The world’s a very different place from the one I grew up in back in the late seventies and eighties. I’m not talking pace-of-life, or geopolitics, or technology, although obviously all of those things have changed beyond comprehension (which should give anyone who thinks they can predict what things will look like in thirty or forty years time some pause for thought). But it’s not that. It’s what children are and, more significantly, what they want to be.
We, apparently, all wanted to be train drivers. I know I wanted to be an astronaut, a hope dashed by a combination of poor eyesight, lack of follow-through, and being British. As I grew and realised it wasn’t going to happen, I wanted to be a rock star or poet, a novelist or a composer. From what I recall, rock star was quite a popular choice.
No one I knew wanted to be a businessman.
Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a lament for the lost days when nobody cared about money. I wanted to be a rock star, not a rock loser. I wanted to be a successful writer, rich and famous, not some guy preparing to self-publish his first book at the age of forty. We had nothing against money. We wanted it, the more of it the better. But business for its own sake never even crossed our minds as a career choice, not until we were much older and the dreams had been exposed as the baseless fantasies they always were.
Britain probably suffered, economically, as a result. No doubt there are generations of entrepreneurs-manqués, driving trains, shovelling coal, teaching and practicing law, when they could have been the millionaire men and women who launched the brands we most desire.
No chance of that these days. That particular flaw in the British psyche has been exposed and corrected and once they’ve given up on being footballers or X-Factor winners, all the boys and girls want to win The Apprentice and do business. Kurt Cobain is out. Steve Jobs is in.
I don’t think it was actually his fault, Steve Jobs, clearly it had been going on for years before he turned the prefix “i” into a way of life, but to me he’s symptomatic of the way the correction has become a gigantic overcorrection. The veneration of business success over anything else. Lip service is paid to job creation, tax revenue and economic activity, but time after time you’ll find the jobs are in third-world sweatshops, (and where they aren’t, the local government’s had to pay for them), the tax revenue’s thinner than an MP without his expenses, and the only economy that’s benefitting is superyacht-sales in the Bahamas. When we look at a successful businessman and nod and say “well done”, what we’re really doing, nine times out of ten, is congratulating them on becoming richer than the rest of us.
Business used to be a dirty word, and that was wrong, snobbish and horrible. Business is fine, and good businessmen and businesswomen should be treated as the professionals that they are. Mrs Inner Organs is a good businesswoman, for which I thank my lucky stars, otherwise this writing and self-publishing nonsense would have come to an end a long time ago (and you may well wish it had). But it’s reached the point where “business” is a magic word, a key to unlock the door of your choice. Crowds will part, drinks will flow, politicians and planning officers will genuflect. It’s become more praiseworthy to make money for yourself than to give something to somebody else. Obviously that’s all terribly grown up and sensible and now our children will be learning about pensions and savings and how to be the next Dyson. They’ve bought the myth that the great creatives of the twenty-first century are the businessfolk, and they haven’t taken into account it’s the businessfolk that wrote the myth in the first place, a history created not by the best or the cleverest but just the most ruthless. They’ll choose their university degrees on the sole basis of the job prospects and the contacts, and I suppose we should be relieved that we’re not throwing all our money at a bunch of shiftless baby-boomers who’ll thrive and squander and enjoy themselves at everyone else’s expense.
But I just can’t help finding it all a little sad.