RUTH SUNDERLAND: Work is no longer fashionable

  • The endless whining about “work-life balance” has become irritating
  • The country we live in today was shaped by the decade of Madonna and Maggie
  • We could use an injection of their energy

When I saw Madonna's concert at the O2 last week, I thought about the economics of the 1980s and not just the music. Yes, I should probably get out more, but bear with me.

Madonna was never the greatest singer, but she wholeheartedly embraced the aspirational culture of the 1980s.

Love her or hate her, she worked for her success and is still doing it at 65, dancing on despite a big blue leg brace.

But the work ethic that Madonna embodies is in danger of evaporating after the pandemic.

Governments learned some lessons from that era. Politicians rightly want to avoid the brutal impact of job losses on individuals and communities that occurred 40 years ago.

'Lunch is for wimps': Michael Douglas played the corrupt financier Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street

At the time, British and American central bankers were desperate to tackle inflation, just as they are today. According to the monetarist doctrine of the time, large-scale unemployment was a price worth paying to bring inflation back under control, a position that would be unthinkable today.

This has had a severe impact on the former industrial heartlands of Britain and America, including Madonna's hometown of Detroit, which was hit by the collapse of the car industry. The starting point now is more support, as we have seen during Covid with the furlough scheme.

Concerns about widespread job losses due to the pandemic have been allayed. Employment has remained high. It's not entirely clear how high, as we reported in the Mail on Sunday yesterday, because there are two sets of official statistics and they range up to a million people. But vacancies are plentiful, in a welcome contrast to the 1980s.

The downside is that employers are faced with staff shortages. This drives up wages and hinders economic growth.

Many jobs and the expectation of a safety net also create a culture in which work is in danger of being devalued.

Everyone from Elon Musk to the Bank for International Settlements has pointed to a weakening of work ethic. The fear of unemployment, a constant threat in the 1980s, seems to have almost completely disappeared.

This is also positive, provided it does not turn into law. But the assumption that jobs are freely available underlies employers' inability to convince their staff to return to the office rather than continue working from home. Bosses are too afraid to order employees in case they resign.

Britain's labor shortage is partly due to an aging population and long NHS waiting lists post-Covid. It also seems to have become socially acceptable to lack ambition and denigrate work.

If the '80s mantra 'lunch is for wimps' from the movie Wall Street went too far, the endless whining about 'work-life balance' has now become irritating. Work is not separate from our 'real' existence, as this sentence implies, but is part of life.

The 1980s were a decade of division and economic turmoil. As UB40 sang about the one in ten left unemployed after steel mills, mines and car factories closed in the North and Midlands, London was bursting with money and ambition.

Big Bang in 1986 transformed the Square Mile into a vibrant global hub. Now, in a trend that no one seems to want to prevent, London's stock market is seeing an exodus of companies.

The capital's status as an international financial center is disappearing by the week and the response is slow.

The country we live in today was shaped by the 1980s, the decade of Madonna and Mrs Thatcher. We could use an injection of their energy.