Chris Giles April fools: British business edition

British newspapers have an honourable tradition of playing April fools jokes on their readers on 1 April. It always cheers me up when I spot them. Today, British business leaders showed a wonderfully understated sense of humour by writing a spoof letter to the Daily Telegraph, which was also the splash in the paper.

The letter opposed Labour’s proposed rise in national insurance as a tax on jobs that will endanger the recovery and praised Conservative plans to cut government spending in 2010-11 instead. So much, so normal. But the gags come in the reasoning, where the cream of British business has gone out of its way to show its funny side.

“In the last few years,” the letter writers joke, “the private sector has improved its productivity by around 20 per cent while productivity in the public sector has fallen by three per cent”. The comic timing was enhanced by the letter coming the day after official productivity figures showed that in the last few years, market sector productivity has fallen 5 per cent, back to its level of 2004, while whole economy productivity (including the public sector) is down just 2 per cent from its peak.

But that is not all. Fully knowing there is a big and unresolved debate over the effect of fiscal policy on output at the moment, the business leaders show wonderful faux ignorance of it. Employees in their companies will be tickled by this display by their superiors. “Cutting government waste [spending] won’t endanger the recovery, but putting up national insurance will,” the leaders wrote.

“We are responsible,” the businessmen (for they are all men) added, “for ensuring our employees come through the recession in good shape”. How the employees will laugh when they read their bosses’ joshing that their futures depend on their bosses’ whims rather than the work of everyone in their companies.

It’s wonderful to see that April Fools are alive and well in British companies.