Whigfield, bananas and economic growth

There’s a lot about business and economics that I don’t understand. I don’t mean this in a semi-boastful “ooh, I’m just too much of an artiste” way. I just mean that clearly this is something that others spend ages, or at least the length of an MBA course, studying. The rest of us just work for them. (It doesn’t seem fair really. Surely the MBA owners ought to do something literature-related for me in return, where I, owner of a PhD, have dominion over them. Perhaps they could look up references and I’d intermittently berate them about not doing enough to increase this country’s cultural standing because the business schools just aren’t educating them properly. After all, I only want what’s best for the UK.)

Of course, there are some things about business which I get. I understand as much as the average Apprentice contestant. In fact, I could be on The Apprentice. I’d be the one they vaguely refer to as “the Oxbridge graduate” on the basis that I do not actually own or run any business to speak of. I’d have some kind of back story about trying to re-enter the world of work after taking time out to have kids. This would be a lie and it wouldn’t be fair on them, but you can’t have anything resembling a normal, complicated life in business (unless it’s of the sort that lends itself to “family friendly policies”, whatever those might be). Anyhow, eventually I’d be Project Manager and fuck up, and Sir Alan would do this whole spiel about how he doesn’t care about yer BAs and yer GCSEs and all the other letters yer can have after yer name, he just wants someone who’s gonna make him some money. So then I’d counter this with the argument that anyone who’d maintained the slightest hint of competitor awareness could have seen that the Amstrad Emailer was a shit idea. And then I’d do a Donita Sparks on him. (To be fair, former Apprentice rejects have probably done both these things. They must just edit it out.)

In my Apprentice audition I’d come out with some crap about being a lioness in the home and in the boardroom. I might also make some shit pun along the lines of “show me the mummy, I’ll show you the money” (which doesn’t actually work, but these things never do). What I wouldn’t reveal is my actual belief about how business should work, which is this:

  1. You identify a market need.
  2. You find a product that is economical for you to produce to a high quality in a humane way (if you can’t do this, the product’s not good enough. And no, I’m not calling my product a “solution”. I refuse to even go there).
  3. You market and sell your product at an affordable price which still enables you to make a reasonable profit (again, if you can’t do this, you need a better product).
  4. You use the profits to pay your workers a reasonable wage and to invest in future products. If everyone is doing this you will have lots of workers who are paid reasonable wages who can also be your customers.

Is this completely mad? Where’s the outsourcing, the exploitation of unpaid interns, the regular round of staff-bashing to keep them on their toes? I am sure that, in the eyes of the CBI and Adrian Beecroft, what I think makes me a stupid, naive, old-fashioned, idealistic moron who deserves to be poor and wants to ruin this country. It probably also makes me a socialist, although to be honest, I’m not so sure that I am one. Personal experience has taught me that.

The fall of the Berlin Wall is, to me, the most moving and humane thing to have happened in my lifetime (even though it was apparently down to some bureaucratic cock-up as opposed to the standard line, which is all peace, love and David Hasselhof). Shortly after the wall came down I went to live in the former GDR. My recollections of socialism’s impact are as follows: you can’t buy ready-made stir-fry sauces for love nor money; it makes everyone think bananas are fucking amazing; it means people used to get shot dead if, say, they fancied going to live with their Aunt Frieda in Dusseldorf. And Dusseldorf isn’t even that great (Aunt Frieda’s nice, though). My partner also did some former Eastern Bloc hopping. He worked in a school in Hungary, teaching English with a book that used Mr Jones and Mr Smith as its main models for What Capitalist England Is Like (alas, their first names were not Griff Rhys and Mel). Mr Jones owned an evil company called The Spider (I kid you not), while Mr Smith was a mere worker, paid a pittance to clean the office floors. You can imagine what the unit on forming comparatives was like. At the time the book seemed mad, but to be honest it seems less so today (christ, does this mean I am actually missing John Major?). Another interesting thing about the Hungarian school was that it featured a tannoy system, which used to broadcast political messages during break. After the collapse of Communism, no one was quite sure what to do with it. So instead of political propaganda, the students got Saturday Night by Whigfield played in-between their lessons (again, I kid you not. Unless my partner made this up. But he makes it sound very convincing).

Anyhow, apart from having universal free childcare, there is little about socialism that convinces me it’s the way forward. But maybe I haven’t read the right stuff (i.e. any stuff). Maybe the East Germans, with their spying on/ killing people antics, just hadn’t got it quite right.

Still, I don’t think this government’s got it right, either. Even if they had a viable model which meant that businesses would magically grow, I can’t even see the benefit in that, since by that point the rest of us would be working for free (or for “handouts”, if such things still existed), and no one would be, well, happy. What’s the point of it all if no one’s happy?

You can see why I’m crap at this business lark.

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