Humanomics from sherpa to SuperLeague footballers — via Uber drivers
Humanomics replaces capitalism as a model for economic activity by taking into account human dilemmas in which motives are based on factors other than monetary gain.
The model at its most simplistic is animated by the desire to ensure that everyone is valued as a productive member of society: conventional workplace metrics fail to do this.
An example of humanomics in action occurs in the documentary ‘Sherpa’. Filmed in 2014, ‘Sherpa’ follows Nepalese guides who support Western climbers reach the top of Everest. As the climbing season gets under way, we see how summiting the world’s tallest mountain has become a gruesome business: there are actual queues of climbers lined up on the mountain, waiting to get to the top. A climber can expect to pay $45,000 to summit Everest, but the sherpa beside him earns perhaps $5,000 a season — a salary which does not reflect the crucial role these mountain guides play in Nepal’s $700m annual tourism industry.
One of the most difficult parts of the ascent occurs immediately after leaving base camp. It involves crossing the the Khumbu Icefall, a highly dangerous ice field. The ice field can be treacherous: there are icefalls. Often the sherpas travel night, when it is colder. Once the sun is up, the temperature on the ice changes, and the melt can trigger an ice avalanche.
On 18th April, 2014, at 6.45am, a 14,000 ton block of ice peeled away from its base and crashed down the climbing route through the Khumbu Icefall, killing 16 sherpas.
The camera crew for ‘Sherpa’ found themselves caught up in the aftermath of the mountain’s worst-ever tragedy. Some days after the accident, when the expedition organisers wanted the Sherpas to restart the climbing schedule, the sherpas were disinclined to. Indeed the sherpas were clearly aghast at this prospect. They did not want to, as they put it, walk over the graves of their fallen comrades. But there were other issues — their ladders were too flimsy, their equipment was sub-standard, they were expected to make several climbs per season on a sacred mountain where they were being treated as extras when in fact, by any righteous estimation, they were the stars of the show.
Into this delicate situation the Western expedition organisers — most notably Russell Brice, owner/manager of climbing company Himalayan Experience — began to pressurise the sherpas to resume climbing. Gradually, the language used by the Western organisers is ramped up. They start off by accepting that there were a couple of sherpas who didn’t want to climb, but pretty soon the no-climb sherpas are ‘disruptive’ (funny how that word is a compliment when it refers to a new Silicon Valley company, but a rebuke for everyone else.)
The sherpas are not going to climb the mountain. The language from the Western bosses becomes more florid. They are no longer “just a few hotheads”, they are “extremists”, say the Western organisers. At the end of this escalation, the sherpas who refuse to climb the world’s tallest and most dangerous mountain in their own country are called “terrorists” by outsiders whose sole interest is to squeeze as much profit out of the mountain — and the guides — as possible.
To call someone a ‘terrorist’ is one of the most dangerous accusations you can make you can make against a fellow human being: conventionally, a terrorist is a violent extremist who presents an immediate and extreme threat to others.
Clearly the term could not rationally be applied to Nepalese sherpas who wanted to respect their dead co-workers in a respectful way, in line with the traditions of their culture. To call Nepalese sherpas terrorists illustrates how far capitalism has led us astray from any humane value system.
Decent people are being traduced in other parts of the capitalist weltanschauung, of course. The meritocracy imposed by Silicon Valley’s super-capitalists has presaged a bleak look into the sort of world they aspire to, one which Uber workers recently took to court — and won.
The Uber vs Uber drivers ruling came down from the UK’s Supreme Court in March, 2021. It was the conclusion of a battle which began in 206 when former Uber drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam took Uber to an employment tribunal, arguing they worked for Uber.
They won their case but Uber appealed against the employment tribunal decision but the Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the ruling in 2017. The company then took the case to the Court of Appeal, which also upheld the ruling in 2018. The March ruling on Friday was Uber’s last appeal: the Supreme Court ruling is the final word, so no more appeals from Uber, which is now saying the company is “committed to doing more and will now consult with every active driver across the UK to understand the changes they want to see”. Well I’m not even an Uber passenger but it’s obvious what the drivers want to see — an end to oppressive contracts, the right to have holidays and a guaranteed minimum wage, the right to earn a pension and maybe the end of the ratings system which penalises drivers every time they turn away a fare.
“I think it’s a massive achievement in a way that we were able to stand up against a giant,” said Mr Aslam, president of the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU), after the final appeal was heard. “We didn’t give up and we were consistent — no matter what we went through emotionally or physically or financially, we stood our ground.”
The roots of today’s economic system lie in slavery, and the dynamics of the corporate world in the 21st century are only taking the model to its logical conclusion. It is — always has been and always will be if unchallenged— a very efficient and very brutal model. Physical slavery has been replaced by economic slavery, with ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom of choice’ weaponised to lure populations into the pens.
“Study the past if you would define the future,” said Confucius.
More recently the European football SuperLeague was established, and then unestablished as the six UK football teams involved withdrew. The sheer scale of opposition — not just from fans but from players and managers, but also the government — forced the climbdown. It has been a rare case of what happens when human values triumph over greed.
Perhaps it’s the start of something fundamental shifting. We now know things can be changed — and quickly. If that can happen to a game of football it can happen to the way we treat the world — and the way human beings have been dehumanised by the relentless industrial capitalism of the last two centuries.