Post Neo-Liberalism… what next?

9 02 2017

The articles coming out in what I consider mainstream media lately – the Conversation in this case – has me astounded……

While this piece is interesting, there is no mention whatever of Limits to Growth……

If Streeck is correct, then we need to anticipate what a post-capitalist world may look like. He thinks it will be terrible. He fears the emergence of a neocorporatist state and close crony-like collaboration between big capital, union leaders, government and the military as the consequence of the next major global financial crisis.

Jobs will disappear, Streeck believes. Capital will be intensely concentrated in very few hands. The privileged rich will retreat into security enclaves dripping with every luxury imaginable.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It is unfashionable, or just embarrassing, to suggest the taken-for-granted late-modern economic order – neoliberal capitalism – may be in a terminal decline. At least that’s the case in what former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott likes to call the “Anglosphere”.

What was once known as the Chicago school of economics – the neoclassical celebration of the “free market” and “small government” – still closes the minds of economic policymakers in the US and its satellite economies (although perhaps less so in contemporary Canada).

But, in Europe, there has always been a deep distrust of the Anglo-American celebration of “possessive individualism” and its repudiation of community and society. Remember Margaret Thatcher’s contempt for the idea of “society”?

So, it is unsurprising that neoliberalism’s advocates dismiss recent European analyses of local, regional and global economies as the nostalgia of “old Europe”, even as neoliberalism’s failures stack up unrelentingly.

The consequences of these failures are largely unseen or avoided by policymakers in the US and their camp followers in the UK and Australia. They are in denial of the fact that not only has neoliberalism failed to meet its claimed goals, but it has worked devastatingly to undermine the very foundations of late-modern capitalism.

The result is that the whole shambolic structure is tottering on the edge of an economic abyss.

What the consequences might be

Two outstanding European scholars who are well aware of the consequences of the neoliberal catastrophe are French economist Thomas Piketty and German economist Wolfgang Streeck.

Piketty’s 2013 book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, charts the dangers of socioeconomic inequality in capitalism’s history. He demonstrates how this inequality can be – and has been over time – fundamentally destructive of sustained economic growth.

Most compellingly, Piketty documented in meticulous detail how contemporary neoliberal policies have constructed the worst forms of socioeconomic inequalities in history. His analysis has been underlined by the recent Oxfam report that showed a mere eight multi-billionaires own the equivalent amount of capital of half of the global population.

Despite Piketty’s scrupulous scholarship, Western neoliberal economies continue merrily down the road to nowhere. The foundations of that road were laid by the egregiously ideological policies of Thatcher and Ronald Reagan – and slavishly followed by Australian politicians on all sides ever since.

Streeck’s equally detailed scholarship has demonstrated how destructive of capitalism itself neoliberal policymaking has been. His latest book, How Will Capitalism End?, demonstrates how this neoliberal capitalism triumphed over its opponents (especially communism) by devouring its critics and opponents, obviating all possible alternatives to its predatory ways.

If Streeck is correct, then we need to anticipate what a post-capitalist world may look like. He thinks it will be terrible. He fears the emergence of a neocorporatist state and close crony-like collaboration between big capital, union leaders, government and the military as the consequence of the next major global financial crisis.

Jobs will disappear, Streeck believes. Capital will be intensely concentrated in very few hands. The privileged rich will retreat into security enclaves dripping with every luxury imaginable.

Meanwhile, the masses will be cast adrift in a polluted and miserable world where life – as Hobbes put it – will be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.

What comes next is up to us

The extraordinary thing is how little is known or understood of the work of thinkers like Piketty and Streeck in Australia today.

There have been very fine local scholars, precursors of the Europeans, who have warned about the hollow promises of “economic rationalism” in Australia.

But, like the Europeans, their wisdom has been sidelined, even as inequality has been deepening exponentially and its populist consequences have begun to poison our politics, tearing down the last shreds of our ramshackle democracy.

The time is ripe for some creative imagining of a new post-neoliberal world that will repair neoliberalism’s vast and catastrophic failures while laying the groundwork for an Australia that can play a leading role in the making of a cosmopolitan and co-operative world.

Three immediate steps can be taken to start on this great journey.

First, we need to see the revival of what American scholar Richard Falk called “globalisation from below”. This is the enlivening of international civil society to balance the power of the self-serving elites (multinational managers and their political and military puppets) now in power.

