Sunday, August 30, 2015

Bits and Pieces: Changing Labour Markets Edition.


A few years ago, a visitor to any large, self-respecting law firm in Sydney would have found that most humble and welcome worker: the tea lady (see here).

Law firms are well-known for encouraging their staff to work long hours. That's where tea ladies came in handy: by providing hot drinks and sugar heights tea ladies helped made that possible. The occasional break, with a brief chat, would help relieve pressure and stress (or so it was expected).

Well, to the best of my knowledge, long hours (not to mention work pressure) are still common in large, self-respecting law firms in Sydney. Tea ladies, however, seem to be all but gone:
"Across many industries, many people have lost jobs because of the digital revolution and automation.
"But one Sydney law firm has defiantly managed to hang on to its tea lady -- until now.
"Today is Robyn Tuckwell's first day of retirement and her colleagues believe she is the last of her kind."
(here)
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"All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations." (here
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It's not just tea ladies facing extinction:
"Sixty per cent of Australian students are training for jobs that will not exist in the future or will be transformed by automation, according to a new report by the Foundation for Young Australians [here or here]." (here)
The thing is, nobody knows exactly how the labour market will change. The Foundation for Young Australians' estimate, however, seems to roughly follow other people's estimates:
"Up to 70 per cent of Australian jobs could be at threat as a new wave of automation sweeps the world's workplaces over the next few decades, CSIRO [here or here] researchers have warned". (here)
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And that's not all.

While politicians at both sides of Parliament have been busy taking the best possible advantage of parliamentary allowances (here and here), the Abbott government has moved to reduce -- aiming in time to their total elimination -- penalty rates for some of the lowest paid occupations in the land:


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Two Views on Old Books.


Sasha Abramsky reminisces on his grandfather Chimen Abramsky, a Marxist and "Jewish intellectual, historian, book collector and bibliographer of world renown". (h/t Lounger, see also)




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At the other hand, this is the view an "educated, decent, intelligent son of Western Europe", an Englishman of "polymathic intellect" has on old books:
"How can I accept a doctrine which sets up as its bible, above and beyond criticism, an obsolete economic textbook which I know to be not only scientifically erroneous but without interest or application for the modern world? How can I adopt a creed which, preferring the mud to the fish, exalts the boorish proletariat above the bourgeois and the intelligentsia who, with whatever faults, are the quality in life and surely carry the seeds of all human advancement? Even if we need a religion, how can we find it in the turbid rubbish of the Red bookshops? It is hard for an educated, decent, intelligent son of Western Europe to find his ideals here, unless he has first suffered some strange and horrid process of conversion which has changed all his values." (John Maynard Keynes, "A Short View of Russia", 1925)
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You don't need to answer these questions to me, but the time may come when you will have to answer them to yourself: 
"You must decide who your comrades are going to be in life's struggles. You must decide which side you are on. Will you side with the oppressed, or with the oppressors? Will you side with the exploiters, or with the exploited? Will you side with the occupiers, or with the occupied? I cannot make that decision for you, and neither can Smith and Marx and Durkheim and Freud and Weber." (here)