Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, donned in his smart dark blue suit, does not have the veneer of a revolutionary. But, he recalls the ghost of Marx, as he calls for redistribution from the fruits of globalisation. Is he right?
Revolution is in the air. Forget about Trump, Le Pen, or the rise of the Far Right in Austria, the list of radicals has grown by one more, Comrade Carney – the Canadian governor of the Bank of England has been talking about inequality.
Truth is, he is probably right. What a world we live in when, 27 years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, 24 years after Francis Fukuyama called the ‘end of history’, as ideological strife gave way to the everlasting victory of capitalism, the governor of the Bank of England sounds like a polite radical.
Marx’s theories were born in the strife of the 1860s. He argued that a growing economy needs wages to grow, but that ultimately reward goes to capital, wages don’t rise with growth, the economy stutters, then stagnates and we get unrest, followed by revolution. He said that Capitalism is ultimately self-destructive.
So far, we have seen a kind of half-way house. Sure, corporates have benefited more from technology and globalisation than the ordinary guy and girl, but rock-bottom interest rates and a glut of savings have rechannelled savings into the pockets of the proletariat via debt.
But people are not happy and we see a kind of domino effect, as we see the rise of political extremism, with one regime followed by another moving close to radicalism.
And in this melee, just like in the 1930s, we look for someone to blame, and by and large we have blamed the minorities, immigrants, ethnic minorities, who knows, judging by how things are panning out in the US, maybe the gay community will be next. This is what John Major was referring to when he talked about the tyranny of the majority, he was referring explicitly to the 48% who voted for Brexit, but indirectly reminding us that democracy only works when it also represents those who did not vote for the winning party/person.
Mr (Comrade) Carney reckons that contrary to what the critics say, the actions of the Bank of England have helped the poor, by lifting employment, and with it wages, and cutting the cost of debt, held by the poorest.
And yet he says we are facing the worst decade for real pay since the 1860s, the decade that spawned Das Kapital.
Mr Carney, just like the economy, is a half-way house. He sits between the IFS who has said we are facing the worst pay squeeze since the 1910s, and the Resolution Foundation who said we face the worst pay squeeze since the 1810s. The 1860s was the decade that gave us the American Revolution and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln – not really a pleasant decade to draw comparison with.
Brother Mark, reckons that international trade benefits the country, but not everyone in it. So he says that some of the profits realised by the winners from international trade need to be redistributed to the losers. In any other time, this would be radical stuff. But the evidence to support what he says is prima facia.
In an interview on Channel Four News, he also talked about technology. He said: “It is hard to underestimate the scale of technological change that has been happening and that will continue and what it means for the workforce.” He is even closer to the truth on this topic. As was pointed out here yesterday: the US Center of Economics and Social Research from State Ball University, found that 85% of job losses in US manufacturing during the first 15 years of this century can be explained by technological change.
What is the hope?
Mr Carney said that we are moving to a more artisan economy – there is no doubt that jobs that involve creativity are less likely to be disrupted by technology, maybe we will enter an era of bespoke design, in which 3D printers, operated by techie artisans meet customer demand to order.
Maybe entrepreneurs have a fix too.
Technology has lowered barriers to entry, which may ultimately chip away at corporate profits, and lead to higher wages.
And in that respect at least, Marx did not predict the changes that are afoot today. But Comrade Carney seems to have a good feel for what’s going on.