Today’s Topic: As Labor Day approaches, Let’s play an inter-generational game of Telephone with history and economics.
By Kaill McNeil
Cycles and Shifts
History is a cycle of paradigm shifts. The reality of any era based largely on context. Such a view goes a long way to explain how philosophies from centuries past still resonate. Particularly in diluted, misunderstood modern forms, like and inter-generational game of Telephone. As the new social media Cold War, between neo-Communism (as in China), and tenacious defenders of capitalism (such David Koch) will attest.
In today’s warfare, keyboard warriors, often spill onto the streets, defending their chosen ideology, often without fully understanding it. Going by the rhetoric flying through the ether, bread-lines, gulags, Auschwitz, and the Berlin Wall have been erased from the record. Whereas the only kind of Capitalism that seems to currently exist is Laissez-Faire, guided by the Adam Smith’s imagined ‘Invisible Hand.’ effectively striking the contribution of any other economic theorists, not least John Maynard Keynes. It is notable that Keynes was a lone voice in the wilderness, arguing against the disastrous punitive measures levied on the Weimar Republic in 1919 at the end of World War I. Those punitive measure were in a large part resp0nsible for World War II a short twenty years later.
Old World, Old Theories
It is not their age, per se, that renders both European Communism and Laissez-Faire Capitalism all but inapplicable to the 21st century, but their context. Adam Smith’s ‘The Wealth of Nations’ (1776) and Karl Marx’s ‘The Communist Manifesto’ (1848) were written during the age of Western industrialization. ‘The Wealth of Nations’ was one of the first explanations of the phenomenon, ‘The Communist Manifesto’ as a criticism of it. Neither particularly able to operate outside the context of top-down, industrial mass-production.
We are rapidly exiting the the industrial paradigm. Since the first commercially viable home computers went on the market in the early-1980s, the industrial paradigm of production has slowly eroded in the West. Phased out by the increasing influence of the Digital Revolution, particularly after the internet went public in 1994.
A New Order
Production work is still done, but increasingly overseas, leaving the western world, particularly America, in a post-industrial, digital age. A world where ‘workers’ are becoming ‘contractors,’ and ‘customers’ have morphed into ‘clients.’ ‘Managers’ are swiftly disappearing, along with the factories and corporate office spaces where they once reigned supreme. All while ‘remote work’ has become the new normal. A shift only intensified during Covid. Even that most corporate of entities, Amazon, moved all operations online during the pandemic. ‘Traditional media’ and ‘traditional jobs’ referred to as such, precisely because they are no longer the dominant form of work in the United States and other western countries. And ‘service jobs’ where face to face contact is required, being the lowest paying.
Behind the Times
Much of what Smith theorized, and Marx condemned, is no longer operative. The old methods of production about which they were writing, are all but gone in the western world. Why? Because so-called ‘disruptors’ have shaken up the marketplace. Does anyone doubt that Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon have changed the business model? Or, that COVID have not changed the business environment.
Changing Tides And Changing Behavior
Corporate monoliths are in no way immune to the changing tides. Even the aggressive McDonalds hamburger chain, has found new ways of doing things, including a healthier menu, and café style interiors, openly competing with internet-friendly businesses like Starbucks and Tim Hortons. The Golden Arches began in the 1980’s to rejig their hiring and employment practices. Over time, McD’s has adjusted and adapted to fit the times, embracing the developing Digital Revolution and robots in the kitchen.
McDonald’s was one of the first companies to encourage employing people with disabilities. McDonald’s hires a record number of foreign workers, particularly in Canada, and it is still the first job for a majority of teenagers. The employment structure is also somewhat different. The managers are regularly hired from the front-line ranks, fostering a collaborative environment. The corporation is known for its generous scholarships and philanthropic efforts such as the Ronald McDonald House. McDonald’s which was once seen as an evil, fast-food empire, now ranks among the best companies for a first job.
Technology is also being brought to bear here, in the form of in-store ordering stations, and ordering apps. This reduces the need for management and administrators while generally increasing the need for workers in a variety of sectors, such as the hiring upsurge by drive courier companies in early 2020. The reduction in need for on-sight workers and increasing in need for delivery drivers for online orders during the early stages of the pandemic, itself reflective of the new digital paradigm.
A new paradigm calls for a new approach, better reflecting the dominant reality. Such as one drawn from the mutual benefit-based economics of Keynes. Making interactions between those who produce and those who pay more of a consensus-based collaboration. Both parties getting something they want out of the transaction. So-called ‘wage slavery’ might still technically exist in some areas, but under far more equal conditions. The client, generally, being in no more of a power position than the contractor, both standing to lose if the arrangement goes bad. Mutually-assured damage, if not destruction, helping to keep everyone honest. A system coming increasingly into focus as the pains of the transition continue to ease. So, pack up your blood-red banners and move to India, comrades, where you might do some substantive good. And kindly take the laid-off middle-managers and bankrupt CEOs with you.
Thanks, K. M.