Worn out pensioners with 50-year-old qualifications driving trucks or working on construction sites is a crazy prospect. Nevertheless, equally crazy is the prospect of those old folks’ peers retaining control of public administrations and thinking up ever new rules and nonsense which lead to stagnation and recession.
If Europe does not find a workable solution for its labor market, and it does not appear that an earnest search is underway, then the next conflict will not be between the proletariat and capital, but between employees, those with prospects, and the unemployed and the unemployable - those without prospects. It seems, however, that Brussels has admitted that the slogan “Po” is flooding us.
It’s irrelevant whether the term Po (meaning lateral or conceptual thinking with a view towards unavoidable change) dates from the period of the fall of the Roman Empire, or first came from the lips of Madame de Pompadour in an attempt to cheer up Louis XV. Perhaps the powerful men of the West, their political parties and trade unions should carve the word above the entrances to their opulent headquarters. After all a flood came in the form of the French Revolution some 20 years after Madame de Pompadour’s death. How much time do we have left?
Corporatism still alive
The ideology of corporatism is alive and present in the European Union. This method of economic restriction, essentially dating from the Middle Ages, to this day functions with public notaries, architects, doctors, judges and within other professionsIn society and the economy some things function according to their own rules irrespective of peoples’ wishes. At a certain stage of development, social-economic classes or groups emerge which first of all establish an position for themselves, frequently in dramatic circumstances, and then they gradually take up a defensive position and attempt to ensure that the established status quo cannot be changed.
The skilled trades in the middle ages serve as an example. Firstly former peasants and serfs had to gain liberation and force lords and municipalities to accept their rights, following which they quite quickly formed closed societies and guilds which defended the interests of members and resisted the emergence of competition on the market. The Renaissance, during which modern capitalism emerged, saw limitations to the rights of several key guilds and corporations.
Corporatism became prevalent between the two world wars in Italy, France, Spain and Austria for example, and continues to this day. A typical trait of corporatism is a strong national idea, sometimes even Fascist though not Nazi ideology, a characteristic of which is tense nationalism and preference for “domestic” (buy Czech, German or French products, employ Czech, German or French workers). Another characteristic is yearning for an authoritative leader and a strong role of the state in the economy.
The ideology of corporatism is alive and present in the European Union. This method of economic restriction, essentially dating from the Middle Ages, to this day functions with public notaries, architects, doctors, judges and within other professions. And one of the consequences is typically a limitation of services and competition, and higher prices. Today’s unions are essentially closed guilds and are one of the main reasons for the economic stagnation of the West. But closed guilds and associations always lose in the end because they hold back and destroy the economy, although for some time they bring advantages to their members.
At the beginning of the 21st Century the first problem is that in the new economic situation we are still using old systems and methods which already no longer function in today’s world. One example is the system of calling strikes by trade unions on the basis of collective contracts. Such a “dialogue” between capital and the labor force made sense when the working class was the largest social group. Today, however, due to changes in manufacturing processes the largest groups are of white collar workers, employees of multinational corporations, and state employees for whom it is typically difficult to ascertain their real performance and whether they are really required in their positions.
The rise of Nazism and Bolshevism was in many respects only a different expression of the battle for jobs and wagesAnother serious problem is that since the time of Henry Ford and Tomáš Baťa, pioneers of line assembly, the number of workers required for production has fallen consistently. In the Wealth of Nations published in 1776, Adam Smith wrote that progress depends on the division of labor, but what he did not foresee was that specialization would lead to mechanization and automation of individual work processes, which for the most part cut out the need for physical workers in the manufacturing process.
In the early stages of the Industrial Revolution the Luddites in England were the first to oppose this process, believing that by destroying the machines which had robbed workers of their jobs, the world would return to the “good old order” and unemployment and poverty would fall. The opposite turned out to be true.
The rise of Nazism and Bolshevism was in many respects only a different expression of the battle for jobs and wages. Although it was said that in interwar Germany and Russia the vast majority rubbed shoulders with poverty and desperation, their actual economic situation and conditions of life were much better than those of their predecessors prior to the industrial revolution.