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No Taxation Without Representation

Historically, periods of economic growth and low taxation go hand in hand. So while I welcome what the Chancellor has given to small business, in terms of tax cuts and funding incentives for going online, I don't believe that higher taxes for individual or corporates will fend off the threat of a downturn in the global economy.

Also, having once worked on a voluntary basis, one day a week, in a large London hospital A&E unit, I'm not convinced more money holds the solution to a crumbling health service.

Increasing the tax burden at a time of economic uncertainty has never struck me as a particularly good idea, even when a shamefully Goebbels-like attempt was made to sweeten the message by surrounding a clearly uncomfortable Chancellor with a group of small children with red lunchboxes and equally bright red sweatshirts offering astute economic advice.

Ironically, there was a time when I wrote speeches for politicians, so I'm hardly guiltless. In mitigation, these were on technology matters rather than economic policy, but knowing how little they knew about the former, I sometimes wonder how much they knew about the latter.

We can talk, as usual, about a Budget for the IT industry or, more accurately, a Budget for business, which this certainly wasn't, but I do believe we need to grasp that technology and the growing information economy is rapidly creating a gulf that politicians can't hope to fill.

"Politicians," as the LSE's Ian Angel writes, "are complaining about their loss of control over the national destiny. They gave up on the financial markets years ago." Meanwhile, computerisation is deskilling and, far worse, displacing a large proportion of the working population, a third of the 1990s banking workforce alone. The government, to its credit, has pursued a programme of education designed to offer people the IT skills needed to find work in an information society, but invariably the skills on offer don't reflect the areas of real demand. Making the transition from unemployed assembly-line worker to certified Cisco engineer is not always an easy one.

Returning briefly to Professor Angel and his "Age of Rage": "Because the masses were needed in the production process, the bourgeoisie was forced to share wealth around and this eventually led to the present dependency culture. But in the information age, who are the new bourgeoisie, now that production takes place inside a human head, rather than in a factory of machines? And what is their attitude to the masses now they no longer need them?"

While this may have been a Budget for education, government has to grasp the fact that technology and automation, in conjunction with an expanding service economy, produces proportionately fewer skilled jobs at one level and a demand for more "burger flippers" at a second. In between, the millions who once worked in the declining manufacturing sector have fewer prospects in transitioning to new-economy jobs.

In planning for future Budgets, I would urge the government to think more even more deeply about the changes that technology is forcing upon us and the impact that this will have on our society in 10 years' time. How do we get from where we were, a manufacturing economy, to where we want to be, an information economy, beyond the application of some very broad brush stroke initiatives. There's a huge amount of work to do and I suspect, very little time to do it in before the true social impact of new technology makes itself felt


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