Monday, 12 September 2016

Finger-wagging remainers can shove it.

The job is putting gophers into yellow crates. I have some considerable experience putting lemmings into green crates but the way recruitment works now is that you don't get the call unless you've been gophers into yellow crates. And now that we are so hyper-specialised there is a diploma in putting gophers into yellow crates and the assumption is that if you are not qualified in putting gophers into yellow crates then you cannot be employed to put gophers into yellow crates. And how does industry report this back to the government? "We have a skills shortage. We need more immigration".

But let's assume you are fully qualified in putting gophers into yellow crates you are told most people your age do not want to put gophers into yellow crates and because there are eastern Europeans willing to live seven to a room they can do it cheaper than you and thus the lack of ability to speak Polish or whatever disqualifies you. Not officially, but in practice, it does.

We are told that immigration does not depress wages. That much is true since it's a buyer's market for labour and wages cannot fall below the statutory minimum. That though creates a whole world of off the books labour in the grey economy where you enjoy no protections at all. This does not appear in any official statistics therefore the statistics give us a distorted picture and were are repeatedly told everything is fine. It isn't

I am just old enough to remember a fluid labour market where at a young age you could bounce around between any number of low skilled jobs and there was a degree of choice. The internet killed this. Instead of having to take in people and train them you can cast the net wide for people willing to slum it in overcrowded houses of multiple occupation. People from the EU who either have considerable experience putting gophers into yellow crates or are willing to do it in a practically unregulated environment. For sure they may, on paper, pay the statutory minimum but claw it back in charges. Immigrant labour is charged for uniforms and safety equipment.

But that isn't supposed to concern us Brits. We are after all better educated than ever and notionally have no need of these jobs and will turn a blind eye to the exploitation going on just so long as the shelves of Sainsbury's local is stacked full of nice things at reasonable prices. Except that dynamic too has been eroded. Wages are stagnant.

There was a time when IT would command a fairly decent salary. It still does if you have up to date and relevant skills but that same compartmentalisation and hyper-specialisation is occurring where business doesn't need to settle. It can get exactly what it wants at a price it is willing to pay. To get top money in any IT field you now have to know not just one core specialism but all of them. But then for every specialism now there is a sub-specialism. The inadequacy of the recruitment sector again reports that as a skills shortage. Rinse and repeat.

There comes a point when we cannot possibly compete. With the double threat of automation workers are increasingly expected to make impossible sacrifices in life quality and workers are now commodities. We are also entering the age of the cloud whereby no company in its right mind, unless it has specialist security requirements commits to buying expensive servers and recruiting the necessary people to keep it all running. It's all now done through a portal where your business servers are virtual servers in a data-centre somewhere in India. Even skilled jobs are becoming de-skilled.

And we are told that this is better. If you're born in South Yorkshire you're no longer condemned to go down a coal pit or into a steel forge. And for a time that was better. In the nineties you were more likely to endure the hell of a services call centre than a coal mine. That was its own special kind of hell so beautifully depicted by Mike Judge's Office Space. But even that is going the way of the dinosaur. Service jobs are gradually being erased by automation. Internet banking has changed the way we manage our finances and the local bank bank now looks like a transporter room on the star ship Enterprise.

The basic problem with modernity is that people are becoming redundant while the better educated youth have higher exceptions of life. And for sure if you have any gumption you can design the sort of job you want and go to London and find it. There are any number of tech start-ups you can go and work for and London life suits the young.

And London life is most certainly tempting. On any given day there is an event that caters to your niche interests. You're just not going to get that anywhere else. Not even in Birmingham. And we can't all move to London. London life from the outside looks superficially appealing but London is a money syphon. It gives with one hand and takes with the other. This causes its own inflation divorced from the rest of the country.

The net result of this is a population used to a high turnover of diverse foreigners, generally better qualified than than the immigration experienced by the North which still tends to take from the poorer regions of the world. And if you have the misfortune to live there you're wondering why we are importing all these people with no skills who can't speak the language and wear a curtain out in public while their husbands violate the local teenagers. Who's paying for it?

So you can see why there is such a cultural gulf between London and the regions and why there is a political backlash against London expressed in the referendum vote. Between porous borders, globalisation and the internet life is becoming more uncertain, spiritually less rewarding, and the rewards are increasingly distributed among fewer.

