THE BLOG

2017: It's Wonderful To Be Here

15/12/2016 17:07

Another year over, another just (about) begun, and the only certain thing to celebrate in 2017 will be the 50th anniversary of the Beatles releasing Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club band.

Still, that's a start. A glance through Old (Hotston) Moore's Almanac certainly suggests that the rest of the coming year will be one dominated by things less easy to feel good about: political and economic uncertainties.

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But some things may prove positive despite it all. Take shopping. The high street is already becoming a better, more imaginative place as rents start to fall, even in good locations, allowing a new crop of entrepreneurs to take over space. Not all of them will be wanting to sell 'artisan' coffee whilst inviting you to sit in distressed surroundings on old school chairs. There are even signs that some currently purely online retailers are thinking of moving into bricks and mortar.

Analysts, it seems, missed a human truth: People enjoy going to shops almost as much as they do snagging an online bargain. All of which may make retail challenging, but it doesn't kill it. Those gloomy reports in recent years warning that the high street is dying are evidently wrong. Changing, yes.

Other things might improve, too. The new year should be when we really, truly stop pretending that delivery people and taxi drivers working for online sites are liberated, self-employed entrepreneurs employed by wonderful enablers.

It'll be tough, but we need to look beyond the shiny, groovy apps we use to summon a ride or a pizza and see these enablers for what they are: clever corporations with a business model based on employing without many contractual obligations on their part as few people as possible. We've been distracted for too long by a marketing trope that behind every online company is a well-meaning, socially responsible human in a t-shirt who started it all in their spare room to make the world a better place.

Getting this right may actually be a bigger issue than anything. Software is on the cusp of hollowing out a range of professional work, as Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, has warned. We can't afford delusions. There is more at stake here than how quickly we can get a pizza delivered. Work in a capitalist country involves two way obligations; and to avoid shifting more of a burden onto taxpayers via the benefits system, digital employers must shoulder responsibilities as well as take profits. That is the social contract in a developed economy.

Indeed, this may even be the moment when we remember to value labour as much as we value capital, which we've forgotten how to do. Unfortunately, by putting capital at the centre of our financial lives since the 1990s we seem to be undermining our actual lives. For example, turning property into an asset class is not doing much for young people trying to get on the housing market, and has already turned London from a place where people live to one in which others invest.

Major elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands will draw on the same yawning gap between Haves and Have Far Less, although nobody can know yet how these ballots will go and the results be received.

But whilst we can have plenty of fears, a fear is not a fact. We have no idea what voters in Europe will 'tell' their leaders, or whether Donald Trump will turn out to be a consensus builder. At this stage we can afford to be optimistic and respond otherwise if necessary, rather than be pessimistic and react as if something has already happened. The same goes for Brexit

So, to borrow a line from the glorious Sgt Pepper, we should keep in mind that we really only know this much: It's wonderful to be here, and it's certainly a thrill.

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