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Tuesday, 2 August 2016

5 challenges for freelance ICT consultants... and 8 solutions on how to overcome those.

I. Help, my knowledge and experience are becoming outdated. What can I do?!

The ICT-industry is constantly on the move. Driven by a mixture of fashion and new innovations within the industry, certain methodologies, skills and tools can become outdated quite suddenly and unexpectedly.  Once popular tools and hardware can fall from grace, while new systems and tools emerge like a lightning bolt.

While some tools and brands are long-lasting ‘winners’ (hence: SAP, Oracle, various Microsoft tools), other tools ‘disappear from the face of the earth’ in a jiffy. You could think about tools and systems, like JDEdwards (CRM), IBM iSeries (including the accompanying software and development tools) or any other tools based upon obsolete-ish hardware and operating systems.

Also methods change very dramatically sometimes: ‘CMM/Waterfall’ project execution, following the Prince II method, has been a staple for almost all large ICT-driven companies for many years. Suddenly, however, it was conquered by storm by Agile / Scrum and other agile methods. 

That happened for the simple reason that people and companies became fed up by the incorporated bureaucracy, the inagility and the too often undesired end results or deadline shifts of waterfall projects.

But where Scrum seems now the winning method in 'ICT-land', its days could be counted too, sometime in the future. Simply for its (obvious) drawbacks, as f.i. underestimation of the need for documentation by development teams, the moderate to poor scalability within large organizations and the poor predictability of the end state of a project.

If you have vast experience in one of those legacy systems, development tools or outdated methodologies, but hardly experience in something else, your immediate career could be under acute jeopardy!

What should you do:

1.   Check regularly if your knowledge and experience are still in demand on the market.

Having such a look at your own experience and skills can be confronting. It is not easy to admit that you are under threat of becoming a dinosaur in your field of expertise. Still, you must do it and you must do it honestly. You are the last person on earth for whom you should cover up the truth.

2.   Before your own train stops moving, be prepared to jump on another train.

Afterwards you must decide whether you want to remain the keeper of your own niche –  for instant Cobol programmers can nowadays earn a very decent living with this “prehistoric” programming language  or that you want to learn something new very quickly and thoroughly.

In case of the latter, try to gather new competences quickly and try to get ‘hands on’ working experience in these freshly acquired competences. Accept one or two lower paid assignments, if you can acquire valuable experience there. Get out of your comfort zone, but don’t do things in which you will never become successful: don’t waste your energy on projects, doomed to fail.

However, waiting without acting is definitely not an option, as your sources of income might dry out very soon. And when you are already without an assignment or even unemployed, despair might get hold of you, making you feel miserable and restraining you from doing the things that you must do.

II.  Help, I want to have a new assignment as soon as possible, but I don’t want to shoot at everything that moves?!

Since the trough of the economic crisis in 2011, the ICT market has improved dramatically. There are currently a lot more assignments available in the market and it might be that your field of experience and your skills belong to the absolute winners. Then you are definitely in business and you can pick the best, most convenient and interesting assignments.

However, it could also be that it is a little bit harder to get a new assignment, because your experience and skills are not that distinguishing for you as a consultant and you did not catch the latest trend in the ICT industry in time.

Writing too many motivations for different companies and industries and sending your resumé to too many people and companies is disappointing and it can cost you valuable energy, that you need for a successful intake. But still you have to find a new assignment.

What should you do:

3.   Choose your battles wisely.

Don’t apply for every assignment, but choose the ones that you like and where you have an above average chance of being selected with your resumé, your hands-on experience and your motivation.

The same when a certain assignment does not sound interesting or won’t bring you new and valuable experience. You are much too valuable to waste your energy on an assignment that does not bring you something new and interesting, just for the sake of getting an income. You should not be too picky, but also not too eager for new assignments.

However, when you find an interesting assignment on offer, go for it! Check out which are the most important job demands that the principals of your choice have and whether you can meet most of them. If not, save your energy and don’t apply.

Don’t be scared away by very exotic tools and methods on the ‘demanded experience’ list, for which you lack the hands on experience. You can learn a lot on the job. 

And besides that, chances are quite dim that the principal will find a lot of applicants who have that particular experience, when these tools and methods are indeed as exotic as you think they are. And even when principals find such a consultant, he will undoubtedly have a 'sturdy'hourly fee, as he is one of only a few.