And while economists may tell us that immigration is essential for growth, that growth is just numbers on a screen. The population is growing, somebody's stock price is growing but if you're born working class in the north, chances are things are about as good as they are going to get and they're only going to get worse. Life is less secure, the certainties of public provision are vanishing and life is somehow emptier.

And while the internet is supposedly a great liberator, that's actually not a lot of use on a Saturday night when you fancy doing something and you realise that most of your friends are all on a computer window, half of whom you have never met in person and might as well live in Narnia. The new age is a colder, lonelier place where the biggest killer of men my age after heart attacks is suicide. And when you look at our media and popular discourse you can hardly blame them.

We live increasingly remote lives with fewer reasons to congregate and the once ordinary English dream of owning a house and starting a family is now a pipe dream for many. Leaden with student debt entering professions with shrinking wages on less secure terms, I honestly don't envy the millennials at all.

We are told that those of us voted to leave the EU are voting for a "better yesteryear" and we are told that the EU makes everything better - but actually, some things were better. There was more fluidity in the labour market, more certainty and we were a more social culture. And if you lived on the Tyne chances are you would live within walking distance of where you worked and from your house you could see the product of your labour; ocean-going leviathans. If you lived the valleys of South Wales, every single valley was a jobs engine.

There is, however, no going back. The industrial age is over. Even the foreign labourers in the fields are counting down the days until ever more sophisticated agricultural robots render them obsolete. We have a productivity crisis emerging and people are the collateral damage. Add to that the justifiable fear that the places they call home are being gradually transformed into something beyond recognition, immigration is set only to add yet more pressures.

In this we find money that should be spend on infrastructure is increasingly diverted to health and social provisions while the roads and civic infrastructure crumbles and creaks under the strain. Present levels of congestion, in London especially, cannot be sustained. And who are the people telling us everything is better? Londoners - and policy makers who live and work in London.

So something has to change doesn't it? We are told that being in the EU brings jobs, prosperity and certainty. For whom exactly? We enjoyed a decade long boom in the run up to 2008 but that wasn't because politicians had found the answers. It was a debt binge we're all in some way still paying for. The EU is not delivering.

It's all very well for Londoners to wag their finger but a global centre of commerce does well because it is a global centre of commerce, not because it's in the EU. For sure there are some additional advantages for the City by being in the single market but that is not translating into meaningful results for the rest of the country.

And looking at the referendum results we see that those most in receipt of EU money are those that most enthusiastically voted to leave. To the Londoner this is because the folk from the regions are ignorant oafs biting the hand that feeds them. Except that it doesn't feed them, The money goes into the vast quangocracy or into propping up potempkin village factories like Nissan in Sunderland.

We are told that leaving the EU will costs jobs and harm the economy.  Sure it will. This blogger has never made any claim to the contrary. The only thing up for debate is the extent of the damage. If we go for a hard Brexit we'll do some considerable self-harm. That seems increasingly unlikely. A soft Brexit, though, will result in a reordering of the economy.

While Brexit will do nothing to slow the pace of globalisaton or address the cultural and spiritual ennui of modern Britain, what it does do is force a rethink of how things get done and forces the politicians to change policies they have abdicated to the EU. Brexit closes off certain avenues. It may mean the jet-setting middle class have to fill in a form at the airport and pay a tenner administration fee. Boo-hoo.

What it does mean though is a complete rethink of agriculture and fishing - which last time I checked couldn't be less of a London concern. It means we have to take a long and hard look at trade policy and find out why global trade is grinding to a halt. It means we will have to approach trade policy in completely different way. For the time being Westminster is taking advice from all the usual suspects. Trade economists locked into the mindset of bilateralism. Sooner or later though the penny will drop that there isn't much to be had by dealing in this way and we'll be forced to look for other approaches.

We might not succeed in this. We might end up worse off. And for a time we probably will. It will take a decade or so to adapt to the new order and then things will resume in their new configuration. That shake-up though, that very process of change is what is more likely to ignite a revolution in how we do things than simply staying in the EU.

