An Introduction to Habermas

Jurgen Habermas is less discussed than he was even a decade ago, but having written of the relevance of his work for health and health care I am still occasionally asked to give talks on applications of his theories to the health domain. Hence this first in a short series of blogs. All I am aiming at here is a positioning and annotated exposition of his contributions. Unless I change my mind – surely a blogger’s right – I will follow-up with a précis on each of the public sphere, legitimation crises and communicative action (I am likely to remain reluctant to track him into considerations of constitutional law and speculations about Europe’s future). These are not blogs for experts.

Habermas walked in the footsteps of the progenitors of critical theory, Horkheimer and Adorno (he was the latter’s assistant during the postwar resettlement in Frankfurt). Yet he was destined to react to and counter the deep pessimism of their ‘Dialectic of Enlightenment’, published in 1947. What these authors anticipated for the post-Holocaust era was decline and decay. This prophecy was rooted in Weber’s earlier analysis of rationality and rationalization. Habermas quickly came to reject their equation of rationality with Weber’s Zweckrationalit, or ‘instrumental rationality’: that form of rationality that governs the choice of means to ends. He made it clear that a Weberian focus on a disenchanted western world ineluctably constrained by an ‘iron cage’ of instrumental rationality was seriously flawed. Instrumental rationality, he argued, takes for granted our ‘background assumptions’ about the world. Moreover it is insufficient on its own to grasp the nature of either ‘cultural evolution’, which is not governed by instrumental reason alone, or even economic and administrative systems, which are too complex to be seen simply as its products.

The first of Habermas’ books to make an impact was ‘The StructuralTransformation of the Public Sphere’, published in 1962 (and arising out of an Habilitation thesis rejected by Adorno but supported subsequently by Abendroth at Marburg). What this contribution did was put what has been called an ‘emancipatory twist’ on ‘Dialectic of Enlightenment’. Habermas traced the notion of public opinion back to its genesis in the bourgeois public sphere emergent in eighteenth-century Europe.  It was at this time, he contended, that the literate bourgeois public began to assume a political role vis-à-vis the state. The clubs, coffee houses and salons that sprang up from the early 1700s, underpinned by an expanding and increasingly free press, provided a critical forum for the gentlemen of the day to turn over the pressing issues of the day, and to do so with a degree equality of engagement. It was, he added, very much in accord with the material interests of the bourgeoisie to monitor and influence state policy at this time. But it is an analysis that, however limited (rather like its bourgeois. Male protagonists), heralded his later preoccupation with the informed, rational discussion of public policy.

Habermas admitted that this European prototype of the public use of reason was compromised from the outset by limitations of class and gender. Furthermore, he went on to chart the rapid commercialization and ‘re-feudalization’ of the public sphere. He linked this to the growth of businesses with long corporate arms on the one hand, and to the expansion of the role of the state (‘welfare statism’) on the other. Modern media no longer mediate the reasoning process of private persons coming together in public spaces: they now dictate this process. In similar vein, he argued that public opinion has been reduced to a social-psychological variable to be manipulated by political party gurus and activists. This does not seem so different from ‘Dialectic of Enlightenment’.

In ‘Theory and Practice’, a series of essays published in 1962, Habermas distinguished between ‘work’ and ‘interaction’. This was key to his appropriation of Marxism. Marx, he maintained, neglected interaction, in effect reducing communicative action to instrumental action. This encourages the interpretation of Marxism as mechanistic and undermines it as explanatory theory and as a theory of human liberation. Liberation from hunger and misery is not the same thing as liberation from servitude and degradation, ‘for there is no automatic developmental relation between labour and interaction’.

This theme is pursued in ‘Towards a Rational Society’, which saw the light of day in Germany in 1968. Here he stressed that student activists might play their part in resisting a progressive rationalization of society linked to the institutionalization of scientific and technological development. He vividly portrayed the ‘scientization of politics’ as a form of depoliticization. ‘Knowledge and Human Interests’, also published in 1968, pulled assorted threads together. There are, he argued, three basic and universal ‘knowledge-constitutive interests’. These are related to work, interaction, and a newcomer, ‘domination’; and they give rise, respectively, to:

  • the natural or empirical-analytical sciences, which are governed by ‘a technical interest in the prediction and control of objectified processes’;
  • the historical-hermeneutic sciences, which are governed by a practical interest in intersubjective understanding; and
  • the critical-dialectical sciences (like psychoanalysis and ideology-critique), which are directed to the emancipation from the domination of ‘ideologically frozen relations of dependence that can in principle be transformed’.