Nevertheless, when the aforementioned tools are not very exotic after all, consider doing a course, workshop or self-study to gather the missing experience. Otherwise you might miss too many opportunities for a good and interesting assignment.

4.   Try to only do business with intermediaries, who are preferred supplier at the principal of your choice or at least have personal relations with people working there.

The world of freelancers is crawling with companies that want to earn a few bucks at the freelancer's expense. What you as a freelance consultant want to prevent from happening, however, is that you only earn 60 bucks per hour for an assignment for which the principal pays €90 per hour to the main contractor.

In other words: you don’t want to have €30 per hour in fee spillage, as that makes you expensive as a consultant, in spite of the fact that you still earn a rather moderate hourly fee. 

The rule of thumb is: don’t pay much more than €10 in fees per hour to the main contractor of the assignment and about €2,50 for the invoicing intermediaries (i.e. companies that take care of the general invoicing on behalf large principals, like banks and insurance companies). The services of such intermediaries are often mandatory, as f.i. large banks and insurance companies demand usage of their services for the invoicing and remuneration of their consultants and freelancers. 

But remember, if more than one party (except for invoice mediaries) stands between you and the principal, your hourly fee will blow away in the wind. So don’t do that, as you have to work very hard for your money and should not see it land in other people's pockets for nothing! You are not a philanthropist! 

Besides that, there are numerous small bureaus and one man-businesses, that are fishing in the same small pond of second grade-assignments (i.e. assignments that have been ‘floating in the market for quite a while’ and already yielded a stockpile of resumés for the principal). These bureaus don’t have direct contracts and/or good connections and relations with large principals and the people working there, but simply feed on the breadcrumbs that the larger brokers and intermediaries drop. 

Don’t waste your energy on those, in spite of their sometimes convincing stories! The chances are dim that your resumé stands out so much that you will get an invitation after all and sometimes deadlines for such assignments have already past, without you knowing it.

Always ask such bureaus which principal is involved in the assignment and ask if they either have a ‘preferred supplier’ contract or personal connections/relations with the principal for which they state to work. 

If the answer is 'yes', you can do business with them, but ignore the others as they cost you a lot of energy and often can’t deliver anything in the end.

And remember: a personal cont(r)act between a intermediary and a principal is often much more worth, than thousand possible assignments from one of those clueless, small bureaus and one-man businesses.

III.  Help, the ‘usual suspects’ among the principals are offering dozens of jobs, but I would rather work at a smaller and more personal company?!

Large principals, like national and local governments, semi-governmental organizations (f.i. railroad companies or infrastructure service providers), telecom companies, large banks and insurance companies are indispensable for many freelancers. 

Such companies and institutions need numerous freelancers throughout the year and therefore offer interesting jobs and contracts for many, many people.

Downside is, however, that freelancers are rather considered as a ‘flexible labour shell’ for such organizations, than as a valuable asset for the longer term. This often means that when your job at such a large principal is finished, you will be dismissed without hesitation. You are hired for the job, so when the job is over, so is your contract (of course there are always exceptions to this rule-of-thumb).

What should you do:

5.   Get out of the comfort zone of searching for jobs exclusively at the large principals and find a principal that ‘feels good’ to you, fits to your goals and offers the chance for a longer and mutually fruitful assignment.

Smaller principals more often see their freelancers as 'an indivisible part of the team' and aim more often at longer working relations, especially when these freelancers are good at their job. You could become more closely attached to such a company and hop from one assignment to another, within the same company. 

So perhaps a smaller principal can indeed offer a longer and more fruitful relation, that lasts longer than until the moment that the job is done. 

Whether you like this or not, depends on you of course. Some freelancers like short assignments at many different companies, while others like long and close relations with principals.

IV.  Help, I don’t know what hourly fee I should ask while applying at future principals?

In spite of the rejuvenating economy f.i. in The Netherlands, 2016 is still distinguishable as a demand-driven economy, in which there is more supply of available workers than actual demand from principals. 

The effect of this circumstance is that there will probably be ‘a stack’ of offered resumés for every available ‘middle-of-the-road’ assignment at common principals. This means in practice that there is still fierce competition from other freelancers, which puts pressure on the hourly fees on offer.

This effect is reinforced by the still high influx of qualified and skilled workers from the (European) low wage countries or from India. These people seem to offer exactly the same that you can offer, but at a fraction of the price.

