Jack Bloomfield is seventeen years old and a self-reported millionaire. If we trust the account delivered by himself and his parents in a television interview, he has earned all of the money himself and has had no assistance from his parents. In an opinion piece published by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp, he wrote:
‘Is there a profession called “arts” outside of being an artist? Not that I’ve ever heard of.’
His derision of the liberal arts is cliché and uninteresting in and of itself. Equally uninteresting to me are his businesses and the existence of his e-Commerce courses for which he charges thousands of dollars to be instructed by him through a series of online modules. What is more interesting to me is that this wealthy seventeen-year old has been the subject of numerous articles as well as interviews and photo ops with politicians and public figures including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and LNP Leader Deb Frecklington. If the comments sections discussing and reporting on Mr Bloomfield are any indication, reaction to his success consists of peoples’ admiration, dismissal, derision or a combination of the three. What I find interesting is the question of why Jack Bloomfield is newsworthy in the first place.
A scan of headlines suggests one answer immediately – his age. Most people aspire to be wealthy and here is someone who has apparently achieved that goal while still in high school. But I think our society’s obsession with someone like Mr Bloomfield is tied more to how he has made his money, and that he has made money at all, than anything else. His dismissal of tertiary education that is not obviously tied to a profession, and some peoples’ admiration for that dismissal, is similarly telling.
College With A Capital C
Mr Bloomfield made me think of the film It’s A Wonderful Life, made in 1946. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it tells the story of a man named George Bailey who, while trying to kill himself on Christmas Eve in the face of personal hardships and a crisis of self-worth, is saved by an angel who shows him his value by showing how much worse the world would be had he never been born. The film is saccharine sweet and utterly lovely. But the specific scene I thought of was when George gives up going to college to help the family business, using his college tuition on his younger brother instead. We are never told in the film exactly what George intended to study. We are told only that George was going to go to college and that by giving up that opportunity he was making a great personal sacrifice of his potential future prosperity. This is in spite of the fact that, notwithstanding his lack of tertiary education, he is managing a building and loans bank which appears to do a decent trade supported by the goodwill of the town. The bank is so well-loved and relatively prosperous that we are told it survives the Great Depression in a time when most small-town banks folded. The movie does not explain how college would have made George Bailey wealthier. It is knowledge assumed of the audience. The word college is spoken with a capital C – a magical word implying social mobility and return on investment.
The Death Of Old Narratives
I believe firmly in the value of tertiary education, perhaps especially the liberal arts, for their own sake. People much smarter than I have pointed to a growing disdain for parts of history and civics as being a possible reason for the declining support of democratic institutions and liberal ideals (whatever you think those things mean). It is difficult to see the benefit of such systems without a context for why they exist and the reasons for their forms. Where I think I differ from some who decry the corporatisation of our universities is in the idea that there has been a period at all in the past century where the majority of people did not attend university primarily for the sake of personal prosperity. Even if historically universities and the academics who resided within viewed their role primarily as the advancing of intellectual inquiry, I think that the majority of their students viewed the expansion of their minds as an ancillary benefit. People attended university when they could because they were told that a degree was how a person becomes better off. And to be fair, on average that is still true. People with university educations tend to make more money over their lifetimes than those who do not. But the degree is no longer a guarantee of future employment and students find themselves seeking endless internships and work experience opportunities to flesh out their resumes for the job market. There are people leaving universities with tens of thousands of dollars of debt who earnestly believed that their degree alone would guarantee them future prosperity. Some of these graduates are finding that is not the case. The narrative that existed of university as a guaranteed pathway to future comfort is dying.
And it is not only university graduates. Young people are being told they may be the first generation to be worse off than the generations which preceded them. The welfare state is struggling to adequately support the elderly whose life savings are proving insufficient to support them in their ever-lengthening age and who are considered less desirable in a modern workforce. Those in the middle are being squeezed to pay the costs of the latter while facing the justified outrage of the former. Narratives which I think we were all raised to believe were true of our society (in Australia and western-liberal democracies generally) are beginning to fail.
The New Narrative Of Entrepreneurship
My theory is that people want an understanding of how they can succeed. That is why people pay money to self-styled entrepreneurs who not only provide an answer but offer themselves as a living, breathing example of that answer’s truth. That is why people pay hundreds of dollars for a man named Gary to tell them that they need to ‘eat shit’ and suffer the hard times if they eventually want to make it. That is why people will pay thousands of dollars for an eCommerce course taught by a seventeen year old. The old truths that a university degree, or a trade, will let you buy a home and support a family seem to the eyes of many to have expired. And these entrepreneurs understand their market. They have identified the backlash against so-called intelligentsia and elites. The liberal arts are the subject of particular ire because there is truth to the assertion that for many graduates it can be difficult to find well-paying work in the field they studied. People want a path to prosperity. Whether or not the path offered is easy is less relevant than that it seems real. Our society is increasingly unequal and even our culture’s idea of what it means to be prosperous has shifted for many from a home and a family to the lifestyle of the wealthiest people we read about and see online.
