By Anthony Andrews
The world is about to end!
Not really, it’s just that, like on the TV news or at the box office, real world events that aren’t at the extreme ends of the spectrum don’t grab anybody’s attention … we want monsters. We want heroes and villains. We want drama!
Unfortunately, most of the real-world events that shape all our lives are far more mundane. Far less attention grabbing, even though they are far more important than the extreme events that get our blood pumping and our imaginations working.
This is reality.
As an individual, I make a good wage. A very good wage for my formal education level. Do I believe I work hard for that wage? Of course I do, but I know other people work a lot harder for less.
Do I feel guilty about that? No, I feel extremely fortunate that I was born in a prosperous and resource laden country and that I work in an industry that still has the power to bargain collectively.
Still, my permanent employment is not secure … it’s just a matter of time before corporate decision makers decide my family and I are not important enough to take into consideration when “moving forward”.
The success of any individual in our wealthier societies is not, as free market thinkers will tell you, the result of one person working harder or being brighter that the others, it is a team effort.
We all depend on other people to live. People that work in healthcare, education, sanitation. People that make the laws and regulations that govern our societies. Our families and friends. They all contribute to our success as individuals, whether we care to accept that truth or not … without other people most of us would’ve died as children, assuming that we could’ve been born at all without the involvement of other people.
Working men and women have never had it so good. The majority of the world’s population have never had it so good. In the last fifty years the amount of people living in poverty has almost halved. Childhood deaths from disease, accidents and poor health has dropped even further. The constant search for capital to continue generating profit has bought with it, globally, a lot of good, as well as bad.
The multinational is not an evil demon. It is not out to destroy the world and hoard all the world’s money, the truth is far more boring than that. It’s survival just depends on finding ways to make its excess capital continue to “work”.
The basic rule is; capital cannot be allowed to sit idle, it has to continue to grow.
Its main problem is its tendency to get bogged down in bureaucracy of its own making, the greed of individuals, and a kind of self-absorbed stupidity.
In its ever searching quest for cheaper production costs, cheaper labour and the need to attract more investment to avoid being taken over by other bigger, stronger, multinational corporations, it has completely changed the world and contrary to what a lot of us believe, plenty of those changes are positive.
Whilst homogenisation of consumer goods and services has changed the nature of individual countries, what we sometimes call the ‘Americanisation’ of shopping, entertainment and eating habits, overall, it has improved the state of the world much more than it has damaged it … well, for mankind in general at least, maybe not for the planet and its other inhabitants though.
The world can no longer be viewed as the “developed” world and the “undeveloped”. It is a concept that has no relevance anymore in our global community. There are only around 13-14 countries that can now be considered as “third world” (itself an outdated term) that is, where the inhabitants earn less than $2 a day, but even in those countries a lot of people have access to basic sanitation and healthcare, food, clean water, education, and some form of electrical power.
Arguably, two of the most important products that have contributed to this uplift of humanity are both derived from the oil and gas industry and are generally considered to be a scourge to the planet, with good reason in some cases but, it’s also been of great benefit to us all, plastic … the disposable syringe and the cheap plastic bucket.
Afghanistan, for example, is one of these countries mentioned earlier and, without arguing any sort of moral position regarding its fairly recent occupation by the major oil corporations, their presence will very soon have an overwhelming impact on the country as a whole and it will no longer be in the list as a deprived nation. This is not about freedom or democracy, it’s not about religion, it’s about the health and educational possibilities for the country’s citizens and its present opportunity to climb out of poverty.
I’m not saying the multinationals and their shareholders (mostly other multinationals) do these wonderful things for humanity out of the goodness of their hearts, they need the infrastructure and a reasonably healthy workforce to operate efficiently, as a driver of productivity and profit.
Unfortunately, although improvements to the world continue, the overall effect of leaders being placed in positions by nepotism, outlived reputations, populism, or political favouritism, has begun to hamper the overall trend.
People placed in high and middle-management positions with only a rudimentary understanding of the industries they control or an outdated view of the world, is a major problem felt by everyone from the shop floor to the shareholders, as is rewarding short term achievements over long term objectives. The dividend and share price appear to be all that’s important, long term sustainability and a steady profit are no longer considered as effective management of a large business. But that’s not to say that, collectively, there is no long-term plan either.
Global capital is running out of countries whose labour can be exploited for profit. As I stated earlier, there are only 13-14 countries left where individuals earn less than $2 a day, even if some of our “big Australians” tell us differently.
The multinational and radical conservatives are working as if they know that it won’t be long before their profit margins from the established consumer countries shrink and that all the outsourcing and relocation of manufacturing won’t make a bit of difference … they seem concerned and we should be too.
Sooner, rather than later, they will reach the end of the world, but they are preparing themselves for that, we need to do the same.
It seems that outdated and often prejudiced ideas about the people of the world and their purchasing power has blinded many of those in high positions to the fact that enormous profits are theirs for the taking, now and into the future. The need to reduce the wages, workplace rights and social protections of the wealthier nations is not necessary.
