What does a man George Osborne described as a ‘revolutionary marxist’ and the banker’s banker have in common? Quite a lot, as it turns out.
Paul Mason, author of PostCapitalism, denies that he’s a marxist, revolutionary or otherwise, but describes himself as a ‘radical social democrat’. Still not a natural bedfellow to the Governor of the Bank of England, however. But in a speech in Liverpool on December 6, 2016, Mark Carney has aligned his solution to the mess that we’re in, to one that is surprisingly close to Mason’s.
At the heart of it is their response to globalised trade, and the massive technological shift that is inevitably re-shaping the future. The focus of Carney’s concern yesterday — and Mason’s concerns permanently — are the people that globalisation hasn’t served well: the ‘frustrated and frightened’ as Carney described them. These are the people that voted for Trump and Brexit, the people whose real income has gone down during the ‘lost decade’, since 2007. These are also the young, who, as these graphs show, have been disproportionately penalised — through no fault of their own — during the past decade. If you’re British and aged over 65, your income has risen five times more than those between the ages of 16–24. I’m sure you feel like you deserved it, but do you think young people deserved it too?
These growing wealth inequalities, between rich and poor, young and old, are exercising Mason and Carney. And so they should. Because what they’re both trying to do in their own ways, is to present the case for globalised trade, and the way to get the ‘left-behind’ through the next decade. They’re also doing it in ways that US & UK politicians — from both the right and the left — have shamefully failed to do. They’re trying to explain how Trump’s simplistic nationalism, and the Brexiteer’s cavalier drive for a swift ‘hard’ Brexit, outside the single market, is not just futile — it’s dangerous, too. Mason and Carney are trying to talk, not to the political brokers, but to the frustrated and frightened
And I want to try and do the same, because one of the ways I make a living is running workshops in schools for parents (across the whole social spectrum) who are confused and afraid of the world their 10-year old is going to inherit. So, let’s talk plainly.
Popular Is Not The Same As Feasible
The rise of ‘populist nationalism’ is founded on a simplistic delusion: that globalised trade can be put into reverse. Well, it can’t. Bringing back manufacturing jobs into the US economy won’t work so long as we still want cheap cars and smartphones. And the wave of automation that will sweep over us in the next decade means that it’s an irresponsible lie to say that full employment is achievable.
Yes, there have been rises in youth employment recently, but they’ve been in what David Graeber calls ‘bullshit jobs’. Philip Brown, writing ‘The Global Auction’ back in 2012, starkly described the future facing young people in advanced economies as one of ‘high skills/low income’. They’ll still need their degree, but the combined forces of automation, artificial intelligence and globalised trade, means that their degree will not get them the kind of well-paid professional job their parents enjoyed.
Mark Carney reported that Millennials are already earning £8,000 less during their 20s than their predecessors — and it could still get worse. Because the simple truth is that what we’re living through is the re-balancing of the world’s personal incomes- and in many ways. that’s a good thing.In 1981, there were nearly 2 billion people around the world living on less than 2 dollars a day — in thirty years that figure had fallen to 800 million. During the same period (and it’s no coincidence) access to the internet in the 21st century has risen from less than half a billion, to three and a half billion.
Slapping export tariffs on countries who are poorer than the US, and therefore have much cheaper labour costs, isn’t going to make the US economy any better. However, if too many countries pull up the drawbridge on globalised trade, if the European Union disintegrates, if the Chinese economy tanks, we will experience a recession like no other — and the poor always suffer the most during a recession. This seems to be a truth that Trump and Farage conveniently forgot.
Suddenly, The Left-Behind Have Become Visible
Mark Carney pointed to the human cost of the state we’re in when he said in an interview with Channel Four, ‘It is hard to overestimate the scale of technological change that has been happening and what it means for the workforce — and that is disorienting, and it also takes identities from people.” Anyone watching the character in the film “I, Daniel Blake” desperately trying to apply for welfare on a computer in his local library can empathise with Carney’s assessment.
