With every passing year, Australians stand by and watch, as their economy shrinks and gainful employment opportunities disappear. Buoyed up by current income from Primary Production and particularly from the mining industry, much of this unfolding economic tragedy is being masked, in the short term. But never a month goes by when we don’t hear about more and more local enterprises being closed and local jobs being lost. Just off the top of my head, currently or in the recent past I am aware of the nation’s two existing car manufacturers announcing impending closure, a major aviation servicing facility is to go, a major airline has announced its intention to cut a large number of positions from its staff and, more locally for me, one vegetable processing plant was closed (almost shutting down an entire rural town!), one boot manufacturer closed, one major meat processor closed and now a textile mill is about to do the same.
So are all these industries disappearing because technology has rendered them obsolete? Of course not! In almost every case, they are simply relocating offshore. Why? Simply because business will ALWAYS go wherever it can get the best deal. And in economic terms, the best deal means where you can get the most profitable outcome. Business is NOT about providing a meaningful, happy and worthwhile existence for humanity. Business is simply about capital and profit. The invention of the concept of ‘corporate citizens’ (referring to the activity of corporations in interacting with human society) is a total fabrication. You will never understand economic realities, unless you can understand that business has zero interest in your personal existence. Its only reason for being, is to generate profits for its owners. Generating employment opportunities is only a happy coincidence and one which business will avoid wherever it can. The best way to maximise your profits is to minimise your costs. And labour is one of the greatest costs and the greatest threat to profitability.
Its no surprise that business is falling over itself in its haste to relocate. Australia is a toxic environment for labour intensive industries. Why? Because in Australia, labour has screwed over business to the point where it has literally priced itself out of the market. And business, very sensibly, is relocating to a healthier environment where business still gets to screw over labour! In Australia, the level of wages, and the raft of associated benefits that employers must provide to their employees makes it almost impossible for small business to employ anyone at all. In the 1970’s, we had a situation for years, where the entire workforce were receiving wage increases every three months, like clockwork …. regardless of whether or not productivity was there to justify them. Since then additional imposts on business, like endlessly expanding Workers Compensation benefits, Fringe Benefits Tax and Employer Funded Superannuation were the hidden extras that employees never bothered to think about.
The simple reality is that business …. all business …. nowadays operates more and more within a global economy. And you don’t have to be Einstein to understand that, from a business point of view, its better to operate where you can pay even skilled employees $80AUD per month with negligible additional costs … than here in Australia, where you have to pay $20 per hour plus massive on-costs .. even for the most unskilled labour. Its absurd to huff and puff about the immorality of business in exploiting cheap labour overseas. It implies that business has some interest in morality in the first place. And morality is a human concept …. not a commercial one.
It isn’t so long ago that ordinary people were shamelessly exploited by industry. Long hours, inadequate pay rates, minimal job security and no additional benefits. People dreamed of having a little more, of working a little less, and of having a better quality of life …… where they might be free to enjoy more recreational time, have time for family and friends and, in short, enjoy a better quality of life. In those awful days, it was common for one member of the family to take the role of breadwinner and one remained at home, caring for home and family. People dreamed of owning their own modest home, being able to afford luxuries like holidays and owning a family motor vehicle. The reality is, technology delivered … in spades.
We are living in a time where anybody in our society can enjoy a standard of living, a range of life-enhancing consumer goods, a range of recreational opportunities that our forebears couldn’t even have conceived. And what has been our response? “Please Sir, I want more!” No matter how much better off we became, we were never satisfied. We clamored for an ever increasing share of the profits that industry was producing and took no account at all, of the reducing prices that we were having to pay for pretty much every commodity you can think of. Consumer goods and food have never been cheaper. Motor vehicle prices are lower than at any previous time in history. And that modest home that we once dreamed of owning … is a five bedroom, three bathroom job, where the kitchen has to be replaced every few years … just to keep up with next door.
Lured by the promise of increased affluence, people gave up their personal freedom in droves and, in no time, the single income family became an endangered species, facing massive economic disadvantage compared with dual income households. And labour set about a campaign of sending business to the wall in a never ending drive to get a greater share of the goodies that was profit. Well, they are to be congratulated. They have achieved wage levels and ancillary benefits that must surely be the envy of the world! Unfortunately, like people rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, they don’t seem to have noticed yet, that their little ship of prosperity has suffered some nasty damage below the waterline! And surprise of surprises, the ordinary worker proved as ready to exploit business, even to the point of destruction, with every bit of the compassion and care that they had previously attributed to evil, overbearing employers! Troubled times lie ahead, as our society struggles to adjust to a new reality, as it searches for new economic opportunities and seeks to achieve an equitable distribution of the nation’s wealth amongst all of its citizens.
I don’t know how this changing scenario will ultimately unfold. But I do believe that it will involve a considerable amount of pain and anguish for us, as a people. While we maintain our current expectations …. while we continue to demand the kind of wages and benefits that we currently do ….. while we maintain a toxic environment for business, demanding unrealistic benefits for employees and undue controls over every aspect of their operations ….. we will see more and more of our business disappearing over the international horizon. We will have to come to terms with the simple reality that an unskilled Australian worker isn’t worth $20 per hour when a similar overseas person is only making .50c! There’s little point in having the best employee conditions on the planet, if we no longer have any employers!
One thing is clear to me. Until we learn to be content with enough, until we stop shifting the goal posts on what constitutes enough ….we will never HAVE enough and we will never know contentment. Until we learn to spend our time appreciating what we have, instead of working to have more, we will never have enough time. And until we learn that economic prosperity is NOT the yellow brick road to a meaningful life, we will never achieve a meaningful life. We are indeed, the authors of our own unhappiness.
Andrew Caddle 2013-11-27
To view Part IV of this series, please visit http://andrewcaddle.com/wordpress/?p=407
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