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Looking at the world through a PRISM

8:04 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

There is no reverse gear on the machine of governmental power. If power exists, it will be seized and exploited. To do what? That will be revealed in the course of this power’s employment. Its potential uses will automatically be discovered by those who have it or seize it, and may provide surprises. William Pfaff

Many people are asking the following question: why has the United States government been massively spying on nearly everyone in the world?

The answer is very simple: because now they can, that’s why.

What was once a labor intensive trade (spying) has been made affordable thanks to recent progress in the crunching of mega-data. More and more is being done in our world with fewer and fewer people. And of course a small number of people are making huge fortunes from all of this.

Thus we can see that PRISM is a metaphor for how technology is eliminating jobs in all the developed world and subcontracting what were once lifetime jobs of total commitment to an organization and its core competencies, pension included, to under-qualified temps of unknown and questionable loyalty, while creating wealth for those who manage all of it.

To get the sort of surveillance that NSA is trying to achieve, the East German Stasi had half of the population spying and informing on the other half and on each other and they had the ministries of the West German capital, Bonn, filled with handsome young East German spies that wooed and bedded the spinster typists of the West German ministers… all of this was very labor intensive.


You bet, but hey, with probably a smaller expenditure percentage-wise of their GDP on black arts than the USA, the DDR had full employment.

But what the godless communists who ruled the German Democratic Republic never figured out was how to get really rich doing this stuff. Here again, America leads the way.

Of the estimated $80 billion the government will spend on intelligence this year, most is spent on private contractors. It is highly doubtful, however, that American taxpayers are getting their money’s worth. The basic justification for outsourcing government work is to get a job done better and cheaper. Outsourcing intelligence does not appear to achieve either aim. Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group, cited research from 2008 showing that the government paid private contractors 1.6 times what it would have cost to have had government employees perform the work. That may help reduce the government head count. But employing fewer government workers at greater cost to taxpayers is not downsizing. Such outsourcing simply shifts taxpayer dollars to private hands, where it can wind up in lavish executive pay packages and greater shareholder returns.(…) On top of all these problems is one that makes it hard to acknowledge, let alone solve, any of them: the revolving door between government intelligence agencies and private-sector contractors that conflates public and private interests and entrenches the status quo.   New York Times

Americans like to think of ourselves as the “good guys,” a “light unto the gentiles,” a “city on the hill,” an example and a standard for all humanity to follow. This is getting to be much like an aging person, with eyebrows arched from botox, a dyed hairpiece and lips enhanced to ducklike proportions from injections of bovine collagen, gazing into the mirror and thinking how young they look. They are fooling themselves (which is the object of the exercise) but they aren’t fooling anybody else.

Today the USA is a corporate-financial-military security state… in short a “regime.”

Where is all this heading? What is to be done?

I opened with a quote from favorite international affairs commentator William Pfaff and I can think of nothing better than ending with another quote of his.

How is this system to be checked and reversed? It is a form of increasingly authoritarian state capitalism practiced by a government that rather than controlling it is controlled by it, because of the development in the past twenty years of an electoral system dominated by money and commercial television. Both parties must conform to their exigencies. All its decisive actors, government, corporate business, and communications industry, have a powerful interest in its perpetuation. Historically, such systems have fallen only to wars or revolution. William Pfaff

Will there ever be an “American Spring” like Turkey’s or Brazil’s?

Cross posted from:

Global Civics: The ideas the Tea Party fears most of all

10:24 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

In my last post I wrote how the fear of a new wave of reform propelled by the problems and abuses arising from globalization

Global Civics is the idea-force that would make reform possible if it spread, not only possible, but inevitable. Any collective global action would require adopting the ideas expressed here. These ideas, the consciousness of the practical, unavoidable, reality of the unity of humanity are the starting point for any change.

Therefore it is obvious that any interest groups that would feel threatened by this idea-force, would marshal its resources to discredit anything or anyone who in anyway embodied these ideas.

Watch the video and then try to run it through the filter of Fox, Glenn Beck or the Tea Party. Try to imagine how the mentality espoused in the video would affect the lives and wealth of the Koch brothers or Sheldon Adelson and then the behavior of the American right begins to make some sense. Their survival is at stake.

