Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Rise of Canada's Precariat. Thanks Morneau.

The natives are restless. There's a powerful anger simmering among the masses echoing a great and persistent discontent. Like the motto of that TV show, "winter is coming."

Just for a lark I went through the post captions on ProgBlog going back several days. Not a lot of happy campers there. Even the banishment of Beelzebub no longer is enough to lift spirits. The Selfie Sprite's wings are beginning to falter.

It's not hard to understand. There aren't may rays of sunshine these days. Most things seem to be trending in the wrong direction.

Now we've got a finance minister, some guy named Morneau, telling the kids that their job security is going to be a lot like the Arctic sea ice - vanishing and then gone. "Sorry kids, but you're fucked. Thanks for playing." Then, like Pilate, he washes his hands of their plight.

The rise of Canada's "precariat" is a lot like the rise of inequality in that it's engineered, legislated. Nobel laureate economist, Joe Stiglitz, demonstrates that inequality is neither merit nor market-based. It's legislated. It's the inevitable side effect of government policy. not necessarily intended but not unforeseeable either. If you're not familiar with it, check out his woefully under read book, "The Price of Inequality."

Precarity is both hammer and anvil. Those who fall into it are crushed between the two scourges of employment insecurity and financial insecurity. They live paycheque to paycheque, a lot of them chasing two or more jobs to make ends meet.

Morneau's announcement is a capitulation, a brazen dereliction of duty. He didn't say, "This is a nightmare for our kids. We have to deal with this." No, the Trudeau government's response is a simple, "Sorry kids, you're fucked."

Which brings me back to Osawatomie, Kansas in the summer of 1910 when Roosevelt delivered his Square Deal speech. A good part of that speech dealt with the struggle between labour and capital. He observed that a good worker was an asset to the employer but, more importantly, an asset to his family, to his community and, ultimately, to his nation. The wellbeing of the worker was the foundation of democratic governance. The duty of a democratic government was to regulate the constant struggle between labour and capital in accordance with Lincoln's declaration that, of the two, labour must be "by far the superior" of capital.

It strikes me that doesn't sound anything like what came out of the mouth of that guy, Morneau. Just what kind of a country does he think we will have when this precariat becomes the new normal? Let's face facts. The name "Liberal" has no meaning. This is a government in the "movement conservative" model. Laissez-faire leaches, the whores of neoliberalism.

If this government doesn't make bile rise in your throat, consider these passages scavenged from this blog and beginning with a 2012 piece on remarks by Noam Chomsky:

"In 2005, Citigroup came out with a brochure for investors called “Plutonomy: Buying Luxury, Explaining Global Imbalances.” It urged investors to put money into a “plutonomy index.” The brochure says, “The World is dividing into two blocs -- the Plutonomy and the rest.

"Plutonomy refers to the rich, those who buy luxury goods and so on, and that’s where the action is. They claimed that their plutonomy index was way outperforming the stock market. As for the rest, we set them adrift. We don’t really care about them. We don’t really need them. They have to be around to provide a powerful state, which will protect us and bail us out when we get into trouble, but other than that they essentially have no function. These days they’re sometimes called the “precariat” -- people who live a precarious existence at the periphery of society. Only it’s not the periphery anymore. It’s becoming a very substantial part of society in the United States and indeed elsewhere. And this is considered a good thing.

"So, for example, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, at the time when he was still “Saint Alan” -- hailed by the economics profession as one of the greatest economists of all time (this was before the crash for which he was substantially responsible) -- was testifying to Congress in the Clinton years, and he explained the wonders of the great economy that he was supervising. He said a lot of its success was based substantially on what he called “growing worker insecurity.” If working people are insecure, if they’re part of the precariat, living precarious existences, they’re not going to make demands, they’re not going to try to get better wages, they won’t get improved benefits. We can kick ’em out, if we don’t need ’em. And that’s what’s called a “healthy” economy, technically speaking. And he was highly praised for this, greatly admired."

"As for the rest, we set them adrift." That sounds exactly like what Morneau was saying. And notice what Chomsky was divining from Greenspan's remarks? Capital has now learned how powerfully it can monetize precarity. Not forever perhaps, but for long enough. You can read the complete Chomsky piece here.

In June, 2015, Brian Stewart did a piece on a UN report on the rise of the global precariat

[The UN report] warns of "widespread insecurity" spreading as momentum shifts from societies with full-time jobs to shaky short-term employment across much of the globe.