What should you do:

6.       Know what you’re experience is worth.

Don’t ask too much money, but do not put yourself ‘on sale’, out of fear for competition from the low wage countries. If you sell yourself too cheaply, you can’t pay the bills and the fixed expenses that come with being a freelancer. Or you won’t be able to build up a nest egg for possible hard times in the future. 

However, when you sell yourself to dearly, you won’t get an assignment; especially when your experience and skills are not that exclusive for you.

Most companies, however, are willing to pay €60 - € 70 for younger and less experienced workers and roughly €70 - €80 for very experienced, senior workers. This is the rule of thumb. More exclusive skills and experience for a freelancer mean a higher hourly fee than the aforementioned ones, while genuine juniors should aim at an hourly fee slightly below the €60 per hour.

If you go cheaper than that, you will get in the zone in which you cannot pay your fixed expenses anymore (i.e. your car, fuel, taxes, disability insurance, health insurance or retirement payments). Due to the insecurity of a life as freelancer, you must take care of yourself in case of tough times and longer lasting periods of unemployment.

Fortunately, most companies learned to understand the wishdom behind the (not very sympathetically sounding) expression: “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”.

Many workers and ICT service suppliers from the low wage countries were initially just not good or experienced enough to fulfil their assigned task, in spite of their (sometimes) very low hourly fees. Or they where hampered by cultural differences and a mutual misunderstanding of their language (mostly English), which handicapped the execution of their job.

But while the best knowledge workers from India and Eastern Europe were able to gather the desired experience and cultural skills and grew into very valued workers indeed, it inevitably meant that their hourly rates went higher too. 

These people also discovered their net worth and did not want to work for a 'token' fee anymore, as they discovered the general costs of living in an expensive country as The Netherlands!

So don’t go cheap on yourself... and once again remember: every superfluous service mediator or job broker that you don’t have to pay for his activities, cannot eat away your sales revenues or make you too expensive. So get these guys out of your personal value chain, where possible.

V. Help, there is so much that I don’t know and so many tools that I don’t master yet.

There are so many operating systems and development, deployment and testing tools in the ICT industry and there is so much to learn in this business, that it is impossible to always stay totally ahead of the game and educate yourself in any tool or method that comes along. 

It is also impossible to win every intake, as there sometimes simply are better and more applicable people for the job. 

As long as your general knowledge, experience and skills are still in demand within the business, you should not worry too much about that (see also I. and II.)

What should you do:

7.   When you can meet most demanded skills and experience (i.e. when you have chosen your battles wisely indeed), you will probably be in business.

Many principals offer very long lists of requirements – tools and methods – that a freelancer should master, in order to obtain the job on offer. It is therefore very hard to meet all requirements on that list.

Remember, however, that such lists often represent a 'starting bid' and that people who master every aspect on that list are probably scarce – and therefore expensive. So don't let those lists haunt you and scare you away. 

Browse through the list and look up if you can meet the most important requirements – the knock-out criteria. If you can do that, just apply for the job.

8.    Be prepared on your job interview, but don’t be overprepared. What you don’t know, you don’t know.

Overpreparation for a job interview can be killing. You can sound ‘mechanical’ and nervous, like an overprepared school kid during his final oral exam; not like you are on the top of your game.

Be explicit and proud about what you know and what your skills are – without too much boasting – and don’t feel bothered and nervous or disappointed about what you don’t know. You can’t know everything!

One of my own mistakes is that I want to answer every question sufficiently and satisfactorily, instead of just chosing for 'no' when this is most applicable. When I can't answer such a question properly, I start stuttering and sweating, which makes a very poor impression, of course. This is my personal handicap and it cost me some good assignments in the past, I'm afraid.

When the conclusion is that your knowledge is insufficient for a particular job, then so be it. There is always another job in which you will prove to fit perfectly, provided that you are still on top of the game with your skills and experience and not have 'turned into a dinosaur' indeed. Grab that one!

And my only additional advice is that you closely follow the trends and don’t forget to jump on the right train, when it leaves. 

You will notice that, when the whole industry is buzzing with a new trend or tool. Don’t miss out on that one!

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Letter from a reader: what will happen with capitalism after this crisis?

This morning I received a letter from Ken. He is a long-term, British reader of mine and a helluva nice guy. 

