A few days ago I heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, say on the radio that he wanted Britain to be a leader in areas such as business and technology. This was part of the reason for Mr Osborne's cap-in-hand trip to China.
That left me thinking about Icarus. If you remember the tale well, he tried to escape from Crete with wings of wax but flew so high that his wings melted from the heat of the sun and he fell into the sea and died.
Is Mr Osborne thinking of equipping British businesses with wax wings?
When did “good enough” become “bad”?
As a long-time UK-resident I want my economy to work. Whether it stands out in Europe or it does not, I could not give two monkeys. I want it to work for those who live in Britain, whether born here or not. I want the economy to yield profit-making businesses – especially socially-minded – that contribute to the public kitty. I want it to grow, but not out of control, not in a borrow-and-I-will-pay-later-if-I-can way but in pragmatic, objective manner. I want there to be independent bodies for spotting and correcting errors. There will be wobbles in this economy I want (which economy has not got wobbles?) but they will be transitory and not too difficult to overcome. There will also be highlights, but not of the type that will make fellow denizens wish to live in a highlight-chasing society but the ones you enjoy with a cuppa and a biscuit. Then, we all move on and plod along.
Instead, what I keep hearing from headline-grabbing George Osborne is that we, the UK, should lead the world in whatever the government decides next: nuclear energy, arms trade, refugees’ resettlement? Oh, no, sorry, not that last one. Beg your pardon. We definitely do not want to lead in that area.
I want a functional economy in a functional country. I value that more than the “outstanding”, the “extraordinary” and the “excellent”. I am not averse to these traits; I am, however, wary of the effects in chasing them. Market domination might be good for shareholders but it makes no difference to Joe or Joanna Public. They still have to choose between supermarket own brand or top range when doing their shopping. Of decisions like this one is life for the majority of us made.
When people ask me about what sort of society I would like Cuba to become when Fidel finally kicks the bucket and there is no more Raúl and his crooks, my answer is always the same: a working system. A working system does exactly what says on the tin. It works for everybody or for most people. It is difficult to achieve this when those in power are more concerned about capturing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Would it not be better to have just eggs, pure and simple?
When my son was little, my wife and I used to take him to a session with other children and their parents. I remember talking to another parent once and telling this person that my aspiration – at the time – was to be a “good enough” parent. This person got worked up somewhat and told me that their aspiration was to be “the best” parent ever. That comment and the strength with which it was said struck me as funny. My first thought was that this person was setting her/himself up for failure. No one can be the best all the time. Especially parents. My second thought was: what happened to “good enough”?
It is a question that has come back to haunt me recently for reasons I will not discuss in this post. But the premise of my column tonight remains the same: “average” is no longer enough. Some people really want to know why you are not excellent, extraordinary or outstanding. The issue is that this sadly sends out the wrong message as people misunderstand what “average” means and what it represents. I live an average life in the UK. I make no excuses for it. Even when I go back to Cuba I tell people what I do for a living, what we get up to at weekends and what we spend our money on. The irony is that my lifestyle seems extraordinary, even rich, to some of my fellow country-women and men.
Sky's new slogan is "believe in better". I sometimes do believe in better. Chiefly when it comes to sports; I would like my beloved Yankees to make it to the play-offs, Chelsea to win the English Premier League again this season and my hometown baseball team, Industriales, to add another pennant to their trophy cabinet. But in most areas of my life I believe that "good enough" is, pardon the repetition, good. Why soar when you can fly in a straight line and get to your destination quicker and safer? I am not advocating a risk-free life, but a good-enough attitude. If you need some advice, ask Icarus.
Next Post: “London, my London”, to be published on Wednesday 30th September at 6pm (GMT)