In 1905 H.G. Wells’s “The Club of Queer Trades” novel was published. It described a London club in which membership was confined to individuals who has invented an entirely new and profitable commercial activity.
His examples were basically absurd, such as a fellow who hired himself out to guest speakers at functions, to ask dumb questions and make the speaker look clever answering them.
A century later my own “Degrees For Everyone” novel was published. It poked fun at the growth in bullshit non-academic purported fields of study in today’s universities. Wells would have considered it a fantasy.
I took a satirical approach with extreme examples, only to see every one of my often ludicrous invented new fields of study, actually come to pass in universities, here and abroad, over the next decade.
If Wells was alive today he would be bewildered by the number of nonsensical high paid non-jobs advertised in the likes of the Economist. There seems to be a ratio in which the vaguer the job description, the higher the salary.
Historically, this phenomenon is not unusual.
Every technological advance for over a thousand years has thrown up a labour surplus which took up to fifty years to sort out by the creation of new economic activities. Always these marked an elevation in living standards.
That is illustrated by the reality that when Wells wrote “The Club of Queer Trades”. In New Zealand, probably 90% of the population were engaged in providing the basics, namely food, clothing, transport and housing etc. Today perhaps 10% are, the rest providing goods and services once seen as a luxury but today essentials.
Many are uniquely peculiar to our age and would have been inconceivable a century back. Examples are dog walkers, dog groomers, middle-aged flamboyant homosexual men who for a year or two become “best friends” of middle-aged divorcees at the latters’ expense, a career which would have qualified for entry to The Club of Queer Trades, and so on.
Others go under the broad label of “specialty consultants” who offer a patter on a narrow aspect of life, stating the obvious, their clientele being the likes of Local Bodies dealing with other people’s money.
Unlike yesteryear’s giant steps forward following a revolutionary change, it’s difficult to advance a case that these new fields of activity constitute progress.