Monday, 9 March 2020


Am I being melodramatic in suggesting that 2020 will go down as one of the moments in recent history when everything changed?

Coronavirus, apart from the obvious epidemiological stuff, has caused a financial collapse but more importantly a collapse in confidence in the interconnectedness of the globalised economy.
In the 1960s I was persuaded by a friend to go to a meeting proselytising the concept of world government. I thought then that they were completely barmy. And they were.

The relentless quest to centralise, merge businesses and delegate strategic decisions to procurement departments who buy only on price is coming to an abrupt halt. A major whisky distiller was allegedly eager to move production out of Scotland to lower cost Hungary. Insanity. Our clothes are mostly made in impoverished parts of Asia. I am sitting in Bangladeshi underpants right now.

It gets worse. Around 50% of our food is imported and most of the best stuff we produce especially meat and fish is exported. We are in thrall to a few supermarket groups - the top seven of whom account for 90% of UK sales. Big is beautiful or is it? Pundits are pretty well unanimous in dismissing our farming and fishing industries as of inconsequential economic importance.

But that isn’t true.

Big hospitals are better, bigger schools are better, bigger accountancy firms are better (the big four have all the FTSE 100 tied up between them), bigger advertising groups create better ads, fewer bigger banks give better service and so on and so on.

But that isn’t true.

Process and purchasing power dominate and people come way behind in the consideration. Irrational as Brexit seemed to those of us well educated in the MBA ways of thinking, it was the way the majority’s  instinct led them. They were not so much anti Europe as against big, bureaucratic EU wanting to have more as part of their empire. Too big, too unwieldy and past its sell-buy-date they told Westminster and voted leave. A few years later in a city called Wuhan something happened that suggested perhaps they had a point.

I wonder if those smaller dedicated businesses like Harveys the brewer, the Cambridge Satchel Company, Cook – the food retailer, Alfred Brown weaver and tailor, Handlesbanken, the local relationship banks, Naked Wines and Charlie Bigham, the ready prepared meal business may not hold a key to a smaller, more controlled economy.

Because the current Covid 19 crisis is not the last nail in the interconnected coffin.

Read Oliver Letwin’s Apocalypse How? which came out on Thursday. In a cross between documentary and dystopian fiction he argues the internet is the infrastructure on which every major system and utility depends. He describes what would happen if something took it out.

We need to think smaller not bigger.

We need to simplify and stop the technocrats taking control.

Small may indeed be beautiful, you’d be excused for thinking. if you’re on one of those marooned mega-cruise liners right now.

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