Fear Factor – Obstacles to full employment

Rick over at Flip Chart Fairy Tales did a piece this week, and it chimed in with a bit of thinking that I’d been doing and a few articles I’d read, and in a wakeful hour at 5am I came up with some ideas.

Economists like to think of employment in charts and statistics, which can tell you so much. Since I studied Economics at Uni (a few years back now), I’ve been busy working in a variety of businesses and seen a lot of cycles, trends etc.

How anyone can judge whether we’re are at full employment I don’t know. Jobs are created not by organisations but by people. Managers have to assess their staff, their workload, their budgets, and then make calls on recruitment.

But most managers are pretty rubbish at it. They are usually technical specialists with some people and management skills, promoted to management and doing their best. But the pressure is on. Organisations of all types must work to their budget. (That’s not always true, but that’s the line they’re fed). The budget is based on history and what they’ve been paying before. Very few managers understand how it fits into the organisation’s goals, how it is calculated, or even who did the workings. The manager’s boss is being judged on performance vs budget, and is sufficiently removed from the day-to-day that they don’t care about the details. If the manager is to ensure his medium-term survival in the organisation, they have to work to the budget, they have to save more than their predecessor, they have to demonstrate that they’re more aware of the financials than the manager of Dept B. They get swept up in meetings, presentations, and still have to do bits of the technical work in which they excelled. So they work extra hours – it’s expected, it’s the norm. And subordinates C,D,E follow suit. Everyone pulls together to get things done, everyone wants to look like they’re trying just as hard as everyone else. Everyone in the whole team is now working from a perspective of FEAR – and this travels vertically up and down the organisation.

What I’m saying is, most organisations get by with their current headcount because they’re cutting corners for financial ends, and deriving lots of free work from their staff. And this works because it’s the same in almost every work environment, and the fear of losing work is much greater than the perceived loss of an hour with the kids, or a walk round the park with the dog, cooking a nice meal, or taking Spanish lessons.

But every hour spent working is an hour lost to the rest of society. Someone, somewhere is having to cope with that loss – a partner getting stressed at the kids, the kids who don’t get a story and a cuddle, or a local school short of governors, an evening course teacher with no work as there are no pupils, a local butcher with unsold stock because you’re getting ready meals from the co-op on the way home.

Putting it another way, a heck of a lot of people are working extra hours for free, and this is keeping other people out of work. And this is a significant obstacle to full employment.

You might argue that this is key to keeping costs down, thus keeping prices down, it’s somehow efficient. It’s a global race, and we must remain competitive.

But competitiveness comes not from cheap labour alone. At the margins, perhaps, but all competitors are all doing the same things. There’s a dead simple Game theory modelling of this you could do, but the current situation is sub-optimal for all. Every organisation employing people would surely prefer to have more employees (more brains), working fewer hours – it’s surely more likely to deliver long-term success.

True organisational success comes from delivering really bloody well, or developing great products, it’s not achieved through fear and overwork.

Which comes back to one of the recurring themes of this blog – most of the faults with our economy and our society is this obsession with short-termism. Banks covering short-term losses with risky derivatives, business leaders pillaging massive bonuses on dangerous bets still on the table, politicians trying to save ten-bob now at the cost of developing smart, happy, well-adjusted kids, regulators capsizing themselves for a swizzy city-job, voters with nothing more in mind than todays papers. When short-termist thinking persists over long periods the result is a rudderless society, with idiots at the helm, and a small few selfish individuals who are happy at capturing god-like treasure booty, oblivious to the puddles forming around their feet.

Link to Rick’s piece https://flipchartfairytales.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/life-after-peak-employment/


UK Budget 2013

With the budget set for tomorrow, I just wanted to take a couple of minutes to get my twopenneth in.

George Osborne will deliver his budget tomorrow, and the analysts, journalists and pub pundits will be looking to see if he’s been a success or failure. Before you all fall in line and look at the detailed figures, who wins who loses, let me make one thing absolutely clear.

George Osborne cares about George Osborne, and his friends. Everything about his tenancy at the heart of govt policy and No 11 tells us that he doesn’t give a damn about the impact on the average folk in the UK.