This was an influential formulation that he continued to ponder and work on.

‘Legitimation Crisis’, an analysis of ‘late capitalism’ that I consider a neglected book acutely relevant to a sociology of the present, came out in 1974. Still defining himself as a Marxist, Habermas nevertheless argued against the prepotency of economic crisis, instead discerning a multiplicity of possible crises. The state in late capitalism, he maintained, acts self-consciously to avoid dysfunctions: it engages in ‘reactive crisis avoidance’. In particular it acts to iron out the peaks and troughs of the business cycle and to engineer a ‘partial class compromise’ between wage labour and capital. But the state pays a price: by assuming greater responsibility for the ‘management of the economy it risks a crisis of legitimation.  While accepting the Marxist line that it is capitalism’s contradictions and class structure that stand in the way of authentic legitimation, Habermas insisted that crises now had new and many roots.

Preliminary mention should also be made here of the opening section of ‘Communication and the Evolution of Society’, published in 1976. It amounted to a revision of Marx. Habermas argued that the development of human society can be represented/reconstructed as a learning process. Marx, whose historical materialism remains the best account of this learning process, nevertheless focused too much on work and insufficiently on interaction. Or, to anticipate his two-volume opus, Marx’s preoccupation with strategic action meant he underestimated the salience of communicative action.

This ‘taster’ blog can only touch on the several hundred pages of synthesis in ‘Theory of Communicative Action’, first published in 1981. In point form, it:

  • made a case for ‘reconstructing’ the Enlightenment project that originated in late eighteenth-century Europe;
  • argued that Weber, and Horkheimer and Adorno in his wake, had mistakenly regarded western ‘iron cage’ rationalization, which has indeed occurred (and with a vengeance), as inevitable and irreversible;
  • contended that in our complex and highly differentiated modern societies, the lifeworld (the mundane everyday world of ‘social integration’ divided into private and public spheres) and the system (the world of ‘system integration’ comprising the economy and the state) have become detached or ‘uncoupled’;
  • argued that we have witnessed a de facto ‘colonization’ of the lifeworld by the system, meaning that much of what used to be decided via communicative action oriented to consensus in the lifeworld is now decided – as it were, behind our backs – via strategic action oriented to outcome in the system;
  • expressed differently, the steering media of the economy (money) and the state (power) have come to dominate those of the private sphere (commitment) and the public sphere (influence);
  • stoutly defended the notion that the lifeworld might yet fight back or de-colonize through collective activism arising and exploding in its public sphere.

Hopefully enough has been intimated here: (1) to hint at the continuity in Habermas’ work, and (2) to commend it as relevant to a sociology of financial capitalism. Much has been omitted. The follow-up blogs I have in mind will pick up on his interpretations of the public sphere, legitimation crisis, strategic versus communicative action and, maybe, discourse ethics.


Getting Published in Sociology

Along with other editors like Paul Higgs, Clive Seale, Gareth Williams and Ellen Annendale, I am often asked to participate in workshops and seminars on ‘getting published’. These invitations are clearly motivated by concerns about imminent assessments – presently, the REF. While I understand the pressures and maybe can deliver a helpful tip or two, I always insist on a few words about context. In this pre-Christmas blog I combine thoughts about context with the best counsel I can offer. I fervently hope no aspiring academic will want to act on any advice before the celebrations are over and 2013 underway.

I have been a fortunate babyboomer. I graduated in 1971 and after beginning – and deferring, although I never revisited it – a Ph.D in philosophy at Birkbeck College, I switched to sociology in pursuit of a steady income and settled readily enough into a research job at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in 1972. I there began a Ph.D in sociology that I was to knock off in only 11 years! When I was appointed to a half-time lectureship at Charing Cross Hospital Medical School in 1975 I had one publication to my credit and the Dean who interviewed me for the post quizzed me only on the number of foxes to be found on Epsom Downs. In short, these were very different times. While I engaged in institutional politics to ensure I was ‘returned’ for the last RAE, I have never paid any attention to a journal’s impact factor. I shall retire comfortingly just short of the deadline for entry for the REF.

