Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Our Great Historical Dilemma

The lengths the great media circus will go to to make sure we are not alarmed has long crossed the line beyond irresponsibility to criminal collusion. Perhaps collusion isn't the best term since it implies a separate entity is colluding with a criminal entity. In this case, they are one and the same. Approximaltey 90% of media we typically use is owned by six very large corporations. It is in their interests that we are pacified and docile.
In the meantime, nations, communities, and individuals suffer one economic blow after another. Be patient 'they' tell us, the 'recovery' is sluggish.

The problem is far deeper than economists and politicians will admit.

The Productivity Problem

In a refreshing and poignant article in Global Research entitled 'Recession, Depression or Jobless Recovery? Long-Term Unemployment under “Neoliberal Capitalism”' by Alan Nasser (Feb. 1, 2013),the dilemma imposed by what John Maynard Keynes dubbed 'technological unemployment' suggests that labour itself is becoming obsolete. As technology advances well ahead of the inertia of the political and economic gatekeepers of capitalism, labour forces are becoming increasingly polarized. What is being rapidly eliminated is the mid skill, mid pay occupations that have been the spending stimulant and tax base of advanced nations. “The job market is bifurcating into high skill, high paying, advanced-education jobs at one extreme, and low skill, low paying, low education jobs at the other. Disappearing are occupations in the middle of the skill and pay distribution.”

If we consider the logic of this observation we may also consider the speed and insatiable drive for firms to bring production costs down. In this effort, human labour is eliminated or reduced; profits go up and so does unemployment. The logical extension of this trend will eventually eliminate human labour as a relevant factor in the production of things and in providing services. While arguments have been made that technology will plateau and whatever is left of a workforce will be secure, the fact is that microchip technology is not the same as a car or any other single utility technological development where plateaus occur rather quickly. Microchip technology is more akin to electricity where the potential may never be fully realized.

In the 1980s Western governments hitched their ride to the neo liberal train. As Nasser points out in his article, the recoveries of 1970, 1975, and 1982 resulted in recovering employment. The recessions of 1991, 2001, and 2009 have seen a ratcheting up of long term unemployment. That is not to say we can blame it all on neo liberals. They are simple whores suited to the times. The real problem is well beyond ideology or idealism of any sort.

Nasser points out that while much has been made of the problem of offshoring, the real crux of the matter is that human labour is in competition with technology. We are not competing with Asians that will work harder, longer, and cheaper than we in the West are accustomed to; We are competing with machines that will work far longer, harder, and cheaper than any human. As Nasser points out: “Over the period 1995-2002, China lost 15 million manufacturing jobs, the US lost 2 million and the whole world lost 22 million manufacturing jobs. The great majority of these jobs were lost to automation and other productivity-enhancing innovations.”

The production capacity of firms and nations has grown tremendously over the past few decades. It will grow much more. As a result human beings increasingly do without. Vast manufacturing centres rust away while people need work. The commodities that people need in order to survive are becoming more difficult to obtain. The situation is utterly absurd. Solving the production problem should be a reason for celebration but, as it is, it may lead us to barbarism.

Living in the Past

We are married to an obsolete social and political means of getting things done. It's as if the caterpillar refuses to be a butterfly. The reason people are homeless, starving, and unemployed is not the fault of technology. The profit motive itself with plenty of help from the state prohibits human beings with little or no money from producing or obtaining what is needed. The capacity to produce enough is secure. Production does not occur unless Johnny can make on his investment however.

What has not been solved is the distribution problem. That is a problem that capitalism not only cannot solve, it will do whatever it takes with whatever means possible to stop it from being solved. It is right here that capitalism shifts from a glorified system of greed to a pernicious system of social cancer. As an abstract system, the bent to harm human beings is baked into the software.

We have entered a pivotal historical period. It is as if the future of the material/technological world has imposed itself upon us in spades. Yet here we remain, stuck is some quasi feudal system which is increasingly polarized between those that have and those that don't. And as time marches on, our social worlds tend toward backward. The state is becoming increasingly less rational and more brutal. Our social trajectory to the future has gone in reverse. Ironically, the figurehead steering the direction was a professor of constitutional law. Where we have been plied with Kyensian sugar in the past, we will find the cruel barbs of the state apparatus in the future. There is seemingly no limit on the capacity to spend on weapons, war, and state security but for human beings austerity, starvation, and war.

On the other hand we have much room for optimism. With the production problem solved, more or less, we have the possibility of obtaining the material we need to survive and to be comfortable. The reduction/abolition of work is a very positive development in human history.

It is up to us to solve the distribution problem.

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