by Todd Mei
The philosopher Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005) argued that a healthy imagination is essential for political and social reform because it allows us to envisage what is possible despite the current conditions and conventional wisdom. Science fiction is one example of how the imagination helps to spur on new ideas relating to technology and what it means to be human. Utopia is another example since, as Ricoeur notes, it allows us to see the “no-where” of what can be and perhaps what even ought to be.
A Virus that Knows No Boundaries?
It has often been remarked that COVID-19 ignores borders and can infect anyone. But we know that how the virus spreads is heavily dependent on key socio-economic factors. Those who are poorer have less access to healthcare and less financial ability to endure a lockdown economy. But as importantly, the conditions in which poorer people live often mean that they are at higher risk of contracting the virus.
So one of the significant changes that I would like to see in my post-pandemic utopia is fairer accessibility to housing.
This is a vexed and complex topic since it involves a lot of (questionable, if not erroneous) ideas about rights to private ownership and conditions exacerbating the limited availability of land.
Ideas for Change
So perhaps one way of entering into this utopia of fairer housing is to begin with some small ideas for change.
· The prohibition of second homes, either by law or through tax dis-incentivization.
· The prohibition of the conversion of residential homes for holiday rentals (e.g. Airbnb).
These two ideas would free up houses used for other things besides necessary use for living, as well as help to make living more affordable in areas where second homes and holiday rentals have driven up the cost of living and the cost of property. If the route of tax dis-incentivization were to be used, it would have to hefty enough to deter even the wealthiest from the opportunity cost.
For this to work, other post-pandemic utopia ideas would need to come into play.
First, we would have to find ways in which certain sectors of the economy could let its employees work from home. This would allow a more flexible working-living arrangement so that employees would not necessarily need to congest major urban areas.
It’s not so unimaginable since similar transformations, like the 4-day work week, have been implemented with success.
Second, we would have to re-think how rental properties work since the market in second homes and holiday rentals might simply shift over to gaining monopoly-like control over rental properties. So this idea, which is hotly debated but certainly worth pondering, might trigger a similar dis-incentivization plan as mentioned above.
Dr Todd Mei is Senior Lecturer and Head of Philosophy at the University of Kent. He researches in the philosophy of work and economics and also runs the public philosophy website philosophy2U.com. He is an aspiring literary author and is a keen windsurfer and recovering rock climber.