Liz Truss is right: it will take hard graft and an end to wilful denial if we’re ever to escape this disaster says Allister Heath for The Telegraph 17 08.22.
If you want to know why Britain is in such trouble, consider the disgraceful over-reaction to an old recording of Liz Truss arguing that British workers aren’t sufficiently productive, and that some people don’t work hard enough. She was stating the obvious, and yet her comments were dismissed as a “gotcha” moment by half of Twitter and as “grossly offensive” by Labour Party demagogues.
When did we become so entitled, so self-satisfied, so allergic to any kind of constructive criticism? What hope is there for Britain if it is now politically incorrect to explain that hard graft at school and at work is a crucial route out of poverty? Why isn’t it obvious that we need to massively and urgently do whatever it takes to improve Britain’s dire productivity rate?
For years, Tory and Labour politicians alike have taken the easy way out, obsessing about “sharing the proceeds of growth” and green social engineering, taking prosperity for granted, all the while slowly poisoning the economy with tax hikes, regulatory assaults, an increasingly insane housing and infrastructure planning system and injections of monetary crack cocaine.
It has been a disaster: real wages, the ultimate measure of a country’s economy, haven’t gone up, on average, since 2006, the year before Northern Rock went bust. Output per worker hasn’t risen, and given that what we earn is usually related to what we produce, pay has stagnated. This is a disgrace, and requires us to undergo a period of brutally honest self-reflection of the sort Truss is proposing.
We need to start by acknowledging that we are now increasingly poor by international standards, especially when our overvalued housing stock and second-rate health service are added into the equation. London is still quite rich in terms of GDP per person, but the rest of the country is shockingly impoverished, especially when compared with America and a growing number of Asian economies.
Europe, like us, is in decline: we shouldn’t benchmark ourselves to France or Italy but to Singapore, South Korea and the wealthier US states. The Remainers have nothing useful to add: their shrieks are a displacement exercise. Being part of the single market has done nothing for Eurozone growth, or pay, these past couple of decades: there have been costs to Brexit, and the benefits have mostly yet to materialise as a result of the Johnson government’s incompetence, but Europe doesn’t have the solutions to our, or its own, woes.
Truss wasn’t saying that all, or even most, of Britain’s problems are caused by laziness. However, she is right that some are, and we shouldn’t be in denial about it. Recent immigrants to Britain are often taken aback by our poor work ethic, lack of entrepreneurialism or respect for education, and the widespread sense of victimhood, in which people blame their problems on others rather than take personal responsibility for self-betterment. But they are also stunned by how high our taxes are, the wastage at the heart of the public sector, and the fact it is so hard to build anything or get anything done.
Britain has turned into a three-speed society, with some people, including blue-collar workers in warehouses, in factories, in delivery vans, as well as plenty of white-collar professionals, working flat out, much harder than they ever did before, their output closely monitored and controlled by technology, but with their pay held back by productivity constraints.
The picture is different in office-based sectors where the working-from-home and HR cultures have spiralled out of control, and there has been a proliferation of non-jobs across the corporate world. Office workers spend too much time communicating with each other, which is easy, rather than creating value, which is hard. Poor, lazy, tick-box management is rife, some of it caused by regulatory idiocies. Many corporate types are resting on their laurels, insulated by cheap credit, lulled by rocketing house prices into thinking they have made it in life and can relax.
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Britain in the rain