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July 30, 2016


Dave Timoney

A more cynical view would be that the objective of many of the right's "reforms" is to diminish, fragment and otherwise dissipate the workforce. Leaving aside for the moment whether that is a counter-productive (i.e. a "crisis of capitalism"), it perhaps helps to explain why the right's critique of the left so often focuses on manipulation of the electorate and the imputation of dishonesty.

The current hysteria over antisemitism/misogyny/bullying etc obviously reflects the intellectual vacuum of the right, but it also looks like projection.

gastro george

It's also worth saying that while Corbyn himself appears unpopular, his policies are quite popular, so not as much reason to require a new electorate.

Chieh Yu

Any colour you want, so long as it's rationalist (in Oakeshott's sense).

Matt Moore

Since an individual vote changes nothing, political ideas are a means of self-expression. Where skills are a means of keep food on the table. It is no surprise their dynamics a different.

Politics and economics are not two sides of the same coin. They are opposites. One's economic life is about voluntary trade. One's political life is about coercion and force.


Matt: economic life is all about coercion. What voluntary trade? Take this job and kiss up to the boss and maybe he won't cut your wages or benefits to "compete" in the global economy. Right wingers would like people to work or starve, and would prefer to have slaves rather than employees, Their behavior and the capitalist drive to "efficiency" and robotics show this.

Politics is an effort to control the nastiness and venality of the economic world. That we elevate nastiness and venality to power is a reflection of our lack of understanding of how coercive economic laws actually demean human beings

Big Fez

My instincts are that someone's political views are very much a part of their person, something intrinsic to their being; whereas having or lacking certain skills is much more contingent. Maybe this is just because of the specifics of the example: I am thinking of someone’s fundamental beliefs, rather than mere voting behaviour.

Possibly there is an intrinsic/superficial spectrum for the things on both sides of your equation: If all the left wanted to do was change the party people voted for then they are not being particularly naive - that is basically the job of all political parties. It is when people talk about engineering a fundamental shift in the way that the majority of the population view the world that they sound like they might be over-reaching a tad.

And on the other side, talk about helping people to gain new skills, to educate ourselves up the income scale etc etc is not obviously hopelessly utopian, and might be felt to be a legitimate part of the job. But attempting to change the fundamental stuff of which workers are made? I’m not sure what the symmetrical example would be, and so I'm not sure this is as common an aim on the right as the opposite is on the left. One might argue that things like 'attempting to make the workforce more flexible' are in mild antagonism with preferences, behaviours and beliefs that are traditionally quite important to the workers. Or some of them. I think you have to be even more pessimistic than I am to elevate a lack of qualifications to the status of 'an essential characteristic of the workforce', though.

My suspicion is that the right would not accept the symmetry here, and that their worldview just has no room for any of these sort of attributes to be considered 'intrinsic'. So they would not see what they are doing as 'transforming the workforce' – homo economicus doesn’t have that kind of qualities. We may not agree with that worldview, of course, but it might be enough that they can in fact claim intellectual consistency while deriding the left as ‘social engineers’. Even if I don’t accept the right’s worldview in its entirety, I do think there might be some asymmetry in the kinds of properties that you are seeking to contrapose.

And I also think that there is probably a pragmatic reason for categorising the two differently as well: There's something importantly democratic about at least treating people’s political beliefs as if they were the expression of some deep inner essence, even if we don’t believe in such essences. Even if we know that people’s views correlate with this or that, and that the process by which they come to them is wildly flawed, part of treating people with respect means not acting as though their views are something trivial and easily surmountable. NB I am not sure what the status of this argument is.


We just need to show the public that a different world is possible. This may include not requiring human labour for many of the products and services produced by the economy.

Did I mention the zeitgeist has already changed,
The public are tired of waiting for economic redistribution away from the rich rather toward them.

Advice for Theresa May, who is parking her tanks on the centre left's lawn.


While I recognise the problems, the proposed solutions are inadequate and will not resolve the fundamental issues. e.g. Pay Ratios needs to include Bonuses and Stock options (all remuneration, including potential), and be related to a national average income. And reporting alone will not shame the rich into taking less, legislation is required.

I have already addressed zero hours contracts, and this solution should apply equally to self-employed contractors.


This all seems a bit politician-centric. I doubt most people care which politicians are in power or what lable they have, all they want is the perception that the country is competently run - whatever that means.

