The Myth of a High Skills, High Wage Economy

There is a utopia waiting at the end of the Brexit rainbow.  A society levelled up such that all the workers are employed in satisfying, high skilled jobs and are being paid a commensurate high wage.  That is if you believe Boris Johnson’s latest vision of the future.

Of course, the reality is the polar opposite.  It is low skill jobs, which are the backbone of any society and, in most cases, it is not economically viable to pay any of these roles anything other than a commensurate low wage.  And this depressing status quo has only been exacerbated by Brexit.

Prior to Brexit, the UK was able to employ a low-paid European workforce to fill the essential, low-skill roles, which British workers did not want to do.  Since Brexit, these roles haven’t magically become more skilled or better paid; all that has happened is that European workers are no longer allowed to perform them and British workers still don’t want to, so we have job shortages in vital functions.

Take the example of the Lincolnshire fruit picker.  This will always remain a low skilled job, no matter how much government spin is applied to the job description: “agricultural field technician.”  But could it become a low skilled, high wage job?  No.  Because any increase in the pickers’ wages will result in a direct rise in the price of the fruit to the consumer, who will consequently not buy it, resulting in a decrease in demand, a downturn in production and, ultimately, fewer jobs for pickers.  It is a low skill, low wage equilibrium, which can’t be altered by any amount of highfalutin political rhetoric.

In both our distant colonial past and in our more recent EU one, British workers have benefitted from relatively high skilled, high wage opportunities purely because they have exploited labour from overseas.  It will be interesting to see which swathe of society is exploited next in order to achieve Boris’ post-Brexit, high skills, high wage vision, because it is an exclusive utopia, which can only ever be for the few and not the many.

© Simon Turner-Tree

Simon Turner-Tree channels his inner Corbyn.

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