Monday, June 06, 2011

Waiting for Mr. Goodbar

This little essay could just as easily have been titled, Economics 001, or even “Waiting for the Tooth Fairy,” Santa Claus, or even, perhaps, the Easter Bunny. I am not an economist. I am proud to say that in all my years of advanced study I never took a single course in economics. I did once take a course in Economic Anthropology, but that is a rather far cry from what we usually think of as economics. It had to do mostly with the brilliance of Karl Polanyi as displayed in his famous work, The Great Transformation. Everyone should read Polanyi. Anyway, although I did not take courses in economics, I had several friends during Graduate School who were taking advanced degrees in that very subject. One of them was studying economics because he knew he would probably never succeed as a Playwright, a career he really preferred. All of them (at least the few I knew) would concede (when pressed) that economics was, indeed, a “dismal science.” So, operating from the premise that anyone who has ever earned or spent a dollar is an economist, I suggest what seems to me to be the case when it comes to unemployment and the economy. I make no claims to expertise.

Unemployment is currently at 9.1 percent. The true figure is probably closer to 20 percent. If you are waiting for employment to pick up substantially in the near (and perhaps even distant) future, forget about it. We are living in a capitalistic culture that is every bit as brutal, probably worse, than at the turn of the century or during the great depression. In such a capitalistic economy jobs are created solely for the purpose of making profit, mostly by exploiting the labor of others, but also the environment. The gigantic and powerful corporations that basically control the world are making unprecedented profits. They obviously do not need to hire additional workers, and even if they do they turn to other countries where labor is less expensive. I suppose you could argue they could keep on hiring more laborers to exploit, and thus make even more profit, but there is doubtless an upper limit they have reached or at least a plateau they are content with. As their only concern is with making a profit the unemployed are not their concern.

Then there is the constant claim that it is small business that creates jobs, so that if small businesses can get loans and reduced oversights and etc., jobs will once again be created. But small businesses are no different from any other kind of business. They do not exist for the purpose of creating jobs, they too, exist primarily to make a profit, even if the profit is merely enough to support the owner. If successful the small business owner may well be able to create jobs, thus the jobs may be the result of the success of the business, but that is not the motive for the enterprise. And even though a small business owner may feel bad about having to lay off his workers, he has no choice when business is bad and is thus also not responsible for the unemployed.

So just who, if anyone, is responsible for the unemployed? If anyone, it has to be the government that supposedly oversees the welfare of its citizens. So what can a government do if it indeed has any interest in the welfare of its citizens? One possibility, of course, would be to create jobs by instituting work programs like the former Civilian Conservation Corps or other work programs. Try to imagine President Obama trying to do something like this at the moment, the outraged accusations of (horror of horrors) socialism would reverberate throughout the land echoing from every right-wing nitwit to every member of the Republican Party and back again to the Blue Dog Democrats. In our current climate of mindless babbling about socialism and Obama this would certainly not do.

There are other ways governments can try to help but these, too, would also most probably be strongly resisted by our Capitalist masters for the same reason. For example, what is considered a normal work week could be reduced from 40 hours to, say, 36, or even 32, thus creating more jobs. Some countries have actually done this. Or you could also insist on mandatory month long vacations for all workers, as I believe they do in France, also helping to create more jobs. You could also increase unemployment benefits for a longer time, recognizing there are many long-term unemployed that will quite likely never again find jobs. Of course you can also do what our Republicans seem to favor, just let ‘em wither away and eventually die from lack of any further support, health care, and attention. What do Republicans think will happen to people whose unemployment benefits expire and they have no other help? This raises what I think is an interesting question, why should workers not be paid for not working? Think about it, we pay farmers to not plant wheat and other crops when they become surplus commodities. In a free-market capitalist economy everything has to be a commodity, including labor, so why should labor as a surplus commodity not be artificially supported just like wheat? Apparently wheat is a more important commodity than labor, and of course agricultural subsidies nowadays are basically a form of socialism only for the wealthy as farmland is increasingly in the hands of mega-corporations and the wealthy.

Given the operation of our single-minded pursuit of profit, and our apparently psychopathological fear of socialism, there really is very little that can be done to create employment. This would be no different for any President, not just Obama. Of course it is worse for Obama because Republicans have made it clear their number one priority is to make Obama a one term President. They have been doing this by saying “no” to anything he might do to help and obstructing him in every way possible. Until we can cleanse ourselves of the absurd idea that privatization is the key to a successful economy, and “government is the problem,” and tax breaks for the wealthy will “trickle down,” it will not be possible to create and maintain jobs for all. To think otherwise is merely wishful thinking, “waiting for Mr. (Corporate) Goodbar.” But what do I know, I don’t have a degree in either economics or witchcraft, they do seem to me to be about the same.

I have used this quote before. I love it:

“Capitalism turns men into economic cannibals, and having done so, mistakes economic cannibalism for human nature.”
Edward Hyam

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