REFORM CORNER: A recurring debate in Britain: how to reform the House of Lords. All factions are ready to jettison the old arrangement, in which the scions of England's decrepit aristocracy inherit their parliamentary seats. But what system shall replace it? The Conservatives want a regime that will maintain their hold on the House. The Labourites, naturally, want something different. And the far left, as always, whispers plans to abolish the House of Lords altogether, and perhaps the royal family as well.
I propose that they take their cues from the American experiment in welfare reform and from conservative proposals to privatize PBS:
1. Members of the House of Lords should have two years to find jobs in the private sector; after that, they will be booted from Parliament. The state should, of course, take into account the centuries of dependency that have rendered the British upper class so dysfunctional and indolent, and provide the departing Lords with life-skills training.
2. The crown jewel of the British aristocracy -- that is, the crown itself -- should take advantage of its status as a popular commodity. Just as Sesame Street and Barney could easily survive without public subsidy, the Windsors should capitalize on their franchise. There exists a large and apparently insatiable market for royal-family merchandising, even outside the Empire. Thus far, only outsiders have taken advantage of this, as with Elton John's decision to release a Lady Di tie-in CD.
It is, of course, difficult to release creative energies that have for so long been wasted on ritual ceremony, low-key activism, bulimia, and inbreeding. But with the right incentives, the English aristocracy might finally be transformed from parasites to productive members of society.