I had the pleasure of meeting him once, in real life, during an event upon a possible future economy, in which ubiquitous information and technology sharing would lead to a peaceful and prosperous world for all human beings. 

Even though we were both not very impressed by the presentation, it was truly wonderful to get acquainted to Ken. And this morning, I received this intriguing question from him:

Hi Ernst,

I continue to absorb your excellent articles.  We are certainly living in interesting period. It could go many ways.

Ernst, I wanted to ask you.  If/when things go pear shaped and our current economic system (Capitalism) fails...what economic system do you think will replace it?

My answer to Ken:

At this moment, I would not just call the economic system capitalism. It is rather becoming a neoliberal hypercapitalism, in which there are winners and losers and almost nothing in between. The traditional middle-classes dwindle and there is hardly a safety net anymore for all people, who missed the boat during their study or early career or went through an enduring, tough period in their life.

Labour has almost flexibilized into oblivion and fixed labour contracts are rapidly becoming a luxury good, only reserved for either a vanishing, ‘happy few’ of older workers, or for very talented and scarce, ‘special breed’ personnel and the higher ranks in companies, who need to be lured with a high and stable salary, bonuses and other special favours. 

All other workers are either pushed into being freelancers, who are solely responsible for their own income, pension, social safety net and general well-being, or they get temporary labour contracts and zero hour contracts, that offer near zero security for the long term.

Companies have simply become too scared and reluctant to hire someone on ‘his/her blue eyes and his/her killer smile’ alone. 

This is because of the legal and social consequences that circumstances as longterm worker illness, possible labour conflicts and the unilateral ending of contracts could pose to the sheer existence and financial health of (small) companies. This is in spite of new legislation, that was meant to break open the Dutch labour market, but in fact caused the total opposite, as an unintended consequence.

The few middle class workers that receive a fixed contract must undergo stringent screenings and pre-intake conversations, extensive assessments and two or three job interviews before they finally receive a job. And even then this initially leads to a few one year contracts on many occasions, before the fixed contract is handed out eventually. Everything to prevent small and large companies from being attached to a disappointing, 'weakest link' worker in the long run. 

And so, instead of being an asset of the utmost importance for the well-being and future success of the company that needs to be cherished, educated and elevated, workers are rather seen as a possible risk. A risk that needs to be contained and mitigated. As a matter of fact: distrust and risk mitigation seem the name of the labour game, currently... 

In fact, many workers in large companies seem little more than a durable means of production with a limited preservability for the future, only tolerated and appreciated until the moment that someone or something better (i.e. “robotized systems”) comes along the way.

This is for instance expressed in unscrupulous slogans, like “Be up or be out” and the growing impatience of executive management with average ‘water carriers’ among the personnel of companies. Every worker must either be a passionate Olympic champion in his own working area or he will be replaced by someone who is! There are unfortunately quite a lot of companies, which see their personnel as ‘one trick ponies’, useful for the greater good of the company for as long as they master their trick.

Fortunately, however, other companies still do invest a lot of money and effort in their workers and teach them new areas of expertise by trainings, workshops and by letting them get hands on experience, when their old areas of expertise have become obsolete. Nevertheless, their number seems to be dwindling in recent years, driven by a unilateral focus on shareholder value, short term interests and KPI's.

And what distinguishes this time most, in my humble opinion, is the fact that the ‘winners’ in society hardly feel compassion and solidarity with the alleged losers anymore, but see them as people 'who were simply not good or hungry enough'. People that can be ignored and neglected, as their misfortune could cast a shadow on one's fortune in life, as “you were the master of your own success, weren’t you?!”.

The losers and the people on the wee end of the situation themselves, however, don’t blame the winners anymore for their lack of compassion and their treason, with respect to general solidarity. They also start to believe that they failed in life and missed the boat, due to their own incompetence or misfortune. They are losers! 'nuff said!

Instead, they start to blame other losers or minority groups – cheap workers from East-Europe or people with certain religions – for being the cause of their misery (i.e. in the form of a global conspiracy). 

For instance: the Polish or Bulgarian constructor or factory worker, who took a Dutch worker's job is guilty of the Dutch worker's misery, and not the company who replaced the Dutch worker with a Polish one itself. "The company had to do so, otherwise it would not be profitable anymore". 

