There are two ways to take this little snippet of news:
The average pay gap between men and women continued to decline last year, falling by 0.4 percentage points, but still leaving a 12.2 per cent difference, according to the Office for National Statistics.
If that gender pay gap is something you worry about then that is good news: it’s getting smaller. As it has been for decades. You can also complain about it, as some did:
A spokesman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “The improvement in the gender pay gap is something to be welcomed and we hope this trend will continue.
However, he added: “If this rate of decline continues it will be another 17 years before women and men will be earning equal pay.”
But then I would also say that this was good news for those who worry about the gender pay gap. Only 17 years to close something which has been with us for millennia? How wonderful that is in this world that is simply getting better by the day!
But beneath that snark and flippancy there is a much more important point. Solutions and corrections to the perceived problems of said world do not pop up overnight. Even if we hit upon the magic set of actions they still take time to work through society. So the call to action should not be based solely upon the existence of a problem: it should be based on whether that problem is already in the process of being solved or not before we insist on yet more actions to solve it. So it might be with these gender pay gap figures: whatever it is that we needed to do we’ve already done, the problem will be gone in a couple of decades and Hurrah! let’s go and worry about something else.
We might apply the same logic to other problems: recent decades, those recent decades of that hated globalisation and “neo-liberalism”, have seen the greatest reduction in human poverty in the history of the globe or our species. Huge great plans to “solve poverty” are thus not needed: we just need to continue doing what we’re doing, trading with our fellow humans as we have been and the problem will solve itself. We have, if you wish, already alighted upon the solution and simply need to carry on as we are.
This isn’t, of course, a popular thought amongst those who insist that we must do something, now, to solve all the ills of the world but it is a general truism. Many of the perceived problems are already being solved it’s just that time as well as solutions are needed.