Thursday, March 11, 2010

The New Depression, Part I

From a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll:
  1. 40% of people are satisfied with the way democracy is working in this country
  2. 59% are dissatisfied
Personally, I share some of the feelings of your Wonkette's commentary:
Why? Well, if you’re on the side of Obama’s big majority of 2008 and the even bigger Dem majorities in the Senate and House, you’re probably a little “let down” that a handful of wingnut rural senators (Ben Nelson, etc.) representing a tiny fraction of the population have somehow stopped all the shit you supported, like health care reform. WTF, right? And you probably never really got over that whole deal in 2000 when the Republican-controlled Supreme Court of the United States appointed somebody president even though this person lost the election. Ouch! Ha ha, and then we had eight straight years of horror and blood, and then the entire economy collapsed. Again. And if you are an angry unemployed uneducated middle-aged rural/southern white person, what is up with a negro becoming president?! That’s not in the *original* Constitution, right?

The question asked about our current state of democracy. We all hope, though, that this democracy – whether we believe it will be through government shrinking or growing, through social programs or through tax cuts – is supposed to make our lives better.

This democracy has, however, in the past thirty or so years allowed a peculiar sort of capitalism to thrive. Michael Scherer describes it thusly:

America's greatest successes for the past decade have come largely from destruction--the company that closes a plant to ship jobs overseas, the financial wizard who predicted a mortgage market collapse created by other financial wizards, the corporate executive who has figured out how to do more with less. We are all living through an age of contraction, in which smart destruction is more prized than creation. I don't know where it is leading us, but I would be willing to wager on the skills that next year's Harvard and Yale grads dream about acquiring. No doubt that America will soon be home to the most skilled and accomplished destroyers in history. As you tuck your children in tonight, let them know. If they dream big, they too can one day dismantle something wonderful.

Does the wealth earned in this context represent reward for benefiting the citizens of this economy?

According to research by Samuel Bowles at the Santa Fe Institute, America's economy today is one in which a quarter of the employed are what he considers "guard labor":

The job descriptions of guard labor range from "imposing work discipline"—think of the corporate IT spies who keep desk jockeys from slacking off online—to enforcing laws, like the officers in the Santa Fe Police Department paddy wagon parked outside of Walmart. The greater the inequalities in a society, the more guard labor it requires, Bowles finds.

Does the wealth earned by guard labor represent reward for benefiting the citizens of this economy?

Capitalism in America is a structure in which, essentially, everyone must spend whatever they earn to keep everyone else employed. If people start to save too much, spending a little less on non-essential goods, perhaps, those people who work in the business of making those non-essential goods will begin to lose their jobs. If anyone then starts to worry that their industry could be next, they start saving money in case catastrophe strikes, and then, of course, more industries do take a hit.

All of this occurs in a context of constant technological advancement. Since the industrial revolution, machines have been replacing work that was previously done by humans. In order to keep the economy alive, we must create new work for the people who've been displaced. Things like guard labor. Things like destructive labor.

to part two...

1 comment: