The Cost of Everything…

It is probably a sign that my children watch too much TV (clue: they do), but I suspect I will remember their growing-up at least in part through the programmes they watched. There is still a little nostalgia for the evenings when the older two were very young, and would snuggle, pyjama’ed, to watch In the Night Garden. Even the two year old disdains it now, sadly, as I desperately try to filter CBBC or CITV to keep the post Iggle-Piggle world out a bit longer.

More welcome is the gradual jettisoning of anthropomorphised do-gooders (yes, I’m looking at you, Thomas the Tank Engine) and the discovery of new programmes with a bit more meat – or, in the case of the utterly brilliant Horrible Histories, blood and guts – to them. The latest obsession is Trade Your Way to the USA, in which teams of children compete to earn the most money in sales challenges.

As an introduction to the world of finance, I think it has many advantages over the family of china pig money boxes which I remember from the 1980s. We did try to make money, of course. It’s just that it always involved sponsorship and Good Causes. I honestly don’t think that the idea of trying to make money for myself by anything other than doing chores around the house ever occurred to me. My children, inspired as much by the miniature lemonade tycoonness of the HSBC adverts as by Trade Your Way, have already grasped (at the ages of 5 and 7 respectively) the concept that you can make money by buying cheap and selling high. And by having a father with plenty of Air Miles, obviously.

I’m slightly surprised how much I like Trade Your Way, or, more precisely, how much I like that they like it.The idea of children learning about entrepreneurship while still in the Infants ought not to sit easily with the apple-pie childhood I want them to enjoy, but I think it’s a good thing. I have no idea what they will become in life once the sad shortage of positions as princesses or knights becomes clear to them, but I think they already have a head start on their mother, who would have been able to tell you what “balance sheet” was in four languages before she would actually have been able to read one.

Besides, we are all business folk now, aren’t we? Over the past few years we have become acclimatised to talk of debts and deficits; budgets and shortfalls. UK PLC is struggling, and we are all engaged in a kind of national Trade Your Way (Back) to the AAA. The problem for me is that the current government, for all its invocations of housewifely thrift, feels less like an heir to the grocer’s daughter, than a team from The Apprentice, jangling with buzzwords and zeal and schemes to get rich (or less poor) quick.

Take Maria Miller’s call today to the Arts world to “demonstrate the healthy dividends that our investment continues to pay”. Fair enough, perhaps, when money is tight, and had her speech been couched more as “well, it’s a new hip for Granny or some subsidised statues”, I doubt it would have attracted much attention. It’s more the application of brute business logic to intangible value which jars.

I may apply her logic to the children. After all, it’s a tough world out there, and perhaps we need to give some serious consideration as to who will pay greater dividends from our investment. No2 has a worrying propensity for dolls, so an expensive degree could be likely to be wasted. No3 is left-handed. Will he struggle and be held back. Or will it add a touch of genius? Decisions, decisions.

The idea that a household doesn’t work as a metaphor for a nation’s economy has been pointed out by many, but surely running a country exactly as one would a sales department is equally problematic. Superficially it’s attractive, but I would prefer those in charge to include all their capital, whether financial, cultural or even human, in their accounts. Oh, and to remember who is actually entitled to those dividends.

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