Becoming Bangladesh: Scratching the surface of Europe’s economic policy
“Quarter of pleasures where the rich are always waiting,
Waiting expensively for miracles to happen…” W.H. Auden
Government of the elite, for the elite, by the elite
First let me disabuse you of the notion of Germany’s most recent and oft-touted Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle). The truth is that Germany’s insignificant budget deficit was created by sacrificing the German middle class. A group that shrunk from 65% in 1997 to 58% in 2013 (see the 12/12 Bertelsmann Foundation/DIW study). That translates to a change in circumstances for 5.5 million people; The vast majority of which were demoted to Europe’s growing legion of low-income earners. This German model which is now being emulated by countries in economic difficulty in Southern Europe (and also in the UK) is a regression to the upstairs/downstairs world of the pre-war era. Governments are leading an all-out assault on workers’ rights through programs like the Zero Hour Contract and Mini-Jobs. They have and will continue to consistently cut public education, health care and services. Spain is even cutting its number of public defenders, leaving the most vulnerable in society even more vulnerable. All this whilst propping up the elites by pouring billions into mismanaged (by the elites) financial institutions,
Where did it all go wrong?
I’ll have to go back in time to explain. The post-war period was a time of exceptional economic growth. The battlefield was a great equalizer, even if officers (historically of the upper classes) weren’t exactly at the very front of the front lines. The Marshall plan jump-started Germany’s boom and American industry flourished. Good things were happening in most of the democratic free world. Workers fought for rights that had never existed. Limits on the working week, limits on working hours, limits on child labour. Women fought (and many times achieved) some measure of social and labour equality. France founded its modern health care system in 1945. Britain launched the NHS in 1948. And those were the baby boomer years. Then came globalization and free trade. Restrictions were lifted and doors were open to emerging economies. Economies which offer none of the protections that were hard-fought in the developed world.
The perfect storm was forming. If the elites could no longer legally exploit citizens in their own countries, now they had the opportunity of doing so elsewhere. Zero sum game. Industry declined in the west and a general hunger for low cost products relocated exploitation to China, India et al. Zero sum game take II. Now Chinese and Indian industries are outsourcing to their cheaper neighbours like Sri Lanka where factories simply collapse over the heads of their underpaid and overworked employees- or the Philippines where ‘locked-in’ workers die in fires.
Here and Now
How do our leaders react in the West? Certainly not by defending the rights of the citizens who elected them. Mrs. Merkel, Cameron and Rajoy all harmonize the refrain that we have to ‘become more competitive’. That’s nothing more than doublespeak for annihilating all the measures designed to create some modicum of social justice in the past sixty years. After all, if one must compete with a Bangladeshi factory worker, one has to be prepared to earn US$68 per month, have no health care, little food, and on occasion, die. All that so the various owners of Wal-Mart can remain on the Billionaires List and so we can buy cheap tennis shoes made by the hands of a woman who can barely subsist.