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A plan to teach the world

The epidemic of youth unemployment is betraying the promise of globalisation – but it doesn’t need t

Billions of people across the world are in need of and demanding a better globalisation - one that puts the economy to work for people and not the other way round. The financial crash exposed just how detached the global economy has become from our values - a misalignment that is most pronounced in the world's response to the global epidemic of youth unemployment.

The promise of globalisation is being betrayed as rates of joblessness climb to historic highs across the Middle East, Europe, America and sub-Saharan Africa. The window of opportunity is closing on millions of young people - yet I see little evidence that we have thought through how we can create the jobs that will deal with today's political instability and economic stagnation. Failure to do so is for me not simply a political but also a moral failure, because it cannot be right that a generation's chances be stolen before their life's journey has really begun. Nor can it be right that we should stand by and let that happen when such a result is so readily avoidable.

One of my favourite images in poetry comes from Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard", when he imagines beneath the gravestones "some mute inglorious Milton" - a person of huge hidden talents who was never given the chance to show what they could do: "Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,/ And waste its sweetness on the desert air."

What brought me into politics was my anger at the injustices that prevented people from making the most of their lives - and these injustices are at their most acute in the case of the life chances of young people. That is not because their lives matter more than the lives of others, but rather because years "missed" from work early in life are harder to recover from. This is a process economists call scarring - whereby a generation of school leavers or university graduates fail to find jobs, are soon overtaken by newer graduates with fresher skills, and end up falling further and further behind for the rest of their lives.

In recent months, there have been stirrings of resistance as young people the world over show that they are no longer prepared to tolerate a global economic order that is failing them so badly. The uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East show protest wearing a very youthful face. The reasons for this are obvious when we consider the figures. Two-thirds of Egypt's population is under 30 - and young people make up roughly 90 per cent of the country's jobless total. Youth unemployment has hit 30 per cent in Tunisia. The number is even higher - 45 per cent - in Algeria. By 2020 there will be an estimated 50 million young Arab workers without jobs.

Across most of Africa, too, there is a youth unemployment catastrophe. The continent will soon be home to one in every four of the world's young people - but already 80 per cent of them are either out of work or on a family income of less than $1.25 a day. Yet these headline figures, however shocking, do not tell the human or societal cost of youth unemployment: the tragic waste of potential, the damage to families and communities, and the colossal financial burden on societies.

The impact is also felt closer to home, with industrialised countries experiencing large spikes in worklessness among young people; in both Europe and the US, one young person in five is looking for a job. In my own constituency, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, the impact is all too obvious. A community that worked hard to recover from the destruction of its mining industry is now experiencing a crisis of confidence that may soon rival the deindustrialisation of the 1980s; head teachers in the area tell me that teenagers are now asking why they should study hard for their exams or university entrance when there will be no local jobs waiting for them.

Going for growth

But it doesn't need to be this way. In developing and developed countries alike, education is the key to giving young people the skills they need to be successful in a modern economy. As Nelson Mandela wrote in his autobiography: "Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor." For that reason, I was delighted to accept an invitation from the Global Campaign for Education - an organisation that brings together some of the world's leading NGOs, trade unions and campaigners in this field - to convene, in the company of the activist Graça Machel, Mandela's wife, a "high-level panel" to promote the cause of education throughout the world. In that capacity, I have authored a report* on education and growth to argue the case for a global push on education.

The case, I believe, is compelling. It is built on the twin pillars of ethics and economics: ethics because it is unfair that so many young people are being denied - through no fault of their own - the opportunity to develop their talents and are condemned to poverty, and economics because this waste of human capital is grossly economically inefficient.

New research presented in the report shows that a renewed push towards the Millennium Development Goal of quality basic primary education for all the world's children by 2015 could increase per capita income growth in the poorest countries by 2 per cent over projected levels. That would be good news for devel­oping countries and would make a big difference to the fight against global poverty - but it would be good news, too, for western econo­mies. People are often surprised to learn that sub-Saharan Africa is now a trillion-dollar economy and that it grew faster than India and Brazil between 2000 and 2010. In an era when both Europe and America appear set for sluggish growth in the short term, we need to do everything we can to support the development of alternative poles of growth in the global economy - poles that can boost global demand for our goods and services. Tackling youth unemployment in developing countries and addressing it in the developed nations are, therefore, two sides of the same coin.

As Professor Michael Spence shows in his latest book, The Next Convergence, future growth will not inevitably create the millions of jobs we need. And, looking to the future, I realise that to be unemployed without a skill is to be as disarmed as the labourer standing on a street corner in the 1930s. So I believe we should also focus policies forensically on what will create the highest number of jobs for young people across the world.

