Sunday, March 30, 2003

When the music's over, the DJ's done a runner

As suggested here on Thursday (March 27), John Quiggin’s blogging on the Iraq war strike would end up hurting him more than it would cause grief to the Powers That Be.

For the record, John held out three days, three hours and 41 minutes (possibly not including a daylight savings variance of plus or minus one hour – I never have got the hang of adding and subtracting hours).

Anyway, the real reason I bring John up is something he wrote during his brief bloggus paxus period:

"As a trivial example, when I write a column for the Financial Review, the opinion editor expects that I will check my facts before I submit the column - (I flagged my uncertainty about the authorship of the airlines cartoon I cited recently, but as it turned out I should have asked on my blog first). For some columnists and some papers, this isn't a problem of course, but for papers that aspire to accuracy, it's easier to rely on contributors who are known to be reliable than to take on new writers who may require more careful checking. This kind of problem arises in all kinds of employment and contractual relationships".

I understand the point he is making about transaction costs, and note the caveat that his chosen example of their application – freelance writer recruitment by the Financial Review – is “trivial”. Possibly “hastily and unimaginatively chosen, and not a good illustration of the point I was trying to make at all” would have been a better, albeit verbose substitute for “trivial” here. Or perhaps, it was just a Freudian (or should that now be Slavoj Zizek-ian?) slip: John has, more-or-less involuntarily, turned his confessional tap on for a brief moment, so allowing insight into the very private world of baby boomer collective consciousness.

John’s exposition of freelance writer recruitment by the Financial Review is, of course, almost certainly correct in practice, at the present time. Here, I fully accept the Fin is a “closed shop”. It is in John’s broader theory, then, that the maggoty underbelly of his tenet emerges.

For starters, the Fin’s present stable of freelance writers must eventually retire – or die at their laptops. I’m not sure what the economic catchphrase is here, but doesn’t having to suddenly replace a large swathe of one’s workforce necessarily drive up the price of that labour? (And cheap labour, of course, is probably the only reason the only reason Gen X is even tolerated as ostensible full-citizens in this two-tier world). There’s also the somewhat delicate matter of depreciation, while on the job. While I don’t accept that all freelance writers who have been at it a long while will naturally slack off and/or intellectually wither for whatever reason, the risk of this happening in a “closed shop” is high.

Most of all, however, John’s “closed shop” for freelance writers theory offends simple logic, in its lack of a commencement basis or metric. That is, the shop must have been open to untested writers at some stage. Thinking about this, and then connecting it with matters cosmic, I came up with a theory that could be of some use in closing up this hole in John’s case – the Big Bang. Yes, the Big Bang – here, meaning the moment that the job market, housing affordability etc, suddenly went from being open to all comers, to closed - to all except the incumbents. Pointless to question why, because everything after it happened just is. Not sure of the exact date for this momentous event, but I’m pretty sure that it was sometime in the eighties.

Another way of looking at the Big Bang – someone suddenly decides, c 1985, that the world is henceforth a giant game of musical chairs. Baby boomers are told so explicitly, so they grab chairs for themselves, reserve them for their friends, stockpile them for later re-sale on the secondary market, etc. Meanwhile, Gen X doesn’t even know what’s going on, until the music stops.

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