A penny for your thoughts

Dr Patrick Carvalho
Insights Newsletter
31 May, 2019

Once upon a time, the pursuit of happiness was a personal duty. Not anymore. We now have politicians ready to nudge us in the right direction.

Earlier this month, a group of British MPs made a formal proposal to charge shoppers an extra penny to use self-checkout machines. This policy, so they promised, would “counteract potential damage caused by a lack of everyday contact between people”.

The £0.01-levy proposal is part of a range of actions suggested in an interim report called Heal the Generational Divide, published by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration.

Previously it was a penny for your thoughts. Now it is a penny for not being asked if you would like a receipt.

Well, actually, the British politicians believed that more meaningful conversations happen at the check-out.

In their report, they seriously suggest that “some of the technological changes…[that] can come at the expense of valuable everyday human contact”.

“Self-service checkouts have closed off what might be for some people the only chance to talk to someone during the day”, the cross-party report alerts.

I will reflect on it the next time I queue when at the cashier.

But perhaps it is good we now have such caring and considerate politicians helping us live more fulfilling lives.

Hopefully, New Zealand will copy the idea soon – and even take a few steps further.

Just think about the infinite taxes and nudges to boost our community feelings: From ATM-levies bringing back joyful teller interactions to carpool-inducing surcharges on drivers to outright bans on single servings in restaurants.

I am not quite sure whether to tax Oscar, Air New Zealand’s chatbot. Okay, he is not human. But you can have a better conversation with Oscar than with most other airlines’ representatives.

Maybe we could take the British suggestion to its logical conclusion: To tax all activities one does on one’s own that could also be joyfully done with someone else.

I will leave it to readers to think of examples.

Back to Britain: If British MPs are so concerned with people’s wellbeing, perhaps they could just do their bit to help their constituents from going crazy. Finding a solution to Brexit would be a good start.

It would allow a return to ordinary small-talk about the weather.

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