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To cut through the confusion, we have to disentangle discontents. First and foremost, there are the long-dated effects of the 2008 crash. In many ways, what is surprising is that there has been so little reaction given the severity of what happened. A decade later, we may not yet have seen the end of the ricochet effects on some of the European banks — and we certainly have yet to see the real wages of many people who were previously at or near to median income reach the level they were at before the crash. Even in Britain, where the flexible labour market has kept employment high and unemployment low throughout the period, and where tax credits have made up a significant part of the income lost by the hardest-pressed working families, there was bound to be some political reaction.

Second, and following directly from the first, there are the fiscal effects of 2008 — causing governments throughout the West to address significant (in Britain’s case, huge) fiscal deficits through long and difficult periods of fiscal consolidation. This presents fiscally responsible governments with the need to find means of reducing the deficit further while increasing spending significantly in some key areas: inevitably, this will necessitate tax increases — politically challenging, even if cleverly targeted.Third, there is the education and training deficit. As new information, communication and manufacturing technologies have come to dominate large parts of our lives, in contrast to the dire prophecies made by those who predicted mass disemployment, the productivity gains brought about by these technologies over four decades in well-managed economies such as the US, the UK and Germany have (as always before) gone hand in hand with growing, not diminishing workforces. But the gap has widened between the value of labour for those who have the skills either to manipulate the new technologies themselves or to deliver the services that they support, and those who do not possess any of the now-valued skills. Inevitably, the pictures of  bright young people celebrating the fruits of their highly-paid and highly-skilled labour in glitzy metropolitan restaurants and wine bars have stirred a political reaction among those who have missed out on the skills and the pay.

Fourth, there is the demographic shift. As the population in Western countries has aged, so-called “dependency ratios” have increased. More elderly people have come to depend for longer on the pensions and savings that they have managed to accumulate during their working lives. In Britain at least, the poorest pensioners have been very highly protected — and have seen their real incomes rise annually in a period when incomes for many working households were flat or declining. But, even in the UK, for those slightly better-off (but still by no means well-off) pensioners living on small savings or annuities, the prolonged period of vanishingly low interest rates following the crash, combined with the effects of increasing longevity on annuity rates, have produced massive impacts on real incomes, which had not been expected before 2008 and for which the pensioners in question had as a result not prepared themselves.
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