Oblomov III returns from the wild frontier

I can’t keep my trap shut any longer.

So for a few months you get your head down, get things done, teach your children. And around you events unfold, things take shape in the mists, patterns emerge, and (as ever) if only for the sake of my own sanity, but also for the sake of sharing, I can’t keep things to myself any more.

We’ve seen global forces at work, with the neo-liberals of all shades starting wars, picking winners and losers, apparently based on what wealth can be appropriated from this nation or that, now or in the future. Beggar the populous. But just maybe, overall, it’s good for us. 

And then there’s the economics.

Maybe the best thing that can happen is that we decimate a public service, break the will of the users and workers, and privatise it, because ultimately that makes everything better and nothing worse.

And free markets (who doesn’t approve of freedom and choice), except they’re rigged and nobody told you, but that’s alright cos that’s animal spirits and entrepreneurialism, and if it’s wrong then the folk involved might get told off.

And loading individuals with debt for their education, their transport, their shelter, so there’s always a rent to pay. We all understand that. We all want to get stuff, and don’t mind working hard to achieve it. So maybe that’s the best way to do things.

 

If all these things were of a benefit to us they’d have a ton of evidence (both financial and anecdotal) to prove it.

And the population of these countries would be better off, and would know it, and feel it. We’d revel in the security with improved productivity and creativity. The infrastructure (roads, rails, ports, power, sewers, hospitals, social care systems, parks, museums), would be in the best state ever. The environmental challenges facing us all would be understood, and we would have the joy of creating the great technologies and innovations that can help us and the planet through them. And the opportunities for our children would be better than ours, and they and we would see that, and they would feel proud of their parents, their nation and we’d all erect statues of Friedman, Reinhart & Rogoff.

And if all this made the world better, the media would actively seek to get under the bonnet, understand the successes and failures, and discuss them in detail so that we may all have a better understanding of how we, the people, changed things for the better.

 

I don’t see that do you?

I think it’s pretty obvious to everybody that life for most people is actually a bit worse, or a lot worse. And for various reasons (state pressure, owner pressure, incompetence, bias, Stockholm syndrome) the media are very selective about how they show this, and so for most of us, we know things are bad, but we have to take the expert opinions on-board. We look to our opposition parties, who all want slightly more of the medicine, or slightly less of the medicine, or a cheaper medicine, so we conclude that the patient is sick and the doctors are doing their best. But we don’t get to ask if it’s an illness or poison.

And we are taking the poison. Every day. And the doses are getting bigger.

What I’m trying to say, really, is STOP. Have a think about our perilous, tiny existence. 

What do we, COLLECTIVELY, want to get out of this life, for us, and for the future generations of us, and other species?

Because, if we don’t know what a good outcome looks like, then we can’t challenge our systems and structures, and we can’t question our leaders and their media orators on the really important stuff. And while ever we don’t understand that, the poison keeps being administered. I don’t know if we’re doing it consciously or accidentally, but the point being, WE ARE THE PATIENT.

The recovery is a long road, but relatively painless, but we need to stop taking the poison, start being our own physician, and we start with understanding, and work our way up individually, because even the villainous hate figures (take your pick) at the heads of Govts, parties, NGOs, they’re all just folk too, and I reckon we’re smarter than them. Well, you are.

 

 

 

(apologies for the complete lack of structure, narrative framework etc – you can tell I haven’t written anything in ages, but I hope you’ll forgive me)

 

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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/

We’re none of us expert as we think we are

If you’re in a professional body, you probably have to prove you’re continually trying to develop your skills, keep up to date with the latest techniques, assess the evidence. Or maybe it’s a big project, and at the end you review the outcomes, assess your methodology. Maybe you have an appraisal, which reflects on your performance and suiggests things you could improve upon, or new challenges. Or maybe, for personal pride, you try to be a bit better at everything than you were a year ago – learn something new, try something different.

This doesn’t happen to our elites. Once you’re in you’re in. No evidence of poor performance will ever confront you. Failures, oversights, scandals will blow in the breeze, forgotten like September’s leaves in the spring. Misdemeanors will be forgotten in short shrift. Even when uncovered, and discussed, they remain outside the radar of you, and can’t be seen to influence your career aspirations.

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