As the wealth of formerly low-income countries increases and they become consumer economies themselves, so the income and spending power of the established, formerly western world, diminishes. Asia and Africa will become far larger markets for consumer goods than Europe and the US (according to UN data) within the next 60 years, but as profit from a larger worldwide consumer base increases, savings from labour and production costs will decrease.
This situation puts present consumer-based nations in a difficult position. Already we’ve seen the infrastructure of major US cities decay because of capital’s offshoring of the industries that originally built them, and the less formally educated citizens lack of future, decent wage-earning ability has created conditions that emerging nations are now leaving behind.
The ongoing contamination of Flint, Michigan’s water supply is just one example, the replacement of high paying work with insecure, minimum wage employment that even 40 hours of work a week still qualifies most workers for government assistance, in the US, taking the form of food stamps, is another.
These global trends didn’t start yesterday, just like the attacks on organised labour didn’t. We all need to understand the importance of this if we hope to “change the rules” beyond benefiting isolated pockets of the workforce.
Where does that leave us, here in Australia?
Before we get to that we need to understand a couple of other things first.
By 2100 there will be around 4 billion more people on the planet, most of these will be between the ages of 15 to 74.
But it’s easy to forget that population growth is not exponential, as we are led to believe.
The rate of children being born has already begun to flatline and it has nothing to do with an increase in child mortality, that problem of society is, fortunately, in the past.
It’s because overall, the world is getting healthier, wealthier, and wiser.
Women are having less children, not just in our societies, but globally. The rate is down to 2.7 children per family, down from 6 just 30 odd years ago. Less than 70 years ago, 15 out of every 100 children born died before the age of 5 … now it’s 3. Unfortunately, we still think in a Malthusian way, even if we don’t recognise the term. Our “gut” instinct tells us that our planet can’t sustain a rapidly expanding world population. It can, it just doesn’t need to, our “gut” feeling is based on a falsehood … there will not be anywhere near the 32 billion people on earth in a hundred years, as a few media reports have alarmingly stated. According to UN statistics, there will be a world population of 11 billion in 2100.
It’s just that not enough of these working age men and women will have jobs!
Also, there is far less danger and conflict today than at any time in world history.
That is a fact. It may not appear to be true, watching our TV news, with its constant reports of wars being waged and dramatic footage of devastating natural events, but the demands of a 24-hour news cycle distorts the truth, they can’t help it because the amplification of our fears and empathetic pity is the only thing that keeps us watching.
We can now view live feeds of a bus washed away by floodwaters in Peru or interviews of the parents of children kidnapped by radicals somewhere in Africa as soon as it happens, and every hour afterwards until some other dramatic event occurs in the world to replace it and capture our imaginations.
Watching the news, you would assume that terrorism is a constant, imminent threat to every Australian, but the only real threat to our way of life at the moment is the depleted national budget and restricted civil liberties that have come from “protective measures” initiated to “protect our safety”.
The world is a much safer place to live on than we believe … for humans, at least.
What this all means for us in Australia
To “compete in a global economy” does not have to mean austerity or “tightening our belts” to maintain our standard of living.
We just need to understand the situation clearly before we initiate actions that are driven by fear or populism.
As an example, the “burden” of pension age people on working men and women is false. Well, not exactly false, we’re just being misled as to the causes by those that we’ve elected to lead us and those in the media that give us our understanding of the world … maybe they are being misled as well, who knows.
The reason politicians and others are crying out about the un-sustainability of the pension system is because there will be far more working age people worldwide, not just nationally, than there will be employment for all of them.
Work that provides an income for basic costs of living and the occasional luxury, let alone paying enough in taxes to contribute to the pension system, as it now stands.
Now that we appear to no longer allocate a certain percentage of personal income tax to support it, exactly how is it funded?
At present, jobs that do not provide enough income to the worker, even if they have a 40-hour permanent position, have a large percentage of their contribution in tax handed back to them in low income credits, just to allow for a reasonable standard of living.
This, rather than pensions, is what is unsustainable. The same applies for Medicare. A shrinking tax base should be a concern for all of us, but providing for those beyond working age should be a non-negotiable part of our social contract.
But big business interests are working just as hard to “change the rules” as the labour movement are.
Casualisation, zero-hour employment, labour hire, sub-contracting of labour with each worker classed as a business…complete with their own ABN. The “gig” economic model of labour hire.
These initiatives are considered vital to ensure continued survival of these giant businesses into the future.
“Levelling the playing field” with the rising consumer nations is going to be achieved by bringing our wages down as theirs go up.
Unfortunately for us, the short-term interest mentality still dominates the boardrooms of the world even as they strive to achieve the long term goal, existing in a kind of bipolar state, where every cent still needs to be squeezed from the wealthiest consumer nations, yet at the same time they lobby governments stating that, generally, wages need to come down or only rise modestly, so that business is not damaged.
The same bipolar state applies to their workforce. They want to have no long-term financial commitments to those they employ, instead believing that it’s the obligation of government to provide assistance to its people, while at the same time lobbying for “smaller government” with less regulations, oversight and involvement in the affairs of a “free market”.
Concludes tomorrow …