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.


Absolutely agree with you Bob. A lot of “on the job” training and learning has now been hijacked by the polytechs etc. Then, instead of tradespeople etc earning a living, instead of piling up student loans, we have these young people wasting years of their lives doing all sorts of potentially useless courses after spending too many years at high school maybe learning, or not, a whole lot of stuff irrelevant to the vocations that they aspire to. Some young ones, some in their 30’s, that I know are still mucking around doing these useless courses, which are sometimes abandoned by the polytech before the students have finished, and then encouraged by the polytech or Social Welfare to do another. A good cleanup is long overdue.
Most of the tradeys from earlier days only had a couple of years at High School, 3 to 5 years aprenticeship and went on to become very good, well trained workers and business owners.

Spot on again Bob. Yesterday’s HG Wells’ award in the “ the Club of Queer Trades” category is Auckland Council advertising for a “Bark Advisor”. I kid you not.

    “I advise the Auckland City Council that trees should have bark.”

    Is that the sort of barking advice they’re chasing?

    (And, what’s the address I should post my consultancy invoice to?)

you can get a communications degree from a poytech and became a politician or even a PM!

That’s an excellent mini-lesson in an essential principle in economics, included there in the para about the proportion of the workforce engaged in providing essentials, and technological advances creating labour surpluses. Really all growth in aggregate wealth is from consumer surplus, this aggregate wealth being created is what supports increased transfers in the form of economic rent and government (and corporate) waste.

I see a significant risk today in that the 90% who are now involved in wasteful and luxury activities, mistake themselves and their kind for “an economy” and hence the dirty resource extractors and users that actually pay for everything else in most economies are “dispensable”, and virtue-signaling idiots get into parliament and merrily do the “dispensing with” . Exceptions are economies with weightless primary income such as financial fee income, gambling, copyrights, tax sheltering, etc – nice work if your economy can get it.

Dispensing with the dirty necessity primary activities might seem sustainable for a while as the government makes up for it with funny money, Mcjobs, easy-money (for some) property bubbles, equity-withdrawal household spending, immigration, and running trade deficits, but there has to come a reckoning one day. I wish Sir Bob would say more about this.

As punchy and on target as ever, but I believe “The Club of Queer Trades” was written by G K Chesterton (better known for writing the Father Brown series) rather than H G Wells. Happy to be corrected.

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