Friday 11 December 2020

Dividing a man's wages among ten, leaves you with ten barely getting by.

The garbage truck arrives. A man gets out and one by one moves our bin trolleys to the back of the truck. The truck lifts them up, weighs them for us to be charged, by weight, per each bin's microchip, empties them into itself, and puts them down again. The bins have no house numbers on them. The bin man simply puts each back where they belong, and the driver drives a bit forward to the next house in the street.

In Johannesburg, these two men would have been twenty men. You never really know what most of the twenty do. I suppose they run next to a truck, and throw garbage in. They would often leave bins several houses down from where they collected them. House numbers in big white letters usually needed to be painted on the bins. Sometimes people even stole bins.

Beyond that, in Johannesburg, before the garbage men came, an army of men with trolleys behind them would raid the bins. Recyclables were in transparent bags, and I doubt very often made it to the recycling plant of the garbage company, if they had one. The trolley men would empty garbage of cans and other items. These they would take on their trolleys, walking on the road, to recycling centres many kilometres away. I would often have to suddenly brake, or swerve out of the way when going around a corner, to avoid having an accident with such trashpreneurs as the recycling place called them.

So, a job done by two men, with us cleaning out recycling and putting it in separate bins for them, in Johannesburg was done by likely dozens.

The same, here, occurs with petrol. I go to a petrol station. I fill up my tank. I tell the cashier in the convenience store which pump I used, and I pay. Sometimes, I buy oil for my car (the right one for the make), or other such things while there. 

In Johannesburg, between one and three men were needed to fill my car with petrol, in between which they would clean and wipe my windscreen, check my oil and tyres, and so fourth. A fourth man was often involved in payment, the cashier, who the petrol attendants answered to. Of course, a tip was also required to be given to the attendants, by customers. The attendants would also go on strikes, and those who still worked during a strike would be threatened and beaten up or worse. Often, you had to wait a good ten to twenty minutes at a petrol pump, for even one petrol attendant to notice you. You were not allowed to fill your own tank.

They would also play fun games, like putting nails in your car tyres, so you had to pay them to fix the tyre, or claiming they had found the same nail in your tyres to twenty or so drivers. I once caught a petrol attendant emptying petrol onto the concrete next to my tank, by the petrol flowing past my car, and there were stories of them pouring it into buckets as well.

Parking your car also involved payment of dues. Car guards not officially employed by owners of parking spaces would watch your car for you in Johannesburg. When you returned, you had to pay them. Whether they would actually do anything to stop someone stealing your car, I had no idea, but I feared they would damage my car if I didn't pay them. Beyond them, there were always people offering to wash your car (sometimes they damaged it in the washing) and demanding they be allowed to, for cash. 

Every traffic light, even in the suburbs of Johannesburg, had beggars, and often you would be approached in shopping centres for money as well. Usually, wares of every sort were also sold at traffic lights. Wealthy individuals would have very poor people sell their products for them, avoiding paying taxes on the sales.

I place my bag on a scale, it gives me a sticker, which I tie to it. I place it on the conveyer, and it heads through the airport system to the plane. Similarly, I am able to checkout my own groceries should I want to. Though if I choose a cashier, I will pack my own shopping cart with what I have bought. I usually take the shopping cart to my car and unpack it. I then return my shopping cart to the store, and connect it to the other carts, so it dispenses my Euro deposit back to me (in Johannesburg, full time trolley collectors take trolleys back to the stores). When I get home, I pack the items into bags and bring them into the kitchen.

A job, at least on the lower rungs, in Johannesburg, was often not something someone did but something of a fiefdom. People paid bribes to get government and other jobs. Unions insisted people from certain specific townships, miles away from the communities served, be hired by certain grocery chains. A cashier is accompanied by a grocery packer. A third individual will often offer to carry your shopping bags to your car and pack your car boot with them, for a price. Often someone was paid to take your shopping cart back to the store as well.

Government departments in Johannesburg are so full of staff, sharing similar duties, that you almost have to charm them into being the one to work, with a smile and questions about how they are this day. Getting a birth certificate or other document is so difficult, that you tend to need to pay a 'document specialist' ten times its price to get it at any reasonable juncture. Here, in contrast, you get any document you need, ordered online, within days, posted to you. There is no many months' wait while the document specialist tries to get your government documents (try without one and it can be years, in Johannesburg).

A social grants system gives the monetary equivalent of a few restaurant meals to millions each month. That money is shared between several generations to support extended families. And yet, a parallel system of charity exists throughout the economy, in Africa's 'most industrialised nation'. Jobs which should be done by two men which are done by twenty, petrol attendants, car guards ... Job after job exists to give a salary, rather than to achieve the ends paid for. And what salaries there are are eternally divided, further and further. The garbage collection men live in poverty. So do cashiers.

The garbage collection men in Johannesburg are sharing their salary between the dozens of them involved. The trashpreneurs also take a cut, by denying the garbage collection company recycling material. Money spent on petrol attendants and car guards will not be used to buy locally made products, and taxes what money those with money have, further. 

It used to be that people who worked basic jobs in Johannesburg could go home to their families, and support themselves and their families. But inefficiency is purposely built into everything. Ten men often share the job, and salary of one man. If that one man earned that salary, he would likely spend it, and once spent, it would continue fast circulation, as those he bought from spent it as well, creating more jobs, rather than ten spending it on basic necessities, while often living unlawfully on land they do not own, keeping warm by fire, and living in a home built from often found often stolen material: newspaper and tin.

Throwing inefficiency into an economy slows down the rate at which money is spent. An efficient economy creates jobs just by existing. An inefficient one creates make work, and congratulates itself for that, even as those doing the work, instead of expanding the pie, find themselves sharing an ever shrinking one.

Work is not a fiefdom, it is not something you are given as a possession due to your human dignity, it is something you do for others, in a fair trade. Countries which do all they can to create busy work, very seldom are wealthy countries, despite often being stacked full with resources. 

The central problem with economics is that human desire is infinite, resources aren't. Take someone out of a job which is not necessary, and the same person will be able to fulfil that human desire for the infinite in another role elsewhere, so long as an economy remains efficient.

The industrial revolution created the wealth we have in the West today, by mechanising jobs via the steam engine, then by standardisation. The idea that we have people who are marketers, accountants, YouTubers, and nail artists in any great numbers, is based on the fact that humans desire the infinite. What we have is never enough. So, if you free up wealth by making systems more efficient, that money will still be spent somewhere.

Dividing a man's wages among ten, leaves you with ten barely getting by.

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