My 'Disruptive' Footnote

03/16/2015 04:38 pm ET | Updated May 16, 2015

The following speech was delivered at the March 2015 WorldPost Conference in London.

"Be prepared to be disrupted!" And so I was. Like everyone else at the Conference who heeded the organizers' warning reverberating in the regal surroundings of historic Lancaster House in St. James's. A state of the art event appropriately focusing on the pretty uncertain Future of Work in today's troubled world. Owing to my left arm, however, during all of the general excitement, having been apparently insufficiently prominently raised to be recognized by the Chair -- I am back trying again. Aiming to register ex post facto in print this time a disrupting, dissenting view in terms of two critical observations.

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First, although intensively discussed, the important and growing phenomenon of high-tech (machine) automation, characteristically accompanied by an extravagant amassment of raw data in the new world of work, still seems generally rudderless. And certainly in contrast to, say, Arianna's Third Metric interpretation of "success at work" poignantly civilizing our infatuation with "money and power" concentrating instead on "wisdom and giving." Be this as it may, our exploding high-tech phenomenon was not, as it might have been, strategically pitched last week against the alarming burden of "freak" occupational licensing laws spreading practically unchallenged in the United States today.

More and more laws, as it happens, cover "well over 100 low- and moderate-income types of jobs requiring of all aspiring workers an average of $209 in fees, one exam and normally nine months of education and training plus minimum grade and age levels." Whereas convincing data indicate "striking disparities in requirements within and between occupation and within and between states. These inconsistencies likely reflect not the relative public health and safety risks of occupations, but instead the lobbying prowess of incumbent practitioners in securing laws to shut out (undesirable) competition." (Dick M. Carpenter II et al, "Regulating Work," Economic Affairs, Volume 35, Number 1, February 2015). Bad news. And so, enveloped in luminous fog only so far, my real objection to the relative irrelevance of technological progress on critical occasions becomes clearer next.

Second, conscious of the wealth of implications for economic policy of this remarkable Conference, I was somewhat bewildered that the dangerously sagging economies of the eurozone, as Europe's Grande Démise is already looming in the horizon, remained throughout beyond the penetrating scope and perception of the perfectly balanced and diversified bouquet of articulate distinguished speakers participating. Especially as, moribund and stagnating, the eurozone economy remains in sharp decline and fading fast to this day -- the ECB's tortuously emerging quantitative easing notwithstanding -- at a pace that further poses a threat to growth and stability worldwide: still gasping under blind austerity.

It is as if no one in Germany ever heard that (by any test) one of the great economists of all time, John Maynard Keynes, in his General Theory of Employment published in 1936, enlightened Europe and the rest of the world by focusing on the forces which determine the volume of effective demand -- an insufficiency of which leads to stagnating income and high loss of work (widespread unemployment) such as we see today. This truth is indeed discovered on the solid ground of current economic policy in terms of its consequences when put into practice -- regardless of one's adherence or not to the Keynesian revolution. Precisely as "blind austerity," decimating effective aggregate demand in Europe over the past six years, continues to be a bad policy today. And as such causing (a) great damage in human and economic terms; and consequently (b) needing to be urgently addressed and redressed.

A classic case is Greece. One question here stares one straight in the eye, "Why should hundreds of millions of innocent people in Europe -- and more particularly the Greek people who have been devastated by this policy so far -- be bearing alone the cost of the damage caused almost entirely by German intransigence and diktat? When, instead, both the Greek debt and that of others should have already been proportionally scaled down -- and the net cost met by those responsible?"

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The mind boggles here as -- even in Brussels -- no one as yet seems willing to appreciate that the Greek sovereign debt in real terms probably does not exceed one single penny more than the perfectly sustainable level of €150 billion. Which, of course, follows after professionally deducting the cost of the damage caused by Europe's persisting and poorly researched austerity measures. A level, in turn, drastically less than the erroneously presumed Greek debt fantasized to be €350 billion -- by those directly responsible for it yet not likely to be seeing daylight any time soon. Still worse, in the face, too, of mountains of (this time) relevant data available that should have long ago activated the decisive application in our near-complete machine age of so much modern technology at least in the right direction. Alas, obviously in dire need to emulate Arianna's "wisdom and giving" ethic -- in terms of unadulterated common sense, I would add.


Nicos E. Devletoglou, Emeritus Professor of Economics, University of Athens, is author of the books Academia in Anarchy: An Economic Diagnosis (Basic Books) written jointly with Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics James Buchanan; and Consumer Behaviour: An Experiment in Analytical Economics (Harper and Row).