ONCE UPON A TIME, the United Kingdom faced a problem. Its government had encouraged the population to produce more children to replace those lost in the war years; but the virtual loss of a generation of workers presented a quandary: how to rebuild what had been destroyed while the new generation grew-up.
Fortunately, the Commonwealth was there to assist us, and our friends were only too happy to leave their own lands in order to help. They spoke our language; had fought alongside us during the war; shared our principles; integrated into our society – and became one of us.
‘Oh dear,’ said the government some years later. ‘That solution came at a cost. We have been paying for those workers’ health services, housing, and pensions – and now we are paying them for being out of work.’
Oh, yes. The United Kingdom had been rebuilt with the help of our friends; business was booming, and those whom had not fought in the last two wars but remained at home, profiteering in a thriving black market, had every reason to be grateful.
But they weren’t…
Now, the dictionary definition of economy is: the careful management of available resources; but, just as our politicians were confronting the problem of paying for our needs, along came the dismal science that promised a solution to all their problems, and redefined that term..
‘We can manage this,’ declared our political masters.
Strictly speaking, to manage means: to succeed in surviving or in achieving something despite difficult circumstances; but, just at the time that our politicians were considering their options, everyone wanted to be a manager. It was the most sought-after position, after redefining the term, because it did not require any qualifications, was highly paid, and provided its incumbents with the power to tell lesser employees what to do. It was a magical position to hold, because the belief, which the Industrial Society and others selling fashionable military ideas to those who could afford them (on the shirt tails of John Adair), was that managers were leaders – and managers could manage anything at all.
What a hoot. To be successful: you didn’t have to do anything or know anything – just arrange a meeting with those whom were qualified in what they were doing and conduct an opinion poll. And what made a manger’s position even more attractive was that you could never be blamed for making a wrong decision – it could always be laid at the door of the person you had asked for a solution (and they could fired).
Like the new gods that they worshipped (statistics and economics, that promised eternal wealth) managers really believed that they could manage anything – even the world given a suitable opportunity!
‘So, what do the numbers tell us?’ asked the new Managing Prime Minister of the new UK PLC. (He was mimicking the question so often asked by ancient Kings of their royal counsellors whom had closely examined the entrails of a sacrificed bird).
‘That we need more money,’ came the reply.
‘Then the solution is obvious,’ said the PM. ‘Raise taxes and the problem is solved.’
So they did. But the problem was not resolved. You see, our friends, and we, were becoming older, and soon we would retire and die to leave our descendants our jobs and housing – but there was not enough money in that retirement pot to pay us what had been promised for our sacrifices, during the few years left remaining to us.
‘We can manage this,’ said the politicians, again.
‘Indeed we can,’ said one. ‘Look at how those who never fought for their country have prospered since the war. Let’s stick them for what they owe those who sacrificed their lives so that they might retain the wealth they accumulated and live in peace.’
‘Can’t be done,’ said the PM. ‘We need their profits to fight the next election. And, if we take their wealth, they will leave and go elsewhere. What would we do then with no millionaires to provide the jobs for people so we can tax them? What do the numbers say?’
‘That we need more money, and more wealth creators to create more jobs that we can tax,’ said the economist. ‘But that will take years. Perhaps we can borrow in the meantime to fill the gap?’
‘How do you mean, borrow?’ asked the PM.
‘Well,’ replied the economist. ‘All those profiteering millionaires will never be able to actually spend what we have allowed them to accumulate, so perhaps we could encourage them to lend what they don’t need to us – for a small interest payment of course. Threatening to tax them won’t help; but if we offer them a business proposition they may very well grant our wish in return for an amnesty, so to speak.’
So they did. And they continued to do so. Year, after year, after year…
Soon, the government needed so much money that it would take billionaires to loan them just enough to repay their other loans interest; but, fortunately, all those millionaires had since become billionaires and raised no objections – just their interest rates.
