Chris Tindal linked to this interesting column by Rick Salutin in which Mr. Salutin ponders the prospect of an all-retail economy. I do not think however we will be all retail, rather our economy will be shaped rather like a “V” with many jobs in resource-harvesting at one end at and many in service at the other. All of the refining and manufacturing, all the real “value-adding” will take place elsewhere. We will send our timber and oil to China and we will then sell Chinese-manufactured goods to each other.
Rick is gloomy about this, but there is one thing that he does not mention but which is broadly hinted at. Life in the retail/service sector is tough. I’ve slung espresso, I’ve worked in call centres, I’ve worked in electronic stores – the sort of thing that seems to be a rite of passage for my generation. My father paid for university in part through construction jobs, those of under 30 seem to have paid for it by life in retail. We know these jobs all too well. There are numerous things that we’d change about them if we could – more about that later.
A service-based economy need not be all bad. In one sense you could say that economies that run off of, say, banking are service-based. Banking is a service, in that sense a place like Switzerland is arguably service-based. The problem with retail/service economy as we now have it is in large part how those who work in it are treated. There are exceptions to be sure, but for many retail means unreliable hours (12 hours one week, 30 the next) not much in the way of job security and a general lack of respect.