Commentary: The Great Divides

Pub. Date
31 May, 2022

Countries, societies and families can, of course, be divided. The UK has often been described as being divided along a North-South line running from The Wash to the Severe, or from the River Tees to the River Exe. Indeed the North-South divide once again became an enduring feature of the economic and cultural landscape in the late 1970s and early 1980s. At least initially this divide was related to the decline of traditional primary (for example, mining) and secondary (manufacturing) industries and the rise of the service sector in London, which increasingly provided legal, financial, accounting and educational services to the rest of the world. Oddly enough both sets of industries, whether in decline or still growing by the later twentieth century, had deep roots in the industrial revolution. This simple observation tells us that we cannot know today which sorts of industries will necessarily thrive into the twenty-first century: Hoxton hipsters making furniture might dominate the pricing of credit default swaps. And the problem then facing the design of political institutions is to create some form of risk sharing that means, at least to some extent, all can benefit from individual success without damaging the prospects for that success. Failure to manage that change recently lies at the heart of rising populist momentum.