Jobs and inequality in the 21st century - a 'new bargain' needed?

13 November 2013

‘We indulge inequality far too much,’ political economist Will Hutton told an audience at the Oxford Martin School last week, as he spoke about jobs and inequality as part of the Now for the Long Term seminar series.

Describing the current economy as one of “extraordinarily dysfunctional capitalism which cannot be sustained”, he said it was wrong to accept inequality as a necessary by-product of capitalism, warning that societies could be walking into an era that paralleled the turbulent period of 1875 to 1945, where fascism and communism rose, competition between states intensified and international order broke down. He went on to argue for an “ownership revolution” around corporate responsibility, saying he regarded “the maximisation of shareholder value as the driver of inequality”.

Mr Hutton, chair of the Big Innovation Centre and former editor-in-chief of The Observer, also called for more state-bred innovation, saying: “British business hasn’t got any entrepreneurial zeal - it’s a rent-seeking business structure.” More public support for higher education was needed, he said, to alleviate the burden of tuition fees and the cost of postgraduate study on “ordinary people”.

On the opportunities facing young people now entering the world of work, he said many were worried about what was going to happen to them. “They want to make a difference, leave their mark on the world. They’re genuinely altruistic but the structures they’re going into are hostile to that. Thatcher and her successors Gordon Brown and Tony Blair have really messed it up.”

To solve these problems, he said, a "new bargain" was needed, which would include proportional reward for directors, an open innovation ecosystem, a new unionism to give workers a voice, and taxation on fairness principles.