The academic world presents very differently to current entrants and young faculty. They cannot ignore the tighter ‘iron cage’ of rationalisation that barely allows them to turn on the spot. They have to take out a lot more insurance to satisfy their line-managers, and to gain a degree of freedom to think and innovate, than ever I had to: hence the need for sessions on getting published.

So what more about context? Here are the two points I routinely make:

  • Academic life can be a kind of entrapment, leading to the construction of a cv and career for others rather than for self. So give early thought to what it is you want out of your career. Different goals will suggest different routes to their accomplishment. If above all else you seek quick promotion and/or a growing salary, then you will typically need impress with significant grant income and publications in high-impact international journals and would be advised to (at least threaten to) move jobs regularly to boost your return. All I ever had at the back of my own mind was the ambition to be a professor prior to retirement. If your goals lie elsewhere, to teach, research and publish either as part of a personal intellectual journey or to impact on social polity for example, then the route may well be different (not that these or other routes are necessarily incompatible: I know colleagues who can exchange routes with ease).
  • Sennett has written perspicaciously of our need to be proactive in an era (say, post-1970s) of compelling uncertainty and unpredictability. This applies to cv construction too. Goal posts keep moving in academia: rational decision-making can be one’s undoing. At any rate building a cv must now be a reflexive process of positioning. I have always been constrained by a need to keep line-managers in medical schools off my back (one idiot told me to bring in a small grant of around £1m and to publish in ‘Nature’). Books and chapters count for nothing in this environment, and theoretical or qualitative research papers for little more. As a visiting professor in a sociology department in the USA, however, it was my books that impressed. The balance of your cv should anticipate the audiences, often more than one, that you will need to impress to realize your personal ambitions.

So what about tangible advice towards getting published? Here are my pointers:

  • Wait until you have something to say.
  • Do a quick review of likely journal outlets, with – necessarily these days -one eye on their impact factors: different journals can have very different policies, preferred papers, formats and styles.
  • Have a clear message for readers in mind, whether it’s the presentation of research findings, a review article or a conceptual or theoretical piece. Make sure this message comes across, even if appropriately qualified by admissions of limitations or calls for further work.
  • Make sure that the manuscript doesn’t ‘fizzle out’, as if you got tired or realised you were about to go beyond the journal’s word limit and called a sudden halt. It’s amazing how many papers set things up interestingly, even excitingly, over 20 pages and then fail to deliver in the concluding two.
  • Bear in mind that your own focus can be quite specialised and of concern to relatively few colleagues in and around the discipline, so try and present your work in a way that suggests a broader relevance (e.g. set your substantive findings on ulcerative colitis in the context of the general literature on long-term illness).
  • It is normal to have papers rejected these days, not least because the REF is looming. Don’t be put off, and take every opportunity to learn from reviewers’ comments (my experience is that these tend to be very helpful, with the occasional ‘odd’ exception).

If your preference is for rapid promotion and a holiday cottage, fair enough. Personally, however, I find it very depressing when colleagues raise a glass or two to celebrate getting a grant, rather than what they want to do with it, and getting a paper in a leading journal, rather than what they had to say in it. I understand these reactions sociologically, but … But then I’m knocking on a bit. The best of luck to anyone reading this.

Elements Towards a Sociology of the Present

‘Modern government could be interpreted as a device for projecting corporate power. Since the 1980s, In Britain, the US and other nations, the primary mission of governments has been to grant their sponsors in the private sector ever greater access to public money and public life. There are several means by which they do so: the privatization and out-sourcing of public services; the stuffing of public committees with corporate executives; and the reshaping of laws and regulations to favour big business’ (Monbiot, 2012).

The hastily negotiated settlement of a ‘Con-Dem’, Cameron-Clegg coalition government in the United Kingdom in 2010 coincided with the fall-out from a major global financial crisis in 2008-9, an incipient crisis within the ‘eurozone’, and a spate of regime-threatening insurrections in the Middle-East emanating from the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2010. Hard on the heels of the Con-Dem parliamentary deal came a loosely coordinated series of protests at a tranche of early coalition policies targeting, above and beyond all else, deficit reduction (e.g. to hike student fees, abolish the Education Maintenance Allowance, constrain and shrink the public sector via salary freezes, pension curtailments and redundancies, and privatize the NHS). Somehow in the mix too were the London ‘riots’ of August 2011.

In this blog I gather together some of the key ingredients for a credible sociological analysis of our contested and unpredictable present. These six would surely make it into any recipe:

  • Financial capitalism and growing inequality

The quadrupling of oil prices in the early 1970s ‘marked’ (but did not ‘cause’) a significant transition in the UK and globally, the complex character of which has become clearer over time. Sociologists have referred to a transition from one phase of capitalism to another, for example, from industrial to post-industrial, from Fordist to post-Fordist, or from organized to disorganized. Others have written more grandly of a switche from first to second modernity or from modernity to post-modernity. We prefer here to write with circumspection of a new phase of financial capitalism. Financial capitalism has witnessed the privileging of financial over productive capital. The speed, volatility and impact of hugely accelerated rates of flow of capital are a defining feature of financial capitalism.

One unambiguous concomitant of the transition to financial capitalism has been an increasing rate of inequality of wealth and income. The data are compelling. Responding to the ‘Sunday Times’ Rich List for 2012, leftist MP Michael Meacher offered four observations relevant to the ‘governance of the UK:

  1. The richest 1000 people (0.003% of the adult population) increased their wealth over the past three years by £155bn. That is sufficient, he notes, for them alone to pay off the entire current UK budget deficit while still retaining £30bn to shop.
  2. This ‘mega-rich elite’, comprising many of the bankers and hedge fund and private equity operators causally implicated in the financial crash of 2008-9, has not been subject to any ‘tax payback’. In fact, 77% of the budget deficit is being recouped by public expenditure and benefit cuts, and only 23% is being repaid by tax increases (and more than half of the tax increases is accounted for by the VAT rise which hits the poor hardest); none of the tax increases specifically target the rich. (Moreover, the recent G20 global push to tackle tax evasion has clearly failed: deposit data from the Bank of International Settlements shows bank accounts in tax havens held £1.7tn last year, about the same as in 2007.
  3. Despite the biggest slump for almost a century, the 1000 richest are currently ‘sitting on’ wealth exceeding that held prior to the crash: their wealth now amounts to £414bn, equivalent to more than a third of Britain’s GDP. This mega-rich elite includes 77 billionaires and 23 others, each possessing more than £750m.
  4.  The increase in wealth of the richest 1000 has been £315bn over the last 15 years.

According to the 2010 Report of the National Equality Panel, ‘An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK’, the top decile of the UK population is now 100 times as wealthy as the bottom decile. The 2011 Interim Report of the High Pay Commission reveals that dominant among Britain’s top 1% of income ‘earners’ are finance and business workers and company directors. FTSE 100 chief executive officers (CEOs) enjoyed average total remuneration of over £4.2m in 2009/10. In 2010, FTSE 100 CEO pay was 145 times the average salary for workers, and it is on track to be 214 times the average salary by 2020.

  • New class/command dynamic

The concentration of wealth into fewer hands with tighter grips is a function of a new ‘class/command dynamic’. The directors and CEOs of the FTSE 100, rentiers and, most notably, financiers, now comprise a cabal within an increasingly globalized hard core of what I call the UK’s ‘capitalist executive’ (CE). Despite fierce competition and tensions within this cabal, the interests and (neo-liberal) ideology its members share mean that conspiratorial action is rarely required (although it would be naïve to take one’s eyes of this particular ball). In the period of financial capitalism this newly honed cabal has extended its influence over the ‘power elite’ (PE) at the apex of a state apparatus extending well beyond prime ministers (and their cronies) and cabinets and characterized by horizontal rather than vertical power relations.

  • CE + PE = Oligarchy

Some sociologists have suggested that we already have a ‘nomadic’ global or transnational capitalist/ruling class in what is in many respects a post-nation-statist era. In 2011 Coghlan and MacKenzie identified 147 ‘superconnected’ transnational companies (mostly banks) that in their view comprise ‘the capitalist network that runs the world’. Many more sociologists have accepted that a transnational capitalist/ruling class exists in embryo. A case can certainly be made that the UK’s Westminster-based parliamentary democracy has been displaced by government by oligarchy (CE+PE). In their differentiation of types of government, Plato and Aristotle defined oligarchy vis-à-vis the Greek polis or city-state as rule by the few (oligos, few + archia, rule). In 2012 Mount, a commentator long inclined to think outside the box, if rarely to the left of it, has contended that we already have government by oligarchy in the UK. He writes:

‘… what oligarchy requires to become effective is a symbiosis between money and power, a daily interweaving of business and politics. The two sets of oligarchs must feed off each other to live and breath’.