Cross posted from:

What the Tea Party billionaires are really afraid of

12:43 pm in Uncategorized by David Seaton

Before starting off on the Tea Party’s craziness, I would like you to examine some images from two nearly identical tragedies that occurred over a hundred years and several thousand miles apart. Later in the post I hope to make a connection between these twin horrors and the strange metamorphosis of the American right. Please bear with me.

Compare this Reuters photograph of the Tazreen Fashions Fire, Bangladesh – 2012 with the photograph below of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire:

Interior view of the tenth-floor work area in the Asch Building after the Triangle fire
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, New York – 1911
Drawing "The Locked Door!" refers to the Triangle fire and depicts young women throwing themselves against a locked door in an attempt to escape the flames.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, New York – 1911

The great mystery of American politics, a mystery which no one in the world can fathom, not even most Americans, is why so much money, hot air and spittle is being spent on literally paralyzing the American political system and making it impossible, not just to negotiate solutions, but to even have an intelligent conversation about solving the problems facing everyone, everywhere today. For that is what the Tea Party is really about: making first thought, then negotiation, and finally action impossible.

What is all this sound and fury covering up?

In my opinion it has much to do with where contemporary globalization is leading, the forces that it is setting in motion, which for historically minded Americans could elicit a bit of dèjá vu.

It seems to me that the globalization of today is in many ways similar on a world scale to the explosion of growth, power and sophistication of the US economy in the period after the Civil War, commonly called “The Gilded Age“. This was the period of the “robber barons” and viewed nostalgically by many of the American right as a paradise of anarcho-capitalism. This was a period of immense growth and innovation, but also one of enormous inequality, suffering and exploitation and financial crisis, all of it interpenetrated by an ubiquitous political corruption as the enormous new wealth so recently created set about purchasing and deforming to its benefit the institutions of American government: federal, state and local.

The excesses of the Gilded Age gave birth to a mass reform movement in the United States called, “Progressivism“. This movement, in a titanic struggle, bridging decades, among other things brought into effect: the regulation of interstate commerce, the breaking up of the monopolies known as “trusts“, laws regulating the purity of food and drugs, the rise of labor unions, laws eliminating child labor and in 1913, even progressive income tax, something which still causes intense indignation on the American ultra-right.
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The World Economy: into the Wild Blue Yonder

10:00 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton


It would be comforting for many to imagine that our globalized economy is a conspiracy,  a murky cabal, directed from the shadows by some Bilderberger-ish, ecumenical-protocol, of sinister “elders”, who are pulling all the strings.

I say comforting because presumably, if sufficiently intimidated, the people who got us into this mess could easily pull their strings and get us out.

However, I am afraid that instead of being something so tidy, there are no identifiable human hands on the controls of our world and the whole thing is simply on automatic pilot…

How does that work?

I could illustrate that with an old joke I recall.

An airliner takes off full of people and a metallic voice comes over the speaker system:

“Welcome aboard Acme Airlines flight 505 to London, the first totally automatic flight in aviation history, this is your computerized control system speaking, totally free from any possibility of human error, there is no pilot on board,. We hope you enjoy your flight. We will be flying at an altitude of 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet,  30,000 feet….

That is where I think we are right now. No one is in charge: the system itself has taken over and has no idea of the future but to grow endlessly.

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The Crisis: where are we headed?

12:49 pm in Uncategorized by David Seaton

Onward and Upward

Onward and Upward

I think almost all of us, progressive and otherwise, are conscious that we live in a strange and special era. “The best of times and the worst of times”… yada yada; not “evil” like the 1930s, but strange, dysfunctional, unstable, unpredictable and of a sinister syncopation.

How could we define it?

I would define this time we live in as “the end of the post-Cold-War”, the end of one thing, without the new thing being yet apparent..

To understand this concept it helps to be rather old. I was 45 when the Berlin Wall went down in 1989 and the Cold War began when I was four years old. If you are in your twenties or early thirties it would be almost impossible for you really understand or even imagine how the Cold War structured our world and our lives, how all pervasive it was and how much intellectual capital it used up on both sides of the Iron Curtain. How its cold, dead, vapors infuse the way we still see the world. We are still in the process of clearing our heads and dear old reality is coming to our aid.

