Bad Austerity is Guerrilla Warfare

“Sorry We Missed You” is the title of a new film from England that portrays everything that is rotten with the gig economy. A father, Paul, of two teenagers gets to drive his own white van to deliver Amazon parcels to peoples’ homes. He has to work 14 hours 6 days a week and only gets paid when deliveries are made on time. His income is minimal because he must carry all the risks of theft, accidents, as well the costs of his van, without any right to enjoy holidays or healthcare. His wife is also a gig healthcare worker who is expected to work long hours without much support from her employer. The children suffer from their parents stress and absence. Their son is caught shoplifting and gets expelled from school for fighting. Then daughter wets her bed…

As in this film, many people are facing such a desperate life in many western countries – Uber and Amazon drivers, cleaners, restaurant kitchen workers, truck drivers, etc. 

This type of life should not be forced on ordinary workers. They are effectively treated as slaves by big powerful companies that have the resources to get their lawyers to write one-sided contracts that will keep their often desperate and “independent entrepreneurs” in a form of slavery for years to come. 

Owners and workers should always share the benefits of successful business with reasonable income differentials for risk carrying and work performed. But the gig economy has been forced the opposite to happen by shifting the risks of business on to workers without remuneration for carrying these risks, something that owners are never willing to bear with payment!

The chief of Finland’s central bank, a former Social Democrat politician, has recently said that  working folk should accept a modest 1.6% pay increase in wages for the coming year in order to keep Finnish companies competitive in these global markets… 

He is fortunate to receive a €20 000 wage package, plus generous benefits each month. He has no skin in the game – what can go wrong in a central bank? It is also fortunate that most of the senior management at private and public-owned companies have been busy receiving up to a million and more – fortunate for them. 

They know that a mere 1,6% salary increase would not create any incentive for them to work harder – but another 10% does, at least judging by their salary developments over the past few years. 

The average take-home pay for workers is around €3 000 a month, less for shop workers and more for highly skilled folk. A1.6% increase is worth just €48 a month before tax, or around €30 after tax, and that will definitely not warm too many hearts.

The whole point of this article is that it is quite probable that paying bosses more than a couple of hundred thousand a year is a waste of money. Free options to buy company shares at a below market price also fall in the same category, as well as performance bonuses. Paying a lot to a privileged few for results  means that you start to create a pyramid system where the highly-paid senior management start to treat lower-paid workers as their continued future source of their high remuneration. Their wages are squeezed, and their work load increased to resemble Paul, the driver mentioned above. 

Today, we have plenty of real life examples. Just look at the private care homes for the elderly where a reduced budgets for food, staff and care were being used to boost financial returns. Unfortunately, government inspectors spoiled that party… (for serious Finnish readers this last paragraph was ironic). Weak or demented patients have no way of appealing against such atrocious behaviour, but they are an easy prey for the cold-hearted.

The EU, the OECD, right-wing politicians and central bankers like telling the masses to enjoy less. Austerity is their cry. They like talking about austerity when it concerns others except themselves and their corporate friends… They paint austerity as a virtue, rather than a tool of financial management when markets need a boost.

Naturally being careful with money is essential but being a scrooge all the time can be wasteful when new investments are needed. 

Austerity, that demands low wages and fewer public services is similar to guerrilla warfare where senseless violence in crowded places like shopping centres and markets wound and kill innocent men, women and children who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It creates unfair inequality and that is a dangerous path to follow when the opportunity of a better life is negated.

Some people may appreciate the recent efforts of Central Bankers as drivers of austerity but up until now that do not seem to have stimulated much investment in Europe, USA or in Japan… However, many banks under their watch are paying out ever bigger bonuses to senior management and traders who are banking that we are taking on their risks. Great business for some and Central Bankers…  

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