Unremarked by academic economists, a new form of productive activity is burgeoning. A combination of vertical integration and job creation, it should perhaps be called vertical creation. It works like this/ a research scientist, often in medicine, discovers something that is bad for you, preferably life threatening. He or she then suggests a remedy or a course of action to forestall disaster. Next – and this is the important part – someone else, usually far removed from understanding either the science or the methodology, creates a job designed to tackle it.
The choicest examples of this process in action are to be found in local government, where public money and doltishness abound in roughly equal proportions. Five-a-day consultants are a case in point. First came the great obesity timebomb – the impending and collective tragedy awaiting all those who are fat – then came the scientific remedy. Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables each day and thereby achieve body and bowels sufficiently robust to withstand the explosion. Then, by a process as mysterious as it is miraculous, came the simultaneous creation throughout the country of local authority five-a-day experts, salary circa £30,000 a year plus car allowance, whose task is to advise the local citizenry on the best means by which to obtain and eat the required number of fruit and vegetables.
Another example was the real nappy consultant. I use the past tense because there has since been a revision of the scientific reasoning that gave rise to the job creation. Until recently, official opinion on the matter of infant nappies (do not be surprised that there should be an official view; no subject, be it ever so small, is beyond the purview of the state) was that the disposable variety were a bad thing, ecologically speaking, because they blocked drains and added to landfill. Far better to revert to the ancient practice of swaddling infants in Terry towelling and rinsing out the result. When that doctrinal view was the orthodoxy, real nappy consultants sprang up over the land like mushrooms on a dung heap. Drawing salaries circa £30,000, they were there to advise mothers (or any new men who cared to pay heed) on the best means to fold a nappy, insert a pin, and then, after nature had worked its magic, reverse the process and launder the towelling ready for re-use.
Sadly, and this must have come as a blow to those experts in traditional nappy culture, official opinion swung into reverse. The cleaning of real nappies, it was decreed, wasted valuable resources of water and heat and involved the use of damaging substances, such as detergents, and was thereby destroying the planet.
It would be surprising if, consequent to this reversal, there were no ads to be found in the pages of The Guardian for the position of Real Nappy Expert Reallocation Consultants – successful applications to advise redundant nappy advisers on coping with stress and to re-educate them in the newly rediscovered green benefits of Pampers.
Talking of re-education, yet another example of vertical creation came to light only last week, with news that the BBC is to send 16,500 employees on an “integrity course”, where they will be taught, among other things, not to lie or wilfully deceive the viewing public. This follows the revelation that six children’s and charity TV programmes had misled viewers, and that the Queen had been portrayed as flouncing out when she was, in fact, flouncing in.
Who, one wonders, runs integrity courses? Are there, in former country houses situated in lush parkland, integrity academies staffed by men and women of impeccable honesty, probity and rectitude whose decency, fairness, sincerity and trustworthiness are matched by their instructional and pastoral skills? And what is on the syllabus? The history and origins of the common falsehood? Six easy ways to be believed? Are there, at the conclusion of the course, examinations with questions such as “The Little White Lie and the Gargantuan Whopper belong to differing spectra of deception. Discuss”? Will the successful BBC graduates complete the course with certificates attesting to their competence in integrity?
And what of the unsuccessful graduates, those whose chicanery and powers of deception prove impervious to indoctrination? Will they, as in the past, be promoted? And – now here’s a thought – suppose there are BBC employees so adept at invention and duplicity that they fool the examiners and emerge Integrity Graduates summa cum laude? Who will be any the wiser?Since all 16,500 BBC employees whose integrity is either lacking or in need of repair were, in all probability, recruited through the pages of The Guardian, what does that tell us about the country’s most socially conscious readership? Answers on a postcard please.