Friday, 4 January 2013

Life for Jobs

Back in the late 1970s / early 1980s a chap called Alvin Toffler explained why heavy volume manufacturing in the UK was over; as trade tariffs crumbled and global markets grew, manufacturing would move to places where the factor costs of land, labour, power and raw materials were lowest. The future for the West was the knowledge economy, he wrote, and post-Fordist niche production. Skills portability would be critical in maintaining full employment as we moved from a job-for-life deal from a single employer to one in which employers equipped employees with training and skills to ensure they would be employed for life. And all this more than a decade before the invention of the internet. 

Now that we're deeply into the territory foreseen by Toffler the mistakes we've made in adapting to structural change are clearer. Central Statist governments have poured a tsunami of wealth into slowing the loss of mass manufacturing when such resources could have been more competitively used for creating and maintaining knowledge economy infrastructure. Employers have become free-riders in the absence of compulsory training levies; instead of equipping staff as knowledge workers, firms have substituted IT systems. Instead of wider wealth distribution we've seen a greater concentration of wealth amongst very large global corporations. And the rise of e-commerce enabled producer-consumerism has seen the abandonment of the High Street by retailers who used to be the middlemen between consumers and producers / wholesalers.

But in Suffolk's little market towns over Christmas I saw signs that the High Street isn't dead, but in a process of change. The home-knitter who started buying wool in bulk and selling the surplus on eBay has now filled a shop-front with bright balls of wool and irresistible baby garments as a boost to her eBay shop; the ironmongers founded in 1823 that have gained new life by putting 6,000 of their 40,000 stock lines on the web, the farm-direct shop also with its own website, the shop window filled with old planes and woodworking tools from a collector and dealer who also operates on eBay, only opens the shop erratically but mans the computer in his workshop to the rear for about 16 hours a day. Thankfully most such towns are either conservation areas or the existing shops are listed, preventing the removal of the large ground floor display windows. Thus even when an ex-shop goes through a residential phase, it can always be resurrected as a shop. 

And this I think is the future for the High Street - small, perhaps part-time niche producers perhaps also with a part-time job elsewhere, with a web-outlet, offering a parade of fascinating and well-dressed  shop windows providing a visual feast of curiosities to strollers-by, and thereby maintaining the all-important footfall that keeps the chemist, the baker and the newsagents alive. 

10 comments:

DeeDee99 said...

That may be the way things will go, but only of shop rents are kept at reasonable levels. Niche shops - even with the support of a well developed web-based outlet - won't survive if rents and rates are excessive.

It's time for landlords to be a bit more realistic about the real value of their retail properties - and set the rents accordingly.

G. Tingey said...

Ah, but both guvmint & big employers are STILL against a knowledge-based economy, in the same way, as until it hit them in the face in the late 1860's employers were against their employees learning to read & write.
If you educate them THEY ASK QUESTIONS, and we can't have that, can we?
They think they might geta way with it this time, because all the surveillance will keep the plebs under control ....

DD99
Spot on!
But this sort of idiocy was visible back in the 1991-3 dip, wasn't it?

Blue Eyes said...

One of my local plumbers set up shop a few years ago in one of my local parades. I was chuffed at the time, because it meant a bit more "trust" in the service provided.

It should be a great business model, but sadly he apparently can't be bothered to quite make it work.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

What dd99 said.

I have noticed many foreign cities (Florence and Venice are examples) where tiny specialist local shops seem to survive on craft operations. It must be because they get reasonable treatment from the local powers, official or otherwise (frequently otherwise, in Italy!).

The rapaciousness and jobsworthism of UK local authorities, coupled with their viciousness towards parking and access generally, does not encourage.

Let us hope things can indeed change.

Anonymous said...

Nice try Raedwald - and yes I read 'Future Shock' in my late teens - but as I said before, overpopulation will impoverish millions. The future started when the mind that turned the handle was replaced with a computer chip.

The UK needed to downsize its population in the post-Empire, post-industrial era. It didn't, and 'White boys' now have no purpose under the ratchet that is the Equality Act. Welcome to the future, it'll be shocking.

Steve

DtP said...

Hey Mr Raedwald

Just a thunk but had the government popped lots of wedge into the knowledge based economy there would be the massive potential of them being completely fleeced a la Connecting for Health and other startlingly amazing white elephants such as the HMRC software, the implausible DWP universal credit soon-to-be fuck up and other grand scale boondoggles.

In no way am I proposing that fighting the incoming tide is a serious strategic response but at least it roots out the politics, the links between the governing party and their constituents. The Corus thing (although I forget how it ended) had an air of inevitability because it was in Cleggs backyard. The miners getting shafted was largely due to the fact that the neaderthal gimps voted Labour, Gordon Brooon's aircraft carriers that don't work being err..built in Jockland.

The knowledge economy is fine - it's just government that's weak, ill educated, un professional (as Mr Nick Drew from Capitalists@Work highlights regarding this coalitious energy policy soon to be clusterfuck) and in a whole manner of other areas too numerous to mention.

It's almost like civil servants are infantile little shits who get a shiny shiny thing dangled in front of their prepubescent eyes and shout in unison 'oooh, that's good' and just happily burn cash for the fun of it.

Happy New Year

Dick the Prick

lilith said...

I have bought a lot of wool from that splendid lady!

Jesus Green said...

Mr R, When I read this post I was intrigued to see who you'd linked to and so very pleased when I saw it was Partridges of Hadleigh. One of my favorite shops. I bought a lawnmower there a year ago and the guy who sold it to me could not have been more helpful and informative, I'm a sceptical old B and I threw loads of negative questions at him as he convinced me not to buy the mower i'd decided to buy on t'internet but the one he thought matched my requirements. He was right. Its a great mower. The shop itself is just a joy to explore. They sell several different sorts of string. Fork handles and four candles. Really! Reminds me of 'Martin and Newbys'of Ipswich(RIP) You must remember them?

Bill Quango MP said...

Have done a bit on this at C@W.

linked to you, naturally.

Roger said...

Interesting post. But there are two big snags with the 'Knowledge Economy' - firstly most of us are not clever enough to create anything saleable out of 'knowledge', secondly look at the startup costs of the seriously profitable 'knowledge industries' - semiconductors, aero engines, spacecraft.

Ever tried making money writing books - nah, selling legal services - nah, insurance - any fool can do that anywhere, banking - nuff said. Making money out of knowledge turns out a lot more difficult, a lot more volatile and a lot more mobile than Tofler thought (I think). Hanging on to the tax revenue even more difficult.

The Civil Servants are not so dumb IMHO, they can see just how hard it is to boost the brains of Britain - and it may not be worth it.