All posts filed under: Economics

Will Workers’ Wages Ever Go Up Again?

Self-employment, temporary employment, on-call work, home-based work, and telecommuting are becoming more common. In some countries, such as Australia, nearly half of the workforce falls into one of these categories. The growth in these types of employment opportunities is often attributed to the rise in app-based gig employers like Uber or Lyft. The employment contract signed by those working in the gig economy is very different from what workers in goods-producing industries had come to expect during most of the postwar era. Back then, for example, you knew when you were working. There were regularly defined work hours (normally 40 hours a week, assigned at a fixed time). These days, your gig employer practises just-in-time labour, putting you on perpetual standby. The company will call you when they need you, thanks. And they might need you for only 10 to 15 hours in a week. And don’t count on receiving much in the way of the non-wage benefits unions negotiated for most industrial workers in America. Get sick or need dental work as a part-time …

The Rule of the Masses

As cities burn across a divided United States of America, it is worth considering some of the conditions that foment the country’s increasingly radical politics. During the past few years, the United States has experienced a series of cultural shifts in which the public’s perception of numerous—primarily social—issues has been abruptly and dramatically altered. In a matter of months, the minority views of political activists become normalised while views which were previously tolerated in mainstream discussions are suddenly impossible to hold in public life. Though one would expect such shifts to occur gradually over many years and feature prominently in fierce public debate, the change always arises suddenly, at once a surprise to many who pride themselves on being informed about—and having a stake in—public life, and yet succeeding overwhelmingly against virtually no formal organised opposition. Moreover, these shifts are supported by private and public institutions which become, without warning, part of the vortex of mass opinion. I Writing between the two world wars that would shape the rest of his century and the beginning …

The Failure of Fusionism

Conservative parties throughout the West are in crisis. This may not be fully understood by simply looking at recent election results, as conservative parties have continued to win elections. But these parties are currently in a state of ideological flux, and their commitment to existing liberal democratic principles and institutions are in noticeable decay. The conventional perception of conservative parties as steady and secure governing hands has made way for a more volatile and agitated form of politics. Parties that have routinely positioned themselves as defenders of the established order have instead become actively hostile to it. Conservative parties, the Economist noted last year, are now “on fire and dangerous.” This phenomenon is most evident in the United States, where the Republican Party has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Donald Trump; a political actor guided solely by parochial instincts and personal narcissism, untethered to any intellectual understanding of his party’s traditions. The party’s convictions are now driven solely by fealty to the president, regardless of his actions. While Trump may be a singular figure, …

The Closing of the High Street Theatres

In his book, Think Like Amazon, John Rossman, the former director of Merchant Integration at the everything store, invokes Captain Ahab, “the monomaniacal character at the heart of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.” Ahab, writes Rossman, is a man obsessed with the capture of a great white whale, and each of Amazon’s 560,000 employees worldwide—not to mention those eager to emulate Amazon’s success—should likewise be obsessed, but with perfection, customer satisfaction, and “becoming inspired to develop and expand beyond your current products, services and business model.” This isn’t, he reassures, the kind of obsession that takes Ahab and his ship to the bottom of the sea, “but it’s not bad to have people on board with a little Ahab in them… being ‘nice’ all the time can be a liability for your team.” The Amazon philosophy—more to the point, the Amazon practice—is to dominate every market into which it moves. The hyper-competitiveness cultivated by its executives, the voracious acquisition of every kind of product, and the refusal to be “nice” to staff all take their cue …

On Race and Inequality—A Reply to Nathan J. Robinson

The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd has plunged us into a new era of institutional anti-racism. The prevailing narrative is that the country remains a fundamentally racist and white supremacist society that has yet to come to terms with its original sin and must be held accountable by eliminating all racial disparities of outcome. To this ongoing discussion, Nathan J. Robinson has contributed a long essay in his magazine Current Affairs restating the case for reparations on behalf of black Americans. What was once a fringe perspective has become increasingly mainstream in the wake of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s widely debated 2014 essay on the topic for the Atlantic. The reparations issue has become emblematic of the broader debate around race, encapsulating all of the moral and political dimensions that make it so complex and heavy. To what extent does racism continue to hold blacks back? Can an entire racial group, whites, be held responsible for the sins of the past? What does racial justice really look like, basic …

