Why Are Wages Stagnant?

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EPSON MFP image

Governments around the world have been throwing money at their economies in an effort to accelerate inflation. Unemployment rates in the USA, Australia and elsewhere have been falling. And yet real wages have been stagnant for decades.

Well, let me qualify that last statement. Average wages have been stagnant. Some people’s wages have soared while some others’ have gone backwards.

So what’s going on? I have several theories, which are not mutually exclusive:

  • Inflation happens when supply is inelastic in response to demand.  But for many things that we buy nowadays supply is very elastic indeed. Think about software, on-line entertainment, information, e-books (subliminal ad: Buy my books! Buy my books!), pharmaceuticals and other hi-tech products that cost heaps to develop but very little to replicate.  (Conversely, inflationary efforts have been spectacularly successful in real estate markets.)
  • Consumers are still enjoying the benefits of shifting manufacturing from high-cost countries to low-cost countries. That process will continue for some time as China takes its turn at outsourcing low-skilled and/or high-polluting processes to poorer countries.
  • Outsourcing of services is in its infancy. We’re used to dealing with call centres and tele-scammers in low-wage places, but there’s still a long way to go in back-room financial and legal services, technical support, marketing, R&D…
  • There’s another kind of outsourcing too: to customers, who work for nothing. It’s most obvious in supermarkets, where we’re encouraged to scan and bag our own groceries. And have you ever tried to get technical help online from Microsoft? They refer you to other customers who may have worked out the solution to your problem

  • ‘Uberisation’ has entered the lexicon. Transmogrifying people from employees to self-employed contractors is one thread in a weave of digital platforms, casualisation, zero-hours contracts and exploitation of immigrants working illegally** which all tend towards erosion of wages.
  • Social policies and compliance requirements that discourage taking on staff. Outsourcing to a contractor, without inquiring about their employment practices, is safer and generally cheaper.

Six theories. Any more?

** I have in mind foreign students in Australia, who are allowed to work 20 hours per week but have been found working much longer hours for 20 hours’ pay. Their employers tend to be franchisees, who claim that the onerous terms of their franchises don’t allow them to pay legal wages. The franchisors hold up their hands in horror: “How terrible! We deplore this! We didn’t know!”

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Published!

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It happened at last. I am no longer just a self-publisher of e-books, but a published author in the true sense. And it happened at warp speed, which is most unusual in the world of books.

This is how it went…

Last month I heard about a competition being run by a new publishing house based in my home town of Adelaide. It was only two days before the deadline for entries, so I quickly formatted my unpublished novel ‘Bobby Shafter’ in accordance with the competition rules and emailed it off. Within what seemed like a heartbeat I had an email telling me that I had won!

The prize, of course, was publication. So on 31 August (Did I mention ‘warp speed’?) ‘Bobby Shafter’ will be launched along with the publishing house itself: Elephant House Press. Appropriately, the launch will take place at The Elephant British Pub.

The film rights are still up for grabs, so if you’re in the movie business…

Forty Thousand!

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No wonder the Sun has been an object of worship! Today our solar panels reached another meaningful milestone: meaningful to us roundists, anyway. Forty is a special number: forty days and forty nights, life begins at forty, the roaring forties, Ali Baba and the forty thieves, forty winks… But raise it by three orders of magnitude, and you have something grand!

And I remember a popular song from the forties – or maybe the fifties, but it fits my narrative better if it was the forties. The song was about 2-year-old Johnny Brown’s impressive cockney utterance: “Faw’y Fahs’nd Fevvers on a Frush!”

Billy Cotton delivering his trademark “Wakey-wakey!”

I knew about feathers and thrushes, and I knew about big numbers, but for some reason I always heard ‘frush’ as ‘brush’ and assumed that bristles could also be referred to as feathers.

The song was written by Paul Boyle and Eddie Carroll, of whom I know in no other context, and was popularised by the great Billy Cotton in the equally great Billy Cotton Band Show on the BBC Light Programme.

Lucy Zelić’s Pronunciation

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Here in Australia we have a public TV station called SBS (Special Broadcasting Service), designed to cater for the needs of minority ethnic groups. Among its multilingual staff is a sports presenter called Lucy Zelić (pictured). I don’t know enough about sport to know how good she is in that role, but other people say she’s pretty good. In particular she knows how to pronounce sportspeople’s names correctly.

Incredibly, that skill has attracted trolls. Some people prefer foreigners’ names to be pronounced as though they were English. I don’t know if that’s some kind of linguistic imperialism, preference for the familiar or just laziness, but it puts me in mind of a story by Jerome K Jerome that I read when I was about 9 years old. I was in hospital for a couple of weeks and, having come close to choking with laughter over ‘Three Men in a Boat’, I took a book of JKJ’s short stories to read in my hospital bed.

The story was set in the First World War, in which he served as an ambulance-driver for the French Army, having been turned down by the British because of his age. I forget the name or the main theme of this particular story, but in it a young officer is berated for pronouncing Ypres as ‘Eepr’ instead of ‘Wipers’ like his fellows. Ever since then I have made an effort to pronounce foreign words and names in the same way as their linguistic owners. So I salute you, Lucy!