No, not the warning that accompanies the announcements at various stations on the London Underground about the gap between the train and the platform, but the rather more worrisome condition that is surely one part of the cause of our current ailments and which, if left unaddressed, like any ailment is likely to get worse.
The people I meet these days are increasingly bemoaning a world that seems to be fracturing. Lower morals, insensitivity, uncaring societies, social dysfunction as a result of over reliance on social media, populism, nationalism, unemployment, senses of entitlement, and unequal pay. And it is this latter issue that is creating a widening dissent. You see it in the industrial action, the media ... all around you.
I have been privileged to grow up in what has probably been the luckiest generation in modern history. I was born in a country that was emerging from a World War, which of course folk said must never ever happen again. (Now where I have heard that sentiment expressed since?). We were not at all well off, but there were jobs for both the skilled and the unskilled. You took life as it came and dealt with it. There were few distractions, a la social media, unless you created the entertainment yourself. People were paid wages rather than salaries, and when the latter happened the target was to earn GBP1,150 a year. That was in 1964, when I started in banking, although I was at the bottom of the ladder and getting much less than that of course; but equivalent today, so the brains tell me, to around GBP22,000. But that is not the problem. The problem is THE GAP.
To me it is quite a simple dilemma that should have quite a simple solution, but I fear it never will until the problem THE GAP creates becomes so big that we all fall into it.
Let's look at it simply. A dilemma I see in some of my roles today is one of remuneration where I note there are very hard-working staff at the bottom of an organisation, and some equally hard-working (in most cases) executives in senior positions. Happily most of the seniors are there on merit rather than the old method of promotion that was largely based on seniority instead of ability; ability acquired over years of hard work and learning.
But when it comes to bonus time I get told that the staff at the bottom of the ladder should, just for illustrative purposes get say 1 month pay extra and the people at the top must have 2 months extra pay, because that is the "market". This means of course that the incremental effect on the senior person's pay is significantly more than the more junior person, and the gap widens year by year. The same sort of "logic" also applies to increments.
Take it a step further down. One of Britain's most successful chef's (actually he's French but operates in Britain) has just been accused of paying his staff below the minimum wage. Of course he knew nothing about it – he says! I know of families in Hong Kong who take great delight in saying that they have found ways to pay their domestic helpers less than the "going rate".
Look, this isn’t a debate about whether or not the top 1% of incomes “earned” is more than 90% of the world put together, but it’s more a request for there to be some common sense in this whole issue. I have no concerns about bonuses for genuine achievement, not do I fret too much if there is recognition that the responsibilities of management are indeed somewhat onerous and require great minds, keeping it in perspective. But there are some in our communities today who still have the view that greed is good. That not paying your taxes is somehow clever. Pushing down on people because they need to take a job, any job at any pay, just to put some food in the mouths of their families.
The people who think this is not a problem are the ones who will point to the fact that many millions of people in the last 20 years have been brought out of absolute poverty. That is a truism. But it doesn’t stop the “haves” getting ever richer and the “have-nots” off the poverty line, but still only just able to feed themselves.
Should we therefore really be surprised at the growth in populism and nationalism? Like water shortages, that are going to create major global issues in the not too distant future, if we don’t address the matter of income disparity we are going to end up with a young, unemployed, poorer generation who feel they have been let down by their forebears and who will have little doubt they need to take matters into their own hands, with inevitable results.