His objectives are to rip up the post-war agreement, privatise as much as possible on favourable deals for his cronies, and keep the banks happy. His objectives do not include growth, happiness, and making Marjorie in Margate happy. His only constraint is that he must be seen to be not doing those things, and give the perception that he’s not done a terrible job.

He’s a politician of the most ruthless and unpleasant kind, driven by the approval of his peers, and the prospects of his own success. And based on the goals outlined above, he is indeed a success. He will be able to leave the coalface of politics at the next election and mop up the directorships and goodwill from his favoured corporations. Job done. Without a mandate and against the will of the switched on members of the public he will have completed the project set in motion in 1979. Civilisation, equality, fairness and opportunity for all have all been eroded, and it will be a long ugly road to get them back, as we will have to fight not one government, but many governments, many plutocrats, many legal systems, trade agreements amid media indifference.

So when you’re looking at the details of tax breaks here, and tweaks there, take a step back, look at what has been done, not what has been spun, and resolve to start putting it right in whatever way you can.

Jumping Through Hoops – Corporate Efficiency

Remember this and every other government talking about cutting red-tape to business? We need to get business moving, remove the petty barriers. Agreed.

That’s my day job – doing stuff, getting things moving. I’m pretty lucky to finally be working for a company that tries to be good at that.

But the red-tape and barriers to doing business don’t just come from meddling councillors and stupid govt initiatives (plenty do), but more and more they come from momumentally stoopid large corporates, who while saying they want to be business partners, act like the worst kind of narky-parky from comics of yore.

Examples – we need a telephone line setting up for new premises, the order is done, the engineer goes to site, but the paperwork shows a wrong postcode. He can still do the job, he’s taken an hour to drive there, but checks with head office, who say he can’t do the job, he just needs to sit on his hands for a couple of hours. We get a call to tell us it has to be re-scheduled, but will take 4 weeks. Grraaahhh!!! The premises needs to be operational before that, but what can they do?!?!

Or the Utilities company who insist on copies of their own f**king bills to accept your application to go somewhere else for the electricity.

Or the IT company who provide a terrible service which is failing the terms of their contract, but choose to not improve on the basis that the legal costs of demonstrating it, and the time consumed, will put you off going legal.

Or the Water company who want to charge you £3000 a year for providing water to 2 flushing loos and a couple of sinks, 9-5.

And these are the big corporates stoking up the fees to retail customers, with the massive pay awards to Chief Execs, funding our politicians to support their every idea and pet project.

Don’t believe everything you hear from “business leaders”, cos’ half of those businesses are just as useless and intransigent as any local council officer.


Ahem. Thanks. [goes back to sorting things out].

The fundamental flaw of the conservative ethos

What ever did happen to Mrs Thatcher’s dream of home ownership for all?

The dream stretches back to the 1920’s, but became core Conservative policy in the 80’s.

Ok, maybe a part of that was to weaken the power of local councils, but when many people got the opportunity to buy their own council home, it seemed possible then that the dream would come true. Everyone could be a home owner, and have the security and status that went with it. It matched the conservative concepts of individual responsibility; getting on in life and providing the best you can for the next generation.

But home ownership is falling again, and as quickly as these things can, with only the wealthy or parental-backed young getting on the ladder.

The cause of this is the other conservative philosophy of “free-markets”; neo-liberal capitalism. Where worker power is subsumed to the power of the corporation; where jobs are flexible, vulnerable and under-paid; where the tax regime works in favour of corporate profits vs incomes; these policies work to promote corporate home ownership and a short term letting system, all the time eroding the freedoms espoused in the individualism philosophy.

It comes in other ways too, with the corporatist side of the modern Conservative party looking to take away human rights, in order to remove the voices of those who may protest about corporatist conflicts in foreign lands.

The same conflict is at the heart of the ridiculous strivers and skivers conflict – it’s the liberal employment rights and worship at the doormat of the massive oligopolistic companies, desperate to kick their own workforce, that means last weeks strivers are next weeks skivers.

And so you can’t have it all ways.

So whilst David Cameron tries to plough the furrow up the middle, keeping the individualistic voters and the corporatist donors happy, he’d do well to remember that the policies each side want are mutually incompatible, and he ought to decide which side he’s on.


(Inspired by this http://www.guerillapolicy.org/housing/2013/03/12/the-rise-of-the-property-owning-plutocracy/ )