Back in 1987 my first boss in investment banking used to say that if he got into the office before nine o'clock he had to switch the lights on. This 1964 BBC programme about stockbrokers shows he had a point. "The day begins" says the narrator - with the clock showing 9.20 in the morning. And as Philip Auger says, the mornings weren't long back then either:
The City was sexist, snobbish and not very hard working. Certain partners disappeared for lunch at 11.45 and reappeared three hours later.
This is just one example of an under-appreciated change during my lifetime - what we might call, following the great Harry Braverman, the degradation of "good" middle-class jobs. In investment banking and law, this takes the form of deadly hours. In academia, it consists in the stress imposed by the REF. In schools, huge numbers of newly-qualified teachers soon leave the profession disillusioned by targets and bureaucracy. And in journalism, it takes the form of declining relative salaries.
As recently as the 1980s, someone in a professional job could earn good money and have an easy life of long liquid lunches and little supervision. No more. A combination of managerialism, "digital Taylorism" and offshoring have destroyed the easy middle-class life. Sure, some professions can escape supervision, such as authors and musicians - but they do so at the price of incomes so low as to make their careers "monetarily impossible".
Now, this change isn't wholly a bad thing. The cushy life allowed drunks, incompetents and pederasts to thrive, and it might be that the decline of the easy middle-class job means that welfare inequality hasn't increased as much as incomes data would imply*. But it has some adverse effects:
- As Miles Kimball and Brendan Epstein point out, changes in job utility can have very large impacts upon welfare, which implies that job degradation hurts well-being a lot.
- There's a question here of intergenerational justice. Whereas people slightly older than me who had a degree had an easy passage to a comfortable job, today's graduates don't have that.
I don't say all this to necessarily wholly deplore this change. My point is rather that there's been a huge social transformation with very little debate about its desireability.
* I'm stressing the degradation of middle-class jobs here. It's possible that the opposite has been true for workers; call centres might be oppressive but I suspect they aren't as bad as coal mines.