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A readers challenges some soapbox views expressed in the August edition
It's always a pleasure for me to read Ron Watts' contributions to The Pump, if only because I am a bit of a grumpy old f-t also. In his Village Soapbox in the August issue he bemoans the giving of high tech defence contracts overseas, which we could as well do here - and he gives examples of work places actually being shut down as British tenders are rejected in the face of foreign bidders. He also shows how a large part of the cost to Government of defence contracts fulfilled in the UK eventually flows back to the Government via the multilayered direct and indirect taxes that are generated. Although anyone could cavil at little bits of that analysis, there is no doubting its basic truth.
But in the end it is all too simplistic - far too simplistic. Looking at any one contract or group of contracts or two or three years of contract giving cannot get you to a real understanding of what is going on. I doubt any analysis is available to us to get there. It requires a considerable amount of standing back. It seems too trite to talk of the global village which we all now inhabit, but it is now nonetheless substantially a fact. Interdependence on political, social, economic, communicational, technological, etc, etc levels is truly a fact of life. This is a massive multidimensional web, which we cannot see or touch but which underpins our lives.
Consider if all the electricity in the UK was, in some unimaginable way switched off, we would be in serious trouble. And I mean serious. Our dairy cattle would, unmilked, explode. Food supermarkets would turn into rotting food dumps. Not only in the cities, people would not be able to find food. Our clean delivered water supply would dry up. If we had no electric power for a few month, I believe millions of people in the UK would be dead or dying. I am probably being too apocalyptic, but who knows. My point is that we live extraordinarily interdependent lives, where we all (most of us anyway) do our little jobs as tiny cogs (vitally important cogs) in a massively complicated social and economic machine. And that machine is no longer, if it ever was, defined by our national boundaries.
The Defence Industry is part of this big complication. So we do not have the contract for 600 tanks. But we do have contracts to provide vital parts of the Boeing 787. How many American and European and Asian and African people live and work in the UK (paying all those complicated taxes to the UK Government), while British people are living and working overseas and paying overseas taxes. Indeed how many Brits are actually going to be working on those tank contracts that have gone to the US, I wonder! The export of technological knowhow, which Ron bemoans, is matched (more or less - I cannot say which and I doubt if anyone can) by the knowhow which comes to us.
Unemployment in the UK is substantially in the unskilled (this includes graduates who are narrowly educated, but still wholly unskilled!) area. We allowed low tech industry to go to parts of the world which had not yet built a sophisticated infrastructure (because we had a 200 year start on them) and that was wholly appropriate. We should not compete to make Nike shoes and cotton shirts. However, if we educated our own people properly, we would compete internationally more effectively for high tech work and have less unemployment. The tragedy of our uneducated unemployed is that they were perfectly educable when they started school and we have all the basic infrastructure and skills to do the educating, but somehow we have screwed up!
Our best hope in the UK is that we forget about how good we are (were!), and integrate with the rest of the developed world as much as we can and pick up on the best of their methods and become an essential part (we already are, but more so) of the internationally interdependent marketplace.