“Get Real. This is the 21st century.” Kevin Rudd sprang that surprise in order to dismiss trade union concerns about his IR policy. Two days later, his deputy announced an end to the Industrial Relations Commission as yet other 20th-century institution.
Under Rudd, everything is to be 21st century. The ALP slogan is no longer “It’s time” but “It’s the future”.
John Howard responded by presenting nuclear power and Work Choices as the 21st century. The election has become a contest between Now-ists.
Here is a little list of what else must be abolished if we do all the running we can to stay on the one spot.
First to the chopping block will be the late eighteenth-century doctrines of free trade and the division of labour, courtesy of Adam Smith.
Next to go will be the joint-stock company, that contraption left over from the 1830s. Like the IRC, this device for garnering money served us well for its time. Without it, we would still be waiting for the first rail network. Now is the post-supersonic age.
Moving right along, the axe will fall on the corporation, that legal fiction concocted as long ago as the 1880s. Granted, the corporation also played its part by fixing prices, squashing medium-size firms and subordinating smaller businesses. But that was another 19th-century solution.
Also to disappear will be two attempts to bring the corporation up to date. The multi-divisional corporation is as ancient as Anzac. The multi-national corporation is a hangover from the era of black-and-white television. There can be no place for corporations of any stamp in the 21st century. Indeed, there will be no room for the firm.
Getting rid of the pre-2000 institutions for the concentration of capital will leave only individual workers and very small businesses. In Rudd’s real existing 21st century, workers will not need to organise into unions, or to strike, or to approach the IRC. Instead, they all will be either self-employed or negotiating with only one other person.
How did equality get itself into the 21st-century?