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MIND THE GAP – But not our pay gap

 7 min read / 

Regardless of the unpleasant working conditions, the long and tedious working hours or even the fact that spend their entire working day hidden from the Sun, there are many that are hugely displeased with the tube drivers recent call for higher pay. It’s not just that the majority of the working population of London had to find other means to get to work on the 9th July, but it is the justification for their inconvenient actions, along with their stubbornness in demanding a pay rise on what is already considered an overpaid salary, that have struck a nerve in the heart of the Capital.

Perhaps at the heart of this problem is the fact that a large majority of Londoners believe these tube drivers to be overpaid in the first place. At a starting salary of £49,673, making them part of the top 20% of earners in the country, it is understandable why the topic is hot on everyone’s lips, and for the wrong reasons. While there are many left-wing arguments in favour of this controversial pay rise, and worth noting that many of the drivers have spent a number of years working as station staff, perhaps the strongest argument for the rise is a right-wing one. The reality of the situation is that in a capitalist society such as our own, there is no such thing is an overpaid worker, and wages are set by market forces; in this case the demand and supply of tube workers. One could argue that anyone who thinks tube drivers are “overpaid” does not understand how a capitalist economy works. Their large pay check now seems logical given that the demand for them is huge as it is arguably the cheapest and most efficient way of travelling around London, and the supply would presumably be relatively low given the working conditions and the mundane work routine. Now this argument would all be fine and dandy in an ideal world with efficiently working perfect labour markets. However this market, like most labour markets, is not perfect.

London’s tube drivers; an elite cadre?

The ability of unions to restrict the supply of tube drivers by maintaining a closed shop and insisting that the Transport for London (TfL) offer the job to current underground workers first, has given unions significant leverage when demanding pay rises for their members. After decades of this, the drivers wages have risen and risen, and is perhaps about to rise once more, much to the distaste of many. It is interesting, however, that the prominent critics of the recent strike do not have nearly as much an issue with overpaid footballers, bankers’ bonuses or CEO’s wages. If the drivers were not striking, would London be even be making that much of a fuss over their pay, or humbly applauding them for doing a job that many consider to be dirty and dull? chart(1)

Why don’t other recognised working groups do the same?

One might question why other important working groups – that also have large unions backing them, along with barriers to entry into the market – such as policeman, firefighters and nurses do not push for higher wages? The answer lies in the nature of these vocations, as they are within the public sector and constitute a larger number of workers. If these groups were to demand higher wages, even as small as half a percent increase, it would have a damaging effect on public finances costing millions and coming right out of the taxpayer’s pocket – and thus be strongly rejected. Given that the tube drivers are a more specialised and niche group their calls for higher pay, no matter how controversial, are conceded to. As a result, the pay gap between these important public sector jobs and the tube drivers is substantial. Now the union backing these workers, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport, maintain that the strike is not related to pay, but instead their members’ work-life balance. Given that they have a 36-hour working week and a 43-day annual leave there are many that are not convinced by this. Furthermore the fact that the drivers rejected their 2% pay rise and £2,000 bonus is more evidence to corroborate that the strike is entirely pay related. Graph to Show the pay differences between tube drivers and important civil servants

Who does this really benefit in the long run?:

Perhaps in the long run this pay rise will, rather ironically, benefit all but those tube drivers, as the TfL will inevitably seek out cheaper means of running the oldest underground system in the world, thus moving towards capital as a substitute. If the TfL passes this reduction in costs onto consumers then they too will benefit. The technology required for designing self-driving cars has already been harnessed by Google, so how long till a large multinational company sets to work on creating safe driverless trains? In a recent survey of 59,000 produced by the Telegraph, 84% believed that the tube driver’s job could easily be done by a robot, and at a significantly lower cost at that. But that is the fate that awaits a lot of us it is just that the tube strikers are capable of squeezing in the occasional pay rise – while your typical worker is not – before the inevitable takes place. I mean if you possessed what every Londoner wanted, were not easily replaceable and able to hold London at ransom until you got your way wouldn’t you?

