I’m just about old enough to remember the miners’ strike of 1984. Listening to ‘Just Deserts’ by Michael Blastland on Radio 4 a few days ago I realised quite how impossible anything like it would be today. The argument in the programme is that the financial gains from the growth we’ve seen over the past 30 years have gone to senior executives rather than workers or shareholders. The last point surprised me — I’d assumed that at least some of the relative gains had gone to investors but the figures (at least for public companies) show the opposite.
The result has been a gradual growth in inequality and the more I read of the economics, the less I think anybody really understands what’s going on. Perhaps that’s because there are a whole host of reasons for the changes. Unions blame the laws curbing their power, others say that increasing regulation has made it more expensive to employ people at all and others blame the underlying structure of the modern company which effectively gives executives free reign.
I’m not sure. But I think technology has probably also played a big part. Automation (as this Washington Post series explains) is changing the structure of the economy in ways we didn’t notice because of the shock of the financial crash of 2008 and all the talk about public sector deficits. And unless we look at the way we apply tech in the future, things could get worse.