Voters’ discontents often seem to focus on the wrong objects. This is a problem for democratic problem-solving, a process which, to be successful, has continually to come up with realistic solutions for real problems, not false ones. For this process to work, now more than ever, voters need to be properly informed about issues and options, by education, politicians and the media. Evidence that this is happening in Anglo-Saxon countries is not encouraging.
This week the BBC’s early morning TV news is highlighting the problem of youth and jobs around the world: specifically too many qualified young people chasing too few jobs. Used properly, young people with knowledge to be set to work, energy to burn, intelligence to be honed and skills to be tested are an unparalled the resource for any nation. They want to contribute. We need them to.
But, as world populations grows and large areas if work become increasingly mechanised, it’s increasingly difficult, except in some tightly managed countries, to assure graduates that the community has economic room, let alone willingness, to benefit from their fitness for the market. As the graph line for students entering the market rises, and will always d so, the graph line for jobs available after mechanisation falls and falls.
First it was jobs for life. Then it was several jobs during a lifetime. Then it was several careers – but not necessarily always jobs – during a person’s lifetime. And now?
It’s not coming back
By definition, it’s a problem on a world scale. The fact that robots can build most of a car in, say, Bratislava or Ulsan brings pressure to bear on people on Tyneside who have what it takes to work in the auto industry but who will never work there again. What is to happen to them? What is to happen to us?
These are the questions that national politics should discuss. Many do, but there is an increasing tendency for poujadistes and other ‘know nothing’ elements in particular, such as the Conservatives, the Republicans, UKIP and the Tea Party, to miss the point, disregard the facts and focus on the irrelevant. All they want to talk about instead is a parade of misperceptions and cultural bogey-men such as EU membership, Obamacare or benefits fraud, while all the time insisting that the only political issue worth discussing at present is “jobs”.
This confusion, fanned by some irresponsible politicians and media, does not bode well for the socioeconomic debates we have to have and the solutions we have to find.
Work to do
So let’s talk about jobs, but let’s do so realistically. They’re going to get fewer and those that remain with us are going to fall in number. What do we do about that? Threaten China? Deregulate companies still further? Let banks do what they like? Make it harder for people to find work? Change the subject to something easier to understand and easier to get angry about? How useful is that?
Bad politics produce bad politicians, who make it all decay so the disconnect with reality worsens over time, until or unless an external event – an oil shock, a market crash, an invasion – intervenes. “Events, dear boy, events”, as Harold Macmillan put it.
Why wait? Moderate political parties everywhere, based as they are on well-educated, opinionated middle classes who want the best for their kids and have some idea about how to get it, have a particular responsibility to host realism in their nations’ political discourse, point to relevant solutions with some potential to succeed, and elect politicians who are both intelligent and moral. Hai sentito, Italia?
Most of all, however, there needs to be a willingness by politicians, media and voters alike to acknowledge that the true problems (not threats) facing all of us – global climate change, overpopulation, misuse of energy resources and, yes, jobs for young people – are what we should be talking about, not shooting burglars or cutting taxes for millionaires. Perhaps then we can think about what we do about those graph lines. Perhaps then young people will see that they are welcome in the market place and find useful work to do, for all our sakes.