Second, we need to come up with new forms of democratic governance that reject the fiction that the current politics of representative government constitute the highest form of democracy. There is nothing about representative government that is democratic. All it amounts to is what Vilfredo Pareto described as “the circulation of elites” who have become remote from – and haughtily contemptuous of – the people they rule.

Third, we need to see states intervening comprehensively in the so-called “free market”. Apart from re-regulating economic activity, this means positioning public enterprises in strategic parts of the economy, to compete with the private sector, not on their terms but exclusively in the interests of all citizens.

As Piketty and Streeck are pointing out to us, the post-neoliberal era has started to self-destruct. Either a post-capitalist, grimly neo-fascist world awaits us, or one shaped by a new and highly creative version of communitarian democracy. It’s time for some great imagining.





Jobs and growth

26 05 2016

Many moons ago, I ‘met’ this guy on The Conversation who called himself Harquebus…. which is French (more or less) for a flintstock rifle.  Why he picked that word as his internet identity, not even I know, but what I do know is that we agreed on nearly everything…!  He found me by following the many links to DTM I had left behind, and now, as a result, I get a sort of ‘newsletter’ from him.  Here is his latest.

Lots of links, as usual….  enjoy.

Hi all.

We are less than three weeks into the Australian federal election campaign which, was called because the Australian Building Construction Commission legislation could not pass the senate. So far I have not heard it mentioned once. What I have heard ad-nauseam is the slogan, “jobs and growth”.

Our Prime Minister, his deputy and ministers can not string two sentences together without including this slogan. In the myriad of interviews that I have seen so far during this campaign, not one journalist has queried the need for pursuing this destructive ideology.

Rather than create jobs, no one has instead considered reducing populations. Not only would it reduce unemployment and put more in peoples hands and pockets, it will also reduce pollution, environmental destruction, urban sprawl, traffic jams, smog, inequality and poverty etc.

“Jobs and growth” is not being called for by the general population. It is being promoted by the very small minority that benefit from it. The rest of us will suffer from it until the point of no return when, rich and poor alike will perish because of it.

There are no vast habitable expanses left to inhabit, there are no large quantities of easily accessible resources to exploit and there is no cheap and abundant energy left to provide the growth that we have seen these past two centuries.

Every politician using the slogan “jobs and growth” is displaying their ignorance of the exponential function, the limited finite resources that are available to us and the consequences of our attack on the natural world.

Do you really want more traffic jams, more over crowding, more urban sprawl, limited access to resources, more pollution, more inequality, more poverty, more CO2, depleted fish stocks and more unemployment etc. until, we can not sustain ourselves any longer and have to endure the inevitable bloody consequences? This is what those that pursue growth at any cost will bring you.

I urge all journalists on my list, for all of our sake, query this destructive ideology before it is too late. As it is, the damage already done will take centuries to recover, humans surviving or not.

I have included an attachment listing various alternative news sources. A lot are already on my reading list, some I come across regularly and a few I have never heard of before.

If you are turned off by the endless trivia and propaganda being spoon fed to us by the corporate controlled main stream media (MSM), please take a look. The differences between MSM and the alternative media are large.

Here again is my list of various articles along with excerpts.

Avagoodwun.

Cheers.

“a well-established and rarely challenged narrative. “We must grow the economy to produce jobs so people will have the money to grow their consumption, which will grow more jobs…” Grow. Grow. Grow.”
“Contrary to the promises of politicians and economists, this growth is not eliminating poverty and creating a better life for all. It is instead creating increasingly grotesque and unsustainable imbalances in our relationship to Earth and to each other.”
“Humans now consume at a rate 1.6 times what Earth can provide.”
http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36033-why-the-economy-should-stop-growing-and-just-grow-up
“Absolutely NOBODY up at the top EVER talks about what the REAL problems are, Resource Depletion and Population Overshoot.  “Growth” is constantly put forth by EVERY candidate of EVERY political persuation Lefty or Righty as the ULTIMATE solution to all problems!  We can GROW our way out of debt!  The fact this is a finite planet with finite resources is never discussed anywhere except on fringe websites like this one.  The reality is we can only solve our problems if we STOP GROWING and START SHRINKING!”
“The difference between “them” and “us” is they are in positions of power where they could effect change.  Sadly the only change they wish to effect is to “increase shareholder value” of the corporations they run, and then by extension increase their own compensation packages.  It doesn’t matter to them what the consequences are, child slave labor in 3rd World countries, topsoil depletion from unsustainable Industrial Agriculture practices, endangering the safety of the food supply with GMO foods, destroying the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico…none of that matters.  All that matters is the bottom line of corporate profits.
http://www.doomsteaddiner.net/blog/2016/05/22/who-are-the-we/
“Whenever somebody with a decent grasp of maths and physics looks into the idea of a fully renewables-powered civilised future for the human race with a reasonably open mind, they normally come to the conclusion that it simply isn’t feasible.
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/11/21/renewable_energy_simply_wont_work_google_renewables_engineers/

