Sunday, January 05, 2020

Do You Really Want to Know?

Many of us know that neoliberalism is here to stay. In 2005, Canadian intellectual John Ralston Saul brought us "The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World." The neoliberal era of globalism, he argued, was over, dead. The world was in an interregnum, a pause, a period of suspension while we awaited the arrival of the next great thing, the next economic paradigm. Yet here we are in 2020 and we remain as indentured to the neoliberal order as ever.

In The Collapse of Globalism, Saul chronicled how the world moved from one economic paradigm to another on a roughly 30-year cycle. These models are much like religions. They're faith based, belief structures that inevitably falter and make way for the next model, the next belief structure.

Only Saul seems to have got it very, very wrong. Yes, neoliberalism has failed us - all but the few, the new plutocrats - but it remains with us and, barring some global calamity or popular upheaval, it seems destined to maintain its choke hold on us.

It seems that neoliberalism, expressed in globalism and the manic pursuit of perpetual exponential growth, will not be superceded by the "next great thing." It is, however, nurturing both global calamity and popular upheaval. There are many who warn that one or the other or some combination of both will materialize over the next decade. The pressures are certainly building. Hang onto your hat.

But this post isn't about dire predictions. It is, instead, about understanding where everything went wrong. How did we get to where we are today? What forces drove this change that has done so much for us but even more to us?

The following, two-part documentary from Deutsche Welle targets 1979, a year that saw the end of the post-war boom, the end of the Soviet Union and the rise of radical religion as the Second Big Bang.

When Liberal finance minister, Bill Morneau, announced that Canadians would just have to accept a future of “job churn” in the “gig economy” I was stunned. Never before had I heard a government minister so casually break faith with the Canadian people.

It was our Liberal government’s “TINA” moment, a reference to when Britain’s Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, ushered in the neoliberal era with a curt “there is no alternative.”

Morneau might have been a bit less casual in his pronouncement had a gig economy been in the future for him and his own but, of course, that was out of the question. This consignment into a grim precarious future would not be for the Morneaus or the Trudeaus. They, after all, were what a former parliamentary scribe labeled “higher purpose persons.”

It was when Morneau dropped his privileged hammer on working class Canadians that I knew how right I had been to break with the Liberals after 40 at times difficult years. This was no longer the party of Laurier, St. Laurent, Pearson or Pierre Trudeau. That would be akin to today’s Republicans boasting of being the “Party of Lincoln.” No, this was a Liberal party that didn’t bridge divides but instead accommodated them. There would be no alternative.

The Guardian addressed the perils of the gig economy taking hold in the UK.
Across Britain, gig work – part of a casualised, precarious and on-call jobs market – is growing at a giddy rate. The sector has more than doubled in size since 2016 and now accounts for 4.7 million workers. In part this is due to new technology: people are using apps on their mobile phones to sell their labour. The core business model relies on near-instant recourse to a large pool of on-demand workers looking for their next gig. Uncertain work is becoming the norm, with the result that unemployment statistics look better than the way Britons feel. It is an environment of overwork, marked by intense bursts of exhaustion. One gig-economy firm even tried to market burnout as a lifestyle by claiming its workers were “doers” for whom “sleep deprivation is [their] drug of choice”. Nothing can disguise the fact that the gig economy’s rise has been accompanied by a fall in the fortunes of working households – which now comprise 58% of those below the official poverty line; the figure was 37% in 1995. In a seminal paper, Alex Wood and other researchers at Oxford University found that half of the gig work in the UK is in our streets, supplying food or couriering parcels or offering taxi rides.

The other half of gig work is remote – providing digital services, such as data entry and programming, on platforms such as Upwork, Freelancer and Fiverr, which act as auction houses for human labour, where people place a bid to do the work on offer. Those in richer nations can find themselves undercut by those in poorer places. In 2017 US freelancers using Upworknetted $27m – only a little more than those in India. Many of the world’s biggest firms use these apps to outsource work to lower costs. Microwork, where tasks are broken down, is dominated by Amazon’s Mechanical Turk division. Two-thirds of its US workers earn less than the federal minimum wage.

The office faces a future like that of the factory floor in the 1980s, when work was shipped abroad to save money and boost profits. In his book Humans as a Service, the Oxford academic Jeremias Prassl says the gig economy’s problems – for workers and markets – are driven by firms “presenting themselves as mere intermediaries rather than powerful service providers … [to] shift nearly all of their business risk and cost onto others”. The simplest illustration of this is Uber’s claim that its drivers are not employees – at a stroke this potentially avoids VAT liabilities of £1.5bn. That sort of cash could have been used to pay towards a health service dealing with the fallout from insecure jobs with unpredictable shifts. A landmark study tracking people who lost their jobs in the recession of 2010 found that those who ended up with poor-quality work – with low pay, low autonomy, and high insecurity – had higher chronic stress levels than those who had remained unemployed.
This gig economy guts labour and working class citizens who struggle to make ends meet. Teddy Roosevelt, in his 1910 "Square Deal" speech, held it is the job of government to balance the rights of labour against the rights of capital and he cited Abraham Lincoln for the proposition that, of the two, labour ought to be by far the more superior. That goes to the heart of progressivism and it puts the lie to claims that our Liberal government, the government steered by this prime minister and his finance minister, is genuinely progressive. It's not.


zoombats said...

