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Sascha Lobo: The problems of old-world capitalism are showing up at the airports

2022-06-29T15:08:31.463Z

Business collapses at the airports. Wrong planning, lack of staff, Corona aftermath? No, there is more to it than that.



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Queue at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol: The chaos is a symptom

Photo: IMAGO/Robin van Lonkhuijsen / IMAGO/ANP

For Berliners, it's not particularly uplifting to talk about airport issues.

Because the BER has been around for too long and is still the overriding symbol of traffic failure.

But there is now at least one bad consolation: many European airports are closing at an amazing speed.

It's particularly bad in Amsterdam, for example.

At Schiphol, one of the continent's most important airports, you can see tens of thousands of suitcases lying around unattended shortly after landing.

Just like that, everywhere in the arrivals area, without any security precautions.

Among other things, they come from people who have already checked in but still missed their flights.

Because of the up to seven hours waiting time for the security check.

A tent more than 100 meters long has been set up in front of the departure hall in Schiphol, in which the queues move back and forth and back and forth, inside the building things continue.

If you ask, the reason is a lack of staff.

Sure, if you've read it, it's known, it's supposed to get worse.

But there is more to it than that.

The chaos at Europe's airports is a symptom, revealing something bigger than wrong planning, a disdainful lack of staff and the aftermath of Corona.

The upheavals of old-world capitalism, which have so far been poorly covered up or ignored, become visible here.

I would like to describe the economic success model of the 20th century that was effective in northern Europe as old-world or European capitalism.

Within the EU, it was primarily Germany and France that pushed it, and the Scandinavian countries may even have perfected it.

It is a social market economy based on liberal democracy, which even in the conservative and economically liberal form often seemed more socially just than the forms of capitalism in most other parts of the world, although European capitalism acted in an efficiency- and savings-oriented manner.

In the US and Asia, investment tended to be more aggressive in order to reach new spheres of success.

In (Northern) Europe people tended to save in order to make the existing economic success appear greater.

The effects of these different strategies are still noticeable today, and this is one reason why the very small number of large, globally successful digital groups from Europe are based on this.

The European dream: middle class for all

However, the fact that social justice prevailed more in Europe than elsewhere was due to a certain appreciation of work in old-world capitalism.

This expressly does not mean that the conditions for employed workers were made of gold - but for decades there were either reasonably well-functioning labor markets or a recognizable will to appropriate reforms.

There are many reasons why southern Europe was less able to implement the model from an EU perspective and therefore still has major problems with the labor market to this day.

But it could have been interpreted as an early sign of a certain dysfunctionality of European capitalism.

For years, young people from Puglia far too often saw their best chance of economic success in doing a less qualified job in Berlin or Amsterdam.

At some point, an essential, psychological driver of European capitalism began to crumble: the rise of everyone.

The globally effective story of the "American Dreams", from rags to riches, had a European equivalent.

It was cushioned up and down and went something like: Hard, honest work can at least lead a comfortable life.

The European dream was next to peace: middle class for all.

It has gradually unraveled over the last few decades.

Above all as a promise to »everyone«.

Now follows a quick turn to the book "The Myth of the Machine" by the technical philosopher and sociologist Lewis Mumford.

That does contain a medium-sized amount of culturally pessimistic quark – but also some groundbreaking insights.

One of them is more implicit, but all the more powerful: cheap labor can prevent technical progress.

If you have an army of slaves at your disposal, you don't have to worry about automation.

When weavers cost almost nothing, the motivation to invent an automatic loom decreases.

And so on.

In the digital 21st century, this realization can perhaps be reversed: where a lot of cheap labor is needed, there can be a certain lack of innovation.

This is of course not a mandatory connection, but an indication.

On average, progress also means automating work and making it more scalable.

And that is often easier with less know-how-intensive activities.

The at times extreme economic strength, above all in Germany, together with the increase in migration and European freedom of movement, covered up a flaw in European capitalism in public perception.

Year by year we became more and more dependent on cheap to very cheap labor in northern Europe.

We sucked Eastern Europe dry as well as parts of Southern Europe - while demographics also had a negative impact.

The explosion in labor demand in logistics is a good example of this.

It's not just about parcel deliverers, but also about people who drive trucks, people who work in warehouses, people who work by hand and who don't need a degree for their job are needed along the entire logistics value chain.

Which doesn't mean they don't have one, by the way.

A factor that is greatly underestimated in terms of its relevance is the number of those who are actually overqualified for their job.

In Germany, before the pandemic, this was about every eighth person on the labor market.

In a European comparison, this value is actually quite good.

However, this is based on the fact that the formal requirements in Germany are much higher than in other countries.

In other words, qualifications are so important here that it is simply more difficult to be overqualified in Germany for the same work.

In Europe at the beginning of the 1910s, the proportion of overqualified people was on average 30 percent, in absolute figures: almost 60 million people in Europe were overqualified for their job.

Which was another indication of the problems of European capitalism.

Then came the corona pandemic and with it the corona crisis.

In some low-wage areas, millions of jobs in Europe were lost overnight, wherever the crisis of mass staying at home had an impact: private security, which often made a living from events or airport security.

Gastronomy.

hotel industry.

cultural industry.

And of course the travel industry.

The example of Lufthansa shows how fatal the mantra of economic success through saving instead of investing in the future worked.

To this day, Lufthansa's digital offer is an impertinence in almost every dimension, and at the same time staff were cut during the crisis.

So much so that even CEO Carsten Spohr had to admit that Lufthansa had overdone the savings – i.e. downsizing.

But due to the explosion in delivery services, among other things, with their enormous need for workers who do not need to be well trained, this downsizing became a one-way street.

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Reality shock: Ten lessons from the present

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The European airport debacle from Frankfurt to Amsterdam reveal a weakness of European capitalism: it was trimmed for efficiency with sometimes drastic austerity measures, it literally squeezed every last drop out of the existing business models and economic processes.

In this way, unbelievable successes could still be achieved with comparatively little fundamental change.

European capitalism can remain a model of success

But in doing so, old-world capitalism has also disregarded the virtue of resilience.

This included the assumption that the incredible amount of cheap labor would always be available, ignoring many warning signs.

The great need for such workers was more a sign of a lack of innovation, combined with a decline in the European appreciation of work.

European capitalism still has what it takes to remain a model of success if it sheds its excessive enthusiasm for savings.

And he has to work much, much better with the realities of the 21st century, between the inner-European East-West-North-South justice, digitization, demographics and the development of a new, functioning history of ascent.

Source: spiegel

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