6.7.8 Rapid Economic and Social Change

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at http://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/678.htm)

Even under the best possible governments, there will be some people who have been adversely affected by economic changes:

  • New technologies have been disruptive throughout history, and have often been resisted, but few would deny that most people now have easier lives and live longer than those who lived in previous centuries. The job losses caused by industrialisation have been matched in aggregate by the new jobs created.  There are losers in the short term, though: those whose skills are no longer required and who need to find alternative employment if they are to maintain their standard of living.
  • Globalisation has also been beneficial overall (3.5.4.4), but it too has created losers, and what Nouriel Roubini has called “Political Fault Lines”. It has resulted in job losses and increased migration.  As Dani Rodrik pointed out, in an article entitled The great globalisation lie, “evangelists presented globalisation as inevitable and advantageous to all.  In reality, it is neither”.
  • Changes in tastes can cause job losses. Concern about animal rights has massively reduced the size of the fur industry for example, although there have been increased opportunities to make other kinds of warm garment.  And there are winners and losers as fashions change.
  • Local job markets can suddenly change with the departure of a large employer as the result of its failure to compete successfully with other companies.
  • As immigrants arrive, whether to fill skills shortages or as refugees or as economic migrants, they unavoidably change the character of neighbourhoods and may put strains on local services. Although immigration usually brings economic growth, it can result in lower wages for some jobs (3.4.3.3).

It is argued here that, by almost any choice of criteria for what is acceptable governance, politicians have a duty to respond to everyone’s concerns: to pay attention to those who have lost out as the result of economic change, even though the majority may have benefited from lower prices and increased choice.  What Anthony Painter referred to as Democracy without Empathy leads to voter resentment in areas that have suffered from globalisation.  A proactive response can benefit the politicians themselves, as well as those whom they are trying to help.

The following sub-sections deal with different aspects of this subject:

  • The first priority is to show that people’s problems have been recognised, to explain why change is necessary and to involve people in finding ways to lessen suffering (6.7.8.1).
  • Politicians can take economic action to respond to local job losses (6.7.8.2).
  • Actions are also needed to respond to population movements (6.7.8.3).
  • There are social and political risks in ignoring the problems of change (6.7.8.4).

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