The pen is mightier than the sword, by opening up to the public I feel protected. Vivienne’s Radical Philosophy is an intellectual column and I wanted to give an example of the harm caused by economics based on statistics. It’s only in the last six years I realised the danger of a company run on statistics – no strategy, just a short term formula – going from one foot to the other. The whole world is run on statistics aka free market capitalism. Vivienne Westwood, the company, has been suffering from a lack of strategy for 30 years, but I only wish I’d realised then, that the problem was statistics. I think it’s positive to release it now that I feel it will come to an end. It’s already having a cathartic effect on the people within the company. An interview is not necessary at the moment, maybe one day – when peace is declared. I will keep you informed. Meanwhile, statistics:
My brother Gordon said the most terrible thing is the whole world economy is run on statistics – short term insanity. Take an example, the post office – according to statistics it’s a good idea to shut the post offices down, it saves money, but it’s false economy and the side effects are not taken into consideration. – Everything starts to go, the community breaks down, other shops close, people need to travel to supermarkets – is there public transport? People in care homes.
The Humble Post Office vs the Bean Counters
“I only believe in statistics that I doctored myself.” Winston Churchill.
He’s known as spreadsheet Phil, the chancellor, the man who looks after UK plc, who consults an Excel spreadsheet over his morning cornflakes. The new adding machine used by the bean counters of our brave new world, that can twist and portray numbers with all the skill and dexterity of an Olympian athlete but beneath which is a sleight of hand that denies the sadness weeping between the cracks of the Excel columns.
I’d like to consider a few headlines over the last few years that have originated from within the realms of the murky spreadsheet:
HUNDREDS OF SMALL TOWN AND VILLAGE POST OFFICES ARE BEING CLOSED TO CUT COSTS
IS YOUR LOCAL POST OFFICE CLOSING DOWN?
HUNDREDS OF POST OFFICES TO BE MOVED TO SUPERMARKETS
I’m choosing the humble post office as an example because I know quite a lot about them you see, I was brought up in one, my parents were sub postmasters in a small northern village.
I remember the customers who came day in day out, regular as clockwork, the postal orders, the stamps, the weighing machine where they’d put their letters and parcels, the old people with their pension books, people wanting to buy a dog license, or a TV license, to tax their car, to buy a premium bond, or to put money in their savings account.
Alongside in the shop would be an array of birthday cards and on one wall there was a small lending library with paperback romance and cowboy books that could be hired for the week and in November there were fireworks for sale and at Christmas, cards and a few toys. And my parents would chat and ask about their brothers, aunties, uncles, sons and daughters, their holidays, their cats and dogs, and their aches and pains.
And then after stamping their pension book and paying out some money my parents might say something like “Now take care” or “See you next week love” or “I’ve read that one, let me know how you enjoy it
So when the professional bean counters tell you they’re saving money they’re usually only considering the first level of savings and that’s the one that works wonders these days. That’s the one that portrays them favourably, that gets them hired or elected or handsomely paid, but it’s also the one that doesn’t countenance any second or subsequent level of activity. It’s just a simple binary transaction that supposedly saves money and it’s all dreadfully, shoddily, appallingly short term. It keeps a company’s investors investing, a country’s gross national product growing, and the voters who want more of this, more of that and more of the other, happy.
So what’s long term then.
Well I do remember one of my sisters telling me about the foresters of ancient England who when cutting down an Oak Tree would always make sure to plant another that might not mature for five hundred years. Now that’s long term and something to be cherished.
So we live in a world where a tiny present of scented toiletries that we order on Amazon comes in a plastic shrink display, that’s inside a box, that’s enclosed in a gift wrap, that’s then bubble wrap protected and shipped to the doorstep in a delivery carton half the size of a cupboard.
Where a beautiful picture that no one wanted when it was painted now sells for an amount that could fund a small nation only to gather value, unobserved and unloved, stored in the gloom of a Swiss long term depository.
Where we destroy great swathes of the world’s rainforest in order to provide cheap beef to reduce the price of a McDonald’s burger and fries to about the same price as the cardboard it’s packed in. Where……where…..where…. I could go on and on but I’m sure you have many stories of your own, we all know the syndrome, it’s just how the world works
Then what do we do?
Well, not sure what they do in other countries but here in UK we all laugh, LOL, because it’s our only defence against the madness and flaws. But amongst the smiles remember that beneath all is the corrupting power of the simple spreadsheet that will always try to prove irrefutably that our world is becoming a better place
Corrupting because it’s impossible to measure the value of a smile, a simple friendly exchange, a conversation for someone who lives alone and sees no one else in their village. So what do the bean counters do in this situation, they can’t categorise these actions so they devalue by ignoring them. Not a column for smiles, or a spoken word count, or a price for the touch of a hand.
Another headline caught my attention just recently
NINE MILLION PEOPLE IN BRITAIN ARE LONELY
Nine million people, that’s a massive chunk of the population of Britain.
And the bewildered pundits cry “This is truly shocking – how did this happen, why aren’t people speaking to each other, do they shun human exchange, something has to be done” and the more bewildered politicians with blinkers in full lockdown, no peripheral vision cry “We must act on this, we must have a government inquiry”
And loneliness leads to depression which leads to ill health which leads to new needs and new costs which look for new solutions which finally along the chain probably lead to another bleeding spreadsheet bleeding miracle.
My parents were simple people, they’d lived through the shock of the 1930’s depression and my father thought quite sensibly that a little post office with a reliable government income and a guaranteed footfall passing through the shop was a good idea.
And like many small shops all over Britain theirs was for people to visit, to converse, to share their thoughts and feelings.
My parents Saturday nights were usually spent adding and subtracting columns of figures to balance the accounts, they did this manually and I used to marvel at the way my father could scan the figures, no adding machine in those days, when the word spreadsheet might conjure up visions of a Sunday picnic.
And when they said “Good morning Mrs Sidebottom” or “Has your lad started school this year Mrs Winterbottom” or “Your little dog’s a terrier Mr Ramsbottom” (there really were a lot of people with bottom on the end of their names in that village amongst the hills) they meant what they said and enjoyed the banter.
I often consider in my wilder moments if they’d had a computer my father with his skills in figures might have put a price on those exchanges, rather like the US hospitality industry does with their continually forced bonhomie of ‘have a good day’ refrains, then how might that have looked on my dad’s final Excel sheet.
“Good morning + big smile”
2 words, 5p each + big smile, 10p each = 20p
“Hello my love, how’s your mum today + very big smile”
7 words, 5p each + very big smile 15p = 50p
“How’s that little boil doing on your bottom Mrs Summerbottom”
10 words, 5p each + no smile = 50p
And the village elders might have marvelled and said
“We are grateful for what you have done for the village, everyone is so extremely happy these days. You and your wonderful spreadsheet have invented a brand new financial paradigm – and you’re going to be the richest man in our graveyard when you pass away.”
So be careful what you wish for and for whom you vote when promised this supposed progress. And when Maggie the milk snatcher said ‘there’s no such thing as society …’ I’d paraphrase from Mr McLaren and reply with that good old Anglo Saxon word ‘Bollocks’
Or more pointedly I would look to Robert Kennedy from 1968 when he was contemplating the value of the US nations finances.
‘The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.
It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
People don’t need to go to the post office anymore, they can do everything on their phone. I just found out we sell fewer purses now, people just need a pouch for their phone.