Letter: Vain pursuit of full employment

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The Independent Online
Sir: How can Lord Desai (Letters, 3 August) talk in such an obsolete and glib way about restoring full employment? Does he not realise that there has been a basic change to our economy (and not only ours) that no return to the Bretton Woods or any other system will overcome? Today's technology has made so much traditional work unnecessary that no amount of 'recovery' will mop up unemployment. Only marginal shifts in the figures will be seen.

Look at what is happening on Teesside, for example. British Steel used to employ more than 30,000 people. Now it has greater capacity for production with a sixth of that number. No ships are being built in once-proud yards; but even if they were, computer technology would replace what once needed hands and skills, as has happened with oil rig construction - and now rigs are being designed that will be entirely computer operated.

I remember once being told that the industrialist's dream was to be able to manufacture without the bother of employing people (as sometimes I feel it would be easier to have a parish without parishioners). We are awfully near to its realisation (perhaps on both counts).

The Luddites were wrong in their time because they did not understand the scope for expansion of output, but their diagnosis would be right now. No politician, it seems, dares to state this, but others involved with the economic and social wellbeing of our people must face up to the matter and force politicians to tackle it, alongside the question of a stable exchange rate.

Yours faithfully,

B. A. HOPKINSON

Whitby, North Yorkshire

3 August

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