In the Cold War, ideology became an industry on both sides, a factory system as powerful and layered as the automobile industry, turning out the ideological marketing that goes by the loaded name of propaganda.

Thousands upon thousands, several generations, of the most talented and intellectually gifted communicators gained prestige, comfortable livings, scholarships, tenure and an infinity of perks in this decades long struggle to see who could tell the best and most convincing story. Actual thinking was of course as poorly rewarded as it always had been.

This wall to wall propaganda did have some very positive effects. Certainly the Berlin Wall would not have come down without it and I would submit that on the other hand, without the ubiquitous presence of Soviet propaganda the American Civil Rights Movement would never have succeeded. Jim Crow was America’s Achilles heel in the battle for hearts and minds in the third world. The good and the great of the United States saw that eliminating “colored only” drinking fountains and letting a few more people vote, was a small price to pay to maintain access to the ever growing amount of the world’s raw materials and strategic areas that were falling into the hands of dark skinned peoples. So the endless advertising campaign did have its positive side. The problem for us was not that people in the soviet block believed our propaganda, the problem for us is that we believed our propaganda. By 1990 those on the eastern side of the wall knew that their propaganda was all bullshit, however, we are just beginning to realize that our propaganda was all bullshit too.

Unfettered, capitalism would spread its powerful wings and fly, so our story went, which of course capitalism certainly did… and now it seems to have bashed its brains out like a light-blinded bird crashing into a glass door.

So now we having discovered that just as “real existent socialism” didn’t work, neither does “real existent capitalism”.

So now, having discovered that the last 64 years or so were mostly a mirage, what comes next?

I would submit that becoming fully human is our most urgent task.

Here are a couple of texts that my intuition tells me point out the path to follow:

To expect morality in the market is to commit a category error. Capitalist values are antithetical to Christian ones. (How the loudest Christians in our public life can also be the most bellicose proponents of an unbridled free market is a matter for their own consciences.) Capitalist values are also antithetical to democratic ones. Like Christian ethics, the principles of republican government require us to consider the interests of others. Capitalism, which entails the single-minded pursuit of profit, would have us believe that it’s every man for himself.  William Deresiewicz – New York Times

Humans, comprising the genus Homo, appeared between 1.5 and 2.5 million years ago, a time that roughly coincides with the start of the Pleistocene 1.8 million years ago. Because the Pleistocene ended a mere 12,000 years ago, most human adaptations either newly evolved during the Pleistocene, or were maintained by stabilizing selection during the Pleistocene./ Evolutionary psychology therefore proposes that the majority of human psychological mechanisms are adapted to reproductive problems frequently encountered in Pleistocene environments. In broad terms, these problems include those of growth, development, differentiation, maintenance, mating, parenting, and social relationships. (…) Our ancestors lived in smaller groups, had more cohesive cultures, and had more stable and rich contexts for identity and meaning. (…) Since hunter-gatherer societies are egalitarian, the ancestral population may have been egalitarian as well.(…) Since an organism’s adaptations were suited to its ancestral environment, a new and different environment can create a mismatch. (…) One example is the fact that although about 10,000 people are killed with guns in the US annually, whereas spiders and snakes kill only a handful, people nonetheless learn to fear spiders and snakes about as easily as they do a pointed gun, and more easily than an unpointed gun, rabbits or flowers. A potential explanation is that spiders and snakes were a threat to human ancestors throughout the Pleistocene, whereas guns (and rabbits and flowers) were not. There is thus a mismatch between our evolved fear-learning psychology and the modern environment  Evolutionary Psychology – Wikipedia

Evolutionary psychology is one of the most exciting fields today because it gives scientific weight to the idea of humanity’s social, cooperative, empathetic “species nature”. Really we can see that most of today’s problems are not dependent on some “miraculous” scientific breakthrough or more economic growth, but rather on taking full cognizance and internalizing that species nature of ours and acting in consequence. Some of the examples of our failure to do this jump out at us from the media daily and are grotesque to the point of caricature.

As an example: millions of Americans are suffering from obesity to a degree that may eventually collapse our health system, while other millions of equally human beings are suffering severe malnutrition all over the third world. Hundreds of such examples have become mere cliches, they are so self evident. Assume a breakthrough in cancer research took place, what percentage of the world’s population would have access to it? Knowing that there is more than enough food, shelter and medicine for all, why are there starving, homeless and untreated humans walking the earth?

