for 95% of the litter on our streets, is one of a casual couldn’t-care less approach to public space that has nothing to do with economic theory and everything to do with a warped sense of self-worth.

    Nor is it anything to do with the failings of councils to employ street cleaners.

  7. 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.

    There are some (many?) in power who would view that as something akin to getting a double word score in scrabble.

    As for the litter issue, well that is largely a matter of instiling a sense of responsibility, but there are some short cuts available that have been proven to work here in SA. Mostly they involve giving value to potential waste.

    Take the plastic bag problem for example. Until a few years ago many of the recently enfranchised did not consider a purhcase complete unless the items acquired had been placed in a “Checkers*”. Even if the purchase was a single packet of chewing gum, it had to be passed over the counter in a plastic carrier bag. Obviously the fate of most of these things was to be discarded as soon as the buyer had left the shop and things had become so bad the plastic bag was soon on its way to being named the national flower, so many decorated the country’s hedgrows and open spaces. Unilateral action by retailers was impossible so in the end the government stepped in and imposed a 10c (less than 1p) tax per Checkers.

    Result? An almost immediate vanishing of the national flower. Bag use declined, bags that were bought were kept, and even previously discarded bags became undiscarded as people realised they had a value.

    Private enterprise has also done its bit. Many of the nation’s down and outs manage to make a living of sorts by collecting empty aluminium cold drink cans and selling them to Collect a Can, a non-profit, but apparently self sustaining jv between two national can producers. What’s more, according to their website Collect a Can are even helping to create a new entrepreneurial class.

    So litter can be beaten – you’ve just got to persuade people that litter and a clean environment have some sort of value they can see.
    *A local supermarket chain.

  8. Naturally, the northern Europeans behaved better, the Germans and Scandinavians disciplined by Calvinism and hygiene.

    I don’t know about hygiene, but the Germans and Scandinavians are specifically the European Protestants who had the least to do with Calvinism. (Indeed, the Swedes and Germans banned Calvinism for a period in the 16th and 17th centuries.) If you want Calvinists, you need the Scots, the Dutch and, to a lesser extent, the English and the Welsh.

  9. In other words, socialism is the solution to individual bad behaviour?

    (…) >-(

    Why should I subsidise other people’s car/fridge/etc problem?

    Especially with the fridge, a lorry needs to come out with 2 men, this type of taxi service is not cheap.

    Maybe we need some kind of disposal certificate number etched on the appliance, where on purchase of a new item, we pay the disposal costs upfront, plus a bond, which gets refunded (with interest) when the item finally gets collected by a council.

  10. Manchester City Council wouldn’t take away a knackered fridge. So in the glom of nit I donned some gloves (fingerprints) and stuffed the fucker with newspapers and old aerosols, made some air holes, duct tapped the doors shut, torched it.

    And made good my escape. The perfect crime!

    It went up like a bastardo! The aerosols blew the top off the freezer section and a perfect muchroom cloud of fire emerged. Laugh! I almost soiled my Tena Lady.

    Anyway, two days later the appalling carcase (it looked like something from Fallujah hit by an AGM-114) had somehow disappeared.

    We now have two bins in the kitchen. One for anything that can be burned and the other for everything else. I used to like burning stuff but it’s now a chore.

    That is what fortnightly trash collections mean to me.

    Anyway, that’s how “I do my bit” to recycle or at for the carbon cycle.

  11. “It is partly the rise of selfish individualism”.
    Hmmm.. selfish individualism is more to do with the Welfare State than Mrs Thatcher. It reduces the individual to a non-entity, powerless, demoralised and entirely dependent on the State for his well-being. This largely being the point of the Welfare State of course.
    ” To the yuppie, litter was something for other people to pick up.”
    Then how come most of the litter I see on my daily travels is in Council Estates, or thrown out of cars full Chavs when I take my Dog for a walk? It is because of the Welfare State, not Thatcherism, that people take no pride in either themselves, or the places in which they live and have no respect for other peoples property. It removes responsibility from the individual and places it upon the State and its employees, that is the source of the problem, not Freedom, but the Welfare State.

  12. But Singapore’s one of the most individualist countries on earth.

    The reason why Singapore has almost no litter is that the punishment for litter is so high that no-one risks doing it. It’s something like a couple of thousand dollars if you’re caught doing it. In the UK, it’s about £50.

    If you really couldn’t give a toss/assume that someone else will clean up after you, you’ll litter. Very few people get prosecuted for it, and you’ll take the gamble for £50.

  13. Hmm.

    The litter tide was rising long before the latest landfill directives arrived from our supreme government.

    And it doesn’t cost anything to get rid of a fridge (once you’ve paid your council tax, natch). You call – you put it out (removing the door catches and seals) and they take it away. Simples. Or if it’s a small one, you take it to the coup yourself.

    The litter epidemic is more to do with the rise of the we-don’t-care, it’s-someone-else’s-problem, I-know-my-rights, it’s-not-my-job attitude in society as a whole and especially amongst the young, who are indoctrinated from an early age in school to take no responsibility whatever for themselves but leave everything to the state instead.

    In other words, it’s caused by socialism – the exact opposite of Mrs. T. (pbuh)

  14. @Philip: No, no, there were plenty of Calvinists in Prussia, weren’t there? I’ll grant you that the other Christians in Germany were Lutheran, though.

  15. dearieme: Depends which era we’re talking about. Calvinism was proscribed by the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 and wasn’t permitted until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Prussia, of course, rose to prominence later than that.

    But even after liberation, the Calvinist influence on Germany was never very strong. ‘Plenty’ I think might be over-stating it: ‘some’ is perhaps closer to the reality.

  16. There was an epidemic of cars being left in my field gateways about 5 or 6 years ago, but fortunately the global rise in commodity prices, and thus scrap metal prices, meant they now have a scrap value again. So no more dumped bangers. Isn’t globalisation great?

  17. To the yuppie, litter was something for other people to pick up.

    Except it’s not yuppies who litter, it’s chavs on benefits who think the rest of the world should clear up after them as well as fund their deliquency.

  18. It’s something like a couple of thousand dollars if you’re caught doing it.

    It’s about 500 Singapore dollars, not a stupid amount but more than enough to make you think twice. Plus, it’s enforced rigourously.

  19. Well, obviously, disdain for society translates into a bigger litter problem. The rise of individualism is clearly part of the reason for that. And it is obviously not the only reason either. Maybe there are more sweet wrappers and fridges around than there used to be. And so on.

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