Events by Tom Kilcourse, Author. He has been a garage hand, a coal miner and a bus driver, before gaining a trade union scholarship to study at Ruskin College, Oxford. He later gained a State Scholarship to read economics at Hull University.
I think it was Harold Macmillan, ‘Super Mac’, who suggested ‘events, dear boy’ as the reason why so many plans go awry. The truth of that claim is self-evident, but events occur in the context of processes. They don’t simply happen out of the blue, irrespectively of that context. As steps in a process, whether or not intended, the probability of their occurrence can be assessed by those who are aware of process and its direction. Such awareness leads to prescience, though at the time of prediction it is more likely to be called lunacy by those who believe the prediction to be far-fetched.
The process known as globalisation, intended to have beneficial economic effects, has had profound effects on society and politics that are far from beneficial. A process that some claim to have lifted millions of people out of poverty, has impoverished others, fragmented societies, left millions uncertain of their future, and actually threatens the continuation of democratic government. As I write, I can hear voices raised against such ‘nonsense’ by those who judge matters by events rather than the direction the process is taking. By its very nature a prediction describes events that have yet to happen so making it difficult to confront the scepticism of those who consider only recorded events. As Wolfgang Streek points out in his book, ‘Buying Time’, those academics who based their conclusions on “…empirical observations of the time, concluded that the opening of frontiers between national economies was not likely to have negative effects on the welfare state.”
I have personal experience of such scepticism in academics and other ‘experts’. Well into the 1990s the Institute of Personnel Management and numerous well-known academics argued the case for the ‘empowerment’ of employees, warning us that employers who failed to empower their workers would not prosper, and might go out of business. For instance, John Adair, a well-known British writer and consultant believed that leaders of the future should demonstrate a ‘greater empathy and concern for people’, and claimed that ‘the contemplative Eastern approach would supersede the aggressive Western philosophy.’ Subsequent events have demonstrated that Adair and the many who thought likewise were wrong.
These claims, which were purportedly based on empirical observation, rested on little more than wishful thinking and the inertia of established human resource and motivational theory. They were made in the face of evidence that the process of globalisation was already making those theories redundant. My own observations led me to conclude that my contemporaries were in error. Writing in the ‘Management Decision’ journal in 1994 I remarked that “Compassion, trust and humility are out, while greed, selfishness and cynicism are definitely in.” Such pessimism earned me few plaudits, but much criticism. I recall someone calling me disloyal to the Institute (IPM), of which I was not a member, for criticising those of greater faith.
Though I had retired by 1996, apart from a little consultancy work, I continued to write sceptically about the process of globalisation and its effects. Writing in the Journal of European Industrial Training that year I remarked that “Those who choose to put a positive spin on the future imply that the need to cultivate and educate people has general application. It does not. Although probably true for a shrinking elite, the notion of general development for all employees has been eroded by a combination of deregulation and technology. For the masses, the unskilled and many of the skilled, the future looks extremely bleak.”
Later, in the same essay, I pointed out that “Capital is now free to seek out the cheapest sources of labour anywhere in the world and to move to where poverty and authoritarian government combine to ensure a compliant labour force.” In truth, there was little excuse for those ‘experts’ taking a rosier view despite the evidence of the falling share of wages in the economic ‘cake’. I was driven to the gloomy conclusion that “As long as Western governments remain committed to free trade and the unfettered movement of capital, the scales appear to me to be tipped against the human resource being valued and nurtured in the way we have been led to expect.”
Again in 1996 I attacked the ‘myth of empowerment’ in which some still believed. Writing in ‘The Leadership & Organisation Development Journal’ I predicted that “Their employer, if they have one, will probably be a labour only contractor offering them short-term contracts.” And again, “It is possible that they will not have a contract of any kind. We could see the white-collar equivalent of the old tally system used on the docks whereby workers reported for duty in the morning with no guarantee of work that day.” I foresaw real earnings being driven down because “Labour is already a buyers-market in the West in which the onus for learning and development lies with the individual trying to build up marketable attributes.”
I present these snippets from past writings for the sole purpose of establishing my ‘track-record’ with those readers who are prone to judge my present predictions as groundless pessimism. I have been criticised for some of my recent essays as alarmist, anti-capitalist and unjustifiably gloomy. Nevertheless, in my view, the process continues to destroy the world we have come to take for granted. Just as power shifted from labour to capital, so it is now shifting from elected politician to appointed corporate management. Western politicians appear convinced that virtually any restraint on corporate ambition is economically and politically risky. They appear to see an identity of interest between the people they are supposed to represent and business corporations, despite evidence that a large proportion of the electorate is being damaged.
The present widespread dissatisfaction with the political establishment which is readily attributed to a variety of events is, in truth, a result of the ongoing process of globalisation, a term wrongly confined to the field of economics. Globalisation has infected our mind-set in politics, social awareness, and even individual identity. It has created a psychological environment in which John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, speaks of mankind’s universal values. There is overwhelming evidence that our values are not universally held. Mankind is prone to be parochial, identifying with a class, tribe, or nation rather than with some amorphous global ethic.
It is a great irony that the globalisation process has in many emphasised the importance of our parochial identity. Economic globalisation has created many winners, but at least as many losers. A very large number of those losers share a class identity, particularly with the manual working class that has been decimated by the process, and continues to be so. More recently we see the negative effects in the middle-classes whose young people have prospects for the future far inferior to those enjoyed by their parents. Our parochialism is also manifest in the attitude to migrants, with even those who support the free movement of capital prepared to resist the free movement of labour.
Throughout the Western world we see a fragmentation of society with people feeling betrayed by their political leaders who generally favour the globalisation process and appear prepared to sell-out to corporate interests. In Europe they see their elected representatives negotiating in great secrecy with corporate interests to bring the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) into being which will unquestionably shift power from the state to the corporation. To many of those promoting this global process the state is an anachronistic concept, an entity that should step aside, leaving progress to corporate interests. The problem with that idea is that the state is for many the only protection against unprincipled exploitation.
It is no coincidence that many working class Americans are for the first time in their lives supporting a Republican in his bid to become the President. Nor is the rise of nationalism and support for non-establishment parties across Europe coincidental. If weakened beyond what the general mass of people see as tolerable the state’s authority will be replaced by other ‘defenders of their rights’. It is worth remembering that Adolph Hitler was elected and that Lenin came to power on the back of mass dissatisfaction with the established government.
Globalisation is not simply an economic arrangement, but a process that threatens to render elected government powerless. A bloody ending can be expected.
Tom Kilcourse began working life as a manual worker in Manchester, where he had been raised by poor grandparents. He worked as a garage hand, a coal miner and a bus driver, before gaining a trade union scholarship to study at Ruskin College, Oxford. He later gained a State Scholarship to read economics at Hull University.
During his career in management development he was widely published in academic and management journals, spoke on management in America, Europe and the UK, and appeared in educational videos on management made for the BBC. He began writing short-stories in the 1970s and has been published in various literary magazines.
Since retiring, he has published two short-story collections, ‘The Human Circus’ and ‘More Short Stories’ and continues to be published in journals. He has also published four novels, ‘The Great Collapse’, ‘Who Killed Clarissa?’, ‘A Deadly Deception’, ‘A Phantom Madman’, and ‘The Great Collapse’, in which he weaves social commentary into mysteries. Also, he has published a short autobiography ‘It’s Only Me’ and a book on management development. Tom also writes essays on politics and economics.
© Tom Kilcourse