And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? Genesis 4:9

That is the crux of the problem. Answering Cain’s question honestly; answering “who is this all for?”, that is the central challenge of our times.


Cross posted from:

The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn

12:49 pm in Uncategorized by David Seaton

Photo credit to David Seaton

Between the civil war in Syria, for that is what it is, and the threat of an Israeli attack on Iran, which would set the region — at the very least — ablaze, and probably start off a chain of events that could tip the whole world into full-scale depression, we have plenty to worry about… things that could pull our attention decisively away from the saga of Jeremy Lin.

At the bottom of what most of us worriers worry about is the economic crisis. In a nutshell we are looking at the result of an increasingly “friction-less” world market.

Perhaps the core problem is that we are a consumer economy and our consumption, from designer tee-shirts to the iPad and the iPhone, depends almost entirely on the slave wages and slave working conditions of millions upon millions of Chinese workers, who without old age pensions and healthcare, save all their money and so do not consume what we produce. Our money goes there and it doesn’t come back and our own workers are impoverished by this phenomenon and thus also consume less and less.

And if we managed to solve this problem and the Chinese workers earned enough to consume like we do, we the “breathing class” would suffocate in the ensuing pollution and if the enriched Chinese chose to eat cereal-fed, animal protein on the scale we do, mass starvation in the third (or not so third) world would result… without entering into the feedlot methane gas and water pollution issues that enough steers, swine and chickens to supply a billion Chinese with a diet like ours would produce.

The sheer contradiction and intractability enclosed in the scenario described means that inevitably our entire system is in question and our priorities must adjust to this new reality and adjust they will, even if it takes great wars and massive civil disturbance to bring the adjustments about.

In every established hierarchy, those who most benefit from the statu quo naturally write the rules and laws that best suit their interests and also do their best to create an intellectual and political climate that makes any real questioning of that situation “unthinkable”.

Nobody describes this paradox better than the Slovenian philosophe à tout faire, Slavoj Zizek does:

In such a constellation, the very idea of a radical social transformation may appear as an impossible dream—yet the term ‘impossible’ should make us stop and think. Today, possible and impossible are distributed in a strange way, both simultaneously exploding into excess. On the one hand, in the domains of personal freedoms and scientific technology, we are told that ‘nothing is impossible’: we can enjoy sex in all its perverse versions, entire archives of music, films and tv series are available to download, space travel is available to everyone (at a price). There is the prospect of enhancing our physical and psychic abilities, of manipulating our basic properties through interventions into the genome; even the tech-gnostic dream of achieving immortality by transforming our identity into software that can be downloaded into one or another set of hardware. On the other hand, in the domain of socio-economic relations, our era perceives itself as the age of maturity in which humanity has abandoned the old millenarian utopian dreams and accepted the constraints of reality—read: capitalist socio-economic reality—with all its impossibilities. The commandment you cannot is its mot d’ordre: you cannot engage in large collective acts, which necessarily end in totalitarian terror; you cannot cling to the old welfare state, it makes you non-competitive and leads to economic crisis; you cannot isolate yourself from the global market, without falling prey to the spectre of North Korean juche.

Zizek concludes: “Today we do not know what we have to do, but we have to act now, because the consequence of non-action could be disastrous.”

The disruption of existing relationships of power and authority, that the inevitable changes the situation will increasingly demand, goes a long way to explaining the polarization of much of politics today; especially where the world’s power is still predominately brokered, the USA. And it is no surprise that the sound and the fury is mostly coming from the right, those who represent those who have much to lose if today’s existing relationships of power and authority should ever change.

So that is the real bottom line: we have the privilege of living in a time of profound change… a time of fear and a time of hope. As to hope, hopefully the metaphor that titles this post is apt, and the darkest hour does come just before dawn.

