Health Warning… this could get lengthy and it comes from a very Scottish viewpoint. (Other regions may share similar experiences/viewpoints) This is big picture, helicopter views.
I grew up in a country where there were jobs, not zero hours jobs, real jobs. The west of Scotland still built ships, cars and made steel. We excavated coal. We had the SSEB and the Hydro (not the concert venue, the North of Scotland Hydro Electricity Board to give it it’s full title) It didn’t mean much to me back then really, but people worked. I guess the economy was OK back then too. (I’m 55 this year). During my working life almost all the “traditional industries” in Scotland have gone. What have they been replaced by? What has given jobs to the people who live in places where there used to be almost full employment? Not much. Silicon Glen rose and fell. (IBM, NEC, SCI, Hyundai, ChungWha, Motorola and others all passed through Scotland). Listen again to the words of “Letter From America” if you will. All the towns named in that song still exist, people still live in them, but the jobs aren’t there anymore.
Where I live we used to have the world HQ of a respected insurance firm, the HQ of “the Hydro” and HQ’s of whisky businesses. So we had white collar jobs helping to keep the local economy afloat. The largest employer locally now is the local authority. The HQ’s have gone, taking the exec grades and decision making with them.
So what hapened? We know the world seriously changed, previously 3rd world countries in the far east rising to build ships, steel, technology, etc. Computers, networks, the internet have all come along and changed things beyond our imagining.
In the midst of it all we seem to have become fixated on the short term. Maybe it’s down to Government and election cycles of 4 years (6 months off at each and as they get into and out of electioneering gears). It would be interesting to see an analysis of this. Movement of the Footsie being tracked and reported constantly. (What percentage of the population really care whether the Footsie rose or fell by 5 points over a day? I get that it matters oh so much to The City which can make or lose millions on tiny variations for even a short time, but is that so important that it’s reported on in most news programmes? Rhetorical question)
During the decades when all the traditional industries died, what was done to “prime the pump” to create the next wave of businesses? What did the Governments of the days really do? There’s not much evidence that they did anything which has had long term positive impact. For the last 30 years or so we’ve been steadily selling off the family silver to balance our national books. But that cupboard is getting increasingly bare. And with no Government level vision to drive long term future improvements to the country. Oh yeah, and there’s that black sludge that comes out of the ground. That helped keep the books in some sort of order while no investment or vision was being demonstrated to replace the lost industries and jobs.
Remember the Hydro? Tom Johnstone, the man who had the vision and made that into reality was a government employee. Where’s his equivalent today? The CEGB wasn’t buit by a private company either. They were long term Government plans. To make the country a better place.
So we’ve got a quandry now. Private companies don’t do (generally) really long term stuff. They don’t build railways from scratch. (The longest stretch of new railway in the UK has recently been built by the Scottish Government). They don’t build country wide distribution networks. They don’t really get things like “universal service obligations” for rural areas.
So don’t say please, that Governments and the state don’t have a place in creating long term high value jobs. It must have. What’s your alternative?