“Despite our widespread willful ignorance, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that a consumptive way of living that devours non-renewable “resources” with reckless abandon cannot last.”
“It is the sixth mass extinction event that gets little airtime in our truth suppressed world.”
“The planet cannot regenerate itself as quickly as industrial culture is destroying it.”
“If all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within 50 years all life on earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.”
http://www.debozarko.com/letting-go/
Degradation of the world’s natural resources by humans is rapidly outpacing the planet’s ability to absorb the damage, meaning the rate of deterioration is increasing globally, the most comprehensive environmental study ever undertaken by the UN has found.”
“In rich countries, these problems have built up over decades and centuries while economic growth was pursued at the expense of the environment.
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/19/humans-damaging-the-environment-faster-than-it-can-recover-report-finds

“new Green technologies designed to save humanity from CO2 may kill humanity through energy starvation”
“If we used more energy to get the energy we need to survive then we will surely perish.”
“ERoEI = energy gathered / energy invested” “net energy = ERoEI-1”
“An inevitable consequence of this aspect of human nature commonly known as greed is that we have already used up the highest ERoEI fossil fuel resources and as time passes the ERoEI of new resources is steadily falling.”
“The greatest risk to human society today is the notion that we can somehow replace high ERoEI fossil fuels with new renewable energies like solar PV and biofuels.”
http://euanmearns.com/eroei-for-beginners/

“CO2 brings peak heat within a decade of being emitted, with the effects then lingering 100 years or more into the future.”
“low probability/high impact events such as a rapid release of methane currently stored in permafrost provide as much, if not a greater, urgency to reduce emissions.”
http://www.climatecentral.org/news/co2-emissions-peak-heat-18394

Nature has been wounded too extensively to heal herself. Apocalyptic change has already begun, and our only hope of averting our own imminent extinction is a gamble on geo-engineering.”
“We actually need to go carbon-negative, so that the net effect of our human activities is to take large amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere. Otherwise the temperature will continue rising rapidly, and will kill us all.”
“it’s astonishing how fast the polar ice, the glaciers, and the mountaintops are all melting now, after being frozen for so many thousands of years. Once they’re all gone, watch out! The rest of the world will start heating up a lot faster.
“runaway warming has already begun”
“We must stop basing our society on buying and selling everything.”
https://leftymathprof.wordpress.com/runaway-warming/

“Children living in agricultural areas are developing leukemia, brain tumors and other childhood cancers at an accelerated rate”
http://www.naturalnews.com/054040_children_agricultural_pesticides_childhood_cancers.html

“any reduction in our corporate tax rate would result in US multinationals operating in Australia paying less tax to our Treasury and more to the US Internal Revenue Service”
https://newmatilda.com/2016/05/17/foreign-investors-are-the-real-winners-in-turnbulls-new-economy/

“the 2016 Federal budget benefited the rich over the poor, and sole parents (among the nation’s least well-off) were the biggest losers of all.
https://newmatilda.com/2016/05/17/the-new-australia-nimble-agile-greedy-and-inequitable/

“You want to cut tax breaks on my fifth investment property? Wah! You won’t give me more corporate tax cuts? Wah! You want working class kids to be able to sit next to my precious darling at university? Wah! Why won’t poor people stop interrupting the experts on Q&A? It’s a communist plot! Wah! Wah! Wah!
“It’s true that there is a class war in this country. But it is being waged every day of the week against workers and the poor, relentlessly, by these spoilt, entitled born-to-rule brats.”
https://redflag.org.au/node/5282

“Almost 2,000 West Papuans were arrested by Indonesian authorities in early May”
“Activists were separated from the main group and put in cells at the main police headquarters. They were beaten – police stamping on their chests and backs and hitting them in the head with rifle butts. They were threatened with death and stripped of their clothes.”
https://redflag.org.au/node/5289

