The real issues
Brexit is sideshow. The real issues troubling Britain today have afflicted it for the past 30-40 years…
- Low investment – (which has been in steady decline for 25 years). Immigration has been the band-aid used to keep the economy growing while allowing wages to stagnate. Low investment has led to…
- Low productivity – per hour worked (now flat for 10 yrs), with a Low skill work-force, paid Low wages (all feeding back to further reduce investment). Low investment and low productivity have led to…
- Imbalance of trade – Britain routinely imports 6% more than it exports, and pays for the difference by selling assets – such as London property to wealthy foreigners, and business assets like ARM Holdings plc. (And again, this leads back to lower investment!)
The above chronic ailments have increasingly divided our society into the haves and have-nots, one the one hand those whose money comes from increases in asset prices (the wealthy), or from servicing financial transactions (bankers, corporate service providers in law, accounting, real estate, etc), and on the other, those whose money comes from productive work, such as in manufacturing, building, healthcare, IT, leisure, transport etc (who have seen little benefit from the growth in GDP over past decades). So we have…
- More inequality – both in income (for families, the income of the top 10% is now 11 times that of the bottom 10%), and even more so in wealth (the bottom 25% for families have NO wealth at all).
- More regional imbalance – Nowhere outside the south-east has yet recovered to 2007 levels of prosperity.
None of these five problems is ever fixed, because we have…
- Concentrated Media – controlled by the few and used to maintain the status quo, diverting attention from all these deep problems, and offering up scapegoats as targets to blame
- Poor Political Systems – that don’t hear, or if they hear can’t help. (In most elections, only a very few voters matter – swing voters in marginal constituencies, perhaps a few hundred thousand our of tens of millions.) The Brexit Referendum was the Electorate’s first opportunity to be heard in decades. People were asked about Europe, but didn’t care what the question was – they just said ‘no’ to the status quo, to more of the same. (Trump was elected on the back of a similar confusion about how to solve the real problem facing America – too little coming to the many, too much going to an entrenched elite).
Meanwhile, to complicate things, the next decade will bring profound change to our the world through…
- Technology (Artificial Intelligence, Automation, the Internet of Things, Big Data, Biotech and Genetic Engineering)
- A steady shifting of economic power away from the G7 developed countries
- Sustainability, as we continue to use up finite resources, and inflict harm on our environment through ever-rising use of carbon-based fuels (especially for air-travel).
The real solutions
First, we need more recognition of all these problems, and especially those which affect people daily and directly. We need more recognition that inequality has infected every aspect of our society…
- FINANCIAL RESOURCES and security, wealth, income, liability to taxation
- POLITICAL INFLUENCE, rights to be heard, freedom from interference, and access to justice
- OPPORTUNITY, education and social mobility
- SOCIAL INCLUSION, status and participation in work
- LIVING CONDITIONS, housing, health and access to services.
…and that it also divides age-groups and geographic regions.
We need more recognition that inequality doesn’t just act directly to hurt individuals, and to rot our collective well-being. It also acts indirectly, by making our media more deceptive about the problems, and our political systems more unresponsive to them.
And we need more recognition, not just that inequality is rife, all-pervasive and destructive, but that reducing it is the key to solving all of the above long-term problems.
But recognising that things aren’t right isn’t enough – we must create alternatives that capture the imagination, that are coherent, workable and desirable. We must use imagination and positivity to build a coherent vision of what kind of society we want to live in. We must change what people want and see as possible.
- We CAN move away from the financialised asset-inflation economy that has driven all gains to the top at the expense of the public as a whole.
- We CAN fix Britain’s chronic low-investment culture, improve our trade balance and public finances, have a better-skilled workforce paid fairly in secure jobs.
- We CAN defuse media concentration and end political gridlock.
- We CAN be prepared for the changes we’ll see from technology, ageing, etc.
- We CAN have it all, as long as we recognise that our country is a community, not a business, and that our society is not a zero-sum game but a collaborative venture in which fair sharing raises the well-being of everyone. And we know where we want to go.