1990s >> 1998 >> no-1131-november-1998

Voice From the Back

The culture of competition

Buy low. Sell high. That’s what we’re teaching our kids in school today. The Stock Market game has blasted its way into the classroom. Budding Buffets as young as eight can now learn what drives Wall Street—money and lots of it. “We can teach them that their main goal is to buy and sell stock,” says Ted Young, the game’s creator and maths teacher at Centralia Junior High School in Illinois. Students play the roles of 20 buyers, four brokers and a banker-policeman-tax collector. According to Young, the kids love the broker job as they get a kick out of seeing their friends profiting and their enemies losing. Stock prices are posted on computers and when the bell sounds, trading begins. “The kids will push and shove and run to get to make trades on hot stock,” says Young. “That’s when the police officer comes in. Tempers can flare. Kids get in fights.”

The culture of failure

In the business world, low survival rates are a serious issue. One in three firms fails before its third anniversary.

The culture of negligence

The shortage of information technology skills is reaching critical proportions. Despite large cash rewards there are more than 50,000 vacancies in the UK, forcing companies to look abroad for staff. The startling figures emerge from research by recruitment agency, Elan Computing, which has offices in Europe, the Pacific rim and the US. All the above are from Financial Mail on Sunday, 30 August.

The culture of expansion

Current [world] population trends are likely to put 700 million young people into the labour market in the next 10 years—more than the work force of the developed world in 1990. This could greatly increase developing countries’ wealth, but it will also expose them more to the effects of economic crises. The International Labour Organisation estimates that one billion jobs will be needed for these people and to cut existing unemployment. Guardian, 3 September.

The culture of poverty

Deprivation, unemployment and low literacy levels make Britain one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the West, a United Nations report said today. Britain was ranked just 14th—behind countries such as Germany, Japan and Australia in the Human Development Report poverty index. Across the globe, the gap between rich and poor was growing with one-fifth of the population consuming 86 percent of the world’s goods and services, the report said. And in Britain, more than a fifth of adults were considered functionally illiterate while 13.5 percent were living below the recognised level of the poverty line. Evening Mail, 9 September.

Force v force

British Transport Police has won the contract to keep law and order on the new £145 million Midland Metro tram system. The force faced stiff opposition from West Midlands Police for the job of policing the 12-mile route which will run from Wolverhampton to Birmingham. The West Midlands force believed it should get the job because it was better equipped in terms of infrastructure and manpower. But Metro bosses decided the job should go to British Transport Police, chiefly because of their long history of policing Britain’s railway network. Evening Mail, 9 September.

Another utopian

Yesterday saw a lull in the turbulence rocking the world’s financial markets. No one knows whether this is temporary or whether it heralds the end of the extraordinary bull market of the past decade. Either way it may prove to be the high water mark of international financial laissez faire. There is a growing realisation that something must be done to tame the free flight of short-term capital that has destabilised economies from Thailand a year ago to Russia now. Guardian, 3 September.

Profits v wages—as usual

“The strength of the pound is working against us in terms of profitability and it is well know we are looking for savings,” Mr Stephenson [director of design and engineering at Rover] said. “Times are tough and certain areas are having to make cutbacks, but because we cannot get all the skilled engineers we need I have taken the unprecedented step of asking those engineers we do have to work a couple of extra hours a week without pay. I am pleased to say that the response has been very positive—saving the company thousands of pounds in man hours per week.” Evening Mail, 5 September.

If I were a rich man

We all know that Bill Gates is the world’s richest man, valued at about $50bn (£31bn). But did you know that the United Nations says he alone could therefore afford the $40bn needed to achieve and maintain universal access to basic education and healthcare, safe water and basic sanitation? Do we need any more proof that capitalism has failed? Back page, Computer Weekly, 17 September).

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