This is the reason that the current society has seemingly become so angry, impatient, envious and nervous: simply too many workers and other people have lost a sense of security in their lives and don’t know what and who to blame for that. As a compensation, they start blaming the aforementioned minority groups and other people who are not winning in society.

Champions are hot! Losers are not...

This is a situation that cannot last forever, as the people in the lower and less successful classes and especially the younger generations get more and more frustrated and fed up with their difficult situation and their slow (perhaps impossible(?)) struggle to reach prosperity and a long-lasting sense of security. 
The differences between the haves and the have-nots simply become so big eventually and the urge of the haves for total control and containment of the have-nots becomes so enormous that ‘the bomb will burst’ in the end. 

Even though this situation is probably quite far away yet, there is definitely a mounting urge for total control of the population among the central and local governments in the European countries: ubiquitous camera surveillance, widespread eavesdropping of telephone and internet traffic, rings of license plate scanners around large cities and crowd control systems are the well-known symptoms of this urge for control.

And when the bomb bursts, a few things can happen then:
  • A “revolution” happens in which the old and useless government is overthrown by a government, based on the sole power of a radical strong man (often a dangerous populist):
    • This strong man either promises that he will guide the country to greener pastures, by removing the objects of the population’s anger (hence: Germany during and after the interbellum or Turkey during these days);
    • Or he promises to get rid of the classic elites in his country (hence: the French and Russian revolutions), as they allegedly caused the dire situation for the population;
  • Something dramatic happens as a large war, a natural catastrophy or a large outbreak of a lethal disease. Such a cleansing process (hence: a purge) provides a necessary ‘reset’ in a country or a continent, making the people understand that they need each other and must learn again to rely on each other;
  • The soft power of a gentle, natural and truly great leader comes over the country and the population unites – more or less – under his influence (hence: Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela); 
  • A revolutionary invention, a newly discovered natural resource or a big paradigm shift brings so much new prosperity to a country, a continent or the world that litterally everybody can profit from it and the money flows upon the ceiling, thus enabling a new social-democrat fundament in the country; 

Suffice it to say that most of these options – perhaps I missed one or two – are either not very desirable or not very plausible to happen.

Even though the answer always lies in politics, it is unfortunately not very plausible either that the current, leading politicians themselves learn to sing another tune, as long as they are at ‘the prosperous, right side of the balance’.

The nature of politics is that the people with money and good societal positions can buy their influence upon politicians in a number of ways, while the less successful majority cannot do so. 

Tell-tale examples of this mechanism are the current American elections and the political situation in the United Kingdom, where the Tory government messed up terribly, but remains in power with almost the same people who messed things up. This is the reason that the established politicans probably won’t change their stance before their political career has ended, the soft or the hard way.

And now about your question: I don’t think that capitalism will be replaced soon by a communist, Maoist or Marxist system, as these systems have also proven to be utterly unfair for the people for which they were meant originally. One unfair system with elites would simply be replaced by another unfair system with different elites, but with generally the same results for the majority of the population.

And a new system, based upon a society without money and an economic foundation, but ‘with liberty, justice and equal information, technology and chances for all’ – like the one that has been discussed during our "in-real-life" meeting a few months ago – I really don’t see that happen yet in my lifetime; even though I am a genuine ‘Trekkie’ (i.e. a classic Star Trek fan) and an idealist.

A dear friend of mine is one of those ‘knights with tinfoil hats’, who believe in a massive, global conspiracy, led by the heirs of the Rothschild family: a conspiracy that should bring the world towards a new world order. 

I, however, don’t believe in that sort of thing...

That is the reason that I believe that some form of capitalism will continue to be 'en vogue' in the Western hemisphere of the world after the depression has ended somewhere in time. 

However, even though I am totally clueless about the kind of capitalism that will emerge after this depression and the possible large-scale events that might come out of this ("let's hope not"), I am convinced that it must be a gentler, more social-democratic capitalism, with more solidarity for the people that are not so lucky in live. 

I truly hope that this gentler capitalism emerges within the EU and the European continent, but we yet have to climb some very dangerous fences for that.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

The dangerous void between perception and reality inside (and outside) Europe

It is July 23rd, 2016...

Just another day in the ninth year of the economic depression that has struck the world with a violent, enduring blow.