The politicians were happy to stay in the EU. As were the academics and functionaries and those largely middle class public sector beneficiaries who don't do any real work. Strangely I'm not shedding any tears for them. Nor am I going to accept any lectures from London about what's good for us. Why sure, we've had plenty of regeneration grants so architects can put glass fascias on old buildings out in the regions, but that isn't regeneration - and you can keep it. Nor do we want the local economy propped up by EU handouts. But the change the wider public wants isn't even up for debate. And so they have forced the issue by voting to leave.

Our hacks and politicians see only bleakness and loss from leaving the EU. I see reinvention and renewal. We now have some powerful tools at our disposal if used with skill and cunning. Brexit may just be enough to interrupt the order of things. It forces agricultural giants to look at automating the tasks they have hitherto depended on immigrant labour for. With our considerable scientific and technical expertise we can turn that into a leading global industry. We can broaden our academic cooperation beyond the confines of the EU in order to make that happen.

The world population is growing. We have people to feed. There are Malthusian misanthropes who say we cannot accommodate more people yet most of Russia and Africa is undeveloped and can be put to agricultural use. Through applied science we can turn virtually anywhere into thriving agricultural land. The Israelis showed us that in the last century.

All of that will need supply chain expertise and our best export of all. Good governance. By engaging in all of the global multilateral forums and looking closely at the thousands of opportunities to remove technical barriers to trade we can carve out our own distinct agenda. The notion that we are all competing for a shrinking piece of the pie is bogus. We need nations playing to their strengths.

Instead though we have handed trade policy to a remote bureaucracy which is presently failing to deliver on CETA and TTIP and doesn't appear to have any ideas how to respond to the cluster of crises developing in Southern and Eastern Europe. Just how long were we supposed to wait for coherent and decisive action?

Much of the EU debate happens without any reference to what is actually happening in Europe and the EU obscures from view the massive nexus of global governance where we need to be focussing our efforts. The Brexit process should be a clue. They tell us if we leave the EU we will have a number of difficulties getting goods and services into Europe. They're not wrong. But those same difficulties are experienced by all of Africa and the Americas. We have been unsuccessful in breaking those barriers down inside the EU but from outside, now that the rules are made at the global level, we just might. And if we use our aid budget intelligently we might just be able to open the door for Africa.

I don't need any persuading that our Brexiteer ministers haven't got a clue between them but they will be drummed out as soon as the Article 50 settlement is signed. After that we will be far less tolerant of incompetence and by the next general election parties will be judged on their trade policies rather than their meddlesome social agendas. Trade once again will be a matter of public and political discourse. It's already happening with a renewed scrutiny of this kind of policy making.

What we are hearing from remainers are the words of pathological losers who think that the EU, as creaking and strained as it is, is the best that we can hope for. That this economic and cultural stagnation is about as good as it gets and we should bend over backwards to keep things as they are. It speaks to their profound lack of knowledge and imagination.

Global trade is grinding to a halt specifically because everyone is locked into the old order and seemingly nothing is going to break us out of our bad habits. The only thing on the horizon that might is Brexit. Yes, it means we need to pull up our socks and put on our thinking caps, but there is a better way to do things than the way we are doing them.

Remainer hacks and politicians are still very much in shock. Their horizons on trade issues have been entirely stunted by the EU debate. They have yet to wake up to the fact that the EU is not the be all and end all of trade, and if our trade remains stubbornly linked to the EU it is because of the stagnation that the EU creates by its very existence. Trade in goods may well depend on proximity but trade in services does not. So we can either be victims of globalisation or masters of it. In that, it's the top table that matters not the law takers in the EU.

Time and again we see vocal remainers like Ian Dunt piling on complications to the Brexit process, wagging a finger at Brexiteers when Brexiteers were the first to be examining the technical issues of Brexit - and in terms of the trade debate, the remainers are years behind the curve. There is a whole world of trade they have yet to discover and we'll be waiting a long time for them to catch up.

So no, I am not in the mood to hear any pompous tantrums from ignorant remainer snobs. There is a debate going on under their radar that their dismal little bubble prevents them from even acknowledging.

Brexit has enormous potential and if anyone is showing a dismal inward looking parochialism it is those who think the EU is the only game in town. In a year or so when they finally get an inclination of what has happened while we've been slumbering in the EU we might get a grown up debate out of them, but for the time being we can do nothing but look upon them in frustration and pity. They are the dinosaurs. They are the losers. They will get there eventually, but they still have to finish grieving. It's a bore, isn't it?

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