Cross posted from:

Thomas Friedman and the hangman

12:31 pm in Uncategorized by David Seaton

In the past, workers with average skills, doing an average job, could earn an average lifestyle. But, today, average is officially over. Being average just won’t earn you what it used to. Thomas Friedman – NYT

In older factories and, before them, on the farm, there were opportunities for almost everybody: the bright and the slow, the sociable and the awkward, the people with children and those without. All came to work unskilled, at first, and then slowly learned things, on the job, that made them more valuable. Especially in the mid-20th century, as manufacturing employment was rocketing toward its zenith, mistakes and disadvantages in childhood and adolescence did not foreclose adult opportunity. For most of U.S. history, most people had a slow and steady wind at their back, a combination of economic forces that didn’t make life easy but gave many of us little pushes forward that allowed us to earn a bit more every year. Over a lifetime, it all added up to a better sort of life than the one we were born into. That wind seems to be dying for a lot of Americans. What the country will be like without it is not quite clear. Adam Davidson – The Atlantic

The awkward fact about “average” people, or “average” anything for that matter is that there are so many of them… of “us” really, because most of us are average something, one way or another, intelligence, weight, height, sex appeal, you name it…. Anything that savagely attacks the “average” attacks the majority and the majority, barring massive police state repression and even then, will eventually fight back.

As anger rises, riots on the streets of American cities are inevitable. “Yes, yes, yes,” he says, almost gleefully. The response to the unrest could be more damaging than the violence itself. “It will be an excuse for cracking down and using strong-arm tactics to maintain law and order, which, carried to an extreme, could bring about a repressive political system, a society where individual liberty is much more constrained, which would be a break with the tradition of the United States.” George Soros quoted in the Daily Beast

We are being told that we must be more competitive. What does that mean? Another quote from Tom Friedman’s globalist panegyric, this time a paean to China.

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day. ‘The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,’ the executive said. ‘There’s no American plant that can match that.’ ”

Friedman, of course thinks that this is just great, but I simply do not believe that Americans or Europeans would be willing to endure working conditions like that very long without revolting, except, perhaps, during the struggles of a world war.

Suddenly Karl Marx of all people is reappearing in “polite” conversation and if you take a look at the following quotes taken at random and out of context and compare them with what you have read in the articles quoted above, you’ll easily see why:

  • Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the laborer, unless under compulsion from society.
  • Machines were, it may be said, the weapon employed by the capitalists to quell the revolt of specialized labor.
  • The more the division of labor and the application of machinery extend, the more does competition extend among the workers, the more do their wages shrink together.
  • The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.
  • (Free Trade) breaks up old nationalities and pushes the antagonism of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to the extreme point. In a word, the free trade system hastens the social revolution. It is in this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, that I vote in favor of free trade.

So we are moving toward, or have moved to a society where even in developed countries increasingly a tiny minority lives very well and “average” people, by definition the majority, live badly, return to the living and working conditions of the days of Charles Dickens, conditions that took countless years and endless blood to meliorate… and even an “average” student of history will know that under such conditions revolutions happen.

I’m sorry to keep bringing the old boy up, but it was Lenin who said that a capitalist will sell you a rope on Friday that you are going to hang him with on Sunday… just to make a profit on Saturday… he can’t help himself. Vladimir Ilych’s mummy must be laughing his little wax head off when they turn off the lights in his tomb at night.

Cross posted from:

The middle class

11:37 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

Income inequality in the US is at its highest since that most doom-laden of years: 1929. Throughout the main English-speaking economies, earnings disparities have reached extremes not seen since the age of The Great Gatsby.(…) From a political perspective the notable feature of the inegalitarian, free-market era that began in the 1980s is how little backlash there has been against the stagnation of ordinary people’s earnings in such a large portion of the developed world economy. Yet there are signs that the mix of policies and economic circumstances that gave a protracted laisser-passer to the rich and to business is coming to an end. This is potentially dangerous territory. For as Bill Gross, managing director of Pimco, the world’s biggest bond fund, has argued: “When the fruits of society’s labour become maldistributed, when the rich get richer and the middle and lower classes struggle to keep their heads above water as is clearly the case today, then the system ultimately breaks down; boats do not rise equally with the tide; the centre cannot hold.” John Plender – Financial Times

The center of American politics is its “middle class”. Most observers would not have any problem agreeing that America’s greatest contribution to the world’s political discourse has been the creation of a large, satisfied, middle class: all of America’s social stability depends on that class’s satisfaction.

We use the words “middle class” all the time and most American’s would define themselves as middle class. What is “middle class”, really?