But technology and globalisation cannot be put back in a box. For the vast majority of us, globalisation has been a good thing: I live in the UK, but I make most of my living from delivering services to other countries. The challenge is how to help those — now suddenly visible — who‘ve been left behind.
Trump and Theresa think they can help them through a process of de-globalisation, whereas for Carney, the answer lies in doing three things:
- Re-distribute the huge wealth that has been created by some: “For the societies of free-trading, networked countries to prosper, they must first re-distribute some of the gains from trade and technology, and then re-skill and reconnect all of their citizens. By doing so, they can put individuals back in control.“ For me, this also means acknowledging that some will, through no fault of their own, be unable to find a meaningful job. So, part of that redistribution, has to be the introduction of a Universal Basic Income.
- Re-skill the workforce, so that it can fully participate in a global technological economy. Carney again: “In a job market subject to frequent, radical changes, people’s prospects depend on direct and creative engagement with global markets. Lifelong learning, ever-greening skills and cooperative training will become more important than ever. “
- Re-connect with the notion of cottage industries: “In an age where anyone can produce anything anywhere through 3-D printing, where anyone can broadcast their performance globally or sell to China whatever the size of their business, there is an opportunity for mass employment through mass creativity. Technology platforms such as taskrabbit, Alibaba, etsy, and Sama can help give smaller-scale producers and service providers a direct stake in global markets. Smaller scale firms can by-pass big corporates and engage in a form of artisanal globalisation; a revolution that could bring cottage industry full circle.”
I’m sure the Governor of The Bank of England never thought he’d be advocating solutions that had previously been attributed to Karl Marx, Paulo Freire and William Morris, but that’s how bonkers the world has become in 2016.
As for mothers and fathers, desperately trying to support their teenage child, what should they do? Well, here’s what we discuss when I work with parents:
- Don’t kid yourself (or them). Take a look at sites like UpWork or freelancer.com, and you’ll see what Phd students in India or Cambodia are willing to work for. What skills do you have that those competitors for contracts might lack?
- You know that coding thing they do in the bedroom? Well, encourage them to keep at it (within reason). Digital literacy is going to be more important than Maths, and anyone who isn’t tech proficient is going to be more disadvantaged than the kid on a smart-phone in a Mumbai slum.
- Yes, STEM is important. But so is that band they play in, or that art work they do. Find your local Makerspace, and take them along. That hobby of theirs might just provide them with part of a portfolio.
- Read the Oxford University report on Jobs at Risk of Automation and think about what jobs might be least susceptible to robots taking them over: people-focussed, higher-order thinking skills, problem-solving, design. And those ‘trades’ that successive governments have rubbished? They were wrong — consider an apprenticeship.
- Don’t spend too much time in the bedroom coding. Being able to negotiate, sell yourself and communicate is what all artisans need — especially if you’re Skype calling that guy in Ganzou who is producing those widgets for you. Cultural awareness matters — despite what UKIP and the Alt-right may say.
- Half of the workforce will be freelance before they’ve gone to uni, so pick a college that promotes enterprise — most of them should be doing so already.
- Money isn’t everything. Despite the degree, despite the portfolio, some of our kids might just not be able to find meaningful work. But since only 13% of us say we’re engaged by our (paid) work, we’re probably not going to find much meaning and purpose at work, anyway. The philosophy in schools movement is both timely and relevant, because we’re still trying to answer the question ‘How then shall we live?’ When we accept the inevitability of the UBI, we could be freed from the tyranny of the ‘wage’ , so that we can concentrate on being of service to one another. Wouldn’t that be good?
Until then, however, we have to negotiate the transition from capitalism in its current form, and the neoliberalism that supports it, to whatever follows it.
After the year we’ve had, no-one (even the much maligned ‘experts’) can predict what’s going to happen next. I, for one, am grateful to both Paul Mason and Mark Carney, for trying to present these hugely complex and inter-connected factors in a way that can be understood by the people who’ve been most affected by them, and for having the courage to say what we need to hear, rather than just what we want to hear.
David Price’s book ‘OPEN: How We’ll Work, Live And Learn In The Future’ is available on Amazon.com