Hans Groen

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the ruminant economy – post corona

Under pressure everything becomes fluid; under pressure, one learns who ones friends are. Both apply to the world coping now with the corona pandemic. The government makes a glorious comeback as steward of health and the economy. The platform economy, the frontline of what I have called the ruminant economy, is losing its balance on the wobbly platform it has erected for itself. But also other business practices show to be untenable in a healthy society. Time to turn.

Since about 1980, monetarist and financial capitalism (aka ‘neo-liberalism’, but that is a flimsy term) have considered business the saviour and government the problem. Government had to be run businesslike; the captains of industry and the civil servants and ministers parroted them, talking about ‘The Nation Ltd’. Now these ‘captains’ are powerless and the government jumps in to save the day. The government is able to provide the health services that prevent society from literally dying out, and support those who have lost momentarily their means of existence. They can do that because the government is not limited by the constraints that you have at home and in your business. You cannot spend more than you earn, the government can – it can make money, for one. So, this is the end of the fairy tale that the national budget is something like your home budget, but then with more zeros before the comma.

As I see it, money is not related to scarcity or exchange, but to luxury: it is a means to posses more than one can use oneself. Productive labour is the basis of our social life: it provides for food, shelter, work, and also culture – there are no people who do not make music, decorate the fabrics they wear, or have feasts at regular occasions. That part of our economy has grown into a pretty filthy practice – even producing our daily food causes serious environmental problems – and with or without corona we have to clean up our act. With the lock-down period in order to contain covid-19, we also start thinking about the impact of all the luxuries and frivolities that we enjoy, not to say indulge, in our daily life. Indeed, I think, it is ‘time to turn’ to greener habits. But don’t forget that you, as a consumer, are also directly responsible for these bad habits. We have been nudged and lured into consumerism, but we also know that commerce has done that, and we have too often not resisted the lure of the cheap products because of our complacency with convenience. But buying bad products is endorsing the unsustainable modes of production. So, don’t just look at the producers of our consumables, start to ‘green’ your consumption; it is a joint effort.

Where we should be more straightforward and harsh, I think, is with the part of the economy that I have labelled ‘ruminant economy’. For one, this is the world of the big multinationals with their dodgy tax-practices.  Time to ‘cut their crap’ and treat them as grownups: they can pay their taxes in the country where they earn their profit – shame to those countries that provide ‘facilities’ for tax avoidance and shame to the companies that make use of these ‘facilities’. A just and sustainable economy is a joint effort of all who are involved. And do not listen to the complaints of the multinationals; giving in to their demands will only make them behave immoral, and leave countries vulnerable to blackmail.

Then there is the platform economy which is now showing its real face. These companies have been hailed in as heralds of the ‘sharing economy’ and the ‘social enterprise’. But they are in no way productive, so we can do without, they are purely frivolous luxury. They earn money via a surcharge over the labour of others, and when in need, they do not help. The platform takes over the interface between the business and the customer, does not provide any protection in times of hardship, and takes away the basic pride of you serving this customer. Solidarity is not a value for these firms which charge amounts that are equal to the sales tax one has to charge. And compare what you get back for the VAT you collect for and transfer to the government with what you get back from Uber, Deliveroo, TakeAway, Booking.com, etc. That last company now has the audacity to ask for government support so they can pay their employees. In fact, they hold their 5000 workers hostage for their own profit. All the profit they have made the past years has been paid in dividend to the shareholders, and they have bought back their own shares in order to boost their stock market value. These are the crickets, and you the taxpayer, are the ant.

The best thing I see happening at this moment, is that cities start to provide better facilities for bicycles. Brussels and Milan are two examples of cities that realize that bicycles are the solution to the lock down at the moment. And we can make it work so that these cities will limit or ban cars also for the time after the lock down. After all, humans always have had the creativity to find workarounds when confronted with barriers that seem impossible to overcome – not to say that those barriers especially have tickled our inventiveness. You and I can make the future bright.

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