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Britain’s “ancestral disdain” for business

British political hacks: hungry for gossip. Ben Stansall/Getty

Britain’s media is obsessed with political gossip, says Adrian Wooldridge in Bloomberg. Newspapers splash endless revelations about Partygate and Beergate as if they’re “matters of war and peace”. Columnists constantly muse about whether Johnson will survive and who could replace him. Yet most of this is “small change at best and irrelevant at worst”. And it crowds out the stuff that really matters: business news. Big companies like Amazon, Google and Tesla are “changing the world at breakneck speed”, and new technologies such as artificial intelligence and gene therapy “will change it even faster”. Giant new firms from Asia will in time shift the balance of global power from the West to the East. Yet in the British press, business news is “relegated to the back of the paper along with sport and horoscopes”.

What’s behind this “lopsided view of the world”? The main reason is cultural contempt. Americans embrace business, with news channels and websites devoted to the subject. But in Britain there is an “ancestral disdain for people who make money in ‘trade’”. Historically, the public schools and Oxbridge concentrated on subjects notable for their “lack of practical utility” – classics and so on. W Somerset Maugham suggested that at The King’s School, Canterbury, “those whose fathers were engaged in business were made to feel the degradation of their state”. It’s time British journalists got over these “ancient prejudices”. Never has business had a greater capacity to change the world. The public would be much better off knowing about that than about “the minutiae of political drama”.

🤓🗳 “Beware the politically obsessed. They are often bright and interesting, but they have something missing in their natures; there is a hole, an empty place, and they use politics to fill it up. It leaves them somehow misshapen.”

Peggy Noonan, Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter