The Grenfell Tower disaster has shaken Britain. It has exposed as damaging pretence the idea that housing can be left to the ‘free market’, and put the spotlight on one of the many dimensions of social and economic inequalities that are stretched beyond the tolerable.
I’ve been in several conversations about who to blame and how to hold them responsible. No doubt there will be many lawsuits and perhaps criminal charges. I know little about the law, but the discussions sent me back to a wonderful book, Louis Menand’s (2001) The Metaphysical Club. It features the four founding fathers of Pragmatism, Charles Peirce, William James, John Dewey and Oliver Wendell Holmes. There is a section on the concept of tort liability and how US liability law evolved alongside the rapidly industrialising American economy. It’s a very thought-provoking read on the issues and the interaction of the law, social trends, and ethics.
The book is anyway a brilliant intellectual history, and beautifully written.
As for the disaster, justice is vital, but so is action. Britain’s housing policies from building regulations to taxation, and planning rules to housebuilding, must change. National and local politicians are the people responsible for making sure it happens.