“Facebook would never have been invented in the UK.”That was a throwaway line on the radio the other day. But it got me thinking. What is it about US culture and society that sparks good ideas? What have they got that we lack? What drives them to set up businesses, chase profits and develop revolutionary new ideas from Ford’s mass production to the PC revolution and on to Google and Facebook? And let’s not forget sneakers in 1917, transistors in the 1940s and disposable nappies in 1961. And despite all of this US business power, why are things now moving East to the developing world? Could Facebook have been invented in the UK? I think not. Could Facebook have been invented in India or China? I think so. There are no welfare benefit systems in India and China. The people there have a stark choice, which in some cases is literally deal or die. The motivation to succeed is far greater than here in the UK, since the penalty for failing is starving on the street rather than the cushion of housing benefits and being forced to eat out less. So, are modern Britons risk-averse? No – it’s just that someone with a nice, state-funded house and income has much more to lose than a person living in a Calcutta slum. I’m not advocating abandoning our entire welfare system. But from good intentions it has become like a virus that has colonised the cellular structure of our society, stamping out the desire to improve. This, I would suggest, explains why we are being slaughtered when it come to business innovation. As long as we continue with our bloated benefit culture, we will continue to nullify the basic human urge to create and improve. Charlie Mullins grew up on an estate in South London and left school with no qualifications. He started Pimlico Plumbers in 1979, after completing a four-year plumbing apprenticeship. The company employs 150 professional plumbers and turns over more than £16m a year.
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