Government figures tell us that over the next five years people will retire from 12.5 million jobs, and there will be only 7 million young people to fill them. Somehow the authors of the report also assume that another two million jobs will be created. Oh yes, and last year our blessed fellow countrymen decided that they didn’t want Johnny Foreigners coming over ‘ere and taking our jobs. The inference seems to be that we need to get our ageing baby boomers out of retirement to go fill these jobs.
Now a cynical Ermine thinks to self firstly ‘when Hell freezes over’ and secondly – a number of things that are wrong with this scenario. It’s not just investments where past performance is not supposed to be a reliable guide to the future. I’d say there’s this problem with economic prognostications too.
Let’s take a look at what’s been happening with jobs over the last few decades, shall we?
Once upon a time, like when an Ermine first rocked up for work in the early 1980s, you could apply for a job, and you’d actually be working for the company on their payroll. That was the case whether you were a graduate engineer or if you were the toilet cleaner. Said firm would also invest in you – they would train you, which was of particular relevance if you had a generalist degree or the company worked in a technical specialism that had unusual quirks. They would also pay into your defined benefit pension – for The Firm at least this even applied to the janitors until the mid 1980s.
The something called neoliberalism showed up, and communications and IT improved significantly. A whole bunch of blowhards like Peter Drucker came along and pretty much said that pitch everybody against everyone else, let the devil take the hindmost and may the best man win.
As a result, CEO pay shot up as a multiple of the average employee’s wage, and that was after they hived off the janitors et al to supply services companies and drove wages down to the lowest levels, so the average employee is drawn from a smaller pool of higher qualified staff. That CEO ratio still shot up, not because CEOs add any more value to companies now, indeed looking at stock market returns they’re adding less than before the millennium, but because they are top dog and they can.
A quick detour through Globalisation, BPO and All That
Then in the 1990s and early 200s we had wave upon wave of business process outsourcing which sent anything you could send off to lower wage economies, this afflicted the English speaking world more than others because of a ready global pool of decent English speakers. This has very materially improved global pay and reduced global poverty in a big way, as the the right-wing nutjob Tim Worstall correctly opines. And repeats himself thusly. As do the not left-of-centre Adam Smith Institute.
It isn’t true that everyone benefits from free trade and globalisation. The net effect on all humans is vastly positive, but there are still those that lose. And that’s a political problem, not an economic one. For the people who don’t win are, largely speaking, those below median incomes in the already rich countries.
Now Tim’s probably rich enough not to give a shit, I figure TW is well over the median income in a rich country. So was (and possibly am) I, but I am far closer to the edge than him, so I am more twitchy. None of these fellows are wrong. All other things being equal, for the sum total of humanity globalisation delivers the goods in the way Bob Geldof and so-called aid just didn’t. It probably wasn’t Sir Bob’s fault – the sort of corruption and baksheesh that aid generates is remarkable, there are many problems in the world that helicoptered money just can’t fix. But even the distorted version of free market capitalism that goes now left all that do-gooding in the dust when it came to alleviating global poverty.
Globalisation also needed a population explosion because it needs growth.
There is some argument to be made that it also enabled a shocking population explosion which has made a lot of things like food, water and climate change a lot tougher to nail in future than they were when I was at school, when there were half as many people in the world. I suspect globalisation only works when there is economic growth, and to have economic growth you need growth in the number of consumers, but I am not smart enough to say that is categorically the case. At the moment the score is Oxfam-nil:Globalisation-1
Communism was also a great idea in theory. Trouble was it went against the grain of human nature. So the trouble with globalisation is that people don’t care evenly about humanity in general. They care about the humanity that is closest to them. Within rich countries we have institutions that sort of temper this instinct, but when the people who are getting the uplift are far away, then the people below median incomes in rich countries who are drifting backwards economically get really, really, pissed off. They let people know, through Brexit and Donald Trump among others. In general they want to put a spanner in the works, because nothing pisses people off more than not getting ahead while seeing other people are.
The effect of globalisation on First World Jobs
It makes lovely jobs lovely, and pretty much the rest of them shit. Q: What’s worse than a zero-hours contract job? A: A ZHC job where you get fined £250 a day if you can’t find a replacement if you’re sick. Or only £150. Welcome to the lousy jobs. I am glad that I had my career while the Iron Curtain was still down – true, we had to watch films like Threads and worry about being nuked in four minutes but at least I wasn’t competing with Vladimir and 1 billion in India, and I was working in an analogue world where the cost of replication was higher than now. That suited me very well, because while I am on the right hand side of the bell curve I am not that far to the right of it, and I am an introvert which is maladapted to the interconnected and always-on world of work now. Collaboration and teamwork – meh. You get ahead by having an edge, and you get an edge by spending time understanding what is going on IMO. Chatter on SMS and social media is for gossip, and meetings aren’t much better 😉
Back to the original premise – a deficit of 7 million jobs?
Well they’re not going to be getting old gits like me back out of retirement to go into the bear-pit of zero hours contracts, are they? The second word would the -off. Because all in all, working is increasingly a pretty shit proposal, and it’s particularly crap compared to my experience of working in the past. Fortunately, a whole different bunch of guys is telling us that Humans Need Not Apply and that the robots will be doing all these shit jobs. Hopefully this deficit of people desperate for crap jobs is going to do some good then, and people will automate the crap jobs they can’t get the retired baby boomers to fill. This will finally lift capital productivity in Britain although possibly not per-capita productivity. Pret a Manger say that 1 in 50 of their workers in British. Well, tough luck – Londoners are going to have to pay more of their bonuses for their coffee and snacks or brown-bag it, and some teenagers in London are going to get breaks they couldn’t get before, until the robots come. Or they will set up camp somewhere outside the citadel and bus in the serfs. I am not so sure I find that such a terrible thing.
There, Mr Government and your hired guns. Fixed that for you. Taking 7 million shit jobs out of the economy is A Very Good Thing in this humble Ermine’s opinion. There’s now’t wrong with encouraging those old gits to punch their cards one last time and clear off, even if there aren’t enough worker drones to fill their shoes. The balance had been swinging from Labour to Capital ever since the 1970s. There are too many crap jobs in the UK, and retirement of the Baby Boomers could be just what the workplace needs at the bottom end.