Then the billionaires started to have a problem…
‘Now look here, PM,’ said their business representative, whom had been elected to manage the task. ‘We are no longer billionaires; because what you allowed us to accumulate we are now giving to you to pay off the loans that we have granted you. As soon as you pay us what you owe – we have to give it back to you again so that you can keep your election promises. We are not getting any richer, and we also have bills to pay.’
‘So what do you propose?’ asked the PM.
‘We need to make bigger profits,’ said the representative. ‘The numbers are clear. We need to spend less on labour so we can keep more profit for ourselves.’
‘They won’t have it,’ responded the PM. ‘We are already taking the majority of their wages in taxes, and lowering what they are paid will only reduce what tax we can take. Can’t we manage this somehow?’
The economist turned to his accountant friend who had been examining the numbers.
‘It is obvious to me that business is paying their workers for time that they are not actually working,’ said the accountant. ‘Surely we can do something about that.’
‘Of course!’ said the PM. ‘Just pay the workers for the time they are actually working. After all, just because you are an employer does not mean you are obliged to give them work. We will need to juggle with the law a bit; but how does a zero-hour contract seem to you?’
‘A recipe for disaster,’ replied the billionaire. ‘They will simply go on strike, and then I won’t earn the money you need to borrow from me next year.’
‘Not if we introduce competition,’ said the economist, with a grin. ‘We have it everywhere else in the economy now; why not introduce it in the labour market by allowing all foreign nationals to compete on equal terms for work. Bloody hell, a pound Sterling is worth far more to those in foreign lands – they will flood the labour market in their thousands to send those wages back home – and they will be used to working for far less.’
‘And they will be grateful,’ smiled the PM. ‘That works for me! Let’s grant them all the right to vote as well!’
So they did. Year, after year, after year – until there were so many workers, chasing so few jobs, that each job was divided into ever smaller pieces so that it could be shared around (and inflate the number of available jobs to keep the increasing population content).
Now the managers were really happy – because the situation had to be managed, and they were the only people who could perform such an important task (or so they had been told)…
‘The numbers aren’t good, Prime Minister,’ said the economist. ‘We need more money. Zero- hour contracts are a resounding success, our friends are making much more profit and managers are setting up businesses of their own; but neither are producing enough to lend us what we need to pay the out-of-work benefits, housing, pension and health service bills of all those extra workers and their families that we have imported.’
‘But that is the very situation that first produced all these problems, and what you promised could be managed through your dismal science!’ exclaimed the Managing Prime Minister. ‘You idiot! You’re fired!’
Then he picked-up the phone to the Treasury and asked them for a solution.
‘There is none. Not now,’ answered the accountant. ‘In the past, countries would have sold some of their gold reserves to finance the temporary problem that we had after the war; but all those reserves have been sold, and what now lies in the vaults is earmarked to pay the profiteers loans.’
‘Nonsense,’ said the PM. ‘The numbers must tell us something that can be managed. They always do.’
‘They can only tell us about the sequence of events that have led to the current situation, Prime Minister,’ replied the voice at the end of the phone. ‘Before that, there were no numbers -- and no managers; because leaders were promoted when they were needed from amongst those who knew what to do. Unfortunately, those individuals are mostly dead now – and those that are not are unlikely to give you any advice. Not after the way they have been treated over the pensions they were promised, and which never arrived.’
‘Then we must have the Bank of England print more money, so that we can repay our friends and start again.’
‘Sorry, Prime Minister, that goose has already been cooked. If we print any more money it will just produce exaggerated inflation; wages will have to go up, and we will generate no more revenue in real terms. If we continue printing more money, we could end-up with the same type of hyper-inflation that Germany experienced just three generations ago.’
‘So how did they solve their problem?’ the PM asked.
‘They took what they could no longer afford to buy, from those whom had been more prudent and were prepared to wait,’ came the reply. ‘The result was the rise of the left-wing National Socialist Party – and, of course, the Second World War…’
How quickly we all forget.
Oil; anyone? Now there was something worth managing; when we had the chance…