[This essay was originally written in March 2004]
Take as a premise that the population continues to grow, funded more by an increase in life expectancy than a sharp uptake in birth rate. By 2024 the baby boomer generation retires, looking to their state pensions to fund the next thirty years of their lives. Renewed political pressure comes from the so-called “grey lobby” now it controls a near-majority of votes, and the government starts to give in. Dissatisfaction grows among the children of the baby boomers, with many joining politically active groups based around a simple question: “Why should we pay for a pensioner to have plastic surgery?”
Inner-city regeneration picks up the pace, with several areas incorporating gated communities. Originally, the areas are punctuated by abandoned homes, a high crime rate, and disused amenities-hospitals and churches stand empty, providing only shelter for those who can’t find permanent housing. The lines between classes stop being metaphorical and start being very real gates and fences. The upper and upper-middle class-a significant number of whom are now pensioners-take these areas and redevelop them. They add walls around their developments with gates that can close. Soon, several communities enforce strict limits on who can live there While that’s technically illegal, the prevalence of CCTV and private security companies gives these limits the de facto status of law.
To fund the increased demand for the state pension, those still of working age are suffering under income taxes that spiral up towards 80%. Given that gated communities have their own private security firms and health care-that they are effectively self-sufficient units-pensioners in gated communities protest at how much tax they still pay, because they do not use the amenities paid for out of that tax. Despite this being a fundamentally short-sighted move, it is just the natural continuance of the political stance of many baby boomers.
In a move which shocks the young and the poor alike, the government caves in to grey pressure. Anyone receiving a pension receives tax breaks on most purchases, and becomes exempt from the council tax. Realising that 80% income tax is already far too high, the subsequent drop in government income is recouped out of funding for public services. People riot across the country as hospitals and schools close so that the old may continue to live the life that they’ve been promised for so long. Many casualties of the riots are policemen, killed by that part of the population they’re still responsible for thanks to inadequate numbers and a lack of training. Private security forces pick up the slack to disperse rioters near gated communities. Life-extension treatments become freely available over a period of several years, ensuring those within the gates have even longer to enjoy life. Those outside the gates work eighty-hour weeks just so they can afford to eat. Most cannot afford places to live, and rents are set by the grey ranks from their gated communities. By 2026, the majority of those outside the gates are legally squatting in their own homes, dreading the day that bailiffs take everything away.
Faced with a never-ending debt to the old, people walk out of work. Some strike only for a few weeks at a time, travelling to take part in riots or demonstrations in major cities. Others quit their jobs and steal what they need to survive. The government, desperate to keep the majority of voters on its side, expands police powers to allow them to arrest anyone who is “willingly unemployed”. The police, already little more than governmentally-sponsored bullies, become objects of hate and revulsion among those who work.
Revolution brews in the streets. The young are no longer content to fund the excesses of their parents. It’s a middle-class rebellion, not from students in universities but from normal people in their thirties and forties, the “sensible” people in the prime of life. It seems like the whole United Kingdom is going through one hell of a mid-life crisis. Something has to snap.
Say you want a revolution?
This was originally written to expand on some ideas presented in a BBC series on potential future calamities aired in 2004. The programme since aired two further series, one in late 2004 and one in mid 2005. Each one was remarkably well done, splicing dramatizations with interviews and discussion with an expert panel. For all that the pressing issues have started to change—climate change was one subject that’s likely to have a huge impact that the series ignored—the write-ups on the BBC website linked present a useful resource for anyone looking to create a plausible dystopian society.
The scenario above obviously has some problems. It didn’t take into account the extended period of financial recession that took hold in 2008. Any current dystopia would have to almost as a matter of course. The question then becomes how that intersects with other calamities: peak oil, climate change, the polarization of the workforce, and so on.