"The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it"
Aneurin Bevan

Thursday, 11 August 2011

What we teach our kids

We do not teach our kids to work hard, to develop their abilities and be good at what they do. Instead, we teach our kids that the best way to the top is to trample on weaker people. We are told that competition is king, yet for every winner it creates it produces a large pile of losers. We tell our kids that the only way to improve themselves is through a long list of beaten competitors. It is a bankrupt philosophy for a bankrupt country.

Over the last three decades we have seen the rise of predatory private equity funds, companies whose sole aim is short term asset stripping. They treat company pensions as an asset of the company, an asset that they can exploit, rather than the future of the staff. They have a short term attitude that the sum of the parts is more than the value of the whole. They break up companies for an immediate profit even when the long term profitability of the company is better when left intact. How can we teach our kids that working hard is important, when we see that the reward for that work can be exploited by predatory private equity, buying up your employer, stealing your pension and making you redundant?

Small companies are being brought to the brink of bankruptcy when the larger companies they supply decide to change payment terms so that invoices are paid months later than before. The large companies do this because they can. How can we teach our kids fairness, when businesses behave in such underhanded ways merely because their size allows them to be bullies?

And now the government is doing the same thing. We are told that Monitor exists to stop "anti-competitive behaviour" and in the Open Public Services white paper we are told that companies will have a right to challenge commissioners over the provision of public services. We see that even if a public provider is doing a good job, providing a service that the public want and appreciate, it may lose its contract to provide the service simply because a private company says that it would like to provide the service instead. How can we teach our kids that if they work hard and become the best they will be rewarded, when the government says the reward for hard work in public services is for a private company to take over the service, employ fewer staff and pay them less?

We see people making vast amounts of money by simply moving money around. Hedge funds and investment banks make nothing, they simply take money from one place (perhaps invested in company stock) and move it to somewhere else (perhaps government bonds) and then, when the time is right, move it back again. No hard graft, no innovation, no product made and sold; just moving money around and making vast amounts of money doing it. We see that one favoured way of making money – short selling – borders on dishonesty: the short seller sells a security they do not own hoping that they can buy it back at a lower price before they have to return it to the lender. we see the effect of short selling for profit as it devalues companies and the pension funds - our pensions! - holding the stock. How can we teach our kids honesty, when short sellers show that so much money can be made by selling things you do not own?

It's about time we started teaching our kids correctly: that hard work and using our abilities is rewarding. But for our kids to believe us that this is true they have to see results that prove the assertion, and we have to prove that doing otherwise is not rewarding. Sadly, hard work does and will continue to result in stress, poor pay and poor conditions leaving us open to exploitation. The government's plans to reduce our state pensions (or make us pay more for smaller public service pensions), and their plans to ration our healthcare when we are in our old age, shows that they do not acknowledge that hard work should pay. We should have used the financial crisis to rid ourselves of the high rewarding something-for-nothing occupations, but we've flunked it and it will take another generation before there is an opportunity to try again.


  1. I'm not sure your entirely correct in anything you say here. Watch this talk by Dan Ariely and you'll see that your wrong in the fact that we need to teach them honesty. They have honesty, they know what it means but their moral code is buggy. http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_ariely_on_our_buggy_moral_code.html only when we realise that we all behave irrationally and that we do things we know are wrong or bad for us but if given the right circumstances we can stop ourselves from behaving the way we know is wrong.

  2. @priggy The title is what we *teach* our kids, that is, I am pointing out the things that adults do. If our kids learn by example then they are doomed.

  3. Richard, noting that we've both commented on the recent Guardian article about Unison and social enterprise in the NHS, you may be interested to know that where our involvement begins is with a critique of capitalism, or as John Spedan Lewis put it, the perversion of capitalism.


    Regrettably social enterprise too has become perverted in attempts to shoehorn it into primary care, with the motive of profit.

  4. What constitutes "hard work", Richard? Does a seamstress deserve less than, say, a dustman? He's lifting heavy bins while she's sitting down all day, the lazy cow!

    Inverse snobbery is still snobbery, and this post reeks of it.

  5. @Anonymous 14 August 2011 01:06

    What a curious post. Since my uncle (now 75) was a binman all his life - well, until the council outsourced refuse collection and he was forced to take early retirement - I do know what hard work it is for a binman. Do you? On the other hand my aunt worked in the local biscuit factory picking the substandard biscuits off the production line. Yeah she sat down (the lazy cow!) but she worked hard too. Neither of them was rewarded for moving money around (well, as we all know, it's not real money, just money on a computer screen).

    I do not understand how you interpreted what I wrote in the way you did. I was saying that these days people who work hard are not rewarded for the work they do - be it emptying bins, picking broken biscuits, or replacing the hip of a patient - our society values how much money they make for their employers, not how much they benefit society. I would much prefer people are rewarded for the work they do, and the things they produce, rather than the effect they have on their company's share price.