What I think is terrifying to some people when confronted with a lack of clear paths to wealth and social mobility is that there are only two possible answers for that lack. Either they have not discovered the path yet, or the path does not exist. Humanity is always going to want to be successful but we also crave the familiar. Forging a new system, a new path, is intimidating. So instead we seek out those who seem to have found the path. That is why I think people are as interested in Mr Bloomfield as they are. Not merely because of his age, but because he gives the impression of having found a path to wealth that, while perhaps being difficult, is nevertheless achievable. Increasingly, that does not seem to be true for some university graduates. That’s why, consciously or not, he writes a line deriding the liberal arts in our universities. He’s not trying to speak to the people who went to university and succeeded. He’s trying to rally and profit from those who did not.
I would like to begin this piece by stating unequivocally that I am a capitalist who supports free markets, trade and enterprise. But never before have I been more struck with despair than I was when reading seventeen year old entrepreneur Jack Bloomfield’s opinion piece published by News.com. While it seems that Mr Bloomfield is successful in business, many of his statements reflect a trend in social opinion that I believe is becoming more prevalent than ever. The view that higher learning and tertiary education is outdated, a waste of time and purely about the end result of getting a job.
‘Is there a profession called “arts” outside of being an artist? Not that I’ve ever heard of.’
It’s a shocking line of thought, one that is gaining ever more purchase. But with the current state of our universities, who could blame people for feeling this way? These days, universities are spending more money than ever on external advertising and administration. At the cost of genuine academic inquiry and scholarship, armies of administrative staff have been deployed to our universities to focus on their “student experience” ratings. Thanks to the uncapping of places by the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Governments, universities have become corporatised machines, determined to get butts into seats without any actual care for the creation of academic community or the production of anything of social value.
The public does not care for our institutions. Bloomfield summaries their attitude perfectly, however coarsely. He notes that contemporary Australian university educations produce: “A mountain of debt and a piece of paper that carries absolutely no weight in the working world”. This is the perspective those that run university administrations across the country want us to hold.
Why fund the humanities, social sciences, and the language departments of the world when we can pour endless money into marketing our business schools to overseas fee-paying students? This is the remorseless, cold logic of those that run Australian academia. Scholarship isn’t the only field being gutted. All the things that make our universities matter: student activism and social engagement are increasingly hollowed out in order to transform students from active learners into consumers. Across Australia, we see University Student Experience departments trying to crush student unions, student run clubs and student run societies in order to replace them with a sanitised university administration PR-approved mono-culture that costs obscene amounts of money to maintain while engaging precisely no one.
Take the University of Queensland for example, where the failed “UQ Mates” initiative promised a social media platform that would advertise university sanctioned and approved events. While seemingly innocent in nature, students actively engaged in the social life of their university saw this as a malign attempt to control all aspects of student life and kill whatever student culture, communities or activities deemed hostile to the corporatized administration’s interests. Against this alienating backdrop, students suffer an epidemic of loneliness and isolation that threatens the mental health of young people across the country.
How do our university administrations respond to this criticism? We hardly hear a peep from anyone outside our student unions and student run publications. You would think the self-proclaimed freedom fighters over at the Institute of Public Affairs would be up in arms about such a monstrous move to bureaucracy and the strangling of academic and student freedom. But no, instead we are subjected to the absurd beatings of the culture war drums as they desperately seek to import American political controversies to Australia. Think the whole: ”Campus free speech is under attack! Conservative students are being overrun by social justice warriors!” line of attack that should have been left in the year 2015 back with the irrelevant Milo Yiannopolouses of the world.
If you are like me, upset by the comments made by public figures like Mr Bloomfield, don’t direct your anger at him. Direct your anger to the university administrators and lawmakers that have created the world that allowed him to take this perspective. If we are to make universities socially relevant and seen as places that are worth attending, we must dismantle greedy administrations and start holding them to account.
‘Is there a profession called “arts” outside of being an artist? Not that I’ve ever heard of.’
Having opened five eCommerce businesses by the tender age of seventeen, this is Jack Bloomfield’s expert commentary on the state of tertiary education in this country.
First, let me explain the concept of drop shipping, the model through which Jack supposedly made his millions.
Drop shipping, in essence, consists of buying products from one website and selling them on your own website at a marked-up price. Sounds pretty simple, right?
Yes, it largely is.
This model, as Jack has proven, can be picked up with a bit of time and dabbling and a few YouTube tutorials. Or, if you’ve got an extra $3,500 to spare for a one-hour phone call with Bloomfield, you can pick his brains as an expert entrepreneur, joining the hive-mind of e-businessmen selling the millionaire dream. According to this cult, those not motivated by money are both losers and failures, part of the ”mediocre” hogwash that comprise the slave-like masses.
I don’t cast doubt on the work Jack has put into developing his image. Credit where it is due, he has mastered Brand Management 101 by deleting comments criticising him on his Instagram page and blocking critics from commenting on his Facebook page.
