The Inaugural Cabb Lecture, Telford, September 2041
[This record of Professor Cabb’s lecture was found stuffed in the middle of the account of the Revenge of Greg Gloom. Although the event has no connection to the story of Mr Gloom, it does take place roughly at the same time and in the same place. For the sake of historical accuracy, therefore, it is reproduced at this point. The speech was at the time considered a vital contribution to the fight against greenhouse gas emissions.]
Professor Cabb stepped up to the podium in the middle of the Midlands National Stadium.
You might say: “Why not use Molineux? What’s wrong with the Hawthorns?” You’d be forgetting that they have been turned into LSBs. Several years ago the government was looking for Living Seed Banks to support the urban farming reforms. A small hectare of quality soil protected by high walls, officious security guards in orange coats and several thousand watts of lighting capacity (easily adapted to UV) – football stadia were irresistible. And since the return of football to hearty amateurism, it meant handy revenue for the clubs. So the Inaugural Cabb Lecture was held at the Midlands National Stadium in Telford.
Professor Cabb coughed into his Apple handkerchief and surveyed the 100,000 crowd. How things had changed! 100,000 people voluntarily turning up for an economics lecture! Cabb was one of a wave of celebrity academics. He’d taken £10 million that year in sponsorship alone! As he bowed, the logo on the roof of his mortar board reflected the blaze of the floodlights back into the crowd.
Let’s see if he had anything worthwhile to say. Probably not; these academics were usually full of puff. Especially economists.
He tapped the microphone and began…
“Imagine that the economy like a series of concentric circles. In the core there are activities which are essential for survival – such as producing food. Then we have things like the provision of shelter, security… then healthcare and education. Further out are more peripheral things which are less to do with survival – rather they are to do with getting more out of life. Things like self-fulfilment, dispelling boredom or achieving recognition. Or indeed breast enhancements.”
Professor Crabb paused, awaiting a chuckle from the immature among the audience. It duly arrived.
“Now let us simplify this by saying that there are two categories of economic activity: essential ones and non-essential ones. In a technologically advanced society the non-essential ones become very important. I will explain why.
“Consider the Semi-autonomous Region of Cumberland, Westmorland, Lancashire, Manchester and Merseyside. It is so very advanced that there is only one farmer. The well known Giles Thistle has a fabulous technology and, if he wants, he can produce all the food everyone needs; he hardly needs any labour input and can undercut anyone else who tries to produce food. Giles is sitting pretty.
“In order to buy food the people of Cumbs and Lancs [as SRCWLMM was usually known] have to offer him some goods or services – he’s not going to bother making all that food and just give it to people for free.
“As Mr Thistle already has his house and a strong fence he doesn’t need any core, essential services from anyone. So people have to be able to tempt him with non-essential products and services. Hence, in a technologically advance society where the provision of food is straightforward and does not keep us busy, we need to be kept busy with non-essential activities.
“If you go up there you’ll see they’re knocking at his gate every day. Lucky he’s got a good ear because they’re so hungry that they’re knocking quite feebly. Not that I expect that you would go up there.”
The crowd laughed and hissed! The rivalry between Cumbs and Lancs on the one hand and the Midlands was ferocious. Until recently Cumbs and Lancs had dominated the British Regions football tournament. Not surprising with those great traditions of Manchester and, to a lesser extent, Liverpool. But in the last couple of years a resurgent Shrewsbury team had turned things around.
Professor Cabb continued. “So to participate in the economy, to be able to purchase food from Mr Thistle, the people of Cumbs and Lancs have to be able to persuade him to engage in some economic activity with them. As he already has a surfeit of essential products and services, he needs to be lured with inessential products and services.
“In fact, the fundamental challenge of an economy is to draw resources away from those who have the capital to stockpile them, and towards those with less capital. Unless the economy can do that, there will be such a polarity of wealth that the economy itself will seize up. And more important: no-one will be able to buy the food that the food monopolists produce. We must be able to tempt Mr Thistle to engage.
Now, in the olden days, the skill of economists and politicians, in league with the advertisers-”
The crowd hissed! How advertisers were hated in those days of piety!
“… in league with the advertisers, in the olden days, they managed to make non-essential products and services appear essential. Thus they created a huge range of economic activities by which people could tempt the Mr Thistles of the world to deliver them foods and other genuinely essential products and services. Mr Thistle considered the offerings to him essential – essential to his status in society, for example – and purchased them, thus generating a flow of wealth from Mr Thistle to the rest of the population.
“However, once advertising was substantially outlawed, people began to see through the myths and chimeras woven by the marketers, and, rather than working ever harder to consume goods and services of questionable worth, they began to work less and spend more time with their families. Since when measures of contentedness, wellbeing and fulfilment have all risen sharply as much as healthcare costs have fallen.
“This, ladies and gentlemen, was the genius of the Economic Decline Act of 2021. However, history never stands still. Nor does the devil sleep!”
Unfortunately Professor Cabb was not the devil. Indeed he was a narcoleptic and just then slumped over the lectern for a quick snooze.