"When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals.
We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues"

( JM Keynes, "Economic Possibilities for our Granchildren" 1930 )

Friday, January 27, 2012

Davos Proposal of "Free Work" = Slavery?

From Davos Conference ( January 2012)

"Young people should work for free for up to two years to gain experience, youth and business leaders said at the World Economic Forum in Davos Thursday.
A new UN resolution to enshrine the importance of a couple of years of voluntary work for young people was urged by delegates including Maurice Lévy(1), chairman and chief executive of Publicis Groupe, as part of a CNBC-moderated debate on how to avert a lost generation of unemployed youth...”. (http://www.cnbc.com/id/46152716)

Youth unemployment is indeed A PROBLEM, in several countries of dramatic magnitudes (ex.: The level of YU in Spain is close to 50%). So, in that case the issue at stake is not how to define ( or recognize) the problem but how to deal with it. As a matter of fact, innovative ideas  have been already "put on the  tables" ...
For example Spain´s employers´ organization have recently proposed  to establish for young people a special arrangement, known as “mini jobs“ ( Lowes salaries, less working hours, etc.) . However, the "Davos Free Work" (DFW)proposal debated in Davos is not only innovative ; it should be considered as  "revolutionary" in the sense that it breaks the link of exchange between work and salary which characterizes the Capitalist world. I am not aware of similar proposals.   

Although DFW proposal generates many important questions to be answered (such as : Who is going to sustain the worker along the two years period? Who is going to hire “normal” workers if you can get young workers for free ?  If this is a crisis of demand, who is going to consume the extra production? etc.) , the proposal should be analyzed from a wider perspective. As I understand, DFW proposal shares some characteristics with an abolished producition system , the "old and good" Slavery.   

Why "Slavery" ? True there is a big difference between DFW and Slavery : Under the slavery system, the worker/slave was property of the master (like a horse), now we live in a different world. HOWEVER the legal terms implied in the slavery system, economically speaking, the detachment between work and retribution which, naturally must be accompanied with a forced imposition of the labor relation. ( most people do not work for free for their own choice) . On my opinion DFW should be analyzed from its pratical perspective , and not from a legal point of view  ( which is many cases is useless) .  

Retribution : If  DFW proposal is adopted, "free" workers will get no salary . Moreover from a welfare point of view these young workers would find themselves in a worst situation than the old slaves: The property status of the Old Slave guaranteed him and his family at least some degree of physical protection and his basic needs were covered by the Master. Under the modern scheme, since the young are not "legal" property, such "luxuries" are simply ignored , and everyone should take care for herself.  

Forced Relations : someone could claim the DFW proposal is not really Free" and what actually is proposed is a delayed retribution to the post two years "Free" period. I ask: If DFW is just a matter of timing ,why not to pay in advance for the work done during the two years? The answer is simple : Such advancement generates a sort of commitment nobody really wants to create. Moreover, from a “free will” point of view, such scheme would mean that the "free" worker is tied to her working place (Otherwise, she cannot receive the advanced payment) almost like the old slave….

True, probably young workers will be able to “freely” choose not be become a sort of “Modern Slave”, so  modern appearance of "Free Will " will be maintained . But… if there are no job “normal” options around, the “free will” is more than questionable. From an historical perspective  : Can we really consider European Medieval serfs as "free" people accepting serfdom , when their only possibility to get a minimal physical protection was to attach themselves to a Lord?  

It seems that the depressed growth , the crisis that cannot be solved making use of the "normal" policy tools and concepts  generates such twisted ideas. I am afraid that this is only the beginning, unless a genuine progressive alternative is  put on the table. We wrote a lot about that in that blog, and you, dear reader are invited to read.

1. Publicis Group earned more than 500 Million € in 2010 ( a bit less than 10% of its revenue) . it is the 3rd-ranked Global Communications Group Operating in 104 countries on 5 continents, and has around 49,000 employees

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