The economy’s just not that into you

If you are an able-bodied politician or journalist who’s feeling left out during the Paralympics, don’t worry – there’s a competition just for you. It’s called “the most shameless way to exploit Paralympic achievements to promote self-serving right-wing arguments”, and it’s been going on since way before the Opening Ceremony. Competition is fierce, but don’t be shy – everyone’s having a go.

For instance, here’s Cristina Odone, writing about work capability assessments in the Telegraph on 30 July:

Aren’t the Paralympics proof that even the most physically challenged can achieve awesome feats? Their disabilities did not prevent Nelson, Byron, FDR, JFK from achieving their goals.

The question surely should be what can the disabled do, rather than what can’t they do. For this, their champions should welcome a system that encourages the disabled to keep working.

Yes, Cristina, “even the most physically challenged can achieve awesome feats”. Some of them, at least. My elder sibling, nearly 40, has been on disability benefits for all his adult life. Comparing him to Nelson or FDR seems pretty fatuous to me. Nonetheless, it’s fair to say that no one has yet attempted the “yelling positive affirmations vaguely related to Byron” treatment on him, so perhaps I’ll give it a go. After all, what’s there to lose? (Apart from money for basic essentials, obviously.)

Yesterday’s Mail had David Cameron telling us that “Britain’s Olympians and Paralympians have taught us [a] valuable lesson: graft equals success”. This may be true in some cases, but it’s total bollocks in others (take me and the 1,500m race, which I did EVERY YEAR on school sports day. And EVERY YEAR I got lapped. I only carried on doing it because no one else in Green House was willing. I was determined and positive, yes, but still totally shit). Anyhow, personal failures aside, today’s Mail ups the ante in exploitation, with Melanie Philips claiming that Paralympic achievement “has inevitable implications for official policy on disability”:

The Government is already committed to stop the abuse of disability benefit, under which some people who could work despite their ailments are instead being signed off ‘on the sick’ to sink into lives of welfare dependency.

While I don’t believe for a moment that a life without economic independence and choice is best for anyone, I don’t really see what the Paralympics has got to do with this. It hasn’t offered some great new insight into what Phillips terms “the lazy equation of disability with incapacity”. It’s given us a very specific insight into what it’s possible to do if you are an exceptional person with a specific physical condition. Disability isn’t always so easy to identify or rank. If anything, the lazy equation of “not looking all that bad” with “being fit for work” can be more of a problem, and it’s not one which the current trend for viewing Paralympians as representative of anyone with a disability is working to combat.

So why are so many people making these false associations? (Other than simply because they’re total sods and want to draw attention away from all the Atos protests, that is.) Well, I have a sort-of not-very-original theory, which came to me while I was bored out of my skull in the playpark this morning. In today’s Telegraph “leading young Tory MP” Kwasi Kwarteng warns us that “at the same time as British sport has soared up the league tables, our economy and our education system have fallen back”:

Britain’s dedication to the virtues of ambition, hard work and risk-taking has declined […] As worrying as the state of the economy is the state of our psychology – because in many discussions about our future, the same defeatism that once ruled British sport now reigns.

I find this reference to “psychology” telling. Because that’s what all this is, isn’t it? Pop psychology taking the place of policies. The language of self-help books being used to suggest that inequality and lack of opportunity is all in your mind – the only thing holding you back is attitude. It’s all about positive thinking, such as the Paralympians have (although in fact, the political thinking’s remarkably negative. It’s no longer even possible to praise athletes without adding in some dig about everyone else in Britain being crap by comparison).

All we need is “ambition, hard work and risk-taking”. Yeah, I know – you thought “risk-taking” was partly what got us into the current economic mess, but apparently not. It was all just a lack of get-up-and-go. We were lazy, spoiled by benefits, and by that I don’t just mean sickness benefits. I mean all of them, and that’s what ruined everything. After all, according to Janet Daley (again of the Telegraph):

It has become apparent to anyone with a grip on economic reality that free markets simply cannot produce enough wealth to support the sort of universal entitlement programmes which the populations of democratic countries have been led to expect.

Poor old free market – being put upon by all these blimmin’ human beings and their so-called “needs”! In the US, Daley sees Romney and Ryan as offering an alternative to this nightmare: “self-determination, individual aspiration and genuine community, as opposed to belief in the state as the fount of all social virtue”. Yes, that’s what we need. Lots of stuff about believing in yourself as the author of your own destiny, as opposed to anything that might provide you with the support to achieve it.*

I’ve come to the conclusion that, far from being hardcore economic free thinkers, so many of the politicians and journalists who are backing further cuts are just wannabe self-help book writers, brilliant at hectoring sloganeering but useless at dealing with people being people. But then with self-help books you never have to deal with that. You come up with loads of ideas that never work but present them in a way that makes people blame themselves, or at least enables them assume that other people must have “failed” to follow the rules, and that’s why everything’s up shit creek. I suspect that at the next election there won’t even be a Conservative manifesto, just a recommended reading list:

  • The 7 Habits Of People Who Are Better Than You
  • Toxic Parents (who didn’t leave you a massive inheritance)
  • Women Who Breed Too Much (and how to cut their child benefit)
  • Awaken The Selfish Bastard Within
  • The Economy’s Just Not That Into You

Of course, we won’t read the books because we’ll all be too mired in our defeatist mindset to turn the pages. But then of course we’ll only have ourselves to blame. After all, who else could there be?

* To be fair, Daley doesn’t mention the Paralympics. She wanders off into some racist musings about why people voted for Obama and how since it’s a proven fact that America “is no longer a land of bigots”, he’ll have to compete properly this time…