Yes, the young have always managed

Click to follow
THE FUTURE arrives faster these days, and in greater quantity. Someone once remarked that the trouble with history was that there was so much of it; now it is the future that is too much with us. You can hardly spit without hitting a think-tank, forecasting centre or policy institute predicting the impact of information technology and the new mobility of international capital. This is probably wise - better to be warned and, if necessary, armed against the day after tomorrow than to have it strike you sharply on the head - and it is not inevitably bad news. Last week Geoff Mulgan, of the Demos think-tank, could be seen on television and read in the Independent being cheery about the stresses caused by the rise of the global market. History has taught us, said Mr Mulgan, that the stress will produce great creativity, especially in the young.

An inspection of the early minutes of the unjustly ignored Cobblers Society, founded in the shadow of Messrs Boulton and Watt's engine works in Birmingham in 1784, shows that Mr Mulgan is absolutely right. The Cobblers, probably the first think-tank in the world, drew its membership from the most learned men of the day. This exchange bears out Mr Mulgan's point. Mr William Blake: So Mr Watt, these great engines of yours are intended to raise coal to the surface of the mine? Mr James Watt: Aye, indeed so. Mr Blake: Thus more coal will be raised. But who will cut it? Mr Watt: Why sir, the menfolk of the country around. Mr Blake: But are they not already at work in the fields? Mr Watt: Why then, we shall set their women at the task. Mr Blake: And if the women are spinning or cooking? Mr Watt: Then their children will be engaged at the pit, for that will surely be cheaper. Mr Josiah Wedgewood (interrupting): And it is a well-known fact, daily observable in my potbanks, that change and stress cause great creativity in the young.