Mar 012013
 
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Chris finishes off an involved piece on the internecine battles over Labour’s fiscal dilemmas with the following, almost off-hand, remark:

[…] The challenge for fiscal conservatives, then, is how to combine fiscal austerity with job creation?

Which brings me to ask a fairly obvious question, though not one I hear asked too much these days.

At least not in the limited circles I move.

What is the point of jobs in the first place?  What, indeed, is the point of all those job creation programmes?  If we believe that the main objective of jobs and employment is to share out the world’s wealth – in some reasonably sustainable way or other which allows the grandest number of people as possible to deal with and survive the buffetings of life’s unpredictable ups and downs – are we really saying that the current system of jobs is truly doing the best we can engineer, in a century where our predictive algorithmic powers become more and more sophisticated and accurate as time goes by?

I don’t think it is.  In fact, I think the random nature of the system – where millions of well-paid posts the world over remain unclaimed for months, maybe years, on end, and where billions of poorly-paid people struggle during entire lifetimes to make ends meet – is highly unsatisfactory all round.  Apart from anything else, it’s simply inefficient.  Using any measure out there, it’s economically inefficient.

Has anyone asked the question, then, whether there mightn’t be a better way to share out all this wealth than the one which has ended up attaching itself to the fetish of work?

I’m sure someone has.  I’m sure, in other stratospheres, this question is making clever people think.  But I do wonder, from way down here, amongst the dirty dirty, if it isn’t time we used our blessed algorithms to work out a far more cost-effective system of dividing up the wealth the earth most certainly contains.

What could we call it if jobs, work and employment were no longer our aim?

How about “life”?

Now there’s a thought.

Just think of the advantages: no benefits, no shirkers, no scroungers, no strivers; no privileged, no meritorious, no undeserving, no graft.  Instead, a beautifully hygienic system of support and release where everyone had enough to engage and survive; where no one, in fact, wanted for anything.

It does make you think.  It does make you wonder.  It does make you feel the current system has been designed solely so that the overly ambitious, the unbearably people-stamping and the downright alpha men and women out there can continue to have an outlet for their base and cruel instincts.

Instincts which would destroy them from within if the system of jobs – as we see it right now – did not exist.

And whilst the system’s hierarchy suits them down to the ground – suits them down to the very suits they always wear – they fashion enough crumbs to make the rest of us believe there might be a way out for us all.

Only the system is designed from the ground up to ensure the ground never manages to take off.

Yes.  For most of us poor souls, our jobs are boring and monotonous.  And they only exist, my dear friends, so that the people at the top can generously employ us as their stress balls.

So how does that make you feel?

Any better?

:-)

Thought it might!


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Nov 262012
 
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This is an absolutely classic example of algorithmic felicity.  Feast your eyes on this page which the BBC was serving me up about ten minutes ago.  I wonder if the new Bank of England governor will take any notice of the mathematically-generated advice thus proffered.

Oh, and just a final thought before we wrap up this post this afternoon: that “unknown fifth candidate” the BBC so half-heartedly mentions?  I do believe this so happens to be a woman.

At the risk of saying something libellous, I will limit myself to a diplomatic “no comment”.

____________________

Speedy update to this post: in the event, even the unknown fifth candidate wasn’t a woman …

:-(


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Mar 022012
 
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Dave complains he’s being ignored in the European Union’s summit on jobs.  Dave clearly didn’t know what it was like to be ignored.  We do.

I’m glad Dave feels he’s not being taken into account.  Perhaps a taste of the medicine he so loves to dish out will finally do him some good.

Meanwhile, ignoring me is what he’s done on the NHS, on DLA, on free schools, on Legal Aid, on welfare reform, on digital rights, on News International, on Andy Coulson, on workfare and forests (for a while), on human rights legislation (surely pretty soon) – and on more or less everything that currently preoccupies me about this unfair and unpleasant land.

Which, I suppose, in a perverse kind of way, brings me closer to Dave than ever before.

The worst of it being, of course, than I’m really not sure if this ignorance of Dave’s is unintentional or fashioned.  Politicos these days are so clever – in full marketing mode – at selling their weaknesses as virtues that any virtues you perceive out there must automatically be discounted as weaknesses hidden by the cloak of clever obfuscation.

In short, Dave’s a passive-aggressive bully – and there’s nothing a passive-aggressive hates more than to be simply ignored.

Well done, European Union.  My faith in your judgement is beginning, very slowly, to be renewed!


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Feb 082012
 
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Our actions on social and other electronic media leave a trail of clues behind us.  Sometimes this trail is exactly part of what we do: we do it on purpose and – although we are not absolutely clear of the long-term implications – I guess, to a certain extent, we are complicit in what is happening.

On other occasions, however, the automated systems and processes – those ever blessed algorithms and crunched numbers which strive so hard to meet our needs – reveal far more about us than we might ever choose to allow.

