Still, as an American who has watched many of the benefits my mother has enjoyed eroding just as I came of an age to appreciate them, it's interesting to get some perspective on how things are going down on the other side of the pond, where the Atlee government took the Beveridge Report to heart and set about eliminating want, ignorance, disease, squalor and idleness. (A shame about the last one. There are days when I'm a great fan of idleness.) Strange to consider that I could have been born to a country where education and health care were provided without question.
The idea that one might have to pay for education, at any level, seemed to us primitive and backward-looking. In the Thirties, my grandmother used to save pennies in a tin in her kitchen, fearfully guarding against the day when one of her children might require medical attention. In the week that the National Health Service was inaugurated in 1948, GPs' surgeries were overwhelmed with patients whose painful and often life-threatening conditions had never been treated or even shown to a doctor. When we baby boomers were ill, we expected, as a right, the best treatment available. Paying for it never occurred to us.According to Beckett, the reason this is all falling apart now is because that education did not prepare them for the freedom they were growing into. Rather than receiving the training they needed to keep this wonderful world moving forward, they were forced to memorise stodgy lists of dates and lineages of kings who died long enough ago to have veritably no impact on their lives. So when they emerged into the sex-drugs-rock n' roll 60s, their stodgy education seemed a grand lie. Life was so much easier than that, so much more fun.
What did we do with this extraordinary inheritance that had eluded our ancestors, and that an earlier generation had worked and fought to give us?
We trashed it.
We trashed it because we did not value it. We trashed it because we knew no history, so we thought our new freedoms were the natural order of things. It was as though we decided that the freedom and lack of worry that we had inherited was too good for our children, and we pulled up the ladder we had climbed.So--what you going to do about it, buddy? Wring your hands and say, "It wasn't supposed to be this way?" while you lie in a state-funded hospital bed that they'll decommission as soon as you're gone?
This is the sort of thing the Apron Revolution is working to undo. If we can recapture the optimism and determination of the boomers' parents, and keep it wedded to the discipline, gratitude, and common sense that was lost in the intervening years, maybe we'll have a chance. Otherwise, what?
Unfortunately we have a lot of debts to pay in the mean-time. Maybe not as many as the British, who got to have that century of health care and education that passed us by. Then again, we've had a few more foreign wars to pay for, too. Can we take Iraq back to the store for a full refund? If not, I'd be happy to exchange it for education or health care.
Failing that, I guess we'll just have to tighten our belts and go back to work.