That approach has a number of implications. First, we must increase investment in education and skills at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. Parents throughout the world recognise the huge value of education, and often make great sacrifices to ensure that their children have the opportunity to go to school; the world must now match their aspirations.

We need to raise both the number of children in school (it is a scandal that today there are nearly 70 million children missing from school around the world) and the quality of education they receive, so that training is targeted to the growth areas in the global economy - services, high-end manufacturing, science and green technologies. We know that the size of the global middle class is going to explode - from a billion people at present to three billion in the next 20 years - and that only those young people with advanced learning, capable of providing niche goods and services, are going to be able to reap the full benefit of the surge in demand.

There is a danger that Africa and developing countries will undergo national "scarring"; the current global digital divide could become self-reinforcing, with children in the poorest countries locked out of new opportunities to gain the skills in information and communications technology that are vital for future employment and economic growth. I am determined that they should not miss out, so I am working on a number of initiatives to integrate Africa more closely into a globalised world, serving on the board of the World Wide Web Foundation and bringing people together to explore an Africa Fund to drive inward investment.

Second, we need to develop a more sophisticated understanding of what modern education means. Young people of today will not be taught the same things or in the same ways as previous generations. Mobile, online and distance learning are all creating greater access to resources than ever before. I am much inspired, for example, by the hugely imaginative proposals of John Sexton, president of New York University, who wants to open up access to his world-class institution to people around the world - not only by establishing campuses in different countries across the globe, but also by enabling internet-taught students to move into formal university learning with places at NYU.

Third, I believe we should be thinking imaginatively about how to redistribute the supply of workers in public services. If the world is going to meet the Millennium Development Goal on education, for instance, we need to train almost two million more teachers a year. At the same time, however, there are teachers in the developed countries unable to find work because of government cuts. So I propose the establishment of a Teach the World network, based on the Teach for America project in the US and Britain's own Teach First. I have already spoken to Rahul Gandhi, general secretary of the Indian National Congress, about a start in his country, where Teach for India is making excellent progress. The global network I propose would act as a skills set transfer, where teachers from one country would help train those in another who have identified gaps in their educational programmes. The result would be a huge rise in teaching standards across the globe.

Head and heart

Fourth, I believe other countries can learn a lot from New Labour's New Deal for the young unemployed. We were successful in driving down youth unemployment in the UK, not just because we were willing to invest, but also because we were prepared to back rights with responsibilities. If the world comes together with a global plan for jobs, we must expect young people to fulfil their duty to work. The same dynamic should operate between aid donors and the governments of developing countries. The developed world must fulfil the pledges it has made to realise the promise of Education for All but, in return, developing countries, too, must do more to support education and training for young people - especially girls.

A renewed focus on education in poor countries is the right thing to do by way of meeting our moral obligations - but it is also a hard-headed investment in human capital. The economic case for investment in physical infrastructure - roads, ports and airports - is widely accepted. The case for investing in human infrastructure is just as compelling. The Commission on Growth and Development carried out a review of developing countries that have succeeded in sustaining high growth over a period of 25 years or more since 1950, and concluded that "every country that sustained high growth for long periods put substantial effort into schooling its citizens and deepening its human capital". Both the east Asian "tiger economies" (from the 1960s onwards) and the US (from the start of the 20th century) followed this pattern, pulling ahead of their rivals in education before doing so economically.

The twin problems of youth unemployment and global education comprise a rare but happy instance in politics where head and heart pull in the same direction. All we need now is the will to do something about them.

Gordon Brown was prime minister from 2007 to 2010. Download his report "Education for All: Beating Poverty, Unlocking Prosperity" at gordonandsarahbrown.com

This article first appeared in the 13 June 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Rowan Williams guest edit

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Why Jeremy Corbyn is a new leader for the New Times

In an inspired election campaign, he confounded his detractors and showed that he was – more than any other leader – in tune with the times.

There have been two great political turning points in postwar Britain. The first was in 1945 with the election of the Attlee government. Driven by a popular wave of determination that peacetime Britain would look very different from the mass unemployment of the 1930s, and built on the foundations of the solidaristic spirit of the war, the Labour government ushered in full employment, the welfare state (including the NHS) and nationalisation of the basic industries, notably coal and the railways. It was a reforming government the like of which Britain had not previously experienced in the first half of the 20th century. The popular support enjoyed by the reforms was such that the ensuing social-democratic consensus was to last until the end of the 1970s, with Tory as well as Labour governments broadly operating within its framework.

During the 1970s, however, opposition to the social-democratic consensus grew steadily, led by the rise of the radical right, which culminated in 1979 in the election of Margaret Thatcher’s first government. In the process, the Thatcherites redefined the political debate, broadening it beyond the rather institutionalised and truncated forms that it had previously taken: they conducted a highly populist campaign that was for individualism and against collectivism; for the market and against the state; for liberty and against trade unionism; for law and order and against crime.

