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The exciting SLAVE technology of the 21st century

May 19, 2011

There can be no doubt the key to success in the 21st century economy is innovation, creativity, competitiveness, and productivity.  Each country in this dynamic “flat” new world is under great pressure to maximize the output and cost productivity of its human capital.  While labor saving technology is an important aspect in achieving this goal, we mustn’t lose sight of the vast opportunities that exist from innovative and creative policies in the state management of human resources.  This is a rapidly growing field of study often referred to as “State Labor and Value Enhancement” or SLAVE.  Let’s look at a few recent trends.

The human life span has increased over the past few decades and innovative leaders throughout the world are using that as an excuse to push back the retirement age.  This, of course, is an excellent idea but the more creative aren’t stopping there.  If we are indeed a healthier population, they say, why should we only work five days per week?  The case for extending the work week is exactly the same and just as strong as the case for extending the retirement age.  The five day week was established at a time when the working population was far less healthy than today and it would seem only fair that workers be asked to increase the work week accordingly.  And, for that matter, the work day as well.  Eight hours seems ludicrously short, they note, in light of the increased health of the population and considering that much of the “third world” competition is working 16 or more hours.

The United States is often praised as being the “first world” leader in SLAVE technology and it deserves much credit, having substantially lower levels of unproductive vacation, sick time, and benefits  than other comparable countries.  But competition is on the rise as other states are exploring innovative new strategies.  Some of the ideas, actually, are so state of the art they could end up being the breakthrough technology of the 21st century.  Spain is a particular leader in this field.  They are developing a technology which completely eliminates the wage!  Many workers, it’s been found, are willing to continue working for extended periods without pay.

Charo Garcia scrubs toilets for a living and used to do it with a smile. She sweeps, mops and does other dirty work at a public high school, proud to create a better atmosphere for rowdy teens to learn.

“I clean as if they were my own,” said Garcia, who has a 15-year-old son. There’s one problem: Garcia has not been paid for four months.

Garcia’s plight is shared across Spain: legions of blue-collar workers, from gardeners to bricklayers, are working for months without pay as employers struggle to stay afloat in an economy shaking off recession, saddled with colossal debts, and with slim prospects for any major improvement soon.

People like Garcia are caught in a trap: If they quit rather than wait to be laid off, they lose entitlement to unemployment benefits. And if they do bail out, there’s a monster awaiting them — a 21 percent jobless rate.

“There are a lot of people getting up in the morning and going to work and not getting paid,” said Gayle Allard, a labor market expert at IE Business School in Madrid.

It’s a phenomenon seen in eastern Europe as well, with workers in countries like Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia waiting months, in some cases years, for a paycheck from cash-strapped employers.

The article notes that hens are better off than the workers, an indication of the tremendous potential of this technology.  Imagine if the cost of human capital could be reduced to that of hen capital!  And, while some within the flock of human capital may express some understandable frustration, Spanish SLAVE experts happily note that there’s a general acceptance as long as everyone’s in the same “boat”.

At the farm, co-workers occasionally blow up at each other, all out of the frustration of working without pay.

“If someone loses it, we tell him ‘calm down, relax. We’re all in the same boat,'” Garcia said.

It’s self evident that if Spain could expand this exciting technology throughout the whole country, it would become the next competitive powerhouse.  There are of course potential limits as it could lead to what Paul Krugman calls a “liquidity trap”.  As with interest rates, it’s difficult to reduce the wage below zero.  Some SLAVE experts, though, question whether the zero lower bound need hold given the possibility of offering the humans the opportunity to borrow from the central bank in return for extra work.

That’s it for now.  I think it’s self evident that the field of SLAVE technology is one of the most interesting developments in our new 21st century world.  We’ll try to keep you posted on this site.

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From → Europe, Labor, Spain, US

4 Comments
  1. Cool blog post! But the US is catching up with Spain in deploying innovative SLAVE technology nationwide:

    With nearly 14 million unemployed workers in America, many have gotten so desperate that they’re willing to work for free. While some businesses are wary of the legal risks and supervision such an arrangement might require, companies that have used free workers say it can pay off when done right.

    “People who work for free are far hungrier than anybody who has a salary, so they’re going to outperform, they’re going to try to please, they’re going to be creative,” says Kelly Fallis, chief executive of Remote Stylist, a Toronto and New York-based startup that provides Web-based interior design services. “From a cost savings perspective, to get something off the ground, it’s huge. Especially if you’re a small business.”

    In the last three years, Fallis has used about 50 unpaid interns for duties in marketing, editorial, advertising, sales, account management and public relations. She’s convinced it’s the wave of the future in human resources. “Ten years from now, this is going to be the norm,” she says.

    Unpaid jobs: The new normal?

  2. Stephan,

    Excellent article! It’s great to see the US step up to the plate in its new competition with Spain! The article makes a great case to eliminate burdensome regulations:

    Unfortunately for many employers hoping to use unpaid labor to advance their business goals, there are strict federal and state rules that workers must be paid the minimum wage and paid for overtime

    And the article provides great coverage of the challenges of managing such programs under a sub-heading entitled “The challenges of hiring and managing modern day serfs“. Isn’t it great that we’re moving past the passé negative connotations of serfdom!

    Thanks for the link!

    • Jim,

      Correct. An let us not forget all these college educated indentured laborers with their record debt burden. Milton Friedman would be happy:

      The counterpart for education (financing) would be to ‘buy’ a share in an individual’s earning prospects; to advance him the funds needed to finance his training on condition that he agree to pay the lender a specified fraction of his future earnings. There seems no legal obstacle to private contracts of this kind, even though they are economically equivalent to the purchase of a share in an individual’s earning capacity and thus to partial slavery.

      — Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom

      PS: Although there’s a minor problem. Young Spaniards don’t seem to get the beauty of 21st century SLAVE technology. I just posted their manifesto on my blog: Democracia Real Ya! Manifesto

  3. It’s only fair that capital have a significant share of any income generated from labor, so Friedman’s ideas of freedom is right on. I’m really excited with the new trend toward slavery and serfdom and you’re right – the movement has its enemies. The young Spaniards certainly need to be shown their place!

    Freedom is Slavery!

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