Jan Macháček


Výsledky hledání

Czech Business Weekly

Employment bottlenecks and a polarized society

20. 08. 2007
Surveys among Czech employers as well as statistics showing falling unemployment suggest that the Czech economy is running close to its full capacity.

    Most companies in most of the regions report that they are short of staff, struggling to recruit new employees and facing demands for improved conditions and wages from existing workers. We have not felt this yet in terms of inflation, which is still surprisingly low, but it may only be a matter of time before wages start to outrun productivity. With a strong overhang of demand against supply, the Czech Republic is running into a bottleneck in its labor market and-if nothing is done about itŃinto a spiral of wage driven inflation.

This is certainly a situation the government can do something about, as it has partly been responsible for creating it. The bureaucratic and obstacle-strewn immigration policy pursued by successive Czech governments is now running against the vital economic interests of the state. Czech immigration policy is simply out of touch with 21st century requirements.
Thousands of people who are willing to work hard and settle in this country are being refused entry visas or permanent and temporary settlement status by both legal regulations and bureaucratic obstruction. This government continues to fund expensive and overcomplicated pilot projects to recruit Kazakh dentists and Bulgarian computer scientists, but they bring little in the way of measurable results.

We should give up this silly dream of importing educated elites. An individual in Kazakhstan or Bulgaria who is skilled in both languages and computer programming is far more likely to find a way over our shoulders into the richer countries of the West.

Our goal at this moment should be to give those who want to work here an opportunity to settle, be they unskilled construction or forestry workers, cleaners and shop assistants, or foreign entrepreneurs. Legislation should be quickly overhauled and the government should not serve as an obstruction (as it currently does), but act as a conduit between prospective employees, companies and entrepreneurs.

Immigration, if handled properly, can be the best future investment for a society, as countless historical examples have shown. Immigrants are often the people with the drive and imagination to change things for the better and to improve the lot of the next generation. But there is no such talk in political circles, and certainly no such policy in the pipeline. We will soon be facing the consequences.

Meanwhile there are other things the government could be doing to improve the situation in the labor market. The unemployment figures still reveal dramatic regional and local differences. It is crucial to improve labor market mobility by putting an end to rent regulation and investing in infrastructure. If we want more skilled jobs, we also have to invest heavily in our universities. Good universities will attract talented teachers and students from overseas, some of whom will surely decide to settle.

Between two camps

The case of the corruption allegations against Deputy Prime Minister Jiří Čunek (Christian Democrat, KDU-‰SL) has, like other such scandals before it, polarized Czech society. To his supporters, Čunek  is a much needed “anti-communist” hero who has refused to follow former KDU-ČSL leader Miroslav Kalousek’s cynical pact with Paroubek. Čunek is also seen as courageous. Against the fashionable wave of political correctness, he has shown no hesitation in evicting those who, by their anti-social behavior, have made a mess of our inner cities.

To his critics, however, Čunek is little more than a rabble rouser and racist. They profess dismay that a man seemingly incapable even of organizing his own personal finances has been placed in charge of tens of billions of crowns of European Union funds. Čunek is not educated (he was formerly a fire safety technician) and speaks no language other than Czech.

The opposing camps are equally split over ‰unek’s alleged corruption. The former passionately believe that Čunek is innocent and subject of a witch hunt or organized plot from above. His detractors meanwhile remain convinced that Čunek took a bribe and that his case has been dropped only because of political pressure.

This almost religious split about a purely criminal case is alarming. Society is equally split over the forced administration of failed Investi‹n’ a Poätovn’ banka (IPB), over the so-called Kubice report and along many other similar lines.
But considered in a global context, these divisions are far from exceptional. Let us remember, for instance the so-called Whitewater scandal connected to the Clinton administration in the U.S.. Many Republicans strongly believed, or wanted to believe, that the Clintons were corrupt and guilty as sin. Newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times wrote editorials about “Whitewater sleaze” on an almost daily basis. Many Democrats on the other hand were equally insistent that the entire affair was a fiction invented by frustrated Republicans.

The U.S. continues to set a democratic example to the world in many respects, but there are signs of a deepening polarization in its politics. As our democracy takes root, we should be wary of conviction-based politics that creates a society divided on almost every issue.

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