It is summer 2012 and the Olympics are up and running. In the meantime the recession has marginally worsened. Though historic events and the concurrent marketing campaigns are uplifting and inspiring, the problem is that after the initial spark of euphoria and optimism, they can easily fizzle out if they are not acted upon. It is not an understatement to say that in this economic climate it is completely crucial that we take advantage of this once in a lifetime event. It is written into folklore how after hearing the streets of London were paved with gold, a poor orphan called Dick Whittington set off to seek his fortune in London. Once there, Dick could not find any streets that were paved with gold. Hungry, cold and disgruntled, he fell asleep in front of a merchant’s house.
Governments cannot create sustainable growth on their own but they are able to create the conditions where growth is able to thrive. However, they require boldness, courage and in some cases a desire to fight some entrenched self-interests. Our capital city is crying out for a world class underground tube system which isn’t disrupted by technical problems and the regular threat of strike action. We need expanded airport capacity if we wish to stay connected to potential sources of export growth. Anthony Hilton highlights the merits of aggregating and mobilising pension funds to invest in infrastructure. Allister Heath explains how a simplified tax system can close tax loopholes and make it absolutely clear what is morally acceptable and what isn’t. Professor John Kay gives suggestions for making the British corporate machine more focused on long term investment rather than an obsession with quarterly updates. It is also potentially nearing the time for a higher inflation target to encourage companies to invest their cash piles rather than waiting for the debt crisis to completely unwind. Our banks need the recommendations of the Vickers report implemented as soon as possible so they are able to invest long term in their infrastructures and I.T. systems and not be blighted by technical glitches. The ruling coalition must continue to safeguard the nation’s finances by implementing the required cuts but it also desperately needs to create the conditions where growth can flourish. It is time to be courageous and in a complex, interconnected world it is time to unleash creativity and the ingenuity of simplicity.
It is also time for some of the finest institutions on the planet to show why they are the finest institutions on the planet. The institutions that educated John Maynard Keynes, who played a pivotal role in setting up important global institutions such as the I.M.F. and Adam Smith, who wrote “The Wealth of Nations” which became the backbone of industrial thinking during the industrial revolution. The challenges over the next few years are huge. The world in 2020 will most likely look quite different to what it looks like today. It is not enough to purely reminisce about historical success stories, it is time to create new ones and there are plenty of subject areas which are ripe for a renaissance during a time of financial crises, global uncertainty and an internet apparatus in its early stages of development. For example, in the aftermath of numerous corporate scandals it is surely time for a renaissance in the research and study of ethics.
The infrastructure and ecosystem of the Internet is very much in its infancy. We need to create school leavers and university graduates whose ambition is to reshape that infrastructure. Think about how the London Underground tube network has evolved and grown over the decades and centuries past. No one knows what the internet will look like in ten years. It has seen huge changes in terms of dominant companies and market shares over the last decade and will most likely again do so in the next decade. There is also no reason why the United States of America should monopolise the Land of Dreams and Opportunity. There is no reason why a country that brought you William Shakespeare, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sir Alfred Hitchcock can’t inspire a continent or a planet. Agatha Christie was a nurse in a hospital in Torquay who dreamt up two of the most popular detectives of all time: the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and his English counterpart Miss Marple. Her creations travelled with her on her global travels and some of her best works were set in such locations. She became the bestselling novelist of all time.
Sports such as football, cricket and tennis which were invented here and exported round the globe have been taken on to new levels by participants all over the world. At the age of 11, Lionel Messi was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency which resulted in his local club, River Plate rejecting the chance to give him a contract. Today he is a global superstar. Who knows whether a child involved in the 2011 riots and living in one of the more deprived areas of the U.K. will be inspired by some aspect of the Olympics. Perhaps it will inspire them to train intensely in their spare time for one particular sport or perhaps it will inspire them to be the next Barry Hearn who thought it was possible to sell out arenas with players throwing darts at a board with a diameter of less than 50cm. Sport, just like many things in life can be inherently unpredictable. Desire fuelled by disappointment or a sense of injustice can often be more than a match for access to the best facilities.
A country or a government that supports the lives of 60 million people has to at an enterprise level be risk averse. It can’t and shouldn’t take significant risks which could endanger its budgets for the NHS, schools, the police service, national security and such like. However, risk taking at an individual level (as long as all individuals don’t take the same risks) can be diversified. All you need is one Mark Zuckerberg or one Sir Richard Branson and you’ve created thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenues. Everybody will have different abilities and different risk appetites when it comes to career and life choices. Many people will be risk averse and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that – if everyone in a country was risk embracing it would be at least as damaging as everyone being risk averse. And even when you’ve divided people up into groups with different skills and different risk appetites, you still have a daydreaming nurse creating a fictional detective making her the bestselling novelist of all time.
We need to appreciate that failure from ambition and exploration is very different to failure from indifference. It might still feel like failure at the time but individuals challenging themselves and putting themselves in situations which they aren’t used to, forcing them to adapt is not failure, it is evolution. It shows a willingness to try different skills and different disciplines until they find the one where they can excel and which they can dedicate their lives to. Many of the world’s greatest success stories emerge from the cinders of failure, despondency or frustration. It is time to embrace failure from exploration and risk taking.
Our aim is for the United Kingdom to be a pivotal global hub where the world’s best entrepreneurs come to set up businesses and established companies base themselves to plan their global strategy. A place with world class infrastructure that matches our international competitors’. A place where the Lionel Messi’s of this world continue to dream when the situation appears impossible. A place where both top down thinking and bottom up tinkering are encouraged in equal measure. A home for some of the world’s most respected institutions but also a country where those without access to those institutions can still make unlimited successes of their lives. Despite his initial disappointment, Dick Whittington persevered and eventually ended up making his fortune whilst also becoming Lord Mayor of London for three consecutive terms. In the film 8 Mile, Eminem stated “If you had one shot, one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment. Would you capture it or just let it slip?” It is time to find out.