Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Snowdrops and capitalism

click photo to enlarge
Capitalism and a market economy seem to be the worst mechanisms for securing a high standard of living and increasing prosperity - except for all the other systems that have been tried.* But, whilst it can deliver quantity of life (though rarely for all citizens) it frequently fails to deliver quality of life. In the recent "boom" decades, psychologists, sociologists and everyday experience demonstrated that the increasing affluence of western societies brought increasing stress, anxiety, overwork, disatisfaction, and an unhealthily high regard for self: the condition that was labelled "affluenza". And now, as the world economy contracts, and joblessness increases, those unhealthy traits of the times of plenty are not lessened, but grow ever stronger: we are, apparently, no happier in times of "bust".

It seems to me that advanced capitalism and the market economies that characterise western economies, especially the U.S.A. and the U.K., are ill-equipped to deliver happiness and fulfilment for everyone. The reason they can't do this is that they lack an underpinning morality. It is surely time that people objected to: the idea that it is always "right" to charge for a product what the market will bear; the notion that envy, greed and ostentatious display are qualities (virtues even!) to which we should aspire; the feeling that however much money you have, it's always better to have more; the acceptance that the proper role of advertising is to stimulate avarice and covetousness; companies where the highest paid person in a company is judged to be "worth" 1,000 or 2,000 times what the lowest paid receives; the belief that it's right to pay someone a weekly wage that is insufficient to live on. In the years to come there will be much talk by politicians of a "new order", of controlling the excesses of the past few years, of a new social contract. But, if such talk amounts to no more than a tinkering with the edges of the existing system, it will be worth little. Reforms that get to the heart of capitalism, that inject it with a morality that ensures that all citizens benefit from, and participate fully in the society to which they contribute, are necessary. I'd like to think such changes could happen - but I'm not optimistic.

I was thinking about this as I processed my photograph of some snowdrops that are in full flower in my garden. The way that the plants soldiered on through the snow and ice of the past few weeks, going from tentative shoots to full bloom, impressed me, and reminded me that people have a similar fortitude and will surely deal with the icy blast of this recession too. I posted an image of some very early snowdrops on January 13th. It was a fairly conventional treatment of the subject. This time I went for a "dreamier" approach, and used the shallow depth of field of the macro lens to throw the background out of focus.

* adapted from: "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." Winston Churchill (1874-1965), speech in the House of Commons, 11th November 1947

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm macro (70mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/125 seconds
ISO: 200
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On