In The Collapse of Globalism, Saul chronicled how the world moved from one economic paradigm to another on a roughly 30-year cycle. These models are much like religions. They're faith based, belief structures that inevitably falter and make way for the next model, the next belief structure.
Only Saul seems to have got it very, very wrong. Yes, neoliberalism has failed us - all but the few, the new plutocrats - but it remains with us and, barring some global calamity or popular upheaval, it seems destined to maintain its choke hold on us.
It seems that neoliberalism, expressed in globalism and the manic pursuit of perpetual exponential growth, will not be superceded by the "next great thing." It is, however, nurturing both global calamity and popular upheaval. There are many who warn that one or the other or some combination of both will materialize over the next decade. The pressures are certainly building. Hang onto your hat.
But this post isn't about dire predictions. It is, instead, about understanding where everything went wrong. How did we get to where we are today? What forces drove this change that has done so much for us but even more to us?
The following, two-part documentary from Deutsche Welle targets 1979, a year that saw the end of the post-war boom, the end of the Soviet Union and the rise of radical religion as the Second Big Bang.
When Liberal finance minister, Bill Morneau, announced that Canadians would just have to accept a future of “job churn” in the “gig economy” I was stunned. Never before had I heard a government minister so casually break faith with the Canadian people.
It was our Liberal government’s “TINA” moment, a reference to when Britain’s Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, ushered in the neoliberal era with a curt “there is no alternative.”
Morneau might have been a bit less casual in his pronouncement had a gig economy been in the future for him and his own but, of course, that was out of the question. This consignment into a grim precarious future would not be for the Morneaus or the Trudeaus. They, after all, were what a former parliamentary scribe labeled “higher purpose persons.”
It was when Morneau dropped his privileged hammer on working class Canadians that I knew how right I had been to break with the Liberals after 40 at times difficult years. This was no longer the party of Laurier, St. Laurent, Pearson or Pierre Trudeau. That would be akin to today’s Republicans boasting of being the “Party of Lincoln.” No, this was a Liberal party that didn’t bridge divides but instead accommodated them. There would be no alternative.
The Guardian addressed the perils of the gig economy taking hold in the UK.
Across Britain, gig work – part of a casualised, precarious and on-call jobs market – is growing at a giddy rate. The sector has more than doubled in size since 2016 and now accounts for 4.7 million workers. In part this is due to new technology: people are using apps on their mobile phones to sell their labour. The core business model relies on near-instant recourse to a large pool of on-demand workers looking for their next gig. Uncertain work is becoming the norm, with the result that unemployment statistics look better than the way Britons feel. It is an environment of overwork, marked by intense bursts of exhaustion. One gig-economy firm even tried to market burnout as a lifestyle by claiming its workers were “doers” for whom “sleep deprivation is [their] drug of choice”. Nothing can disguise the fact that the gig economy’s rise has been accompanied by a fall in the fortunes of working households – which now comprise 58% of those below the official poverty line; the figure was 37% in 1995. In a seminal paper, Alex Wood and other researchers at Oxford University found that half of the gig work in the UK is in our streets, supplying food or couriering parcels or offering taxi rides.This gig economy guts labour and working class citizens who struggle to make ends meet. Teddy Roosevelt, in his 1910 "Square Deal" speech, held it is the job of government to balance the rights of labour against the rights of capital and he cited Abraham Lincoln for the proposition that, of the two, labour ought to be by far the more superior. That goes to the heart of progressivism and it puts the lie to claims that our Liberal government, the government steered by this prime minister and his finance minister, is genuinely progressive. It's not.
The other half of gig work is remote – providing digital services, such as data entry and programming, on platforms such as Upwork, Freelancer and Fiverr, which act as auction houses for human labour, where people place a bid to do the work on offer. Those in richer nations can find themselves undercut by those in poorer places. In 2017 US freelancers using Upworknetted $27m – only a little more than those in India. Many of the world’s biggest firms use these apps to outsource work to lower costs. Microwork, where tasks are broken down, is dominated by Amazon’s Mechanical Turk division. Two-thirds of its US workers earn less than the federal minimum wage.
The office faces a future like that of the factory floor in the 1980s, when work was shipped abroad to save money and boost profits. In his book Humans as a Service, the Oxford academic Jeremias Prassl says the gig economy’s problems – for workers and markets – are driven by firms “presenting themselves as mere intermediaries rather than powerful service providers … [to] shift nearly all of their business risk and cost onto others”. The simplest illustration of this is Uber’s claim that its drivers are not employees – at a stroke this potentially avoids VAT liabilities of £1.5bn. That sort of cash could have been used to pay towards a health service dealing with the fallout from insecure jobs with unpredictable shifts. A landmark study tracking people who lost their jobs in the recession of 2010 found that those who ended up with poor-quality work – with low pay, low autonomy, and high insecurity – had higher chronic stress levels than those who had remained unemployed.