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Efficiency and Austerity

We are told New Zealand (and I’m sure the message is delivered in most other countries as well) must become more efficient. No one quite says what this efficiency actually is, or how it can realistically be achieved, but in the end it usually comes down to lower wages and less favourable work conditions for the majority. But the top income earners seem to be immune. Apparently paying them vastly more every year is just part of the process.

In a simplistic world it might seem that it just makes sense to let the country which is most “efficient” handle certain tasks. For example in China it has worked well (supposedly) because we have a lot of cheap manufactured goods which could never be made at the same price in other countries.

But what is the real price of this approach? Some people in China are getting jobs in manufacturing where they might not have had worked in agriculture or not had a job at all in the past, but those workers have taken jobs from other countries – the US being a classic example.

Why is China more efficient? Because its workforce will work for pay and in conditions that would not be tolerated in most other countries. So the “efficiency” is just a result of poor pay and conditions. Is this the same efficiency we are being asked to support in New Zealand? It certainly seems that way.

As China’s standard of living improves its workers will probably demand better conditions. Then who will be the next to provide the “efficiency” big corporations demand? Someone will probably step in just like China took so much manufacturing from Japan which was an earlier source of “efficiency”.

So efficiency should be seen for what it really is: a race to the bottom. A competition to see who is prepared to work for the least and in the worst conditions. A situation where the vast majority are one step up from slaves for the benefit of the rich and for greater profits for multinational corporations.

When workers are asked to be more efficient they should insist on greater honesty. Instead of efficiency it should be made clear that what is really being asked for is a “market” with the aim of producing a slave economy. That’s the way all large empires have worked in the past and it’s what many leaders want again today.

What about the other great buzz-word today, austerity? This is clearly all part of the plan (I may sound a bit like I’m supporting a conspiracy here but I don’t think it’s as deliberate as that, although the end effect is similar). The modern global economy, insufficient tax on large corporations, and corporate bail-outs have resulted in near economic ruin for many countries. But the ruling elite don’t want to fix the source of the problem, they want to accelerate the race to the bottom by introducing austerity measures.

Austerity measures will almost inevitably make the crises worse and they will also introduce the opportunity to introduce working conditions involving low wages and poor conditions. If people are sufficiently desperate for jobs they will accept any circumstances which they have to just to survive. And at the same time the corporate parasites will just keep making more.

There are signs of hope. The new socialist government in France is making some very positive moves and I will be interested to see what the end result of that is. And Greece has narrowly avoided an extreme left-wing government (and even I don’t advocate extreme socialism) but the austerity measures demanded there are unlikely to be fully followed by the more moderate socialist part of the new government. Plus right-wing governments in Germany and Britain seem to be suffering a significant loss of popularity. Maybe people are finally seeing that they have been tricked into following policies which can only make their lives much worse.

Recently journalists in New Zealand celebrated some newspaper sub-editing jobs moving from Australia to here. Was that because we have better editors? Or a better economy? Or anything else positive? No, it was because we are more “efficient”. The 60 Australian jobs with salaries of around $120,000 have become 40 New Zealand jobs at around $70,000 each.

But I don’t think the celebrations around this marvel of modern neo-liberal economics should last too long. How long will it be before the 40 New Zealand jobs become 20 in India, each being paid $10,000 or less? It’s only a matter of time before that “efficiency” occurs. And as our economy fails as a result of this phenomenon we will have to introduce austerity measures to compensate.

So let’s all join the race to the bottom. Or we can wake up and see that efficiency and austerity are just words being used against us for the good of the 1% – the most immoral and evil people on the planet. If you want to achieve greater efficiency and austerity for them then I wish you good luck. Don’t blame me when you we become the most efficient, austere slaves in history!

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