‘The Second Machine movement’

This issue over robots replacing traditional occupations has been discussed amongst academics since the dawn of artificial intelligence, and will unlikely disappear but instead become a significant problem for companies and their employees alike as we progress further into the 21st Century. Ryan Calo, professor at University of Washington School of Law with an expertise in robotics, illustrates;

“Historically what we thought was that robots would do things that were three D’s: dangerous, dirty and dull…Over time, the range of what the robots can do has extended”

More and more blue-collar jobs are being taken over by our robotic counterparts, and as companies shed costs in search of higher profits even white collar jobs become exposed. Director of engineering at the Internet giant Google predicts that by 2029 robots will have reached human levels of intelligence. Many people fear a jobless future due to what is being coined “The Second Machine Movement”, the first being that of the Industrial Revolution around 200 years ago. The key difference this time around is that instead of overcoming the limitations of human muscle and manpower, our intricate new designs are developed with extensive cognitive abilities that trump humans in a number of ways.

What it means for us?

There is the potential, therefore, for those that are the helm of large tech, or even robotic companies, to harness their creations for either good or bad. The use of the word bad may prompt the image of a Terminatoresque world, or a nerdy dictator controlling the masses with their dominant-in-every-way creation, however this is not what is implied. A more likely scenario would be a large-scale wipe-out of jobs and companies alike, if the robot distributor were to harness the robots abilities in practice, than to sell them onto already established firms within industries. What the state will do to prevent these technology/robotic firms from achieving this is anybody’s guess, but will be determined by the current political regime, leader and party in the world’s biggest economies. While the industrial revolution resulted in a net increase in jobs, there is uncertainty over whether this will happen this time around, as those losing their jobs to robots are unlike to have the resources at their disposable to acquire the skills required to design and programme these robots. As a result, questions over inequality come into play. What experts have come to realise, which can help cure some fears of future job loss, is that robots are only efficient at completing the structured, objectively bound tasks, while homo sapiens are – and will continue to be – capable of creative thinking, interacting emotionally with other humans and using our situational judgment above all else.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Bilal Kaleem

    April 8, 2016 at 10:58 AM

    Good to see mention of the Second Machine Movement. Quite eloquently also described in Calvin Newport’s recent publication: Deep Work, in particular the upcoming impact on conventional employment sector.

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Uber Eats to Offer Europe Couriers Insurance

 1 min read / 

Uber Eats insurance

Uber has announced that it will be offering a free insurance package to its food couriers in nine European countries.

The company has teamed with AXA Corporate Solutions for the insurance product, which will be introduced from January 8 next year. It will cover personal accidents, cash benefits for hospitalisation, property damage and cover for third-party liability of up to a maximum of $1m. Uber eats operates in Austria, Belgium, Poland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

If a driver is involved in an accident, they will simply need to fill in an online claim form available on the Uber Eats app.

Previously, both Uber Eats and Deliveroo have come under scrutiny over how workers are treated. In the UK, Deliveroo riders went to court to seek employment rights, including the minimum wage. The UK government has looked at whether the employment law needs to be changed to take account of modern working practices, such as the gig economy.

Keep reading |  1 min read


Google News: The Secret War Against Net Neutrality

 5 min read / 

Google Net Neutrality

Anyone watching Google News can see that mainstream news outlets are a monoculture, with 100 different outlets reporting essentially the same “big” story. That is, whatever is the top scandal of the day. With click-bait headlines the norm, mainstream news and fake news look indistinguishable. Readers struggle to tell the difference. It’s all negativity and shouting. That’s changing our culture, and not in a good way.

Google News is making the news monoculture worse by blocking independent news publishers seeking to join Google News. There’s an almost insurmountable headwind for new publishers who haven’t been “grandfathered in” to Google News. Google urges us to take action to support net neutrality while at the same time defeating net neutrality by giving favoured nations treatment to big business news organizations at Google News. Why is that a real problem? Let’s talk about what happened to news in Spain.

The Case in Spain

Spain’s repressive Google tax, and consequent Google News blackout, crippled independent news there. When that happened at the time, Google may have thought, serves Spain right for passing a stupid law. However, the suppression of independent news in Spain has had consequences. The Spanish news blackout by Google News played into the hands of the Spanish government seizing mainstream media, reducing mainstream news to official propaganda.

In its early days, Google News was a tremendous democratic influence for good. Smaller news sites you wouldn’t otherwise know about could get to the top of Google News based on merit. A colleague once wrote a story about a TV movie premiere starring Jennifer Love Hewitt. There was surprisingly big interest in this story. It was the only story that quoted Hewitt talking about her film. That story went to the top of the entertainment section of Google News on a Sunday morning and stayed at the top all day. It drove tremendous amounts of traffic to the news site that published it. They took a lesson from it.

