Instead of public sector non-jobbery, Martha, how about creating real entrepreneurs?
Beware the do-gooders
Worstall on Wednesday One of the general complaints about the British economy and its capitalism is that we don't seem to aim large. We are good at coming up with new ideas, we've even people who know how to make ideas work. Yet we very rarely seem to build up new entreprenurial companies that then go global.
Why hasn't Britain (or even Europe?) produced a Google or a Facebook yet?
That we have, in fact, produced worldbeaters in some markets seems not to matter to the critics (Skyscanner, Rockstar North and King Digital come to mind). The usual diagnosis of those critics is that there's something about the desired career structure of Brits that leaves us not really interested in conquering the world. In the words of Marc Almond, a nice steady life seems to be what we desire.
That this again clashes with the usual diagnosis that being British is excessively rapacious doesn't seem to matter: the criticisms are what they are.
At which point we can turn to the career of Martha Lane-Fox and her latest project. Which is, as she announced in both the Guardian and the Richard Dimbleby lecture, that there should be a new non-government-but-government-funded organisation to get everyone digitalling.
Imagine a new kind of digital organisation, diverse and independent but with a strong mandate from government. It would fight for civic, public projects to balance the power of the commercial internet. It could be the catalyst we need to shape the world we want to live in and Britain’s role in that world. It would help us address some of the biggest issues we face, but it would also engage with people in a new, radical way. In fact, I probably wouldn’t call it an institution at all. This would be no normal public body.
If we want to balance the world of dotcom let’s create doteveryone. I would prioritise three areas that I think best demonstrate the opportunities we should be grabbing with both hands: education, women and ethics.
Umm, yes, whatever you say Martha.
It's certainly true that government itself isn't very good, as past El Reg pieces have shown, at using the digital world to do anything interesting. Or even to do anything not hugely costly and a disaster. GOV.UK hasn't exactly been an unparalleled success, possibly due to the government's Digital Tsar, umm, one Martha Lane Fox.
Yet her career has been a reasonable example of what is actually wrong with entrepreneurial careers in Britain. Whether she simply rode the wave of the dotcom boom with Lastminute or, as managing director, actually held it together long enough for it to actually be a properly functioning organisation... well, I leave that to others. It's undoubtedly true, though, that after selling Lastminute to Sabre she had the money, the connections, the network, the fund-raising ability to do pretty much anything in the digital space she wanted to.
Out on the West Coast she might have spent a few months touring the vineyards but she'd have been back in business soon enough. That's just what the culture is: onto the next big thing.
What happened here? She walked away to join a couple of resolutely non-digital boards, signed up for a couple of quangos and that was it. The quangos led to the government tsar bit, which in turn led to the peerage and now has led to... umm, well, a committee to tell people to be digital, I think.
Is it any wonder that we're not creating serial entrepreneurs when that's the preferred career path for those who could be one, to have one success and then aim for the tiara, not the next big thing?
What really amuses me about all of this is that all of the bien pensants (I think of Willy Hutton and the like here) who bemoan the manner in which we don't create those ginormous companies and don't have people creating company after company are exactly the people who have taken the same career path as Lane-Fox.
Once financial security is achieved they go off into quangoland because working in the public sector and collecting the associated gongs is so much more rewarding than grubby commerce, isn't it? And, of course, it's more socially acceptable in those social circles. Far better to be telling people over the Prosecco that you are working to connect disadvantaged youth than it is to admit that you're still working out how to sling more ads at people.
We don't define a successful career as one in which you end up running something the size of a small country, with a cash pile to match. We do, or rather the British upper middle classes do, regard that all as a bit de trop. Far better to make a bit then transfer over to spending the resources extracted from the taxpayers of a small country.
As to this bit of Fox's pitch:
There is a crisis in skills and the understanding of the digital world’s power and potential, but it is not limited to the corridors of Whitehall or the boardrooms of the City. It’s also the case in some of our most disadvantaged communities. We must ensure that the 10 million adults who can’t enjoy the benefits of being online because they lack basic digital skills no longer miss out.
I have a feeling that the government's already got that one covered. OK, it's election time but they've just announced compulsory age verification for access to any site with grumble flicks. I can't think of anything more likely to make the youth of the nation pick up digital skills than having to work out Tor, or VPNs, or how to forge a digital certificate, in order to watch porn. ®