Friday, 23 July 2010

Life was better in the 60s?

I have been asked if I think life was better in the 1960s? I was born in 1960 and I then lived in the country with the 9th highest male life expectancy in the world of 68.2 years; now that life expectancy is 76.5 years. In the 1960s most forms of cancer were a virtual death sentence; by 2008 more than half of patients diagnosed with some form of cancer were surviving. I remember waking up in the 1960s with frost on the inside of my bedroom window and having to book an international telephone line to speak with relatives in Australia. Now I have central heating and can call Australia direct on my mobile. In the 1960s only 2% of children had the opportunity of a University education, now every child has that opportunity.

Today we are better educated (or at least have better qualifications), are physically more comfortable and living longer, healthier lives. Of course we won the world cup in the 1960s, something that has eluded England ever since. However, was it better in the 1960s? My view is it was certainly different, but that doesn’t mean better or worse. Admittedly there was no MRSA in hospitals but people still died in the 1960s of illnesses which are routinely treated and cured these days. Try surviving cancer in 1960 and look at your chances today. House prices were lower in the 1960’s but the increase in prices since then are an inevitable result of a free market and capitalist economy. Price controls on housing may be an answer but after that where do you stop? Wages control? Not minimum wage but maximum? Then you are into progressive taxation? Fix maximum you can earn and then have 100% tax band after that? Central command and control economies have never worked very well in the long term if you look at the USSR as the obvious example.

People trot out the “statistics” on social mobility being better in the 1960s. Well we’d come out of a war less than a generation earlier and wars are very good at creating the opportunities for social mobility. The First World War created the biggest social mobility ever in the country! It also depends upon what you mean by social mobility? Do you mean we all have to live in bigger houses? We all should have estates in the country and titles? We all have to be Directors of BP? My son has just signed on with Carnival Cruise Lines (Owners of Cunnard amongst others), as an Engineering Officer Cadet, his Granddad was an Engineering Officer with P&O so does that mean my family has stagnated or even gone backwards? My daughter is studying law at Kings College London so I think she's done OK so far? Education was apparently better in the 1960’s and there was apparently full employment. Actually there were still pockets of unemployment even in the 1960’s. If we cut the UK population today back to the same level as 1960 then our unemployment problems would vanish overnight!

Conventional wisdom now teaches that we were a more law abiding society in the 60s. There were no Soham Murders or police facing armed villains. Of course Britain did have The Moors Murders in the 1960s and the Kray Twins were running the East End of London. Drugs are a problem today that didn’t have as high a profile in the 1960s but that didn’t mean drugs were only invented in the past decade.

I am very wary of the rose tinted spectacles, looking back at the "golden age" For one thing we cannot go back to the 1960's, the world is a totally different place now. I was born in 1960 so the whole CND bit is a mystery to me, I never lived in fear that the world could end in mushroom clouds at any moment, and I think that was something the 1960 generation used to worry about?

So, I don't think today is any better or worse than the 1960's, I think its just different, and one thing is definitely certain, we have to live now and get on with it as until H.G.Well's time machine is available we can't do anything else.

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