Their success with that story on Google News changed their editorial mandate. The new marching orders? Find more stories that we can uniquely cover that will put us at the top of Google News. What Google had done, intentionally or not, was support diversity and make journalism better. For years that publication ranked on the front page of Google News almost daily. They survived on that traffic. It doesn’t work that way anymore. It isn’t how good you are. It’s how big you are that gets you into the Google News club today.

Difficulty for Small Publishers

In fairness to Google News, this publication, The Market Mogul, is carried by them, so clearly it’s not impossible for a new publisher to gain access. However, given their loud support of net neutrality, why doesn’t Google News have a program that nurtures net neutrality on their own platform? Why not help small publishers, rather than making it more difficult for them to launch and sustain themselves?

Maybe Google simply hasn’t thought about the consequences of not helping small publishers. After all, it can be more work to deal with them. They may have more questions to answer than establishment outlets. However, big mainstream publishers aren’t actually subject to the official rules. Google News isn’t about to drop the New York Times or Washington Post if they make a web template change that moves the author byline down a line or another superficial change that might confuse Google crawler robots.

A small publisher, however, is expected to play 100% by Google’s rules. A long-time Google News forum advisor talks about how things have changed at Google News:

In simple terms, the Google News guidelines have tightened up over time.  I joke that the NYTimes might not be accepted these days.  Yes, that tight.  So your goal is not to generate a marginally passable website that might get accepted into Google News, but one that is so wonderful that Google will drop all of your perceived competitors to find room for you.

Maturity.  If the site doesn’t have 6 months of strong journalism history to review, don’t bother applying.  Maybe 1 year in some niches.  And don’t be surprised to be rejected as 99% of all sites that apply will be rejected.  Think of this as a challenge and go forth and make the best possible news site in your niche.

Why should better journalism mean dropping a perceived competitor? Has the Internet run out of space?

If the above observation is correct, and it is judging from what small publishers have told me and the general feedback on the Google News forum, then Google News has changed. No longer a news democracy with room for every legitimate news publisher no matter what size, Google News has morphed into a walled garden that embraces big business. It’s the opposite of net neutrality. Google News has become a censor promoting the establishment viewpoint. Think that’s bad? It gets worse.

What billionaires think, is the establishment viewpoint. Billionaires control the mainstream press. Google News is boosting the 1%. Whether that’s Jeff Bezos, owner of the Washington Post, which continues to provide outstanding journalism, or Rupert Murdoch, owner and head of Fox News, which does not. Warren Buffet owns 31 news dailies and 50 weeklies. In the UK, five billionaires, Rupert Murdoch, Jonathon Harmsworth, Richard Desmond and the Barclay twins own 80% of the newspapers, plus TV stations, press agencies, book companies, and cinemas. None of the top UK billionaire press owners actually live in England.


A handful of billionaires, many tax avoiders living mostly beyond the law by bending it to their wills, has become our society’s thought overlords through their control of the press. And Google is helping them do it. Why has Google become a gatekeeper to enforce a news mono-culture? Will Google reconsider, stop suppressing small publishers and demanding they be “better” than the New York Times before allowing them a voice?

What society needs is news net neutrality.

Keep reading |  5 min read


Bulletproof Clothing: How US Fashion Is Going Ballistic

 2 min read / 

Bulletproof Clothing

As the US continues to allow civilians to carry weapons and gun violence becomes more of a concern, an increasing number of bulletproof apparel retailers are emerging across the country. Their target clients? The average Joe. Or at least those who can afford the hefty price tags associated with the “exotic” new fashion segment.

Miguel Caballero, a Colombian designer, sells his bulletproof blazers for 4,343.50 euros, and his tank tops for 2,023 euros. At a lower price, but still too high for most people, Joe Curran, who owns BulletBlocker, sells his bulletproof leather jacket for $875 and bulletproof classic two-piece suit for $1,200.

Source: Miguel Caballero

Caballero said that his clients include world leaders from South America and the Middle East, and international businessmen. Damien Ross, another manufacturer of bulletproof clothing, said that his clients are mostly college-educated, professional men, between the ages of 34 and 75.

Ross said:

“They [clients] see what’s happening on the news, and, any time they’re in a crowd or an area that can be prone to attack, they are concerned.”

Source: Bullet Blocker

Body armour manufacturing is a $465 million-a-year industry in the US, according to a report in August from Market Research. The retailers, who mostly entered the industry because of the surge in gun violence taking place around them, are presenting upscale bulletproof clothing, from blazers to tank tops.

Owning body armour is completely legal, and does not require a special permit or background check. However, guidelines vary from state-to-state, and felons are not able to purchase it.

Keep reading |  2 min read