As Labour proceeds with its “Future of Work” process, it would be wise to have the humility to understand it will be almost completely wrong about how the world will be, not just a quarter century from now but even five years hence when it might be taking office. In fact, the tendency for change to accelerate means any specific forecasts about the future made in 2016 will almost certainly be even more embarrassingly wrong than those made in 1993.
Hooton makes the point that 20 years ago there was almost no commercial Internet. We know there will be change, but trying to work out exactly what that will be is near hopeless.
The policy prescriptions necessitated by constant change are fairly obvious, and always have been: New Zealand’s labour and capital markets must be more flexible than ever; the ability to switch resources including land from one use to another must be enhanced; world class general education, in particular in numeracy and literacy, is absolutely essential; the idea of doing three years of vocational training between the ages of 17 and 21 to win a meal ticket for life is absurd; people must be equipped to pick up new skills and change jobs rapidly as required; companies and governments must be capable of making decisions quickly; the tax system must not distort investment and labour flows; industry and regional assistance schemes and other corporate welfare can only ever act as brakes on innovation.
Labour’s problem is that these ideas are anathema to those who control it. So far, the policy ideas to emerge all seem exactly the same as a far-left Labour Party would promote without bothering with a “commission”: three free years of uni for school leavers, and $200 a week for everyone from the day they turn 18 until the day they die, at a cost of $38 billion a year.
This is the acid test – is Labour coming out with any policies that they didn’t want to do anyway? They’ve opposed every measure of flexibility to the labour market. Will they actually come up with a policy that would surprise people?
Sadly, today’s Labour is unable to accept, emotionally or intellectually, that the enormous creative power of billions of people working in a well-regulated free market will always makes fools of the most visionary “Future of Work” participants. All that is wise for any government to do is foster that creativity, accept that the future cannot be foretold and trust that human societies – as they always have done – will find ways to navigate from one era to the next perfectly competently without the likes of Andrew Little thinking he has any particular insight to impart.