6.7.8.1 Attending to the Problems Caused by Change

A common characteristic of the changes arising from technology, globalisation, immigration and market forces is that they can cause problems in specific areas – for example where many jobs have been lost, or where there has suddenly been an influx of immigrants resulting in increased pressures on public services and changes in the character of neighbourhoods.  As described later, there are serious risks in paying insufficient attention to these issues (6.7.8.4).

Politicians need to respond when people become concerned about their financial security and cultural changes.  People expect a response.  They are powerless, and they have empowered politicians to make economic and practical decisions on their behalf.  Politicians cannot prevent change, or turn the clock back, but there is a lot that they can do to help people to adjust.  Mainstream political parties need to convince the population that they are attending to the problems, if they are to avoid losing power to populist politicians (6.3.2.5).

They should start by restoring people’s faith in democracy, in those countries where trust has been eroded – America, for example.  Pete Buttigieg put this argument in a Democracy Journal article: To Tame the Fanatics, Fix Democracy.  Joe Biden’s government has begun this process by introducing the H.R.1 bill: “To expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy, and for other purposes.”

National governments in a democracy can make a strong argument for compensating the areas severely affected by social and economic change.  If a country benefits from a growth in GDP, it should be able to justify the use of increased tax revenues to address the problems of those who have lost out – by providing funding to enable the relevant local authorities to respond to people’s needs.  This argument should be clearly communicated, to convince taxpayers that it is an appropriate use of their money and to convince those in need that they will receive help.  Politicians need to educate the public:

  • They can describe how both globalisation and automation deliver overall benefits, even though jobs are lost in some parts of the country. People whose employment has not been directly affected, who normally outnumber those who have lost their jobs, tend to forget that they are probably paying lower prices for better goods.  They benefit themselves and the economy if they have more disposable income to spend as consumers (3.2.2).
  • Governments should explain why protectionism is not a good solution, showing how it increases prices and can result in retaliatory tariffs (3.5.4.2).
  • When claiming credit for protecting the environment and reducing carbon emissions, they should explain that there will be an impact on employment and describe what they are going to do about it.
  • They should make the case for showing compassion towards refugees. and for allowing immigration to fill business needs.

Local authorities with the necessary funds can try to address people’s concerns.  Local solutions have the legitimacy of having the problem dealt with by people who know the area, in contrast to having solutions imposed by a distant national government.  Local politicians should show that they are paying attention: they need to communicate their plans. They can let people have their say, by holding public meetings and setting up telephone helplines.  They should keep people up to date with what is happening – using social media, local radio, local newspapers, and putting leaflets through people’s doors.

As described in the following sub-sections, employment (6.7.8.2) and immigration (6.7.8.3) are the two biggest issues.

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This is a current page, updated since publication of Patterns of Power Edition 3a.  An archived copy of it is held at http://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6781.htm