These ideas were dismissed by the left as just an extreme version of the same old Toryism, entirely failing to recognise their novelty and therefore the kind of threat they posed. The 1979 election, followed by Ronald Reagan’s US victory in 1980, began the neoliberal era, which remained hegemonic in Britain, and more widely in the West, for three decades. Tory and Labour governments alike operated within the terms and by the logic of neoliberalism. The only thing new about New Labour was its acquiescence in neoliberalism; even in this sense, it was not new but derivative of Thatcherism.

The financial crisis of 2007-2008 marked the beginning of the end of neoliberalism. Unlike the social-democratic consensus, which was undermined by the ideological challenge posed by Thatcherism, neoliberalism was brought to its knees not by any ideological alternative – such was the hegemonic sway of neoliberalism – but by the biggest financial crisis since 1931. This was the consequence of the fragility of a financial sector left to its own devices as a result of sweeping deregulation, and the corrupt and extreme practices that this encouraged.

The origin of the crisis lay not in the Labour government – complicit though it was in the neoliberal indulgence of the financial sector – but in the deregulation of the banking sector on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1980s. Neoliberalism limped on in the period after 2007-2008 but as real wages stagnated, recovery proved a mirage, and, with the behaviour of the bankers exposed, a deep disillusionment spread across society. During 2015-16, a populist wave of opposition to the establishment engulfed much of Europe and the United States.

Except at the extremes – Greece perhaps being the most notable example – the left was not a beneficiary: on the contrary it, too, was punished by the people in the same manner as the parties of the mainstream right were. The reason was straightforward enough. The left was tarnished with the same brush as the right: almost everywhere social-democratic parties, albeit to varying degrees, had pursued neoliberal policies. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair became – and presented themselves as – leaders of neoliberalism and as enthusiastic advocates of a strategy of hyper-globalisation, which resulted in growing inequality. In this fundamental respect these parties were more or less ­indistinguishable from the right.

***

The first signs of open revolt against New Labour – the representatives and evangelists of neoliberal ideas in the Labour Party – came in the aftermath of the 2015 ­election and the entirely unpredicted and overwhelming victory of Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership election. Something was happening. Yet much of the left, along with the media, summarily dismissed it as a revival of far-left entryism; that these were for the most part no more than a bunch of Trots. There is a powerful, often overwhelming, tendency to see new phenomena in terms of the past. The new and unfamiliar is much more difficult to understand than the old and familiar: it requires serious intellectual effort and an open and inquiring mind. The left is not alone in this syndrome. The right condemned the 2017 Labour Party manifesto as a replica of Labour’s 1983 manifesto. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

That Corbyn had been a veteran of the far left for so long lent credence to the idea that he was merely a retread of a failed past: there was nothing new about him. In a brilliant election campaign, Corbyn not only gave the lie to this but also demonstrated that he, far more than any of the other party leaders, was in tune with the times, the candidate of modernity.

Crises, great turning points, new conjunctures, new forms of consciousness are by definition incubators of the new. That is one of the great sources of their fascination. We can now see the line of linkage between the thousands of young people who gave Corbyn his overwhelming victory in the leadership election in 2015 and the millions of young people who were enthused by his general election campaign in 2017. It is no accident that it was the young rather than the middle-aged or the seniors who were in the vanguard: the young are the bearers and products of the new, they are the lightning conductors of change. Their elders, by contrast, are steeped in old ways of thinking and doing, having lived through and internalised the values and norms of neoliberalism for more than 30 years.

Yet there is another, rather more important aspect to how we identify the new, namely the way we see politics and how politics is conceived. Electoral politics is a highly institutionalised and tribal activity. There have been, as I argued earlier, two great turning points in postwar politics: the social-democratic era ushered in by the 1945 Labour government and the neoliberal era launched by the Tory government in 1979.

The average Tory MP or activist, no doubt, would interpret history primarily in terms of Tory and Labour governments; Labour MPs and activists would do similarly. But this is a superficial reading of politics based on party labels which ignores the deeper forces that shape different eras, generate crises and result in new paradigms.

Alas, most political journalists and columnists are afflicted with the same inability to distinguish the wood (an understanding of the deeper historical forces at work) from the trees (the day-to-day manoeuvring of parties and politicians). In normal times, this may not be so important, because life continues for the most part as before, but at moments of great paradigmatic change it is absolutely critical.

