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As Mary Poppins teaches, if you tell a child something’s a game they’ll work all day long with utter joy. Like Adam and Eve, being bitter about work is something we learn. Maybe that means we can unlearn whatever bad lessons have landed us with an economy of “bullshit jobs” and sour, unproductive desk drones (apologies to happy, productive drones).

But salaries are going out of fashion. One of the most important changes to the UK labour market over the past five years has been the rising number of self-employed people. There are now 4.6 million of them and the self-employment rate is higher than ever before.

Roger Scruton makes the case for self-employment in his latest book, How to be a Conservative. He updates the ideas of the Victorian thinker John Ruskin to argue that being your own boss redeems work by giving it meaning. You get chances to be creative. You get chances to build things. You can look at your business and say: ‘I made that – I’ve been in a fight with the world and I’ve left a mark’. Through your work, you become something. That’s why self-employed people on average work longer hours for less money but are happier.

Convincing? Up to a point. However, some people are self-employed because they’ve got no choice. Working for yourself can be a last resort and it doesn’t guarantee you’re doing something worthwhile. My nightmare for Britain is that we become a nation of flunkies serving the super-rich. Sixty-million self-employed canine-yoga instructors pampering oligarchs’ pooches in Kensington would not be a nation working well.

So how do we honour Ruskin’s insight that “there is no wealth but life” or the command in Ephesians to redeem the time? By finding ways of working which direct the aspirations we have towards ways of living which will make us happy.

That is particularly important when our ambitions are flawed. In 2007 one in three boys said that they wanted to be sports players when they grew up. Artist and actor/entertainer were both more popular goals than becoming a doctor. This is what you get when you raise a generation on a diet of narcissistic drivel. Disappointments await.

But if we were being generous to the kids we might say that they’re expressing a hunger for success and self-expression. In that case, taking entrepreneurial risks to do something they’re passionate about might bring them more satisfaction than a corporate career. And they’re all tech-natives. Perhaps the economy they create will be one of digital artisans – self-employed and highly skilled experts working with pride in the million niches of a mature service economy. They’ll need courage to choose worthwhile paths. But that, I think, would make them happier than X Factor.

Austen Saunders is a Researcher at Bright Blue