12 December 2008

Let's not forget some basic facts of life

“Until you can make something and sell it, no wealth has been created.”

-- Christopher Lewinton, Chairman of Tube Investments, speech given in 1991.

I was cordially invited this week to attend the local primary school’s Christmas Bazaar. A cynic might quip that such an event is just a polite way of asking parents to make financial contributions to help in the running of the school, rather than just coldly demanding a handout. On one level, this is true. But there are more issues at play here than filthy lucre.

Each class chose different products/commodities to manufacture. There were Christmas tree decorations, calendars, bookmarks, fridge magnets, framed photographs of topical interest, Christmas cards and a whole host of items produced by child labour. Some might say that the pricing policy was unfair and that the goods were a little overpriced, but this is Christmas after all and the proceeds were going to a good cause.

Some children (the younger, innocent-looking ones) took their wares onto a tray around their necks (cinema ice-cream vendor style) and circulated around the hall, offering their merchandise to the punters. I think they had been told that no one could refuse a child who blatantly demanded “Will you buy my Christmas cards? Only 1 Euro each.” But the hard sell technique won’t wash with some Scrooges around who can say, sorry, I’ve spent all my money today.

There were the ubiquitous refreshments on offer to refresh patrons after exerting themselves and their wallets around the children’s stalls. Naturally, the mothers chipped in and those who could, baked a cake, divided it into miniscule portions and sold off each piece at exploitation prices. I’m not sure if someone got her/his sums mixed up (raw materials plus labour resulting in a prodigious amount of surplus value) but no one was buying cake and absolutely everyone was queuing up for hot, freshly prepared waffles, with a light dusting of icing sugar and cinnamon. The waffle stall displayed no price: it was left up to everyone’s individual conscience to donate any amount as they saw fit into the piggy bank recruited especially for the purpose. Incidentally, the receptacle was such that no one could tell how much each customer donated – theoretically you could have paid for your waffle with an old button and no one would be any the wiser. In these straitened times, a hard pressed parent would soon see the economic sense of feeding hungry mouths with waffles rather than, say, cake. Personally, I think it was the enticing aroma wafting through the corridors ‘wot got them standing in line for hours. We must now paraphrase: “Let them eat waffles!”

The children themselves learned a few good lessons and the experience will stand them in good stead if they should ever find themselves occupying the leather chair of the CEO of, say, Chrysler Motors. We have to find the right materials at competitive prices, make sure the division of labour is fairly apportioned according to talents and skills and come up with the goods on schedule. And on the day itself, we want our pushiest sales person on the counter hawking our wares (and if we can’t find anyone pushy, at least someone who doesn’t have sticky fingers and knows how to count).

The afternoon was pure consumption of commodities, edible and otherwise. There was no service sector, no credit facilities, no discount for bulk purchase and no refunds for dissatisfied customers. The closest thing to a service sector was the choir of first year students performing Christmas carols, and that was free.

The next morning everyone was eager to find the class teacher with the petty cash so that they could balance the books but she was ill.

Judging by the decibel level towards the end of the afternoon (and the flowing mulled wine was not to blame – not cheap enough, not enough alcohol content) everyone seemed to enjoy the event, its sociability, its atmosphere. Here, wealth was created by junior entrepreneurs who took pride in their finished products and presented them to the consuming public with gratification and self-esteem. How many chairmans can still say the same?

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Squeaky Door by Elizabeth Chairopoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.