‘We are in the process of amusing ourselves to death’
This quote by Neal Postman, a former professor of communications arts and sciences at New York University, is over 30 year old. Postman’s concern was that everything that was important has been reduced by television to a level of trivial entertainment – politics, religion, news, education. ”When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.”
Well, anyone who is regularly watching romanian television will for sure confirm, that Postman’s line from the 1980’s is still valid – maybe more than ever.
But since this site is not a cultural- or media-blog, let me focus on the economic effects for a society like Romania where a majority is just passively receive information instead of critically engaging with it.
First and foremost, basic knowledge of causes and effects of economic developments are unknown or perverted. In Romania, it’s common sense for instance, that higher salaries would lead to higher consume and a growing economy.
Although I know that many romanians have trouble to meet month’s end, it’s an irrevocable truth, that higher salaries are never at the beginning, but always at the end of an economic progress. There is no shortcut.
The current discussion in Romania about higher salaries combined with lower taxes, as tempting as it may be, will ultimately have negative consequences. Why? First, because higher salaries have to be justified by higher productivity, which isn’t the case in Romania. Second, the higher income is not saved or invested but mainly used for consume. Together with the higher demand for personal credits, this may be good for the topline of shopping-malls, but it won’t take long, until the higher salaries will be ‘compensated’ by higher import-prices, because the RON will lose in value against the EUR when the trade-deficit widens further, since Romanias exports are much smaller in value than its imports. The pain in the next recession will be severe and a romanian Neal Postman would warn, that ‘we are in the process of consuming ourselves to death’.
The only – and admittedly more challenging – way to improve the economic situation in Romania, stands on 3 pillars.
- improve education
- improve productivity
- improve Research & Ddevelopment investments
Then, and only then, higher salaries, and I mean really better paychecks with four figures in EUR for the majority of employees – are a logical (and sustainable) effect.
One ‘advantage’ of Romania is the low starting point to improve for instance education or productivity.
Education: Why not adopt Germany’s education system that pairs hands-on learning with classroom learning to give young people a leg up in the workforce. Most students graduate not only with a degree, but also with job experience and a deep knowledge of their trade.
Productivity: Why is it accepted by companies and employees, that a simple doctor’s visit or a ‘sick day’ is followed by another day spent out of office just for the paperwork, while in other countries everything is done electronically between HR and health insurance in a few minutes.
Why is my assistant out for days just to obtain a new passport or has to wait in line for hours just to pay a fee, while in other countries everything can be done online from home or the office and the payment is confirmed or the brand new passport delivered in the mail?
The 3 pillars ‘education’ ‘productivity’ and ‘investments’ are a conditio-sine-qua-non for Romania’s urgent need to move more economic activities into high valued-add sectors like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). I rarely make a prediction, but this is for sure: if that move is achieved successfully, then salaries will improve quite a bit – and this time it would be more than justified.
There is a close correlation between the low-level of tv-entertainment in a country and the low level of salaries. Isn’t it time to switch off the tv and get serious about education, productivity and investments?