Roughly one week ago, there has been a truly horrible attack by a Frenchman of Tunisian descent in Nice, France. This man drove a heavy truck through an extremely busy boulevard, crowded with sauntering people – allegedly with a terrorist objective –  thus killing 84 innocent people and dangerously wounding many, many more.

A few days later an Afghan youth in Germany randomly attacked people on a commuter train with an axe. Luckily nobody was killed (yet), but a few people suffered from life-threatening wounds.

And yesterday, we were again witnesses of a disgusting, violent attack against common citizens, claiming the lives of nine innocent people and the perpetrator as well. This time it happened in Munich, Germany. The deed was executed by an Iranian youngster, who was allegedly depressed and full of violent ideas, reputedly gathered by playing violent computer games and as a consequence of doing research into earlier killing sprees in Europe, like the one executed by Anders Breivik on Utoya Island.

While the first two attacks can be described as religiously driven, terrorist attacks, the last youngster was born and raised in Munich and had no connection to any religious terrorist group or organization whatsoever.

At the same time, Dutch, Belgian and German people of Turkish descent are fighting and seriously threatening each other, because of their presumed pro- or anti-Erdoğan stance (i.e. pro-Gülen or pro-Kurdistan) and political orientation, whipped up by the hysterical tone of voice coming from Ankara, since last week’s failed coup d’etat in Turkey.

And in Turkey itself, thousands and thousands of people are either arrested (and perhaps even tortured and murdered) by the police and presidential troops or not allowed to leave the country. Thousands of schools are closed and countless teachers and professors are arrested or fired for having ideas, which are not in line with the official government point of view.

As a matter of fact, it seems that Turkey is dropping deeper and deeper in the abyss of ubiquitous resentment, paranoia and ultra-violent vigilance, that was so distinctive for Russia in the days of Josif Stalin.

At the same time, the situation in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan remains horrible with yet again numerous deadly attacks on crowded, public places and really no end in sight for the massive bloodshed and terrible suffering of the population in these countries in the name of ... whatever.

In the Netherlands, a group of white vigilantes from Northern Europe, called ‘the Soldiers of Odin’, arrived last week to ‘protect our country against violent refugees and asylum seekers...’. A protection offered in a way that reminds us of our darkest moments during the Twentieth Century: “Never mind the swastika tattoos on our bodies. Those are just there because we like them. Nothing more...”.

Extreme right-wing and left-wing parties are winning elections everywhere in Europe, while banging the drum against minorities and the moderate, ‘middle-of-the-road’ right- and leftwing parties in the European countries are really totally clueless regarding the question “what is going on and what we should do about it?!”.

In the United Kingdom, numerous Brexiteers and Bremainers are having really aggressive arguments about who was right and who was wrong and who scr*wed up most before, during and after the referendum in the first place. Longtime friends and even families are litterally divided in pro- and contra-brexiteers, who are simply outraged with each other. In England and Wales, EU-citizens from Eastern Europe really start to feel unsafe in their ‘country of residence’ of the last few years and consider moving out.

And at the same time the new British cabinet of PM Theresa May still think that they can save the day, regarding the European Union and the rest of the world, with ‘a confident smile, a few jokes, a pint of ale and a bag of crisps’.

European and American churches are overloaded with people, who pray for... whatever: France, Germany, Orlando, Nice, Munich, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or perhaps even the United Kingdom. Praying and waiting until the next terrible event occurs.

The mounting nationalism of – IMHO – the unhealthy kind in the European countries (and as a matter of fact far abroad) is yet another tell-tale signal that something is seriously wrong and brewing within Europe. This nationalism and these unhealthy, hostile feelings against other people and groups are often accellerated by the social media, which more and more often work as pressure cookers for formerly undisclosed aggression, anger, resentment and alienation, dividing the world in ‘us and them’.

A total and utter misunderstanding and even ignorance for the situation in which other, less fortunate people reside, as well as scuffles and rants against presumed adversaries, videos with extreme and sickening violence and below-the-belt platitudes about ‘the others’, have simply become too common to see them as isolated incidents.

And even public places of worship for the most common religions have turned into spots where ‘infidels’ and people with other opinions are excluded, ridiculized, taunted and cursed, as would-be casualties in the next ‘holy’ war between ‘us and them’.

Am I the only one here, who thinks that something is seriously wrong inside and outside Europe?!