Another scary fact the study unearths is how many people these days have stable work contracts of any kind. That's barely one in four of the globe's workforce.

The overwhelming majority of people on the planet struggle with temporary work, informal or illegal jobs, long spells of unemployment and unpaid family work.

In other words, most are caught in a disadvantageous spiral where exploitation is a real risk.

...What was once viewed as a passing crisis now seems to be the new normal, producing deep psychological unease within the workforce and growing inequality between those with stable incomes and those without.

Global financial officials are worried to the point they've again started using the term "hysteresis," borrowed from physics, to warn that long-established unemployment is becoming "structural" and therefore harder to correct, as the jobless lose skills and companies grow addicted to cheaper, temporary labour.

...It's hard to escape the feeling that even as our societies grow richer we are, bizarrely, looping backwards.

"The GDP per capita keeps going up. The problem is that we're not sharing the wealth at all equitably," says Wayne Lewchuk of McMaster University who researches precarious employment. "In many ways we've gone back to a 1920s mentality."

The Twenties did not have an encouraging outcome, as we know.

Still, looking at these striking global trends in joblessness and precarious work, as well as at the soaring refugee numbers and widening inequality, it's difficult to get around the nagging feeling that this century's forward movement has stalled and is on slippery ground.

The critical point is that, as Morneau throws our kids to the unregulated wolves of the market place and into the precariat, this has knock-on effects of an even greater magnitude. You throw in the towel, as this Liberal government has so shamefully done, and this malignancy becomes truly structural, an integral part of your economy. As that happens, it is accompanied by a structural shift in governance, the gradual and quiet end of democracy making way for the inevitable rise of plutocracy. 

Morneau is signalling Trudeau's refusal to defend Canada's democracy and the wellbeing of our society. Plain and simple. I'll end with a few remarks I wrote just before our 2015 election:

Look at what's happened in the States and realize that's where we're headed too if we continue to lay on these tracks waiting for the train.

If you want to get up off those tracks, you had better do it soon. What do you really know about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP? Personally I don't know that much about it but I know someone who does, Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, and he's written a dandy warning for all of us in The New York Times.

Read his warning. Then read his book, "The Price of Inequality." Learn what we're up against, what awaits us and our kids, and who is really responsible for making servitude our reality. Then, when you've had your fill, go to your stooge of choice - Tommy Boy or Junior - and ask them how they're going to undo this national headache before it becomes a full blown and permanent migraine.

If they won't act, don't vote for them. If you do, don't complain about what you've got coming.


Toby said...

When Trudeau faced the protesters at the Canadian Labour Congress National Young Workers Summit my first reaction was, what took so long? I've seen enough emails to Trudeau and others in this government that I think they have me on a list to ignore. I certainly haven't been able to change any minds.

Morneau definitely doesn't get it just like Chrystia Freeland doesn't get it and Catherine McKenna doesn't get it and Jody Wilson-Raybould may get it but pretends she doesn't. This is beginning to sound like a stuck record. That reporter got it right with her slip calling the PM Justin Harper.

Ben Burd said...

Of course the precariat are fucked and Morneau and his buddies want it that way just another excuse to shovel money at his buddies a la the "Infrastructure Bank" But wait until the Tsunami of the displaced hits the millennials when automation gets a head of steam.

How about pushing now for an "automation fund" all of those techie and manufacturing companies that can't wait to put workers under the bus should have their profits derived from cost cutting automation diverted to the EI fund which should be restructured as part of the guaranteed income. Btw I am still waiting for the dividend of the last con - "the leisure society" They fucked us then we will be ready for them next time.

John B. said...

We've been treated to a constant stream of condescension from the "that-was-then-this-is now", "there-will-be-some-losers", "unions-have-served-their-purpose" crowd for the last thirty-five years. This "wealth-management" grifter is just the latest. I suppose his kids will be advantageously networked, but I wonder when it was that his family graduated from the metaphorical hammer-and-shovel class.

Anonymous said...

Now we've got a finance minister, some guy named Morneau, telling the kids that their job security is going to be a lot like the Arctic sea ice - vanishing and then gone. "Sorry kids, but you're fucked. Thanks for playing." Then, like Pilate, he washes his hands of their plight.