All in all, however, it is disingenuous and pig-headed for him to make inflammatory statements about the worth, or lack thereof, he perceives in higher education. It is also disingenuous of Bloomfield to claim he was not in a privileged position to begin with; Bloomfield attends an extremely expensive elite Brisbane private school and his father is a CEO. Due to his position at birth, Jack enjoys tremendous social and economic capital from which to draw on. The vast majority of teenagers don’t possess such advantages by virtue of family connections, and thus cannot become ”self-made” millionaires. Not everyone can afford the minimum $10,000 investment required to take part in Bloomfield’s 12-month mentoring program where he deigns to impart his divine knowledge to us mere mortals.
It is sadly ironic that a year of Bloomfield’s mentoring program costs thousands of dollars more than a year of university education at a high-ranking Australian tertiary instititution. In light of his claims that Arts degrees are worth nothing more than the pieces of paper they are printed on, I would like to see the results Bloomfield’s vapid mentoring program have produced. I suspect Bloomfield could not demonstrate said results, for his program is fundamentally a meaningless exercise in rent-seeking, exploiting the ignorant and gullible alike.
We must start to think critically as a society about ‘self-made millionaires’ and other ‘entrepreneurs,’ giving motivational seminars, selling online courses for thousands of dollars and telling us there is no value in the pursuit of intellect and knowledge. How did a seventeen-year-old who has not yet achieved a high school education develop a full online university course in eCommerce all by himself? (Hint: he probably didn’t). What qualifies him to deliver an absurdly expensive mentoring program as some kind of Tony Robbins-lite business guru? (Hint: he probably isn’t qualified). Why is a one hour phone call with Bloomfield aparently worth $3,500? (Hint: It isn’t worth anything).
Where did we go so wrong as a society? Drop-shipping is essentially a parasitic economic activity for it produces nothing of productive economic value. It is for all intents and purposes simply an exercise in rent-seeking. Why then is Bloomfield being splashed across the Murdoch papers and celebrated on Australian network television as some kind of latter day Adam Smith, champion of capitalism and free enterprise? What exactly is respectable or admirable about reselling the cheap products of sweat shop labor online?
Hint again: there’s nothing worthy of respect here. Bloomfield and the hive-mind of influencers, entrepreneurs and snake-oil salesmen want you to believe their illusion so as to keep selling you their online education courses and ‘motivational’ seminars, where people like him and Gary Vaynerchuk will tell you you’re failing if you haven’t broken out of your comfortable 9-5 to embrace your entrepreneurial spirit and resell products manufactured through forced labour, like Jack.
This is a dangerous narrative that we must begin to resist, both individually and collectively. It is unfortunately easy to get sucked up by the charisma of huckster businessmen giving their well-scripted sales pitches about the worthlessness of life outside their hair-brained programs. It will be tempting for impressionable teenagers and high school graduates, unsure of their futures, to buy into this anti-intellectual narrative and abandon the pursuit of tertiary education altogether.
This is not to say that there are no alternative avenues to a university degree. I am a fierce advocate for vocational training and trade apprenticeships. But following in the footsteps of a wealthy, privileged 17-year-old with the advantage of existing business connections through his affluent parents is sorely misguided and a dangerous path to embark upon.
I admire the entrepreneurial spirit of those who genuinely build themselves from nothing by spotting gaps in the market and innovating. Drop shipping is entirely alien to authentic entrepreneurial activity. It is simply exploiting cheap overseas labor to pedal more cheap, worthless low-quality products to consumers as the world burns and stares down ecological catastrophe. Bloomfield, despite his insistence on his status as an expert, would not know entrepreneural spirit if it knocked him in the face. Bloomfield prices his advice at around seven times the hourly rate of your average Queen’s Counsel barrister and around thirty five times higher than the average professional hourly consultancy fee. What a joke.
Bloomfield has seemingly constructed a magnificant artiface of lies and deceit. While breakfast talk show hosts fawn over him, it is worth noting the fact that Jack’s ABN was only registered in December last year. This is despite the fact that he claims to have made millions in business ventures stretching back five years. Open-source domain information also shows his domain is registered under his father’s name, and his parents’ tennis equipment business is listed as the organisation. It is curious none of his feted apps or businesses, including Next Gift, Best Bargain Club and Blue Health, are available on the App Store or searchable on Google.
It seems as though Jack Bloomfield is a con-artist and a snake oil salesman, and the apparent widespread support for him and his work is a sad indictment on our ability to think about and look critically at self-made millionaires and entrepreneurs. I deplore Jack’s message about university education, and encourage all who seek to improve themselves through the pursuit of knowledge to do so. After all, gaining a deeper insight into our world and what makes it turn might allow us to see through the lies of those making money off forced labor and ripping off aspiring businesspeople for overpriced ‘consultancy.’
Do not buy into the influencer narrative. Do not buy into Jack Bloomfield.