“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
I’m not really interested what David Cameron’s memoirs say about Boris Johnson’s motivations for supporting Brexit. What would be much more interesting is to hear why he thought that ‘no ever closer union’ would provide any more than a short-term panacea to justify his ‘Remain’ argument.
As we have argued consistently in this newsletter, once you form a single currency you must have single integrated democratic leadership in order to provide for long-term stability. This is, yet again, another example where humanity allows short-term expediency to trump long-term logic, and we do it over and over again.
So this week we roam across wide areas, from economics to ecology and from philanthropy to physics, where discounting the future has become the distinguishing feature of contemporary humanity; just at the same time as our ability to impact the lives of future generations has reached its greatest extent.
Last week I took part in a ‘Philanthropy Impact’ discussion which took on a surprisingly wide perspective, considering both the role of the state and voluntary charity action in rebalancing wealth - and whether it was appropriate for the arts to enjoy the significant benefits of tax-exempt private donation. As someone who finds the subject of intergenerational rebalancing particularly significant, I found the far-reaching discussion very illuminating: not least, in that it showed so many people thinking seriously about these big issues.
It is true that charities which focus on things which are immediately tangible tend to attract the greatest support: not just the arts, but medical challenges such as cancer, and disaster emergency relief. It’s much more difficult to attract funding for concerns for the medium/long-term future, such as climate change, or the need for intergenerational rebalancing.
But Government is no better. Its policy horizon is very short-term, keyed into a five-year electoral cycle (at best), whereas people’s average adult lifespan does at least provide a perspective of several decades even for their own lives, and far more if they are concerned for children and grandchildren.
Economists have long recognised the reality of ‘discounting the future’, and the old saying ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ illustrates why. If you offer someone either £100 now or £125 in a year’s time, there is a strong probability that they’ll take the £100 now. Delayed gratification is an essential, but much overlooked, component of learning, and underpins the rationale for all savings and investment. Meanwhile the extent to which we have become dependent on borrowing for instant gratification, only to have it punctuated by sporadic financial crises, shows that developed nations have much to learn in this regard.
However the ecological disaster which is increasingly rearing its head over the Earth shows that our inclination to discount the future is not limited to economics. We are always pushing ahead with technology more conscious of its short-term benefits than its long-term implications. Short-term benefits may be tangible, and meet immediate needs impressively, but long-term impact needs reasoning and logic, and genuine care about the future - and these are in short supply.
No other living species has achieved an ability for the actions of one generation to impact materially on the lives of future generations, and we have only acquired this ability in the last 250 years. That’s why I am convinced that we need to understand ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ as referring to our neighbour of tomorrow as well as our neighbour of today. So Jesus might well modify the quotation at the head of this commentary, ‘Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself’ for today’s generation: while it rightly teaches us not to dwell in anxiety, it does not mean ‘don’t care about future generations and the world they will live in’.
There’s a section of my talk ‘Love in Creation’ which talks of time in the context of our increasing understanding of God’s technology, and why it is therefore incumbent on us to learn to live in the unconditional love - which is God - if that experience of technological awareness is to be truly long-lasting.
At present, our growing ability to influence the future is just not being matched by the value we place on it.
Gavin Oldham OBE