Why we shouldn’t care that UK employment is at a record high.

By Hobhouse

The number of Britons in work has once again struck a new statistic, with a record 32.6 million employed between October and December, the Office of National Statistics’ figures show. The jobless rate, lingering at 4 per cent, remains at is lowest since 1975. Weekly average earnings also showed an increase of 3.4 per cent going up to £494.50 earnt- a-week, which is, after recalibrating for inflation, the highest level since March 2011.

Forgive me for not rejoicing at this newly released statistic, resulting from a measure that is clearly not fit for demonstrating human progress in the 21st century – when we consider suicides among young men are at their highest, most workers actively hold a distain for their current working predicament and the suffering of people at the hands of mental health has not yet yielded.

Traditional economic measures, such as employment rates and gross domestic product (GDP), continue to only be the blurb of the economic and human story, which naturally misses much of the inside content. High employment does not correlate with accrual of savings and longer-term wealth – as the average Brit has less than £500 stacked in the bank — and GDP will continue to grow whilst income inequality stubbornly widens. Neither statistic, therefore, truly depicts the state of Britain and what the future holds for her.

In 1930, John Maynard Keynes hypothesized that, innovation in the technological sector would eventually cause the shortening of the working week to just 15-hours. Now, in technological terms, we’re realistically capable of making Keynes’ prediction come to fruition. For now, however, it appears technology has actually found new ways to leave us on the treadmill of work for longer.

The scenario in our economy that is likely to come to pass, though, is that we go from unemployment being at an all time low, working more hours and earning slightly more per-week, to zilch. Automation is on a rapid stride to competency. With the advent of driverless cars, truck and Uber drivers will be a thing of the past; retail workers will be replaced (that’s if Amazon doesn’t completely wipe-out high street shopping before then) and manufacturing will be left to the capable claw of the robot. When these forecasts are gradually realised, there will be a disintegration of British society, but GDP will continue its climb and the two-poles of high and low-income will further chasm.

GDP will literally be decoupled from any semblance of human flourishing and the unemployment statistics will spit-out something that never goes beyond 1 per cent. So much furore and excitement, then, should not surround such statistics every time they’re released. Instead, we should collectively pay more attention to statistics that measure human wellbeing and seek to construct public policy that will benefit the human rather than the quantity of exerted product.

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