Austerity and Stoicism

Since the banking crisis of 2008, times have became increasingly more difficult for many people in Britain and the world. Since 2010 the “free at the point of use” NHS has declined as a health service where it is no longer number 1 in the world for many categories. The NHS waiting list was around 2 million in 2008 and is now approximately 7 million in 2023. There were virtually no food banks in 2006 and in 2022 they provided 3 million food parcels.

There is no doubt those in need as well as much of the average person have seen support by the state diminished. To support economic growth the Bank of England has created an extra £875 billion digitally to bail much of the financial institutions out. It can be argued much of this has had the cumulative effect of contributing to inflation in recent years. As the richest 1% of the global population capture in excess of 60% of economic growth in most countries, there is a lot less to go around.

In 2020, around 5% of wealth was with the bottom 50% of the population of the UK. In the USA, the top 10% of people own 70% of the wealth. Such inequality has only got worse and will continue to get worse.

My experience of people today and the mainstream media is the expectation of taking on a Stoic attitude. The attitude is one of uncrying and being unmoved. Mostly the absence of emotion. Modern Stoicism fits well into the culture of the uncaring rich. It’s not to say Stoicism values aren’t useful. The cultivating of a mindset of resilience, self-discipline, and emotional control are excellent skills to build in life. Though in some ways it feels like we are going full circle. As before Christian values, Stoicism pioneered by the Ancient Greeks, was the philosophy of Roman Emperor’s.

During Roman times, many persecuted Christians were crucified or fed to wild captured animals in arenas as punishment and entertainment. These were grave social injustices. Many Christians practised values like caring for the poor, sick and in need. They would adopt children whose parents had died. Christians would gather in Churches to support one and another. These community focused attitudes didn’t fit with the selfish individualised stoics of the time. This inspired many in Ancient Rome.

I feel we have lost much community in the UK. My Mother talked of a far closer community where people knew their neighbours and watched out for them before I was born. Our great British institutions like the NHS and BBC resemble more like pillars of authority than as champions or servants of the community.

I don’t believe the UK becoming Christian would solve these problems. If it tried to it may have become misguided like in the USA where it has furthered the goals of nationalism. Though I do think we all can learn from the teachings of Jesus especially when it comes to compassion and supporting the poor and sick.