To be frank ; most of the kids know nothing different.
They are so caught up in the system they cannot think past their next pay cheque or cheques!
To them consumerism is everything; they will not be denied any trinket, toy ,the latest cellphone or the biggest house they can justify.
They are aided by seven year car loans forty plus year mortgages and furniture and tv payments that will commence in a year or more.
Sadly their parents( us/we ) have enabled this .
Most adults and their kids rush off to Wall*Mart and such thus promoting low wages and low employment standards ; shit we have become no better than our offspring( in most cases)
I shudder when I look at the parking lots outside our high schools!
BMW's Lexus, SUV's by the dozen!!
What are we teaching these kids?


susansmith said...

excellent read. It didn't have to end this way but real change and all that hopey stuff, and lots of empty promises did the trick - again. Sad.

Gyor said...

After watching the Trump vs. Hillary race to the bottom, Captain Selfie misgovern Canada in his half assed way, and other assorted BS from around the world, not the least of which is the pathetic mess that passes for leftwing media, I have no bile left, I ran clean out.

The Mound of Sound said...

Yeah, Gyor, I keep telling myself that only to find out there's far more bile than one could ever imagine.

The Mound of Sound said...

In response to your thoughtful comments, I'd like to pose a question. If you were trying to find an exit from this neoliberal paradigm what would you visualize, what would guide you? What are the principles on which you would want a new economic order established?

Please - weigh in

Purple library guy said...

What are the principles . . . For me, the central one is deep democracy, not just in politics but economics. The old line Socialists and Communists were onto something when they talked about "ownership of the means of production" being key . . . but the Soviets showed us that it's no better if the ones running it are some party committee than if it's a bunch of sociopathic capitalists.
Actual people have to be in charge, of the factories, of the media, of the banks, of the legislation.

There is an obvious problem with this idea, which is scale. Nobody can be involved in making all the decisions in the world. It's one of the reasons Harper's government eventually imploded--he wanted to micromanage everything, and there was way too much everything. But actually, this remains a problem with all representative schemes and hierarchies as well; both representatives and hierarchs drown in information, generally distorted by distance and by self-interest on the part of the subordinates presenting the information. No scheme of government has really defeated the problem to date.
Ways I've thought about beating the scale problem for an egalitarian schema would be by splitting it up. Anybody should be able to get involved in deciding about anything, but that doesn't mean everybody has to decide everything. So for any given thing that's currently decided in some government department by appointees of the minister and then leaned on by corporate guys with money, you'd have a self-appointed group of interested people--some experts, some people affected by that sort of decision and so wanting to have a voice, and whoever else felt like getting involved. And normally, that'd be enough. I also envision a certain amount of random participation, with everyone in some number of groups as a public duty like jury duty, to keep things from getting too incestuous.
The crucial thing for me is that such groups would be nested, from more specific to broader to the whole population. Broader groups would always be able to override narrower groups, so if some little group started making big broad decisions that messed things up for a lot more people, the lots more people could nix them. So, some issues would be big enough to require a lot of people to get involved in deciding, but normally it would be enough that a representative and on average knowledgeable sample was handling it.

I could go on, but that's the back-of-envelope sketch: Deep democracy made workable by splitting up decision-making horizontally rather than vertically.

The Mound of Sound said...

How do you propose to put "real people" in control of the means of production, PLG? Confiscation of privately held property? We're too broke to pay compensation for expropriation. If you do resort to confiscation what sort of democracy would you be left with?

Purple library guy said...

One in which the majority ruled?

It's not like confiscation is a particularly new resort. Countries have been nationalizing companies forever, and doing so without compensation is not historically that unusual, even in democracies. And, of course, any Libertarian could tell you that taxation is not really any different from complete expropriation. The only difference is that, instead of handing enterprises over to the state to be run by big brother, I propose handing enterprises over to the people who created the value in the first place.

Purple library guy said...

You could get roughly the same effect by making expropriation the penalty for corporations doing any of the deadly, antisocial things that corporations always do, I suppose, but I'd rather just be honest and say making money from rent, making money by owning things, making money by bossing people, and in general accumulating money to be at the top of a pyramid, are not ways of doing things that are compatible with a society that works socially or environmentally, and are going to have to stop.

Anonymous said...

Anyoung: Listen to the "Current" from CBC this morning. When nothing can be done about tankers owned by people who register them in rouge countries while dumping their garbage in the ocean and interfering with whales and their feeding grounds, what can be expected from people like Morneau.

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