THE BLOG

Learning Lessons

01/07/2013 11:20 BST | Updated 29/08/2013 10:12 BST
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Have you noticed how much those in power talk of learning lessons? The government, and Desperate Dave in particular, are forever boring on about lessons which must be learned. If a hospital in your neighbourhood is killing more people than cigarettes, someone will say that lessons must be learned, as though they are imparting some higher wisdom that would not have occurred to ordinary men and women. Lessons are being learned all right, just not the sort of lessons that you would expect to be taught by a respectable teaching establishment. Lesson one: there isn't anything respectable about the establishment.

The knowledge that one acquires is often at odds with the lesson that is supposedly being taught. For instance - do you have any singing ability? No? Perfect. A highly profitable career in the music business awaits you. All you have to do is be noticed by Simon Cowell or one of his many pretenders on TV. To do this, it helps to have a story. You should construct this story to resemble something that Charles Dickens might have thought was emotionally overwrought. It also helps to have the ability to well up at a moment's notice. Great rivulets of streaming tears will win you a record contract faster than actually being able to sing. Tattoos are a help as is an unusual body shape, and the wearing of not so much a hair-do, as a hair-don't. Give off the appearance of being on the verge of a breakdown and look like you have just had a fight with a charity clothes bin. That is your route to riches in the music business. Well, not your riches, but someone will be making money. And that is a valuable lesson to earn - it is not the ability to do a good job that is key, because good PR and infamy will do just as well.

What lesson do you think the banks have learned after their fines for LIBOR rigging and PPI "miss-selling" and money laundering for drug cartels and all of the other crooked conniving and various nefarious plots and plans of which they have been found guilty? Do you think it might be that crime doesn't pay? Just kidding, of COURSE crime pays. The lesson they have learned is that whatever sinister scheming or underhand methods they employ to gather to themselves all the money they don't already own, it is always worth trying it on, as the worst that can happen is that they will be invited to give some of the money back that they have gained illegally. If people knew that nicking stuff from Sainsburys or Selfridges could only ever result in them having to return some of what they had stuffed up their jumpers, on the off chance they are spotted, the shelves would be bare.

Politicians have certainly learned their lesson from their expenses farrago, or so you might have thought. And if that is what you thought, then perhaps you have not heard that MPs spent a half a million pounds of your money on business class flights last year. That is double the amount they claimed the previous year. If these are the actions of a cowed house of our representatives then can you imagine the Bacchanalian orgy of misappropriation of public funds that would have resulted if they had felt unbound by lessons learned. In one year, ten of our diligent and abstemious parliamentarians claimed for more than a hundred premium air fares each. I am not making that up.

New rules oblige MPs to buy only standard class tickets but the lesson they have learned is that they can come up with any old excuse and the expenses watchdog will roll over like a puppy that wants its tummy scratched. One actually said that it was hard to read his official papers in an economy seat. Did you get that? He is doing us a favour by charging us for business class as he doesn't want to waste a second of his time in not working for us. Some of our honourable members are so used to turning left on entering a plane that they are blithely unaware that another class of seat exists. They must imagine that beyond the nylon curtain is where they keep all those little bottles of booze that are delivered so frequently to the seats with the long leg room.

In commerce, lessons are learned on a daily basis. It is how you get ahead, heeding the guidance provided by the results of the past. Mostly, the lesson is that the bigger you are, the more you can get away with.

For instance, if you run a multinational and you keep company with the nobs and nabobs of power, and you donate to the right parties and you attend the right parties, then it does not matter that your company has a worse safety record than a Russian cargo plane. It will not matter that men have died on the job due to your pursuit of profit over people. The environmental catastrophes you may cause will not impede your advancement, or your enrichment. As long as you know the right sorts and consort with the top dogs then you and your company could be a danger to the human race and you will not get your just desserts, in fact, quite the opposite. It seems the nastier, less caring and more viscous you are as a captain of industry, the less your behaviour is likely to get you condemned to jail and the more likely it is to get you elevated to the House of Lords.

All of the "lessons that must be learned" are just common sense. Don't steal from your customers, don't spy on your friends, don't cover up wrongdoing. That is not something you need to be taught, unless you really have a social problem that needs medical attention.

However, rewarding the good and the honest and the deserving and not the bad, the crooked and demented, is not what appears to get results. To get noticed, to get on, to get and keep power, the lesson we have learned is that we must know the right people, be rich and get lucky. Did I mention the part about being rich?

On the other hand, if it is peace of mind you seek, then can I recommend doing the right thing? We don't need to learn the lesson of what is the right thing to do because we instinctively know what that is. Do the right thing and it could lead to better things. It may sound crazy but it just might work.