If the political journalists, and indeed the PLP, had understood the deeper forces and profound changes now at work, they would never have failed en masse to rise above the banal and predictable in their assessment of Corbyn. Something deep, indeed, is happening. A historical era – namely, that of neoliberalism – is in its death throes. All the old assumptions can no longer be assumed. We are in new territory: we haven’t been here before. The smart suits long preferred by New Labour wannabes are no longer a symbol of success and ambition but of alienation from, and rejection of, those who have been left behind; who, from being ignored and dismissed, are in the process of moving to the centre of the political stage.

Corbyn, you may recall, was instantly rejected and ridiculed for his sartorial style, and yet we can now see that, with a little smartening, it conveys an authenticity and affinity with the times that made his style of dress more or less immune from criticism during the general election campaign. Yet fashion is only a way to illustrate a much deeper point.

The end of neoliberalism, once so hegemonic, so commanding, is turning Britain on its head. That is why – extraordinary when you think about it – all the attempts by the right to dismiss Corbyn as a far-left extremist failed miserably, even proved counterproductive, because that was not how people saw him, not how they heard him. He was speaking a language and voicing concerns that a broad cross-section of the public could understand and identify with.

***

The reason a large majority of the PLP was opposed to Corbyn, desperate to be rid of him, was because they were still living in the neoliberal era, still slaves to its ideology, still in thrall to its logic. They knew no other way of thinking or political being. They accused Corbyn of being out of time when in fact it was most of the PLP – not to mention the likes of Mandelson and Blair – who were still imprisoned in an earlier historical era. The end of neoliberalism marks the death of New Labour. In contrast, Corbyn is aligned with the world as it is rather than as it was. What a wonderful irony.

Corbyn’s success in the general election requires us to revisit some of the assumptions that have underpinned much political commentary over the past several years. The turmoil in Labour ranks and the ridiculing of Corbyn persuaded many, including on the left, that Labour stood on the edge of the abyss and that the Tories would continue to dominate for long into the future. With Corbyn having seized the political initiative, the Tories are now cast in a new light. With Labour in the process of burying its New Labour legacy and addressing a very new conjuncture, then the end of neoliberalism poses a much more serious challenge to the Tories than it does the Labour Party.

The Cameron/Osborne leadership was still very much of a neoliberal frame of mind, not least in their emphasis on austerity. It would appear that, in the light of the new popular mood, the government will now be forced to abandon austerity. Theresa May, on taking office, talked about a return to One Nation Toryism and the need to help the worst-off, but that has never moved beyond rhetoric: now she is dead in the water.

Meanwhile, the Tories are in fast retreat over Brexit. They held a referendum over the EU for narrowly party reasons which, from a national point of view, was entirely unnecessary. As a result of the Brexit vote, the Cameron leadership was forced to resign and the Brexiteers took de facto command. But now, after the election, the Tories are in headlong retreat from anything like a “hard Brexit”. In short, they have utterly lost control of the political agenda and are being driven by events. Above all, they are frightened of another election from which Corbyn is likely to emerge as leader with a political agenda that will owe nothing to neoliberalism.

Apart from Corbyn’s extraordinary emergence as a leader who understands – and is entirely comfortable with – the imperatives of the new conjuncture and the need for a new political paradigm, the key to Labour’s transformed position in the eyes of the public was its 2017 manifesto, arguably its best and most important since 1945. You may recall that for three decades the dominant themes were marketisation, privatisation, trickle-down economics, the wastefulness and inefficiencies of the state, the incontrovertible case for hyper-globalisation, and bankers and financiers as the New Gods.

Labour’s manifesto offered a very different vision: a fairer society, bearing down on inequality, a more redistributive tax system, the centrality of the social, proper funding of public services, nationalisation of the railways and water industry, and people as the priority rather than business and the City. The title captured the spirit – For the Many Not the Few. Or, to put in another way, After Neoliberalism. The vision is not yet the answer to the latter question, but it represents the beginnings of an answer.

Ever since the late 1970s, Labour has been on the defensive, struggling to deal with a world where the right has been hegemonic. We can now begin to glimpse a different possibility, one in which the left can begin to take ownership – at least in some degree – of a new, post-neoliberal political settlement. But we should not underestimate the enormous problems that lie in wait. The relative economic prospects for the country are far worse than they have been at any time since 1945. As we saw in the Brexit vote, the forces of conservatism, nativism, racism and imperial nostalgia remain hugely powerful. Not only has the country rejected continued membership of the European Union, but, along with the rest of the West, it is far from reconciled with the new world that is in the process of being created before our very eyes, in which the developing world will be paramount and in which China will be the global leader.

Nonetheless, to be able to entertain a sense of optimism about our own country is a novel experience after 30 years of being out in the cold. No wonder so many are feeling energised again.

This article first appeared in the 15 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn: revenge of the rebel

Martin Jacques is the former editor of Marxism Today. 

This article first appeared in the 15 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn: revenge of the rebel

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