Harry is surfing a wave of wokery to an economic abyss
Prince’s new job means he doesn’t need to rely on family handouts
So what is a chief impact officer exactly? And how does the impact they have on the organisation differ from, you know, just clocking in on Monday morning and getting on with the job like everyone else, who presumably doesn’t make quite so much of a difference?
Clearly it is great that Prince Harry has secured a new job, and won’t just be relying on his family to support him, or his wife’s acting income. Even so, his strange title at the heath and lifestyle start-up BetterUp illustrates something else apart from the obvious fact that the Windsor name can still be traded for a lucrative gig in Silicon Valley – the proliferation of woke non-jobs.
In truth, CIO, as I guess chief impact officers should be known, is hardly the worst of it. There are – and seriously I am not making this up – dream alchemists, happiness engineers and brand warriors out there picking up a pay cheque every month.
It is easy to blame that on fluffy woke capitalism, and that is part of the problem. And yet is a sign of something more serious as well. It is symptomatic of a bubble that is out of control – and eventually will have to come crashing back down to earth.
The days when senior executives had jobs such as managing director, finance director, or sales manager, which told everyone what they do, and where they ranked in the hierarchy, are long gone.
Elon Musk, the Tesla founder, has declared himself “technoking” of the business, while there are companies where you can call up reception and ask to be put through to the innovation ninja or the brand champion and actually get through to someone (assuming they are not too busy with some unconscious bias training to speak to you that is).
Even as a senior word warrior (with a lucrative side hustle as a content dreamer) I am finding it hard to keep up with it all.
It is easy to laugh at this kind of nonsense. And yet businesses are also meant to be lean, efficient and focused on delivering value for their customers and shareholders, and creating lots and lots of meaningless job titles is not going help that. It is going to make it worse. In fact there are two big problems with the epidemic of corporate fluffery.
First, it is symptomatic of the spread of woke capitalism. Lots of millennial/zoomer dominated companies are creating vapid, pointless management roles that are, in reality, just corporate virtue signalling.
Of course we care about the environment. We have a chief climate officer, not to mention a team of deputy climate warriors to help her with her work. Sure, we care about our staff. We have a work-life balance officer, assisted by a team of employee lifestyle coaches to make sure everyone is happy and on message.
And of course we are worried about our supply chain. We have a global equality manager who works on nothing else. And yet like so much virtue signalling, it is mainly about making the senior managers, and the shareholders and venture capital funds who employ them, feel better about themselves. Whether any of the work actually makes any difference is beside the point. It is simply a way of demonstrating what a kind and caring business you are.
Next, and perhaps more seriously, it is emblematic of an economy where there is far too much easy money around.
It is hardly a coincidence that the most pointless job titles spiral out of Silicon Valley, where businesses are loaded up with venture capital money, are measured by their burn rate, and are never expected to deliver actual profits.
Prince Harry’s new employer, BetterUp, is typical of the species. It has just raised another US$100m ($146m) in fresh money, and it is valued at more than US$1bn, even though no one has much idea what it actually does, or whether there is any long-term demand for its products.
For more than a decade now central banks around the world have pumped freshly minted cash into the economy, hoping that it would keep it afloat and maintain employment. And, of course, in a sense it has. But only at the cost of creating meaningless work that serves no real purpose other than making a few people feel important.
We used to have a boom-and-bust cycle in the economy. During the boom phase, lots of new businesses were launched, the stock market went crazy, tons of money was made, and plenty of flimsy companies surfed the boom until the central bank cranked up interest rates, the government cut spending, and between them brought the party crashing to an end.
It was not always fun, but it served a valuable purpose. It reset the system and cleared out all the nonsense. The companies and jobs that survived were more robust, and grounded in reality, while the weakest among them disappeared and the least essential jobs were culled.
But step by step we have abolished the “bust” part of the cycle. In some ways that is an improvement.
Yet it comes at a heavy cost. After a while the non-jobs just keep growing and growing, until we end up with an economy where hardly anyone is doing any proper work – making things or serving customers – at all.
By now the endless woke jobs are simply cluttering up the economy. They are a symptom of an economy with far too much easy money around. In truth, the proliferation of ridiculous job titles is the surest indicator we have that the economy is way too frothy, and overheated.
It will take a crash and a recession to finally clear all that out – and one that is serious enough that even the chief impact officer might notice its effects.
• Matthew Lynn is a financial columnist and author. He writes for WSJ Marketwatch, The Spectator and Money Week as well as The Telegraph,
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