“5 Huge Stories the Media Ignored While Arguing Over Which Bathroom to Use”
http://theantimedia.org/5-stories-media-ignored-bathroom/

“With no region of the Earth untouched by the ravages of environmental destruction, the state of the world’s natural resources is in a rapid downward spiral, a comprehensive assessment by the United Nations has found.”
http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/05/20/un-assessment-global-destruction-mother-earth-fast-track

“China’s debt is approaching $30 trillion. The fresh credit alone created since 2007 is greater than the outstanding liabilities of the US, Japanese, German, and Indian commercial banking systems combined.”
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/05/18/chinas-communist-party-goes-way-of-qing-dynasty-as-debt-hits-lim/

“Thanks to a combination of global warming and an El Nino, the planet shattered monthly heat records for an unprecedented 12th straight month, as April smashed the old record by half a degree, according to federal scientists.”
“The last month that wasn’t record hot was April 2015. The last month Earth wasn’t hotter than the 20th-century average was December 1984, and the last time Earth set a monthly cold record was almost a hundred years ago, in December 1916, according to NOAA records.”
http://phys.org/news/2016-05-april-12th-month-row-global.html

“50,000 people are dying every year in Europe and the US from infections that antibiotics have lost the power to treat.
http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/may/19/englands-chief-medical-officer-warns-of-antibiotic-apocalypse

“Australia now has one of the biggest housing bubbles in history.”
http://wolfstreet.com/2016/05/23/hedge-funds-bet-meltdown-australian-banks-housing-bubble-record-short-positions/

“Of those at the top of food chain, so to speak, a small collection of families dictates both domestic and foreign policy — mainly through fueling war and conflict for the good of the military and pharmaceutical industries, and to a greater extent, corporate and central banks.”
http://www.activistpost.com/2016/05/the-illuminati-were-amateurs-the-facts-show-these-five-families-rule-the-world.html

Harry aka Harquebus
Salisbury North.
South Australia.
harrycebex@hotmail.com




Richard Wolff on the coming crash…….

30 05 2015

Of course, zero mention of Limits to Growth here………





Laughing all the way to the cliff……

23 05 2014

Pope Benedict is quoted as having written “The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefiting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger”.  This prompted in me memories of my youth when we were promised so much technology, none of us would have to ever work, because technology would replace labour, giving us limitless leisure time.

So what happened?

Money got in the way.  Sure, robots can build cars.  Yes, gigantic combine harvesters can cut thousands of acres of wheat (and it’s only a matter of time before they do this without a driver, like the mining industry is introducing driverless Tonka Trucks).  Even ‘checkout chicks’ are being replaced with infuriating self checkout lanes……. Then we have those even more infuriating robotic answering services which Jim Kunstler recently had this to say about:

Robot phone answering systems also allowed corporations to off-load the cost of doing business onto their customers, mostly in the form of wasting vast amounts of their customers’ time. Included in the off-load was the cost of paying receptionists (as telephone answerers used to be quaintly called) and all their medical and retirement benefits — just another manifestation of the vanishing middle class, by the way, since a lot of women used to be employed that way (let’s skip the gender equality side-bar for now). After a while, the added privilege of companies being able to evade responsibility for their actions hugely outweighed the cost-saving advantage of firing some lower level employees.

Trouble is, robots don’t buy cars, harvesters don’t buy bread, and computers don’t buy groceries……  Money buys those things.  So the providers of money had no choice but to keep us all enslaved using ‘Labour Productivity’ to ensure ‘we’ could earn the money to buy the stuff made by the technology that displaced our jobs.

The result is that today’s largest sector of the economy is the financial one.  For at least twenty years, we have been encouraged – dare I say browbeaten? – to borrow ever more money to buy stuff we don’t need and which won’t last, to impress people we don’t know or care about, creating mountains of waste and oceans of plastic……

Remember those..?

Speaking of plastic, I reckon it all started with credit cards.  I remember getting my first Bankcard in the late seventies.  What an innovation that was.  How primitive they were compared to the current ‘paywave’ technology!  The card had to be put in a machine that used the raised characters on the card to make carbon copies of your details, then you had to sign the form, all in triplicate…  can you imagine the fuss such a thing would cause in a modern supermarket queue?

I can’t remember what my credit limit was back then, but it wasn’t thousands of dollars, I’m sure of that.  And you wouldn’t pull it out for any old transaction, because you were still paid in cash back then……!  Yes dear reader, cash…  The paymaster would come to your desk with a tray full of brown envelopes with real money in them and a pay statement.  One of those envelopes had your name on it, and you had to sign a form saying you’d received it, and you counted your cash (including the coins!) to make sure no one had made an error.  But when computers came along, all those people lost their jobs, nobody was needed to count your money anymore.

I know I’m showing my age now.  And feeling all nostalgic about the good old days when petrol cost fifty cents a gallon, when the Club of Rome had only just published its Limits to Growth Report, and everyone just decided to ignore it, because 2020 was so far into the future, it would be someone else’s problem.

We all thought we were laughing all the way to the bank back then……  but little did we know we were in fact laughing all the way to the cliff.

Everything, and I mean everything today is about money.  Nobody ever does anything anymore unless there’s money to be made.  They’ll even do useless things, unsustainable things, unethical things, immoral things, unbelievably stupid things….. just for the money.  Even the government’s onto it.  If there’s money to be made, they’ll throw the poor, the sick, the elderly, anybody who can’t grow the money pile, onto the shit heap we call the economy.  What are they thinking?  How can greed take over like this?  How on Earth did the Australian people get sucked in by the lies this current government were proliferating before the election?  And then elect the worst government in all of human history?  Well, alright, Hitler was worse…….  but just give these bastards a chance to catch up.

Yes, you’ve worked it out……  I despair.  See you on the edge of the cliff.

PS.  Did anyone else see this momentous piece of news about tight oil in California?  I haven’t laughed so hard in a very long time…..

In 2011, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the US Department of Energy commissioned INTEK Inc., a Virginia-based consulting firm, to estimate how much oil might be recoverable from California’s vast Monterey Shale formation. Production of tight oil was soaring in North Dakota and Texas, and small, risk-friendly drilling companies were making salivating noises (within earshot of potential investors) about the potential for an even bigger bonanza in the Golden State.

INTEK obliged with a somewhat opaque report (apparently based on oil company investor presentations) suggesting that the Monterey might yield 15.4 billion barrels—64 percent of the total estimated tight oil reserves of the lower 48 states. The EIA published this number as its own, and the University of Southern California then went on to use the 15.4 billion barrel figure as the basis for an economic study, claiming that California could look forward to 2.8 million additional jobs by 2020 and $24.6 billion per year in additional tax revenues if the Monterey reserves were “developed” (i.e., liquidated as quickly as possible).
 
We at Post Carbon Institute took a skeptical view of both the EIA/INTEK and USC reports. In 2013, PCI Fellow David Hughes produced an in-depth study (and a report co-published by PCI and Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy) that examined the geology of the Monterey Shale and the status of current oil production projects there. Hughes found that the Monterey differs in several key respects from tight oil deposits in North Dakota and Texas, and that currently producing hydrofractured wells in the formation show much lower productivity than assumed in the EIA/INTEK report. Hughes concluded that “Californians would be well advised to avoid thinking of the Monterey Shale as a panacea for the State’s economic and energy concerns.”
 
On May 21 the Los Angeles Times reported that “Federal energy authorities have slashed by 96% the estimated amount of recoverable oil buried in California’s vast Monterey Shale deposits, deflating its potential as a national ‘black gold mine’ of petroleum.” The EIA had already downgraded its technically recoverable reserves estimate for the Monterey from 15.4 to 13.7 billion barrels; now it was reducing the number to a paltry 0.6 billion barrels.




On the phenomenon of bullshit jobs – David Graeber

26 12 2013

 

Found this article while looking for something else, and I thought, this fits right in with my attitude towards the BS “jobs jobs jobs” mantra we are constantly fed, so I’m reproducing it here in its entirety.  Enjoy….

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.unemployment-job-search1

Why did Keynes’ promised utopia – still being eagerly awaited in the ‘60s – never materialise? The standard line today is that he didn’t figure in the massive increase in consumerism. Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we’ve collectively chosen the latter. This presents a nice morality tale, but even a moment’s reflection shows it can’t really be true. Yes, we have witnessed the creation of an endless variety of new jobs and industries since the ‘20s, but very few have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones, or fancy sneakers.

