Who do I think I am?

by Harry on August 7, 2019

I can’t remember whether I have plugged this before — I suspect I have — but the radio version of Mark Steel’s autobiographical one-man show, Who Do I Think I Am?, is available on Sounds for the next 17 days. It is just brilliant. Its the story of Steel’s search for his adoptive mother, which involves so many twists, turns, and bizarre coincidences that at various points you think he must have added this or that (surely the details about the Socialist Party of Great Britain???) for effect but… no, its all, bizarrely, true. Mainly its hilarious, but it is also, in parts, serious and very poignant. If you have one hour to spare in the next 17 days, this is how to spend it, even if (maybe especially if) you have no idea who Mark Steel is.

Does talent matter?

by Chris Bertram on August 7, 2019

I’ve recently been in Germany which, to a greater extent than many other countries (such as my own), is a functioning and prosperous liberal democracy. It wasn’t always thus, as every participant in internet debate know very well. By the end of the Second World War, Germany had suffered the destruction of its cities and infrastructure, the loss of a large amount of its territory, and the death or maiming of a good part of its population and particularly of the young and active ones. Yet, though not without some external assistance, it was able to recover and outstrip its former adversaries within a very few decades.

Thinking about this made me reflect a little on whether people, in the sense of talented individuals, matter all that much. That they do is presupposed by the recruitment policies of firms and other institutions and by immigration policies that aim to recruit the “best and brightest”. Societies are lectured on how important it is not to miss out in the competition for “global talent”. Yet the experience of societies that have experienced great losses through war and other catastrophes suggests that provided the institutions and structures are right, when the “talented” are lost they will be quickly replaced by others who step into their shoes and do a much better job that might have previously been expected of those individuals.

I imagine some empirical and comparative work has been done by someone on all this, but it seems to me that getting the right people is much less important that having the institutions that will get the best out of whatever people happen to be around. I suppose a caveat is necessary: some jobs need people with particular training (doctoring or nursing, for example) and if we shoot all the doctors there won’t yet be people ready to take up the opportunities created by their vacancy. But given time, the talent of particular individuals may not be all that important to how well societies or companies do. Perhaps we don’t need to pay so much, then, to retain or attract the “talented”: there’s always someone else.