Jobs to the Lowest Bidder

Everyone knows you can find anything on eBay. Heck, for the right auction-winning price you can pick up Britney Spear’s used chewing-gum. And remember back when that guy tried to use this forum to auction off his kidney for transplant?

Presumably the functioning of eBay Deutschland is a bit more decorous (but maybe I simply don’t want to initiate some Google searches to try to find out). Still, there’s one thing that eBay Deutschland doesn’t offer (nor, as far as I now, the original American variety), and that is jobs. Paid work happens to be what a lot of Germans are looking for these days. That very real fact, and the possible connection to an eBay-like facility to address the problem, are what went through the head of German medical doctor and entrepreneur Alexander Stillfeldt about nine months ago. The result was, precisely an on-line forum for seeking and winning all kinds of work, for now just in the Berlin/Brandenburg area of Germany. So reports Nikolaus Doll today in the “Economy” section of the Berliner Morgenpost (He Who Demands the Least, Wins).

(By the way, Doll is quite justified in adding the “entrepreneur” label to Stillfeldt’s name – that is, to characterize him even prior to this scheme – because his previous project was Geniomed, “The Internet Medical Solution,” in German, offering other doctors various Internet-related services.)

“Good work has its price!” the headline on declares, “but it can still be the lowest [i.e. price] in the whole city, right?” What Stillfeldt has done is of course simply apply the Internet’s well-known communication and market-clearing capabilities to the labor market of the region where he lives. (And soon to Munich, Frankfurt, and Hamburg as well.) Even if you don’t read German, take a look at his site; it’s pretty intelligently laid-out. You’ll easily be able to understand the three rectangular buttons going across the page in the middle there: BodyJOBS, MindJOBS, and MixedJOBS. (Hmm . . . except that for some reason links to jobs like “truck repairer” and “PC repair” fall under “BodyJOBS.”) Then, lower still, there’s the presentation that you would expect of some of the latest jobs on offer, a few with an Eilt! red button attached, meaning of course that the offerer is in a hurry to find someone. This is Germany folks, so the jobs on offer naturally reflect that; that “latest jobs” section when I looked at it featured, among others, both a request for “topless service” and for an “erotic performer” (Erotikdarsteller).


What’s interesting about the Morgenpost’s coverage of Stillfeldt’s latest project is the emphasis Doll on “dumping.” The word is used several times, although usually in combination with another (e.g. Dumping-Prinzip); it’s a perfectly-good German word, although relatively new in origin, and you can probably figure out that it’s another way of saying “undercutting someone in price.” In German eyes “dumping” is definitely an insult, it’s something definitely not for polite society. For instance, German retail businesses are still heavily restricted by the law when it comes to the type of sales and discounts they can offer, and when they can offer them. And of course there is the current theme in inner-EU relations (aspects of which we here at €S have certainly covered) whereby German and France accuse the new Eastern European members of “tax-dumping,” i.e. having far-lower levels of corporate tax and so “stealing” companies and their jobs away from Western Europe.

As you can see right off the bat in the article’s headline (although the word is not used there per se), “dumping” is one of Nikolaus Doll’s main angles to this story. Stellfeldt really has no defense to this charge, and he cheerfully doesn’t even try to offer one, even to the accusation of having set up a “modern slave-trade.” (That apparently is not Doll’s own criticism, but just comes from “critics”; if that’s really true, I think that gives you a good insight into German feelings about “dumping.”) “Everyone determines themselves their lower limit [i.e. for desired compensation],” Stillfeldt explains, “and can leave the system at any time.” He even goes on to put forth the American-sounding argument that, if labor is cheaper, then more labor can be hired, i.e. more laborers employed.

Clever “dumping”-oriented critics can always come forth with a modified objection to this, namely that of Schwarzmarkt-Forum, i.e. as something that advances the labor “black market.” But Stillfeldt has a seeming answer for that; makes its data (although not the identities of its participants) available to the Finanzamt, i.e. local Treasury officials who are supposed to sniff out when required labor taxes are not being paid.

In the final analysis, such “dumping” and “black market” accusations are unfortunate to read about. It’s certainly a truism that one easy-to-implement (precisely given the modern-day spread of Internet usage) measure to ease any country’s unemployment situation is better communication to connect those offering work with those seeking it, i.e. to enable the market to clear. It is obviously inherent in this process that it will also involve price – so what’s the big objection? Frankly, one important part of the so-called “Harz reforms” that have been recently enacted in Germany to do something about that country’s economic stagnation was that the local, government-funded offices for helping people find work (the Bundesarbeitsämter) would be beefed-up with added resources and capabilities. The success Alexander Stillfeldt has had so far in the early history of private initiative (further expansion planned; 16,000 visits to the site just in its first month of existence) strongly suggests that the bureaucrats are dropping that ball.

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