Alternatives to Plumbers

Robert Kiyosaki has made a curious assertion in one of his many books. He says that the tax system, the legal system, in fact the whole economic system, has been set up to favour entrepreneurs. He says that everything is there to encourage people to take risks, borrow money, set up businesses, build factories and houses and create jobs. Why? Because that’s what the country needs. We need employment and housing, so we need enterprising individuals who can make that happen. We need these top people. Everything else has to serve their needs, and the system exists to support them.

Down at the bottom of the pile, things look different. ‘The bosses need us’, say the workers, so ask for bigger pay rises. That’s not going to work out. These days, those bosses have a choice. If you’re not willing to work for the dollar rate offered, they’ll find someone who will, often from overseas. In Britain today the argument is about all the East European countries who have joined the European Union recently. It means that their residents now have the right – yes, the legal right – to travel to Britain and offer themselves for work. The problem for us locals is that these new arrivals are used to working for less money than we need and are grateful for any jobs they can get, no matter how second-rate or poorly paid. They are also willing to work hard and don’t demand time off and holidays. From the point of view of the employers, they’re just what they need.

The example most often quoted is ‘Polish plumbers’. In the last few months, many plumbers and other skilled people have arrived in Britain from places like Poland, and are offering their services. They work hard and they don’t ask for much money. They are suddenly in demand. Everybody wants them. English plumbers are up in arms. ‘Not fair’, they say, forgetting that the economic system doesn’t set out to be fair. It exists to make things, deliver services, create new businesses and provide profits. It never sets out to be ‘fair’. If you want fairness in society, you have to vote for a government that will do something about that. Economics isn’t in that business of being ‘fair’.

English plumbers have forgotten one thing. People don’t like them. People in Britain know that when their washing machine goes mad and starts pumping water all over the kitchen floor, then they are in trouble – mainly because it will be practically impossible to find anyone to come round and fix the problem. You will be standing up to your ankles in water, telephone in one hand and Yellow Pages in the other, and you can go down the list for quite a way before even getting an answer. Then there’s the reply, ‘It will be £60 to come out and £20 an hour after that’ – too expensive. There’s a lot of, ‘Sorry, too busy right now. I can maybe fit you in sometime next Tuesday’ and the question of time: it’s unheard of to get a plumber out of his cosy house after 6 o’clock at night. After all, he has a family too. He likes watching TV, just like you. He doesn’t want to miss the football, as you don’t. Well, no, he’s not exactly like you. He’s set himself up as a plumber, that’s how he earns a living. To do that, he needs customers. Polish plumbers know that, and are willing to work to please their customers, not themselves. That’s the difference.

Plumbers in Britain have a different take on reality. They think that everything was great, life was good, and then these guys from Poland started arriving – and it ruined everything. Most British people know the opposite. ‘Things were great’? For plumbers! ‘Life was good’? For them, not for the customers. English plumbers complain that these new arrivals ‘work for less money’. Money isn’t everything – especially when water is dripping down your walls. When that happens, the main issue is getting it fixed. Oh yes, at a reasonable price, but someone – please – come and sort it out. English plumbers weren’t prepared to do that, to put themselves out or make an effort, and the customers got fed up with them. It’s always been that way. In the 1960s Japanese motor cycles started arriving in Britain and swept the market. They were welcomed. People had got fed up with British bikes. They were too heavy, difficult to start, and leaked oil. The Japanese bikes were light, easy starters, and clean. Of course people bought them.

This is the great truth. British plumbers complain of their prices being undercut and say it’s all ‘unfair competition’. There’s no such thing as ‘fair competition’! But that’s not it. A new service, new invention, new product, doesn’t catch on unless it’s better than what’s out there now. So if your plumbing services are no longer required, maybe it’s because you weren’t doing a very good job, and people are gladly taking up the alternative. So what’s that got to do with taxes, the legal system, and the things we started with? Because customers are always looking for a better product or service and we need to encourage the people who are hoping to provide it. We want those entrepreneurs, hungry, anxious to get on and find the new big thing. We want new factories, new jobs, new opportunities. It might mean disruption for workers as old established industries collapse. It might mean re-location, re-training, re-skilling, but the system can provide that for those who are willing. It’s the only way the economic system progresses and it’s made a good life for millions of people in the last few generations. The lesson is clear: if you are a British plumber, you should have had an eye over your shoulder, just in case someone came along who could do a better job. And if it kills your job, then you need to change. Maybe, even, you need to become the new entrepreneur that’s going to make a killing out of the new trend when it comes along, as it surely will.