In yesterday's post, I mentioned the coin-operated slot machines that flank the entrance to our local shopping centre. It is always a source of amazement to me that such things are profitable; in our supposedly austere economic climate, how do parents justify such expenditure?
These ride-on machines (or 'kiddie rides', as the manufacturers rather nauseatingly describe them) may have been a significant treat decades ago when they first appeared, but the average child now has access to a comparative wealth of toys and entertainment that must surely diminish the relative value of the experience.
Much of it, of course, has to do with the prevailing belief that children require constant tribute; the cost of pacifying tiny tyrants seems to be regarded as one of the essential elements of the family budget, if the number of children being pushed round the shops clutching brand-new toys or sweets is anything to go by.
Being a prudent sort (and fairly short of money when the children were small), I never spent money on that sort of thing, largely because a part of me was always thinking ahead; if I put a pound in a ride-on slot machine, that was a pound less we would have to spend on household expenses - or on real-life driving lessons years later.
But - and this will doubtless have the Urchin reaching for his elitist whistle - for at least some of the parents happily pushing coins into slots, saving for the future is something to be actively avoided. The reasoning runs roughly thus: since any means-tested benefit will take savings into account, it's better not to have any savings at all. That way, should you need to claim benefits, you get the lot.
Like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, Britain's population are provided for even when they don't toil and spin - as long as they didn't save when they had the chance. Small wonder, then, that retailers of all sorts are queuing up to secure their share of this spendthrift culture and foster an unprecedented sense of entitlement.
Aesop, in his insect fable, had the whole argument for planning ahead well summed-up; only in this case, while the hard-working ants toil to save up food for the winter, the singing grasshopper is rewarded with a recording contract.
Marshall Tucker Band
1 hour ago