As we get older, we have to make a positive effort not to turn into the bore who is always complaining how much better everything used to be.
Such complaints are unwise not only because they are tedious but because they are usually wrong – most things are much better than they used to be.
That said, it can’t be denied that progress in some areas has been accompanied by deterioration in others. In particular, we may be wealthier in financial terms, but is that at the expense of something more important?
In over a quarter of a century in business, this contributor has seen a definite decline in honesty in the daily transactions of commercial life. Where we could usually proceed on the assumption that most people would make an effort to keep their word, and be fair and reasonable in their dealings, it is now almost expected that big organisations in particular will try to chisel and evade their obligations.
Of course, there have always been chancers, but the worst offenders are now the pillars of the Establishment on whose reliability the whole economy depends: insurance companies, banks, pension funds, even government.
It is increasingly rare for insurance companies to pay promptly, and in full, money to which the premium payer assumed he was entitled. Insurers claim that this is, at least in part, because they are themselves increasingly victims of fraud – which is, of course, true – but we are entitled to ask if the chicken came before the egg in that sector?
The same is true of banks. They may claim to be the victims of bad loans, but they made those loans. There would have been no 2008 crash if bank managers were still reactionary but scrupulously honest old fogeys – think George Mainwaring in the British comedy Dad’s Army – instead of City wide boys looking no further than their annual bonus.
Yet government is the worst offender – because those at the top set the example for everyone else. Public service – once considered honourable because it was underpaid – is now a cash cow, and bureaucrats regularly misuse laws passed for legitimate purposes in order to raise revenues.
Public office is now an office of profit, as it was in the 18th Century. So far from progressing, we seem to have regressed to the time of Oliver Goldsmith: “Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, where wealth accumulates, and men decay.”