Two cases today about which I may be completely wrong, but which – nevertheless – will surely interest the budding Sherlocks amongst you.  First, an example of predictive text which I highlighted some hours ago – and which a predictive text bot then retweeted thus (for those of you unclear as to the mistake, “Bing Bang Theory” should’ve been “Big Bang Theory”):

RT @eiohel: Funny how predictive text allows you to see what words and tools people use most. Bing Bang Theory? Clearly not a Googler!!!

What would a latterday Holmes deduce from that?  Either that the original tweeter a) uses the Microsoft search engine Bing in preference to Google or b) has a good friend called Bing.  In the grand scheme of things, I’d be inclined to believe the former.  There aren’t that many Bings around these days. 

The principle is therefore established: our mobile phones acquire and reproduce linguistic and technological fingerprints that clearly, and probably quite uniquely, belong to us – and then, via the software and systems in play in these devices, potentially lead us to tell the world far more about ourselves than we might in principle intend.

I am sure that in such errors a widespread future examination of predictive text-generated information would prove fruitful on more than one occasion.

*

The second case tonight involves an application for a short-term fixed-contract role I made recently.  In order to apply for the role, I had to register online with a service provider.  Whilst that application runs its merry course, this morning I received an invitation to apply for a second role at the same institution.  In this case, the salary was almost three times the original; involved managerial responsibility; and offered me the chance of moving into an area I have direct experience of.  And I wonder if the way I filled in the previous application – the information, all true, which I provided; the register, sensitive and inclusive, which I used – led the service provider’s automated systems to offer me a role which I’d probably have discarded as inappropriately ambitious, especially if I’d seen it all on my lonesome.

So I’m inclined – now – to carry out an experiment.  If I fit the job requirements (I still have to log on and check), I will also apply for this second role.  And then we will see if algorithms can far more accurately predict our real skills and aptitudes than, perhaps, even we are able to do about ourselves.

Which, finally, is what brings me to conclude that Sherlock Holmes would’ve truly loved the whole astonishing experience that is this second decade of the 21st century.

Don’t you think?


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Jan 302012
 
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On Saturday I argued:

I do wonder if the crisis isn’t rather more profound, mind.  What if the deficit isn’t really financial?  I mean obviously there’s a shortage of political will to spend our way out of encroaching crisis, as perhaps we have preferred to do so on previous occasions – but, in reality, perhaps the problem is actually that we simply no longer have enough jobs to go around.  No mystery here – nor a particularly perceptive remark.  But, nevertheless, maybe – in the circumstances – worth revisiting.  As the past century progressed, automation struck in more and more professions: we now learn by ourselves; medicate ourselves; bank by ourselves; book our holidays by ourselves; even get to the point where we contemplate the possibility of legally representing ourselves.  And maybe – just maybe – all the aforementioned just goes to show that the balance generated by our economic structures between jobs and consumers is suddenly and irrevocably tipping in favour of the latter.

That is to say, our latterday Western economies – as they are set up and structured these days (and for some reason my unpractised eye is totally unable to fathom) – require far more of us to play the role of passive consumers than that of productive workers.

Meanwhile, this terrifying paragraph (from page 31 of this TUC-discussion .pdf) (the bold is mine) only serves to confirm my unhappy and inexpert intuition:

[…] The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has forecast that labour’s share of the output of the economy will have fallen by four percentage points between 2009 and 2016. On present policies and trends, it is unlikely to recover this lost ground beyond that year. As in the past, it will be those in the lower half of the pay distribution that are most likely to be bearing this fall. The gains from recovery, when it comes, are likely to continue to be unevenly divided. This means a continuation of the trend of the last 30 years, with those on middle and low incomes likely to face a continued shrinking in their combined share of the nation’s annual output. Indeed, TUC analysis has shown that the amount paid to employees in wages in 2011 was £60bn less than would have been the case had wages continued to rise at the same rate as in 1978. Our growing wage gap is significant.

All I can see, then, and for various reasons, is that the way we have engineered our economies (whether consciously or otherwise) – both in relation to the forces that operate to drive them as well as in relation to the very human instincts that underlie multiple intra- and inter-company decision-making processes – has meant everything significant in such economic activity is fully taken care of except its ability to generate sustainably plentiful and quality jobs.  The free markets do work after all – we get millions of iPads for half the price a desktop cost five years ago; business waste is eliminated year on year by good businesses using total quality management strategies; and even faraway developing countries out there get to share in some of the progress this all supposedly implies.

But jobs, quality jobs, quality work-life balances, seem to be becoming evermore distant as realistic prospects on the horizon.  In the end, we as workers are nothing more than those suppliers at the very end and bottom of the food chain that is Western civilisation.  What else could we expect now than to be squeezed forever and always?

