Sunday, September 27, 2015

The era of cheap labour is over; Pro-independence parties win in Spain; Finding an extra hour a day

1 The era of cheap labour is over (Paul Mason in The Guardian) There will soon be children alive who don’t remember the McDonald’s serving counter. Those uncertain seconds as you decided which till to queue at, that nervous wait as the last Big Mac got snatched before your server could grab it. Eonomically, it’s significant. Because unless we start automating repetitive low-skill tasks – which means replacing human beings with machines – we can’t have the third industrial revolution promised by information technology. Nor can we have the move to higher-skilled, higher-paid work that is needed to save capitalism.

In an influential paper this month, Morgan Stanley economists Charles Goodhart, Manoj Pradhan and Pratyancha Pardeshi argue that we are on the verge of a global turnaround in wages. For the past 30 years, business profits have surged on the back of a demographic glut of labour: the babyboomers of the west augmented by the newly urbanised workforce of the global south, plus millions of women brought into the labour force.

Now the catch-up effects of urbanisation will peter out, they say – and, at the same time, the falling birth rate will create a shortage of labour, triggering a rise in the bargaining power – and wages –of workers. That, in turn, will trigger the rollout of innovations across the economy. Capital and labour will rebalance; the surge in business-profit rates that happened after 1989 will subside; and Thomas Piketty’s dire predictions about 21st century inequality will be disproved.

The assertion that job security kills innovation is etched deep into the free-market mindset. The pursuit of flexible labour markets has, for the past 30 years, made it easy for bosses to hire and fire; and harder for workers to demand both higher wages and the higher security that comes with them. The result is the precariat. A broad layer numbering in some countries 25% of the workforce, whose contracts are either temporary or informal, or who arrive via employment agencies.

Now, an influential study by economists at Delft University has concluded what many of us suspected. A flexible workforce needs an expanded management bureaucracy to oversee it. Because precarity damages trust, loyalty and commitment, say the Delft researchers, it demands more management and control. An entire generation of free-market workers has begun to act according to the factory adage of the old Soviet Union: “We pretend to work, they pretend to pay us.”

The researchers conclude: “Easy hire and fire is at the cost of organisational learning, knowledge accumulation and knowledge sharing, thus damaging innovation and labour productivity growth.” The synergies are stark: if the global economy needs a return to higher-paid work, then attacking precarity is the quickest way of achieving that.

2 Pro-independence parties win in Spain (BBC) Pro-independence parties in Spain's Catalonia region have won an absolute majority in regional elections, near complete results show. With nearly 100% of the votes counted, the main separatist alliance and a smaller party won 72 seats in the 135-seat regional parliament.

They said earlier a majority would allow them to declare independence from Spain unilaterally within 18 months. The central government in Madrid has pledged to block such moves in court. With 99,67% of the votes counted, the "Junts per Si" ("Together for Yes") won 62 seats, while the far-left separatist CUP party is expected to secure 10 mandates.

"We have won," Catalan regional President Artus Mas told his cheering supporters late on Sunday. The pro-independence parties said ahead of the vote that they considered it a de facto referendum on independence from Spain. They argue that the Spanish government has consistently refused to allow a legally recognised referendum to take place, ignoring an unofficial vote backing independence in November 2014.

Opinion polls suggest a majority of Catalans favour a referendum on independence but are evenly divided over whether they want to secede. The centre-right government in Madrid has described any breakaway plans as "a nonsense".

3 Finding an extra hour a day (Kate Jones in Sydney Morning Herald) Finding just one extra hour in the working day could be the secret to getting off the hamster wheel. Transforming from an overburdened worker into an organised leader is all about changing habits,Larry Lucas, director of Frontline Management Institute, says.

"Success comes from working on the longer term important things as well as dealing with the immediate urgent things," he says. Freeing up an extra hour each day can usually be achieved by planning your work at the end of each day for the following day, keeping a tight written schedule, cutting out time wasters and delegating work, Lucas says.

Take a step back from your working day to spot these inefficiencies: Ever wondered how much time you spend checking your emails? Statistics from McKinsey say the average business worker receives 300 emails each week and spends more than 2.5 hours a day reading and responding to them.

Technology was designed to make us worker faster, but it can be a double-edged sword. Social media is a prime example – it can make us feel connected and inspired, but it can also be a major drain on time and efficiency. Time is of the essence, and making technology work for you is like employing a second person to your business – if you get it right!

Getting lost in the detail or multitasking more than your fair share can quickly soak up precious spare time in your calendar. Gone are days of working till you drop dead – sleep is the path to productivity. Media mogul Arianna Huffington says it took a serious fall caused by work burnout to make her slow down. Her bestselling book Thrive encourages people to "sleep their way to the top" – getting more sleep for more success.

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