So, there’s this primetime TV show that runs in the UK several times a day. Every day since around 2008, its lead characters bumble from one crisis to the next and the frankly ludicrous plot seems to twist and turn in ways so that are so implausible (yet eerily predictable; they always seem to come up with a new plan and then somehow completely blow it) that it makes Dynasty look like a fly-on-the-wall documentary about eastern European salt mines. Occasionally the characters pose for smiley group photos even though they secretly hate each other. And it’s not hard to see why they hate each other, as they are on the whole a miserable collection of the sort of people in society you’d find it impossible to relate to, never mind build any affection for.
The show is called the News.
And with the exception of the salaciously illustrated phone hacking scandal that has made for some truly outstanding relief lately, I don’t think I’ve seen a day go by since 2008 without some kind economic crisis story utterly dominating the social conscience of the Northern Hemisphere.
Today is no different. Yesterday the UK government published its latest economic figures showing that the UK economy contracted again, by more than expected, and driving the UK deeper into negative growth territory.However, what nobody has noticed – apart from me, apparently – is that amid all the doom and gloom, there’s one statistic that’s confounding the headline numbers.
The numbers of companies being formed every month in the UK has never been higher; in fact it’s running at way more than double the rate prior to 2008.
Experts would call that “counterintuitive”.
I have some candidate theories about why.
- Lots of people got made redundant in the depth of the Global Economic Crisis four years ago. While that might explain the initial lift it doesn’t explain the continuation in growth of company formations. So, I’ve decided that’s not such a hot theory.
- The introduction of the 50% personal tax rate drove people from employment into self-employment. That probably has some legs as a theory but, again, doesn’t explain such a big shift on its own.
- It’s never been easier to setup and run your own business.
I like that last one best.
Fifteen years ago before the world-wide-web (anyone reading this under the age of 25 ask your parents what life was like before Farmville and smartphones), if you had an idea about starting your own business, it was a lot harder to work out the practicalities of how you might go about it. Could anyone just start a business? How much did it cost? Did you have to ask for permission? How would you manage it?
Today you just ask Google.
And Google replies with references to a million self-starter kits and countless free advisory services. Today you don’t even need an office or many of the artefacts you would have required fifteen years ago. You can promote and sell your wares online for next to nothing, you can build your brand for free on Twitter and Facebook (when you’re not playing Farmville) and you can do your books on beautiful accounting software. For the price of a good coffee. On your phone. While playing with your kids. Smiling.
So, in the wake of the carnage wrought by a million be-suited bureaucrats, theoretical economists and over-enterprising bankers, there’s a huge, monumental re-wiring of the mechanics of the small business economy, at least in the UK and, actually, I suspect everywhere.
But because of the News, nobody’s talking about it.