A Step Too Far?

By Jarrett, H. R. | Contemporary Review, September 1993 | Go to article overview

A Step Too Far?


Jarrett, H. R., Contemporary Review


WHEN I was an undergraduate I used to do what thousands of other undergraduates have always done; I worked during the long vacation to earn some money to supplement my meagre store of that valuable commodity. In those days there were no mandatory grants and I borrowed from my Local Authority to enable me to pursue my course which is why I find the financial expectations and the demands of undergraduates today singularly unappealing. What you have to struggle for you value; what comes easily is frequently undervalued.

One summer I worked for some weeks on a building site as a junior assistant to the quantity surveyor. I helped him with his measurements after which we calculated how much material we would need to order for this job or for that. I found the work congenial and it was a refreshing experience to mix with men of a totally different stamp from those among whom I moved at university. But there was one fly in this structural ointment: the site manager. He was hopeless at his job. He dithered and vacillated and generally caused mayhem. It sometimes required the greatest efforts on the part of the departmental heads such as my boss, the quantity surveyor, to keep things on an even keel.

For some time I puzzled over this. How on earth had such a man ever been appointed to such a responsible post? The question was quickly answered when I asked one of my seniors about it. |As Clerk of Works'. came the reply, |he was excellent. He knew the job thoroughly and was a great success. It was not surprising that he was moved up a notch to become Site Manager. Unfortunately this proved to be a step too far for him up the ladder and he has never managed to make a success of his promotion'.

The moral is clear. We all have our ceilings of attainment. Below these ceilings we may make a great success of whatever we do, but if circumstances raise us above our particular ceiling disaster strikes. We are out of our depth and strive as we may we just cannot cope. Many lives of great apparent promise have been ruined in this way.

What was true on that building site is true in our social and political life. Even the ablest politician has his ceiling and if he rises above it disaster for himself and possibly for his country may well follow. This is why I have always been against socialism which, by its very nature, involves the greater participation in, or interference with (choose your term according to taste) the life of a country. This in turn leads to the assumption of responsibility for a wide range of public affairs and gives rise to the further assumption that the Government is in control of these affairs. The fact is that generally it is not and cannot be, but after a few decades of such indoctrinisation people generally come to believe that it is, and their expectations of government powers and responsibility are raised to impossibly high levels.

This has been demonstrated very clearly in the case of the depression, or recession if you prefer the politer word, out of which we are slowly climbing. Any competent economist knows that cycles of booms and slumps, or recessions, have occurred throughout modern times in the western world and there is little that governments can do to avoid them. It is probably fair to say that whenever governments have tried to shape economic events, situations have worsened and recessions have become deeper and longer. This was the case, for instance, when Winston Churchill, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, took this country back on to the gold standard in 1925. Unfortunately, he set the rate of exchange between sterling and gold too high and this was undoubtedly a contributory cause leading to the great depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s. A comparable recent example was the dogged adherence of Mr. Major's government to participation in the rackety ERM which again had the effect of deepening and prolonging the present depression unnecessarily. The course of twentieth century history is littered with similar examples. …

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