BRIANWAVE COLUMN No 25: April 1996

Money Talks

Brian J Ford

Go to Home Page

Kenneth was released from psychiatric care and wandered from place to place until he found his way to the secure accommodation where he used to live. Desperately, he tried to get inside. At this point he was arrested by the police as a housebreaker and was goaled. Another prisoner, even more disturbed, killed him and started to eat Kenneth's remains.

Most newspapers have published accounts of people who have been killed, threatened, or merely terrified by discharged patients roaming the streets. Secure accommodation is being curtailed, and the seriously sick are left to wander at will.

Last month we saw the devastation of the Welsh coastline by oil. As the ship wallowed on the shore, official spokesmen regretted the mishap and explained that the tanker was caught on a pinnacle of rock, and couldn't be pulled free. They skated round several other facts - that it had been floating free for days before; that there was no sign of a stand-by tanker to off-load the cargo; or that a modest group of tugs were all that had been sent.

It's not that there was no tug available - there was one of the world's most powerful tug-boats in a Cornish harbour, but nobody available to speak Chinese. At one stage, a waiter from a Cantonese restaurant was trying to bridge the language gap. Meanwhile, the birth of privatisation of the railways was marred by the disclosure of systematic ticket fraud, whilst the water boards which failed to provide supplies last summer are increasing customers' payments for the coming season, as reports are released of billions of gallons being wasted into the sea.

What links these random occurrences from the modern world? It is the domination of 'market forces'. The financial considerations of a transaction are crucial. But they are not paramount. It was recently said to me by a senior academic that the reason scientists aren't too well paid is because there are too many scientists. Market forces would balance supply and demand, he assured me.

Wages are only one of the attractions of employment. The fun, the challenge, or the altruism of a calling are more pressing principles for people who enjoy their work - journalists and nurses, sportsmen and local broadcasters; and, yes, scientists too. The reason such people often tolerate low pay is because employers do not need to make the job financially attractive. The nature of the work itself presents sufficient appeal.

When people are paid low wages, the incentive to train is less. When a job seems exciting (junior reporter on a newspaper, say) there is little need for the employer to offer a reasonable wage. In consequence, standards are at risk. When money comes first on the list of priorities all other considerations - humanity and hope, kindness and consideration - wither and die. In the long term, that can cost us dearly.

Left to themselves, market forces can seriously damage your wealth.

Go to the next in the series, to the previous article, or to the 'BrianWave' title index.

Send e-mail