I never really valued J.R. Saul"s writings very much and I remembered labouring through Voltaire's Bastards with his never ending criticisms of the courtesans and courtiers in modern day society only to reveal himself many years later as one of those who would occupy a throne and longed to be referred to as"Right Honourable".

The Disaffected Lib said...

I know who is an immense fan of JRS, Zoom - Chris Hedges.

Trailblazer said...

I never really valued J.R. Saul"s writings very much and I remembered labouring through...

Me too .
I think Saul and Rex Murphy must have had the the same English teacher!

Re, This consignment into a grim precarious future would not be for the Morneaus or the Trudeaus. They, after all, were what a former parliamentary scribe labeled “higher purpose persons.”

This describes far too many that lead us either elected or unelected.
Occasionally these people trip up , like Prince Andrew.


The Disaffected Lib said...

I hadn't intended the focus of this post to be JRS. This is about the Big Bang of '79, the confluence of events of enormous magnitude that pushed us into what would prove to be a civilization-wrecking juggernaut.

Trailblazer said...

the rise of radical religion as the Second Big Bang.

Radical religion has always been waiting within the shadows.
Extreme Christianity has remained unchallenged in many parts of the world; think residential schools.
The so called mad mullahs are different, they are the product of too many wars for oil and other natural resources.
The countries that were split up by colonialism needed a rallying point or cry and they fit the bill.
Thatcher was just a continuation of the natural governing party of the UK , the Tories, digging in a bit after losing ground after WWII.


Anonymous said...

TB. Thatcher just a continuation of the Tories digging in a bit? Rubbish. I lived in the UK until 1974 and everyone thought Maggie a complete strident nitwit then, well out of touch. When she elbowed the chickens out of the way to become PM in '79, she implemented the Chicago School of neoliberal thought, one that gives no humanity to economics and was an elite-puffing policy from the start. Give away the nation's sovereign wealth to the rich, also known as privatization of coal, steel and railways, run an austerity government - look up the unemployment rate in 1981 UK and the running out of benefits - there was a TV comedy show about regular people who had lost jobs and had been f*cked by the new system. And most of all, berate those umnemployed for being lazy farts and attack unions as bedrocks of inefficiency. Honda opened a factory in England shortly thereafter and proved as a lie that the workers couldn't do decent work. It was the useless management Class in blighty who couldn't organize themselves out of a wet paper bag. Maggie pulled off the old private school headmistress routine with threats of six-of-the-best for bad boys, perfectly. The upper crust was delighted. Then she dusted the Argies over the Falklands to show what a leader she was.

Using a megaphone, she shouted instructions over to the demented Ronnie Raygun, and the first thing he does is fire all the US air traffic controllers regardless of their union objections. How effing crazy was that? About as crazy as harper keeping Chalk River nuclear station open over the experts' objections. In other words, as about as effing dumb as can be imagined.

You need to do some more reading and recalibration. This is a first class article by MoS. Thatcher was a step change from the old Tories. There's no opinion on this stuff - it happened. And some Youtube apology justifying yout take means they fooled you but good, along with millions of Brits and the usual baying anti-union crowd in the US.


John B. said...

It was in 1979 that the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

Trailblazer said...

I lived in the UK until 1974 and everyone thought Maggie a complete strident nitwit then,

She did remarkably well for a nitwit , not that I liked her or her politics.

I speak to the political will of the ,not so, UK.
The UK was and is Conservative vs conservative, driven by racism and class distinction.
It was so before Maggie and has blossomed since.
Perhaps you took my comment as praise for Thatcher , if so you are mistaken.
Thatcher was a successful and strong woman the likes of which we rarely see.
That does not make her any more palatable!

As for.
. I lived in the UK until 1974 and!!!
So did I though I rarely like to admit it.
I experience the first miners strike which was almost gracious compared to the furor that Maggie instigated.
However it did teach me that all is not what it may seem.
When I look back at the animosity between the mineworkers and those that consumed the power they produced through coal fired generation I shudder at the lack of sympathy for those that worked so hard in dangerous conditions to provide family income , belligerent as they were.

In this day of city jobs with no hands on work experience or ethic we live the Tory life of wealth created by others and fuck them for wishing for more.