I favour a focus on the class/command dynamic, but the trend away from ‘formal’ parliamentary, let alone ‘substantive’, democracy is indisputable.

  • Party political cynicism

Complementing the ingredients already listed, journalist Charles Oborne has shown how UK party-based politicians have become more ‘careerist’ and interchangeable. Opinion polling bears testimony to growing public disaffection, discontent and disengagement. ‘Cynicism’, fortified by the Blairite usurpation of the Labour Party between 1997 and 2010, the in-your-face abuse of a cosy in-house expenses system, and a bending of knees to the likes of Murdoch by the Cameron-led ConDems post-Leveson, all of which have been facilitated by oligarchical tendencies, remains the norm.

  • Cultural relativism/individualism

One concomitant of the transition to financial capitalism has been a cultural shift. In terms deployed by Lyotard in ‘The Postmodern Condition’, ‘grand’ narratives have been transmuted into ‘petit’ narratives. The discourses or ways of viewing the world available to the populace prior to financial capitalism – grand narratives aspiring to rational/universal support – have ‘shrunk’ in significance even as they have multiplied in number, becoming in the process petit narratives aspiring to the pick-and-mix options of a cultural relativism. Cultural relativism self-evidently fuels more virulent forms of individualism. Launching a philosophical broadside against this ‘postmodern fad’ of cultural relativism, Habermas rightly insisted that this new form of cultural relativism/individualism constitutes ‘a new conservatism’. Any move that inhibits the rationally/universally compelling construction and pursuit of an agenda for change must necessarily favour the status quo, in other words the continued rule of the CE + PE oligarchy.

The ‘postmodern experiment’ is, or has been, more often disinhibiting (like alcohol) than emancipatory.

  • Impotence, despair and anger

(1) Public cynicism, (2) a no less pervasive sense of impotence, despair and anger, and (3) cultural relativism/individualism are not the inevitable (or determined) progeny of (4) the emergent class/command dynamic associated with financial capitalism. The argument in this blog and elsewhere is not determinist: (1), (2) and (3) do not reduce to (4); but they are nevertheless functional for (4). (1), (2) and (3) have the effect of undermining resistance to oligarchal vested interests. This is important for any credible sociological explanation of the ubiquitous post-1970s supremacy of neo-liberal ideology and the failure to date to mount an effective oppositional politics. As Mount shows, centralized control has gathered pace since the 1980s, impacting negatively on the conduct of government itself, the Houses of Parliament, party political and local authority democracy, and resulting in ubiquitous quangocrats and generalized public disengagement. Not only has political party membership plummeted, the proportion turning out to vote even in general elections has fallen to around 60% (never mind the ‘election’ of police commissioners). Insofar as shifts in ‘public opinion’ in financial capitalism – as opposed to impotence, despair and anger – have been measured, they have indicated a more self-centred hardening of attitudes towards/against those in poverty or living with disabilities.

These are of course mere ingredients, but they also set parameters for a sociology of a changeable present.

Village Narratives: An Historical Note

We were ready to leave our mid-Surrey provincial town partly because we needed more space, what with my 90-year old father encamped in our living room, and partly because of the predictable, grating noise from the Queens’s Head opposite. We could pool our resources and find somewhere larger and quieter. But ending up in Mickleham was unplanned. Our youngest daughter discovered it on the Internet. We saw it initially without appointment, standing by the gate and tracing, wide-eyed, the steps down to the ‘cottage’. Annette and I were already hooked. Once she had checked out the inside, we put in a bid. Your bid cannot be registered, I was told, until you too have been shown around. The deal was clinched, if – just a little worrying this – a while before we had signed off on our old place.

