Small is not always beautiful

The departed Conservative leader, David Cameron, was heralded as embracing the late E.F. Schumacher’s ideas around ‘Small is Beautiful’. In essence, the book, which stuck out like a sore thumb when published in the 70s, its author attempted to turn the world of economics on its head. Instead of trumpeting economics that focuses on bigger is better, Schumacher insisted, rather heretically, that economics should be more people-centric. I can see loyal Blairites and Tories wrenching. Schumacher’s work found very few friends while he was alive, although there is a centre named after him west of London, in the bohemian city of Bristol. So it comes as a bit of a shocker to find an unlikely ally.

Policy wonks had, just like most men before the internet revolution decided to leave ‘Small is Beautiful’ on the top shelf. No one wants to get caught looking at such naughty, saucy stuff. However, Small is Beautiful was given new life by former UK PM David Cameron and his team. As this archive from Radio 4 demonstrates, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition was very open-minded about changing the economic narrative for everyone but mostly the proles.

Briton’s narrowly voted in last year’s general election for a second term of Cameronism (see chart below).


With the rapid departure of Mr Cameron following June’s referendum result, few would have thought Theresa May as an advocate of her predecessor’s work. Mrs May has signalled that her premiership will focus on populist politics of ‘meritocracy’, enabling those that have been left behind over the past decade not to be held back according to their social class, an ever pernicious issue in little old England.

By focusing on meritocracy, May and her team hope to distance themselves from the Brexit shenanigans and carve out a name for themselves. However, this is no more than Robert Greene’s law 22 “play to people’s fantasies”. Theresa May inherited a poisoned chalice, the best she can hope for is continued nonchalance around Article-50, although as a High Court hearing this week indicated, the option for the UK to leave the single market has been passed back to Parliament. How infuriating!

Emphasising a realignment of government priorities to more familiar, vote-safe territory, allows Mrs May to ‘work her wonders’. Alec Shelbrooke, a Conservative on a mission, is hoping his bill to guarantee interns a minimum wage will go some way to assuaging Theresa May’s meritocratic pledge.

The article hits lots of nails on the head but where I disagree with The Economist is, that by introducing a minimum wage for interns, the rich still benefit. However, a closer look reveals something starkly different. With the majority of internships based in London, good luck. There are four types of intern applicant, yet these are two: poor and rich.

An intern can come from a low-income family but live within an easy commute of London – no further out than the M25. These can, through divine intervention, afford the travel costs but seldom anything else. Then there’s the rich kid who lives in or outside the M25, like the poor kid, except their parents can easily foot the bill. Moving further away from middle England, the same pattern is encountered. However, the poor kid can’t afford to travel to London and then rent a room in a slum. If they’re truly entrepreneurial, they’ll get a bed on a friend’s couch. And lastly, the rich kid who has no understanding of ‘struggle’ except that it appears in the Dictionary. The provincial rich kid is likely to be kitted out with his or her accommodation and latest Barber jacket. They won’t have to worry about cash because a quick call to the ‘rents will sort out their Cocaine habit – if they don’t have one they soon will. And all the while, interns earn a minimum wage. So after carefully selecting based on geography and the ability to finance their kid’s early career development, the rich – and London-based poor, who do need it – are given yet another leg up. Is it me, or has this not been thought out?

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