As well as blamed for losing our jobs – when the blame clearly lies with the system, its parameters and awfully limiting ground rules.

If only we had an ISO quality mark to define the ability of a company to generate those plentiful and quality jobs I mention above.  Something we could take into account when we signed a contract or made a purchasing commitment. 

An idea, don’t you think? 

An idea at the very least.

Whether a good idea … whether sufficiently groundbreaking … well, that’s a separate matter …

Perhaps not for me to say.

What I do know, however, is that our issue most definitely isn’t with the workshy but, rather, with an economic system which designs and makes new machines far more efficiently than it does new tasks, jobs and roles.  And in the light of such a reality, there really should exist no government out there honestly able to declaim the problem lies with workforces not wanting to work. 

For it’s simply not true.  And to say otherwise is to tell monumental porkies.


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Jan 282012
 
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This is indeed a lost generation.  The country of my wife and children, Spain, as reported by the Telegraph yesterday, now has a youth unemployment rate of 51.4 percent.  Meanwhile, as painted by the English version of the Spanish El País newspaper, the wider picture is just as terrifying:

According to the National Statistics Institute’s (INE) latest quarterly Active Population Survey (EPA), the unemployment rate climbed from 21.5 percent in the third quarter to 22.85 percent in the period October-December. The ranks of the unemployed swelled by 348,700, while the number of people who lost their jobs during the whole of last year amounted to 577,000. The number of people out of work at the end of the year stood at a record 5.273 million.

The solution to this problem?  As follows:

The gloomy figures underscored the dire need for an overhaul of the labor market, a task the government wants to complete in the first quarter of this year.

But with an important proviso:

“This shows that the government has to carry out a labor reform that focuses on incentivizing hiring, rather than just on cutting firing costs,” Bloomberg quoted Estefania Ponte, chief economist at Cortal Consors, in Madrid as saying. […]

And I thought capitalism had all the tools it needed to sort out – all on its lonesome – the pretty mess someone, or something, has got us into.

Oh!  It does …

In 2011 Spanish luxury goods sales were up by 25% despite the economic climate in the country.The luxury goods sector brought in 4,500 million euros up to the end of this year.

Truth of the matter is that capitalism by itself offers no convincing solutions for a broader society.  It can’t.  It’s been so vigorously – and for such a long time – a fundamental part of the problem.

And as any good experienced teacher would tell you, there is no one methodology in the world which can ever teach you everything you need to know or do.  We must apply the same principle to economic practice.

Instead of building these self-justifying barricades between different classes and ways of seeing.

*

I do wonder if the crisis isn’t rather more profound, mind.  What if the deficit isn’t really financial?  I mean obviously there’s a shortage of political will to spend our way out of encroaching crisis, as perhaps we have preferred to do so on previous occasions – but, in reality, perhaps the problem is actually that we simply no longer have enough jobs to go around.  No mystery here – nor a particularly perceptive remark.  But, nevertheless, maybe – in the circumstances – worth revisiting.  As the past century progressed, automation struck in more and more professions: we now learn by ourselves; medicate ourselves; bank by ourselves; book our holidays by ourselves; even get to the point where we contemplate the possibility of legally representing ourselves.  And maybe – just maybe – all the aforementioned just goes to show that the balance generated by our economic structures between jobs and consumers is suddenly and irrevocably tipping in favour of the latter.

That is to say, our latterday Western economies – as they are set up and structured these days (and for some reason my unpractised eye is totally unable to fathom) – require far more of us to play the role of passive consumers than that of productive workers.

Does it have to be that way?  I really don’t know.  Wasn’t there a time, for a while, in the last quarter of the last century, that a potentially halcyon period of generous leisure activity began to be promised to our future generations?  I can certainly remember the predictions made by the technologically minded stories and thinkers who dominated my scientifically influenced thought processes in my more tender years.

Of that – however – we hear little these days, it would seem.  Instead, the things they tend to say now remind us we must work for less; work more flexibly; work more insecurely; and, above all, expect no guarantees whatsoever.

Stability of personal income is no virtue or given of modern Western society.  As an American called Kirk (and spookily so) apparently said at Davos today:

US trade rep Kirk: “More and more Americans question value proposition of trade… think weve traded jobs for cheap t-shirts /iPads #Davos

And it’s not just the jobs – it’s the nature of those jobs.

For Christ’s sake capitalism – get your bloody act together before it’s too late!

You’d almost think your proponents thought there was no alternative.

But there always is – to everything.

So where have all your competitive instincts gone?  Is it in fact – and here perhaps we have a horrifying unspoken truth – that, after so much time spent managing and manipulating and operating in monopolistic markets, our capitalist captains have forgotten what real free markets feel and look like?  As well as the instincts which should correspond to such mindsets?

Fearful figures, indeed, then, on the verge of an economic breakdown.

All of us, that is.  Sooner or later.


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