Education, education, education has failed, at least the mass education kind has. It was always at root a chance to scramble up the social/pay pile a bit. But the pile has flattened out due to globalisation and automation. Nothing like as attractive as before, the cost now makes getting an education look a zero-sum game. Worse, the Bell Curve puts limits on what education can achieve, and immigration means a country can buy in educated people as needed. So why bother spending on education. Of course going to Eton etc is still a good idea, like social pole-vaulting.

Then there is the pull factor, if there are no jobs locally, and relocating is perceived too expensive then what motivation is there to get educated. Better to get pregnant.

Fundamentally the UK and similar nations are overpaid, they cannot make enough money to sustain their former lifestyles. But the population is not homogenous - some are worth their corn. Politicians are stuck with keeping them on-side whilst minimising the payout to the rest and managing the slow decline of the old institutions - whilst keeping their own support groups happy. The electorate is malleable but not in the directions attractive to politicians.

Ultimately a more socialist model will be forced on politics if only to prevent unrest. But I think things will have got a lot worse before then.


So according to Big Fez we are born with our political views but not born with our skills. How convenient!

So from time immemorial, even when we lived in small tribal communities we had political views from birth. The affects of society on political views have are absolutely negligible.

Whereas our skills are absolutely shaped by society and can be tailored to anything.

Moving on from this fairy story and to the systematic brainwashing of people by the establishment and the system.

There are 2 aspects to brainwashing:

1) That with malice aforethought, for example the bias of the BBC, currently acting as Theresa May's PR company. According to the BBC Theresa was born to rule, is a woman on a mission, is a natural stateswoman and is really really serious about what she wants to achieve. Oh, and Corbyn is a dangerous clown.

2) Natural brainwashing that just comes with the system. So to us it is perfectly natural that there are 37 varieties of 1 commodity, all with slight variations. Or that different teabags come in different boxes. We are taught that this is natural from birth, but it is a less conscious form of brainwashing than that carried out by the BBC etc. Though I guess advertising is a very conscious activity, but I hope you know what I mean.

And this is the crucial omission from this article, it assumes neutrality, it assumes a happy clappy world where everyone is free to do what they want and think how they want. Yes it says people can be persuaded but does it in the most anodyne way possible. And this anodyne approach misses the point entirely.

Andrew L

Interesting, provocative (i.e. provoked me to think, so thanks)... but ultimately wrong.

The flaw (which it took me a few minutes to realise) is that this discussion is based on a completely false dichotomy/assumption.

Both Left and Right want to both change the workforce and public opinion.

And the effort required to do both is not mutually exclusive. Indeed they are largely independent.

Maybe you could make an argument that the Left focuses more on public opinion, but that is largely irrelevant; ultimately governments will focus on both.

It's probably harder/more risky/more relevant to the median voter to try to take on changing public opinion. Hence the answer to your question ("why is it considered daft to change public opinion vs the workforce").

Why then is Jermyn Corbyn considered to be pretty rubbish? Because he seems to be at organisation, leadership, strategy... not anything else.


But Chris, surely changing the workforce is imperative?

Automation is happening right now and we do trade globally.

Our uncompetitive industries will either dwindle, change radically or require subsidy (which can surely only be justified in terms of retaining strategically important capability).

It means shop workers will find themselves replaced with self-service kiosks (been to Tesco recently?), and lawyers with blockchain contract apps.

Why should anyone seek to preserve the employment environment of 1950-1985 in aspic? Of course it was good for the Baby Boomers - but you can't wish technological innovation and social change away.

I'm troubled that progressives are often so backward-looking. If we want to make automation and the global economy serve the interests of the broadest possible range of people, we need political progressives to stop sandbagging the flood plain and instead relocate to higher ground.

History shows us that the most profound changes are invariably driven by technology and war. People like Ford, Jobs and Musk unleash innovations which politicians are powerless to stop.

We can lament the "always at work" culture created by mobile phones, but nobody is going to ban iPhones. Similarly, bemoaning the environmental impact of cars is a waste of effort.

If we want people to have a fair chance of building a good life for themselves, we need to be a bit more imaginative than saying "stop the world, we want to get off".

If the world is moving towards piece-rates and self employment rather than salaries and careers, surely there's a better way to ensure labour gets a bigger share of the rewards than to just wish ourselves back to the second half of the 20th century?

Let's help the workforce change. Let's invest in that, and do so throughout life. Let's give people stability by letting them know they will be supported in re-skilling throughout their lives.

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