Like me, you probably don't pay too much attention to the monthly unemployment figures, since they don't seem to be going anywhere in particular. In fact, something quite extraordinary is happening, which is transforming the world of work, making a nonsense of government policies, like the much criticised Work Programme and turning a once prosperous and relatively secure society into one driven by insecurity and debt. It also poses a very serious question about Scotland's future.
You see, unemployment - 2.5million - is a lot lower than it should be. Indeed, the numbers out of work have been falling even as the country heads into triple dip recession. Unemployment rose to 8% in November 2011 and has been falling more or less ever since. Yet in the recession of the 1980s, which was mild compared to this one, unemployment rose to 12% and stayed there.
Stranger still, unemployment in Scotland has been running at a lower rate than in the UK. This month, 7.7% of Scots were out of work, against 7.8% for the UK. In the 1980s, unemployment in Scotland soared to 15% - almost double what it is today and far ahead of the rest of the UK. Indeed it was nearer 18% in the West as Scotland's industrial heartlands were ripped out and thrown on the scrap heap. So, although this recession has lasted twice as long as the 1980s and is far deeper, unemployment is falling when it should be rising.
This is all exceeding strange, because I defy anyone to look around Scotland today and regard it as a country in economic recovery - despite the claims made by the Scottish government, who can't seem to decide whether Scotland is being dragged down by the UK Chancellor, George Osborne's austerity or being held aloft by Alex Salmond's Plan Mc B.
What has happened is something we haven't seen in Britain since the 19th Century: a productivity recession, in which the economy is going back in time. The reason unemployment hasn't increased is largely because people are accepting lower wages. Pay (except of course for bankers) has been falling by 1% a year, in real terms, which may not sound like much, but equates to around £1500 in reduced income for average households so far, and earnings will continue to fall until 2018 at least. This is unprecedented. Firms are are using cheap labour instead of new machines - which is why productivity is falling in Britain. We're getting poorer by making ourselves less efficient. This is why those high street shops have all been closing and why Britain isn't recovering through exports, despite the fall in the value of the pound.
This only sounds counter-intuitive because our political culture is still essentially neo-liberal and assumes that if you hold down wages the economy must do better. In fact, quite the reverse is the case. Low wages breed economic stagnation because worker/consumers lack money to buy goods and firms have no incentive to apply new techniques and machinery because labour is so cheap. That's why this depression is unlike any this century. You have to go back to the 1870s to find a recession as long and as deep - though even then industrial output continued to grow through the application of new technologies. Coalition policies today are taking us back to the days when people wore top hats and the government was run by ex public schoolboys. Oh - I forgot, it already is.