The Great Debate UK
It seems barely a week goes by without another shock report about the ever-widening gap between those at the top of the earnings distribution and the rest of us. The facts are by now well-established. Throughout the Western world, but most noticeably in Britain and America, the earnings of the top one or two percent are accelerating into the stratosphere, leaving the middle class a long way behind, and the working class completely out of sight. How can one explain this global phenomenon?
Academic economics seems to be taking a surprisingly long time to reach a definitive answer, but I suspect there will turn out to be two long term trends at work here.
First, globalisation has doubled or tripled the supply of unskilled and semi-skilled labour. As long as China remained locked in Maoist isolation and the Indian economy had to carry the full burden of the Licence Raj, their respective workforces were shut off from the global labour market. The fact that products could theoretically be manufactured far cheaper in those countries was unimportant, because in practice Western firms could never take advantage of their rock-bottom labour costs.
Now that they have opened up and it is possible to outsource manufacturing to China and the paperwork to India, there is less and less left for our workers and middle-managers to do – unless, of course, they are willing to work for more competitive (i.e. lower) wages.