So what are these new jobs, precisely? A recent report comparing employment in the US between 1910 and 2000 gives us a clear picture (and I note, one pretty much exactly echoed in the UK). Over the course of the last century, the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. At the same time, “professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers” tripled, growing “from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment.” In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be).

jobcartoonBut rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning not even so much of the “service” sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza deliverymen) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

These are what I propose to call “bullshit jobs.”

It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here, precisely, lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is precisely what is not supposed to happen. Sure, in the old inefficient socialist states like the Soviet Union, where employment was considered both a right and a sacred duty, the system made up as many jobs as they had to (this is why in Soviet department stores it took three clerks to sell a piece of meat). But, of course, this is the sort of very problem market competition is supposed to fix. According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don’t really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.

While corporations may engage in ruthless downsizing, the layoffs and speed-ups invariably fall on that class of people who are actually making, moving, fixing and maintaining things; through some strange alchemy no one can quite explain, the number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand, and more and more employees find themselves, not unlike Soviet workers actually, working 40 or even 50 hour weeks on paper, but effectively working 15 hours just as Keynes predicted, since the rest of their time is spent organizing or attending motivational seminars, updating their facebook profiles or downloading TV box-sets.

The answer clearly isn’t economic: it’s moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the ‘60s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.

Once, when contemplating the apparently endless growth of administrative responsibilities in British academic departments, I came up with one possible vision of hell. Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at. Say they were hired because they were excellent cabinet-makers, and then discover they are expected to spend a great deal of their time frying fish. Neither does the task really need to be done – at least, there’s only a very limited number of fish that need to be fried. Yet somehow, they all become so obsessed with resentment at the thought that some of their co-workers might be spending more time making cabinets, and not doing their fair share of the fish-frying responsibilities, that before long there’s endless piles of useless badly cooked fish piling up all over the workshop and it’s all that anyone really does.

I think this is actually a pretty accurate description of the moral dynamics of our own economy.iGod

Now, I realise any such argument is going to run into immediate objections: “who are you to say what jobs are really ‘necessary’? What’s necessary anyway? You’re an anthropology professor, what’s the ‘need’ for that?” (And indeed a lot of tabloid readers would take the existence of my job as the very definition of wasteful social expenditure.) And on one level, this is obviously true. There can be no objective measure of social value.

I would not presume to tell someone who is convinced they are making a meaningful contribution to the world that, really, they are not. But what about those people who are themselves convinced their jobs are meaningless? Not long ago I got back in touch with a school friend whom I hadn’t seen since I was 12. I was amazed to discover that in the interim, he had become first a poet, then the front man in an indie rock band. I’d heard some of his songs on the radio having no idea the singer was someone I actually knew. He was obviously brilliant, innovative, and his work had unquestionably brightened and improved the lives of people all over the world. Yet, after a couple of unsuccessful albums, he’d lost his contract, and plagued with debts and a newborn daughter, ended up, as he put it, “taking the default choice of so many directionless folk: law school.” Now he’s a corporate lawyer working in a prominent New York firm. He was the first to admit that his job was utterly meaningless, contributed nothing to the world, and, in his own estimation, should not really exist.

There’s a lot of questions one could ask here, starting with, what does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: if 1% of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call “the market” reflects what they think is useful or important, not anybody else.) But even more, it shows that most people in these jobs are ultimately aware of it. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a corporate lawyer who didn’t think their job was bullshit. The same goes for almost all the new industries outlined above. There is a whole class of salaried professionals that, should you meet them at parties and admit that you do something that might be considered interesting (an anthropologist, for example), will want to avoid even discussing their line of work entirely. Give them a few drinks, and they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their job really is.

This is a profound psychological violence here. How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist? How can it not create a sense of deep rage and resentment. Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way, as in the case of the fish-fryers, to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work. For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it. Again, an objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.) Yet apart from a handful of well-touted exceptions (doctors), the rule holds surprisingly well.

Even more perverse, there seems to be a broad sense that this is the way things should be. This is one of the secret strengths of right-wing populism. You can see it when tabloids whip up resentment against tube workers for paralysing London during contract disputes: the very fact that tube workers can paralyse London shows that their work is actually necessary, but this seems to be precisely what annoys people. It’s even clearer in the US, where Republicans have had remarkable success mobilizing resentment against school teachers, or auto workers (and not, significantly, against the school administrators or auto industry managers who actually cause the problems) for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. It’s as if they are being told “but you get to teach children! Or make cars! You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and health care?”

If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the, universally reviled, unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 hour days.

From Strike Mag