Anybody who thinks geography is a rather dry subject, basically concerned with rocks and rivers, is not only probably out of date but also unfamiliar with the work of geographer Danny Dorling, who gave the last Architecture Club talk at Rook Lane, and has just brought out a new book “A Better Politics” (£8.99 London Publishing Partnership). Dorling is a thinker and visionary, and more concerned with the convivial society (as, indeed, is Frome to some extent) than ox-bow lakes and rock formations. Although his entry on the website for the Oxford department of which he is a professor lists his fields as “Geography, Statistics, Demography, Epidemiology, Sociology”, specifying this set of subjects cannot do justice to the breadth and imagination of his thinking, and his overriding concern with inequality.
His new book “A Better Politics – how government can make us happier” deals with the absence from current politics of what should matter most to politicians, i.e. the views and motivations of ordinary people. What most people (not, of course, millionaire politicians) aspire to is a reasonably comfortable and, crucially, secure life containing a regular rather than massive income. Sadly, politicians and economists tend to treat the general public as though ordinary people were all out to try to make a personal fortune, which is one reason why their policies are so often such failures. In line with these views, he has made this book available to read at no charge on the internet.
The book refers to the body of existing research which demonstrates that happiness is achieved by individuals without either working themselves to death or taking a dog-eat-dog approach to life (to maximise monetary gain). Security is of considerably more importance to most people, who would rather live in a modest dwelling on which they can rely over time, (whether owned or rented), than a luxury residence.
A BETTER POLITICS?
Social geography Professor Danny Dorling has been studying the quirks and meaning amongst the immensity of sociological data for most of his career. His new book, A Better Politics: How Government Can Make Us Happier puts what he finds into perspective, as he tackles the UK's rampant inequality. Juliet Solomon gives us her take on what he has to say.
Dorling says explicitly, “We need to wean ourselves off our excessive preoccupation with finance; we should pay more attention to measuring happiness than to maximizing money.” By “we”, he means politicians and economists. If “we” as a nation decided to do this, we could create laws that kept people in affordable homes, not laws which let the rich buy up large numbers of the places worth living in, thus forcing the poor to move on. The policy implications of such a worldview are huge. Once these are factored in, there are more and more arguments for funding, for example, parks, leisure centres, and clean air.
His inspiring Frome talk was principally concerned with housing, inequality, and the relationship between them. He demonstrated how, under the present system, in which there is virtually no provision of affordable social housing, far too much of people’s income has to be spent keeping a roof over their heads; how this is changing cities, and how it could be prevented.
The stated aim of this book is clearly set out, and the sympathetic reader is likely to be convinced by his arguments. It is “to inspire a better politics: one that will enable future generations to be happier. Greater well-being and better health should be the goals, rather than wealth maximization. We need to value healthcare more than hedge funds, caring above careers, relationships more than real estate.” Value matters more than price – bring it on.
Danny Dorling is Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography at the School of Geography and the Environment of the University of Oxford.
A Better Politics: How Government Can Make Us Happy is available from London Publishing Partnership and can be downloaded for free at
The Brunswick Centre, Central London. Built by the council as affordable housing, the flats originally housed cleaners, service people etc. After right to buy, gradually all units were sold. The last three 2 bedroom flats were sold for more than £800,000 each. (It is likely that they were bought to be let.)