The Coming of Neo-Feudalism—A Review

Review of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class by Joel Kotkin, Encounter Books (May 2020) 288 pages. Writing books which make bold predictions about the future of the Western world can be risky, so I naturally approached Joel Kotkin’s The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class with caution. Could feudalism really be making a comeback in the West, as Kotkin argues? The answer might not be a straight “yes,” but Kotkin’s overall argument that deep currents of history and economics are pulling us towards a more stratified and ideologically orthodox society is persuasive. Particularly in light of recent events, as we shall see. Feudal societies were hierarchical, with clearly-defined roles and responsibilities for everyone. The knights fought for all, the priests prayed for all, and the peasants worked for all. Times of upheaval could force open the door to social mobility, but otherwise, people kept their station. These barriers were broken down by the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the rise of the modern democratic state. …

Is State Protection a Threat to Liberal Democracy?

The world is awash with predictions about the impact of COVID-19 on life in the liberal democracies—from more online shopping to less globalisation, from higher taxing governments to more working from home. But most analyses compare 2020 with 2019 and examine the immediate changes wrought by the pandemic alone. Long-term, COVID-19’s impact may turn out to be considerably greater. To fully appreciate the potential consequences of this pandemic we need to examine it in the wider context of the last two decades. It must be seen as part of a series of developments over that period that, collectively, could transform liberal democracy more dramatically than is currently predicted. Those developments have driven the physical and economic insecurity of citizens to levels never previously experienced in the modern liberal democratic state. COVID-19 may be a tipping point for insecurity. Self-preservation may be the new priority that triggers a radical transformation of what the citizens of liberal democracies demand from the state and what the state delivers. Taken too far, that transformation of the citizen/state relationship could …

Goodbye to Hong Kong?

I shall always regret not visiting Hong Kong while it was still under British control or while the city remained the “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.” For reasons I will get into below, I feel a special affection for the city, and will mourn the loss of its political autonomy and, potentially, the end of its economic prosperity. For classical liberals, Hong Kong had been a beacon of hope for half a century. Peter the Great is said to have built St Petersburg to be “Russia’s window to the west.” Hong Kong was supposed to be liberalism’s window to the future. The city’s fabled wealth was built on four pillars of classical liberalism: limited government, rule of law, free trade, and fiscal probity. And, it worked! We hoped that the rest of the world would follow a similar path. When Britain obtained the territory following the First Opium War (1839 – 1842), British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston denounced the acquisition as a “barren rock with nary a house upon it” …

Pandemics and Pandemonium

Minneapolis and urban centers across America are burning, most directly in response to the brutal killing of a black man by a white Minnesota police officer. But the rage ignited by the death of George Floyd is symptomatic of a profound sense of alienation that has been building for years among millions of poor, working class urbanites. The already diminished prospects facing such people have only been worsened by the unforeseen onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic and the policies devised to combat it. Like earlier pandemics, the virus has devastated poorer communities, where people live in the most crowded housing, are forced to travel on public transport, and work in the most exposed “essential” jobs, most of which are badly paid. Unlike the affluent of Gotham, some 30 percent of whom were able to leave town and work remotely, the working class remained, forced to endure crowded conditions as the disease raged through the city. No surprise then that inhabitants of the impoverished Bronx have suffered nearly twice as many deaths from COVID-19 as those …

Capitalism or the Climate?

Can environmentalism and capitalism sustainably coexist? An influential movement of climate activists view capitalism and environmentalism as antithetical. According to the title of an article in the Guardian, “Ending Climate Change Requires the End of Capitalism.” An article in Foreign Policy, meanwhile, is subtitled, “New data proves you can support capitalism or the environment—but it’s hard to do both.” And in her bestselling book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, Naomi Klein writes, “By posing climate change as a battle between capitalism and the planet, I am not saying anything that we don’t already know.” These are just a few of countless prominent examples. This view dwells not just in newsrooms, but in the halls of government as well. US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, author of the 2019 Green New Deal resolution and surrogate to Bernie Sanders in the 2020 democratic primary, told a 2019 SXSW audience, “Capitalism, to me, is an ideology of capital. The most important thing is the concentration of capital, and it means that we seek and prioritize profit and the …