Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Monday, October 22, 2007

My Precarity Piece

I've reworked my Precarity and Experimental Subjection essay (one of the handful of Amor Mundi posts I'm proudest of, actually) and would like to solicit comments and suggestions from you all.

1 comment:

jfehlinger said...

Dale writes:

> [P]recarity indicates an ongoing casualization of the
> terms of employment under which ever more people labor
> to survive in today's world, usually conjoined to an ongoing
> informalization of the terms under which ever more people
> struggle to secure the basic conditions of housing, healthcare,
> access to knowledge, and legitimate legal recourse under
> which they live.

From _Whose Freedom? The Battle Over America's Most Important Idea_
by George Lakoff, Chapter 9 "Economic Freedom", pp. 151 - 159:

The Economic Liberty Myth: The Right-Wing Economic Freedom Story

. . .

Myths. . . [define] heroes and villains, moral and immoral actions,
and what makes sense. Here is the myth that governs
conservative economic thought:

-- It's individual initiative, individual responsibility, and
individual freedom that have made American great.

-- Economic freedom is free access to and free participation
in free markets.

-- Free markets are both natural and moral: If everyone pursues
his or her own profit, the profit of all will be maximized as
a law of nature. (The reason is simple: free markets are
competitive, and competition maximizes efficiency, minimizes
waste, minimizes costs, and maximizes benefits for all.)

-- The free market is the natural mechanism of a thriving
economy, and it works best without constraints that interfere
with its operation -- those imposed by taxes, government
regulation, consumer lawsuits, unions, and corporate benefits.

-- Government is the problem; it gets in the way of free markets
and wastes taxpayers' money.

-- Private industry is more efficient and less wasteful than
government. As much of the government as possible should be

-- Nature is a resource for the use of human beings. Natural
resources are there for our use; the failure to use them is
a form of waste.

-- You can spend your money better than the government can.

-- Freedom requires property rights: the right to acquire,
maintain, use, and dispose of property as you see fit.

-- Cost-benefit analysis, as used by private industry, should
govern public policy.

-- Everybody with sufficient discipline can succeed. Anyone
who is poor just hasn't had the discipline to use the free
market to become prosperous and doesn't deserve any handouts.

-- Economic freedom is the central freedom, since it leads
inevitably to other freedoms: free speech, free elections,
civilian control of the military, civil liberties, checks and
balances in government, a free press.

When conservatives speak of economic freedom and economic liberty,
. . . they have in mind . . . treating corporations as persons
with individual, inalienable rights. . . This metaphor is
symbolized by the entrepreneur, the individual who starts a
business, which might turn out to be a multibillion-dollar
corporation. The entrepreneur stands for his corporation. . .

[T]he hero of this story. . . is the entrepreneur, the individual
who makes it. The market is like the magic sword of the fairy
tales, the magical instrument working for good that enables
the hero to succeed. The dragon to be slain and overcome. . .
is the government. The successful entrepreneur of the story
has to overcome the government at every turn: minimize or avoid
taxes; pay at least a minimum wage; accommodate to, or get
around, environmental, safety, and fairness regulations;
negotiate with unions according to labor laws; provide health
benefits and pensions for workers; defend against consumer
lawsuits when his products harm customers or the public.

Our hero gives people jobs and contributes to the standard of
living, but he has to fight every inch of the way to do it. . .

The Ownership Society Myth

In strict father morality, it is wrong to give people things they
have not earned, because it makes them dependent and takes away
their discipline, which is necessary for them to be moral and
to become prosperous in a free market. Government social programs
are therefore immoral, since they. . . rob [people] of their
discipline. The ownership society is a radical conservative
utopia where all government social programs and safety nets have
been eliminated. . . In place of Social Security and Medicare,
there are private accounts that individuals invest with Wall Street
brokers -- at their own risk, since the stock market is very
much a gamble.

In this utopia, every American. . . now has the incentive to develop
discipline, and does! All Americans. . . become entrepreneurs and
crafty investors. They all set up private stock portfolios that
flourish because they have all become expert money managers. . .
Everyone who wants to start a business can. The government shrinks
and virtually disappears. . . The country prospers. This is
the ownership society. It is a myth.

The Truths Hidden by the Economic Liberty Myth

Corporations Are Governments, Not Persons

Large corporations act like governments. . . in many ways:
They are highly bureaucratic and impersonal, can be extremely
wasteful, and -- via tax deductions for business expenses, tax
breaks, and subsidies -- use vast amounts of taxpayers' money,
often in extravagant and wasteful ways. Because of patent law
or the ability to buy out or drive out competitors, large
corporations often consolidate their sovereignty over an industry
and then, with competition highly restricted, can set high prices
justified not by costs but by a desire for high profits.
This is operation outside the market, like a private government.
When this happens, corporations have, essentially, the power to
tax citizens, with money going to corporate profits -- a form
of taxation without representation.

Moreover, large corporations determine a great deal about
the everyday lives of citizens -- the possibilities for health
care, the kind of news made available, the types of available
communication systems, the kind of energy used, the type of
transportation available, what food is available to eat and
how safe it is. A big difference is that corporations are not
accountable via elections or openness of operation to the
general public. . .

The Cheap Labor Trap

Notice who is **not** the hero of the economic liberty myth: the
forty-five million people who work for a living but can't even
afford health care; indigent people who are too old or sick to
work; the millions of middle-class workers whose wages have not gone
up for thirty years while costs have risen steadily and their
productivity has risen accordingly, with profits going to their
companies, not to them. But there is a myth that links these Americans
to the conservative hero story: Everyone can pull himself or
herself up by the bootstraps! You too, the myth says, can be that
hero. And if you're not, you have only yourself to blame.

As Sean Hannity said, 'That's the thing about freedom: It doesn't
guarantee success . . . But let's say you show a little self-discipline . . .
you work really hard . . . you get outside and hustle . . . I guarantee
you. You'll be on the road to success.'

The myth, of course, is false. . .

A quarter of our working population is not even mentioned in the
economic liberty myth. They hold up the lifestyles of the top three-
quarters of our population, but they are caught in a cheap labor trap.

The trap is created via systemic causation by the structure of
our economic system. Many factors come together to create it:

-- The metaphor of labor as a resource whose costs are to be minimized

-- Technology that allows the elimination of skilled jobs and the
replacement of skilled by nonskilled workers

-- The division of employees into assets that are valuable to the
company and resources that are interchangeable and fungible

-- The emphasis on short-term profits

-- The outsourcing of resources to minimize their costs

-- The offloading of labor onto customers -- having customers put
together furniture they buy, or bus their own tables, or wade through
tedious dial-up menus instead of talking to a human service representative

-- The flow of immigrants willing to do hard jobs for little pay

-- The consolidation of companies, which allows for laying off 'redundant'

-- The redistribution of wealth to the already wealthy

. . .

Large corporations mostly have two classes of employees: the assets and
the resources. The assets are highly skilled, creative people -- managers,
economists, scientists, technology experts. These are hired by head-hunting
agencies and get high salaries, stock options, and good benefits.
The resources are low-skilled and hired routinely. Efficiency requires
using fewer resources per unit of production to produce higher profits.
Resource use is to be minimized, and that includes labor. This is part
of the economic pressure maintaining a cheap labor trap. For labor resources
to be cheaply available, there must be sufficient unemployment to keep
the price of labor low in the labor market.

What is hidden in the economic liberty myth is that the myth both entails
and **requires** a cheap labor trap. The market is a form of competition.
In competitions, there will always be winners and losers. The hero in
the economic liberty myth is a winner. What is hidden are the losers
required by the myth and the unemployment required by the need for cheap