We’re two weeks into a new year and, if you step outside the Brexit-dominated bubble for a moment, the UK in 2019 can seem like quite a positive place to live.
The economy is growing, albeit not as quickly as in some other similar countries, and unemployment has rarely been lower.
Of course it’s difficult to ignore the dark clouds of Brexit and the dire warnings we’re all sick of hearing, about the disasters that await us if we crash out without a deal.
It may seem like an odd thing to hear in this of all weeks, but there are other more powerful forces that are moving more slowly and with less fanfare, but which will play a more significant role in all of our lives.
Brexit is just one symptom of a global shift in ideas and capital that are changing the nature of the way we trade and work.
What you may have missed beneath the deafening chatter about Mrs May’s deal is what’s happening outside your front door.
If you live in the West Midlands, you’ll have been shocked by last week’s announcement that Jaguar Land Rover is to shed 4,500 UK jobs.
The company was at pains not to make this bombshell about Brexit; rather it’s about demand in China and diesel engines falling out of favour. Almost as a footnote, was the revelation that 2,350 of the mainly manufacturing jobs, will switch from Solihull to JLR’s newly built plant in Slovakia.
Ford also signalled the impending loss of 1000 workers – more than half of the work force – at its production plant at Bridgend.
Both are part of a continuing movement of jobs to lower-cost states in the EU and further afield, including in South America, South East Asia and the Far East.
Relocating to those areas not only saves on commercial property costs, taxes and salaries but results in bosses dealing with weaker labour regulations and less unionised workforces.
And it’s not just shop-floor workers who are affected. Increasingly, employers are replacing mid and senior-level executives with cheaper managers. Some are given the chance to relocate, if they speak the language, but companies count on most not moving.
Executives in these positions are older, with families, and are not be minded to take children out of schools and uproot away from friends. A spouse may not be able to find a suitable job in the new country.
Most are pressured into taking a redundancy deal and, when they leave, their positions are downgraded and given to younger replacements for less money.
Those who opt to relocate don’t complain or push for a wage rise for fear of being sacked or forced to relocate again.
Alongside this ongoing trend is the inexorable rise of Artifical Intelligence (AI) which is being pushed into virtually every workplace as a panacea for achieving greater efficiencies without the need for pesky humans.
Meanwhile, historically high employment levels can’t continue forever; tax cuts and other fiscal stimuli that have attracted companies to the UK, helping to create an employment boom, will end when the public’s patience with austerity finally snaps and government is forced to divert some of that money into shoring-up the country’s failing infrastructure.
While ministers crow that we have full employment, wages have stagnated and, in real terms, many people are worse off than a decade ago. Many people have taken jobs beneath their skills and educational qualifications and have been reluctant to push for a raise for fear of losing their income.
And so, to Brexit. A large number of people voted Leave because they resented the arrival of large numbers of migrants, mainly from Eastern Europe, taking jobs and working for poverty wages, at least by British standards.
This has been an issue for all developed economies and there’s no guarantee Brexit will end it. Leaving and striking trade deals with Commonwealth countries could well lead to the arrival of migrants willing to work for even lower wages that their comparatively affluent EU counterparts.
Irrespective of what immigration rules are introduced post-Brexit, the growing trend toward remote working means overseas workers will continue to work for UK companies without having to set foot on British soil.
On a positive note, working from home will become widely acceptable for all as companies realise they can save on expensive office costs and pay people lower wages for allowing them the luxury of working in their dressing gowns.
The downside is that this new army of home workers will be ever more closely monitored by a new generation of Big Brother technology created to scrutinize each and every task they perform.
Educated, middle-class Brits in mid and senior management positions will be replaced by younger, remote workers in low-wage states around the world.
The new Masters of the Universe will not be bankers and hedge fund managers but tech-savvy developers providing companies with game-changing business management software.
This environment will suit people who thrive in an environment of change. Rapid developments will create new opportunities for smart, ambitious, risk takers with the foresight to benefit from the chaos. The rest of us will be left to ponder where it all went wrong while we were obsessing about Brexit.