The New York Times recently ran this bit in one their morning briefings:
Restaurants across London are so short-staffed that they have had to curtail operating hours, close on some days of the week and, in extreme cases, shut their doors altogether. While the city’s once-thriving dining scene has also been hurt by the pandemic and by soaring energy prices, the labor shortage is almost wholly a result of Brexit.
I don’t doubt the veracity of labor shortages in the UK, nor do I doubt that not being able to hire cheap labor from Eastern Europe is an exacerbating factor. What strikes me as flat out wrong about this story is the narrative.
The Netherlands, which is very much in the EU and bursting at the seams with immigrants — myself one of them, is having precisely the same problem. Every single cafe has a help wanted sign up, trains are frequently canceled for want of staff, and the airports were on the verge of collapse all summer due to not having enough staff.
There are narratives that the Times will never touch:
- Economic growth requires population growth but urbanized, wealthier regions tend to have low, usually below replacement level, birth rates. This necessitates mass immigration, which has resulted in a combination of two outcomes in Western countries: immigrants assimilating, having fewer kids and then needing more immigrants to continue the cycle (often the case in the US, Canada and UK) or immigrants remaining a permanent underclass (often the case in Europe).
- The whole model of constant-growth economics and mass urbanization is an historical anomaly that can’t go on forever. It’s hard to saw when this system will collapse under its own weight, but it is inevitable. The question of whether it’s a hundred years or a thousand does make a difference, though.
- There’s a burgeoning class of completely unproductive urban workers — think motivational speakers, middle managers, university administrators, covid compliance officers: people who fall into Graeber’s useless jobs or Taleb’s intellectual yet idiots. Not coincidently these types form the brunt of the TImes’ readership. Each one requires a whole army of low-paid, often immigrant workers to make their overpriced coffees, deliver their food, clean their houses and otherwise do the things adults used to do themselves.
My guess is that the future will require us to get rid of all of the high-paying office jobs that amount to making PowerPoints all day. These people will have to get much lower-paying jobs that actually bring some use to society: nurses, garbage collectors, electricians.
My profession is a mixed bag. Organizing information and making things easier to use are important for society, but so much of the UX field is dominated by Facebook, Google and other completely parasitic companies.
The New York Times is never going to discuss this narrative though.