Monday, 1 July 2019

What about the flip side?

There is a very old joke where three people are arguing about what is the oldest profession.  The engineer invites the other two to look at the wonder and scale of the universe, saying that it is a magnificent piece of engineering, so God must be an engineer.  The architect replies by pointing out that the bible says that the universe was created out of chaos, so would have taken a lot of planning before construction started.  God, he argued, must be an architect.  The politician responded by simply asking “But who do you think created the chaos in the first place?”
Events generally have precursors; they don’t occur in isolation.  This was brought to mind last week with Jeremy Hunt’s promise to write off student debt for ‘entrepreneurs’, which he helpfully defined as those employing at least 10 people for at least 5 years.  His argument is that the creation of jobs is of central importance to the economy.  That’s sort of true-ish, but things aren’t as simple as that in reality.  ‘Entrepreneurs’ don’t suddenly pop into existence; they start out as new-borns like the rest of us.  Getting them to the point at which they start their businesses involves doctors, nurses, teachers and lecturers.  And to perform their roles those people in turn need surgeries, hospitals, schools and universities.  And those facilities get designed and constructed by architects and engineers.  The businesses started by the ‘entrepreneurs’ need transport and communications infrastructure and a supply of trained employees.  They need finance from banks and governments.  They are not something magical or special, merely one part in a long and complicated chain.
What Hunt is proposing is that one part of that chain should be identified as being so special that it deserves exceptional treatment, even if – by the time they’ve employed 10 people for 5 years – they’re so financially successful that they don’t actually need to have their debt written off and even if struggling healthcare and education workers are more in need of financial help.  And in the process, it effectively demeans and devalues the work done by all those other people to make not just that entrepreneur or business successful, but society as a whole – the doctors, the teachers and all the rest.  There’s something very lacking in self-awareness in someone who believes that his or her particular role in society (has he mentioned recently that he was an entrepreneur before becoming a politician?) is so special and unique that it justifies such treatment. 
I’m tempted to wonder whether the reverse should also apply.  Perhaps a successful entrepreneur who subsequently gives it all up to cause chaos by becoming a politician should be hit with a penalty charge of some sort.  In Hunt’s case that certainly has its attractions, although the lawyers would no doubt argue that individual cases make bad law.

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