June 2000

“Would inefficiency create more happiness?”

“Down with economic growth generated by the stock exchange and down with forced efficiency! Long live lazy capital and protected jobs!”

These are slogans put forward by Juha Siltala, Professor of Finnish History at the University of Helsinki. Writing in Helsingin Sanomat (18 June 2000), Siltala questions the basic premises of neo-liberalist economic theories.

He thus joins the debate about welfare state, triggered recently by Finland’s Lutheran bishops who said that the Nordic welfare society is an achievement which shouldn’t be let wither away. They believe that it is irresponsible to build society only on the basis of economic growth.

In his article, Siltala notes that the bishops were publicly mocked by neo-liberals who told the wealthier wage-earners to give up some of their wealth to less wealthy wage-earners, if they are so unhappy with wealth-distribution. In Siltala’s view they thus tried to transfer the conflict between share-owners and wage-earners into the latter’s internal conflict.

“They see nothing wrong with the fact that social wealth accumulates into companies quoted on the stock market to the detriment of wage-earners and tax revenue. In other words: you just carry on with your ‘value debate’ about distribution of crumbs as long as you don’t touch the cake.”

“The prophets of the new economy believe that with the multiplication of productivity, growth can last for fifty years without inflation, rise of interest rates, unemployment and recession. At last, the economy would reach an equilibrium when political regulation does not stop people from making rational choices.”

Siltala notes that some people are honest enough to point out the way in which a wage-earner experiences the enhanced efficiency of the economy: jobs disappear and services degenerate. Capital lives in an automated world and disperses production in order to become more independent of human labour.

“As the social contract has been changed to favour investors, the question of the meaningfulness of wage labour surfaced in a more bitter manner. The growth of productivity benefits the worker when he is directly compensated in the form of wages or leisure time. ‘The easy time’ which people were able to squeeze from their jobs in the 1990s was precisely their share of the increased productivity – the share which traditionally was gained as the worker learnt his or her trade.

”Wage statistics don’t tell the whole truth about the relationship: the real relationship between capital and labour is revealed with the amount of time and strength that the worker is left with. When a smaller group of workers is forced to do the work of a large group, the fruits of productivity are collected by the investor. ‘The necessary structural change of the economy’ is consequently not much of a consolation.”

Siltala says that this process is sapping the strength of human beings. The signs of burnout can be anything from children’s behaviour problems to bullying in the work place – even ethnic cleansing. He asks whether the cost benefit thinking is really worth it.

“Both ‘scientific’ socialism and equally ‘scientific’ neo-liberalism have worshipped growth. They have made the mistake of seeing human beings merely as producers and consumers. As they have forced the whole world into their model, they have been creating a utopia of a transparent world where an enlightened elite rules for the benefit of the masses.”

Siltala sees another way of setting the aims for production: As many as possible should be able to gain a reasonable standard of living by doing a reasonable amount of work. Some people could volunteer for longer working days but this shouldn’t become a norm. Siltala believes that as the workers would lose their feeling of insufficiency, the atmosphere would become more relaxed. The job should be protected also because this would encourage creativity, he says.

“Why should we help capital to accumulate any more? It is moving around already in an alarming way. It is time to return responsibility to ownership and dreams of liberation should be transferred from shares to the fruits of labour.”


See also:

Nordic model seen as a trump card

24 May 2000

Lutheran bishops in defence of the Nordic welfare State

24 February 2000

Poverty assumes modern disguises

1 February 2000

Bishops attack Anglo-American economic doctrines

March 1999

Nordic model defended by Finnish Prime Minister

January 1999

Lutheran worries about welfare state

March 1997

From Lutheranism to the crisis of modern welfare state by Torkel Jansson

March 1997


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