The most-heard perception among popular economists and politicians is that Europe is definitely on the way up, as far as the economy is concerned. The economy is growing unspectacular, but steady: housing prices go up, employment is going down, exports, trade and commercial services are thriving in most countries and – in spite of a few problems with Italian banks – everything seems hunky-dory, from an economic point of view.

That is, if you don’t take the negative interest rates into consideration, which are haunting the corporate and private savers all over Europe and eat away their nest eggs and retirement plans.

Or the millions and millions of people who are going from one flex-contract to another freelance assignment, without ever having a real outlook towards a steady and secure job with income security and social benefits, enabling them to save money for a rainy day and acquire an income while being sick or retired. People, who are often forced to drop their minimum income demands, in order to win the competition with people from European and Asian low-wage countries.

And thus it seems that there is a massive void between the economic perception that everything economically in the European Union is improving and that consumers and SME companies soon will start spending their income again at one hand and the daily reality that many, many people feel depressed, alienated and scared and desperately want someone or something to take the blame for that at the other hand.

Perhaps the worst development of all is that people with different income scales seem to live more and more in parallel worlds: next to each other, instead of with each other.

Wealthy people live in a superficial, ‘tinseltown’ world of expensive cars, expensive yachts, expensive hotels and restaurants, world cruises, holidays in ‘€1500 per night’, gated and protected resorts with the utmost in privacy, while wearing priceless couture, €75,000 Cartier jewelry  and carrying Louis Vuitton or Hermés bags of €3,500 retail price or more. As long as they can live their lives, they really couldn’t care less about how the others live theirs.

This is a world in which the lower and middle class people in their own company or home country are just as remote as the ‘natives’ in their gated, Mozambique holiday resort: they know these people do exist, but they hardly encounter them ‘in the wild’ anymore.

The lower and middle class people, however, live often in a situation in which discount supermarkets and ‘euro stores’, outlet centres and cheap shopping malls are their last resort to mitigate their addiction to cheap and unhealthy victuals, ‘bling bling’ jewellery, inexpensive consumer goods and household appliances, cheap fashion and shoewear. This is a situation in which there is always ‘too much month for their paycheck’, as well as a constant worrying about the question whether this paycheck will actually arrive or not, due to their flex labour contracts or freelance activities.

A situation in which the ‘losers’ ask themselves what went wrong during their education and subsequent career and where they actually missed the boat to eternal success and entrepreneurship.
This is a situation that cannot endure forever. In the end, something has got to give and that something might cause a lot of commotion when it finally happens.

And what worries me also: right after the Brexit referendum took its shocking and unexpected course, there was a perfect momentum in which brave European politicians could have run the gauntlet and take the worries of the British and European citizens seriously; really, openly and without prejudice and platitudes.

Politicians could have responded to the worried and alienated British and European grassroots with something like: “You gave us a yellow card with your Brexit vote and we have heard and understood this signal very clearly, even though we don’t know yet WHAT you exactly want from us.

In response we will enter into a serious discussion with you about the Europe and the economy that you want and need for the future, while explaining to you our motives for doing the things that we have done in the recent past. We cannot promise you that we can keep everybody happy and satisfied, but we will do our utmost to achieve that”.

Instead it seemed that the European politicians immediately returned to business-as-usual as if nothing really happened. They quarreled endlessly about the future economic consequences of the Brexit, the ongoing refugee-crises, the crisis between the NATO and Russia, the terrorist attacks in Germany and France, the ongoing Turkish crisis and all the other European conundrums of this year 2016, while in fact totally ignoring the signals being sent by the Brexit and the deteriorating moods all over Europe.

Opportunity missed..., game over... Try another time, boy!

The European dream (with the European Union there WAS a real European dream, in my opinion) has in fact morphed into a bureaucratic and economic extravaganza for European business cowboys and lobbyists, bookkeepers, greengrocers and shop-managers without a real feeling of responsibility. People without imagination, a real conscience and compassion and without a clear view on a possible and better future for us all, instead of a wealthy future for themselves and their loved ones alone.

And now we have two opportunities: either we will eventually fall down into a large-scale (perhaps global) catastrophy caused by a neoliberal, capitalist policy gone totally awry, or we elect politicians that are able to find the right path up the hill again, away from the inequality, uncertainty, hatred, paranoia and resentment against the others. 

It is the choice of you and me and all the others: inside and outside Europe.

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