The purchase was an unusual, three-bed semi-detached property up a rough and crumbly track off the A24. Although we knew nothing of it at the time, it was a track with some history of its own. In 1789 Sir Charles Talbot had made over a parcel of land to the parish of Mickleham for a poor house. Since 1601, as a result of the declining fortunes of the Church, courtesy of Henry VIII’s suppression of the monasteries, parishes had been charged with a responsibility to provide relief for the local poor. The means to do so came from a levy on the better-off and was distributed by overseers as either outdoor or indoor relief. According to local historian Ronald Sheppard, outdoor relief sufficed until 1789 when a poor house was judged essential. Poor houses were austerely functional, designed to stigmatise and deter. The one half way up our hillside track was apparently an elongated, stark two-story building containing eight dwellings. As if to anticipate the present ConDem coalition, however, it was soon put about that the inhabitants were taking advantage. Furthermore, after the Napoleonic War the numbers of ‘needy poor’ rose nationally, leading to the passing of a new Poor Law Act in 1834. Individual parishes lost their responsibilities in favour of ‘unions’ of neighbouring parishes, leaving Mickleham’s high and dry. In 1838 a proposal was made to convert the poor house into an almshouse, but it came to nothing. Another Talbot stepped into the breach, this time Sir George, who in 1845 supplied the means for the reconstruction of a now-dilapidated building; an almshouse was erected. A fire in 1864 levelled this to the ground. Sheppard defines this as a blessing in disguise: the eight sets of rooms Annette and I drive by almost daily are apparently a significant improvement on their predecessors.

Nestling besides the almshouse is the King William IV pub, from which – embarrassingly – I think I remain barred (another narrative). Built in 1830, it offers wondrous views over to Norbury Park (which I enjoyed for a year or two).

Our new home was a former National School founded in 1843 and converted into dwellings in 1900. That there was no local school prior to 1843 may seem odd to a non-sociologist. There were certainly plenty of educated people about: for example J.S.Mills’ dad lived in Swansworth Lane, just behind the Running Horses pub (of which a lot more in subsequent narratives). Sir George enters the picture again. He gave money for the purchase of a site across from the almshouse. Public subscription carried the project forward; and G.W.Wathen was the architect (interestingly, the original Schoolmaster’s house, next door to us, is now occupied by a celebrated local architect).

I suppose we had heard of Mickleham before we bought our way into it, and we had certainly by-passed it a thousand times back and forth to the south-coast to visit my parents at Worthing, but we knew little about it. In fact, it predates the development of our lowly hillside by many a century. Early immigrants to our lands came this way, Sheppard tells us, as long ago as 2,500 BC, hesitating and occasionally settling in the vicinity, often in plots adjacent to rivers like the Mole. Artefacts dating from 500 BC have been found a stone’s thrown away from us on Mickleham Downs (which the old Roman road skirts). Only myth and wishful thinking date Mickleham itself back to these times, but all is not lost. There was likely a presence prior to the building of the Roman road. Moreover the ancestry of the village is captured in its Anglo-Saxon naming: ‘micel’, meaning big, and ‘ham’, meaning a settlement. Incidentally, the naming of Mickleham’s companion village, Westhumble (just across the A24), is no less revealing: ‘wisce’, referring to a wych elm, and ‘stumble’, referring to a tree stump.

The church speaks most eloquently of Mickleham’s past. St Michael’s sits in the core of the village (opposite the Running Horses). It was in 597 BC that Augustine and his monks crossed the English Channel on a mission to evangelise and displace the Anglo-Saxons’ own gods and godlets. What do we know of the outcome for Mickleham? Well, the existence of a church was recorded in the Doomsday Book, so the lineage reaches back to 1086. So a wooden structure antedated the Norman Conquest. From the 12th century on there is more tangible evidence of its early origins.

Just in time for Christmas in 2004 we came by chance to live on the outskirts of a village with its taproot in Anglo-Saxon soil. If our track appears modern by contrast, so what? If this blog receives a visitor or two there will be narrative snapshots to follow that speak as readily of the human condition as do philosophers, sociologists and the like. My barring from the King William IV is symptomatic: I guess all villages have their feuds, often entirely enigmatic to outsiders. In the best tradition of sociology, identities will be protected and names altered. But here is a query or four:

  • Why has Mickleham’s Running Horses been voted the 8th best pub in the UK, and how many recognized ‘Wiggo’ as he sped by?
  • What happened when two pigs escaped and scuttled down the A24’s cycle path, and what would Wittgenstein have made of it?
  • What latent rather than manifest functions does the village choir have?
  • Is working in inner London and living in a mid-Surrey village a recipe for the good life?

Oh, and what will happen to me when I retire?