First, lets get clear what upper middle class is. In my definition these are people who have layers of property, relatives other than their parents die and leave them things. They own income producing properties other than the home they live in. They can educate their children out of their current income, without giving up anything, etcetera, etcetera. It is as if their blood had a high helium content and they never quite touched the ground. This is not the middle class I am talking about.

The middle class that most Americans believe they belong to is a transitory place on a voyage from some place harder and more difficult than the present to someplace softer and less difficult. It is place of anxiety, what it is not, or what it could be, is often more important than what it actually is: a loss of momentum may have disastrous and dreaded results. Without an adequate social net most middle class Americans are only a serious illness or a layoff away from traveling downward. Examples of that voyage surround them everywhere they look… if they dare to look.

Perhaps the most self-satisfied, self-portrait of America’s middle class in the history of cinema is William Wyler’s 1946 classic, “The Best Years of Our Lives”, whose poster tops these lines. It is accurate in its portrayal of American’s mental image of themselves as they returned from the war and looked forward to peace and the end of the hard times that all had known before the war. There is nothing smug about the film: the characters and the action show “normal” people living their lives.

The film won seven Oscars, including “best film”. It was a huge success.

Americans paid money, laughed and cried in pleasure to see themselves being themselves. “The Best Years of Our Lives” was a love song to ourselves that we sung to ourselves.

I can’t think of any such self-celebration possible today.

Below the classic poster from 1946, I have put together a mash up of some of the figures from contemporary films who take the place of Myrna Loy, Frederic March and Dana Andrews, populating the dreams of today’s movie goers.

It would seem that to engage their fantasy and prosper, you would have to be a magician, or have special powers… or be a robot.

Without getting too far off into cocktail party sociology. Americans today do not appear to see a clear and hopeful path to travel without a cloak of invisibility or the power to levitate.

In my opinion either laissez faire globalization will destroy America’s “The Best Years of Our Lives”, middle class — if it hasn’t already — or America’s surviving middle class will destroy laissez faire globalization. It’s anybody’s guess who will win.

We all live in Ponzi land

11:25 pm in Uncategorized by David Seaton

spinning wheel keeps spinning too

The problem with US manufacturing is not that it has been shrinking – despite the “offshoring” of textile and electronics manufacturing to China, US manufacturing output rose by 3.9 per cent a year between 1997 and 2007. However productivity grew 6.8 per cent annually in the same period, so millions of jobs were lost. If manufacturing carries along the same path, McKinsey estimates that it could shed another 2.3m jobs by 2020, while the economy needs to create 21m more jobs to return to full employment.  John Gapper – Financial Times

I was talking to a very shrewd and well informed friend of mine, now a sedate Spanish notary, who in the 1980s was a sort of Gordon Gekko. He gave me a very intelligent analysis of the crisis.

At the bottom of it, he said, was the enormous increase in productivity brought on by information technologies. We simply produce much more than we can possibly consume: we need lots of consumers and many fewer workers.

How are underemployed people supposed to buy anything? On credit. Something has to give, has given. I think he’s right.

A very good example might be how much supermarkets have changed in the last 20 years. Remember (if you can) the days before bar code cash registers existed. Totaling up the merchandise, taking payment and making change was much slower work than today. Check-out girls needed a much bigger skill set in that environment: to add and subtract accurately in their heads to begin with.

Now, passing the product over the laser reader, passing the banker or credit card through the card reader and getting the customer’s signature is only the work of seconds and if the customer pays in cash, the cash register tells the check-out girl the exact change to give. A person of average or better than average intelligence, who has successfully completed high school is wasted in such a job.

At the same time that the products are being checked out, the system is seamlessly keeping track of the inventory and calculating the buying needed to keep the shelves full and may even send the orders directly to the head office, several states away, where the orders are also processed electronically and trucks are filled and dispatched with a fraction of the human input needed only a few years ago. Now, project this technological productivity explosion onto almost any human activity. More work done with a shrinking work force.

It is easy to see that with this system it is possible to have much bigger stores with a much wider variety of products, employing many fewer and much less skilled, therefore lower paid, workers than ever before.

With lower costs and more technology, profits rise and much of this gain is reinvested in more productivity-raising technology, which makes more skills and the people who have them redundant. This means, perversely, that more profits usually lead to less jobs or much poorer jobs. This paradigm, which until recently only held true for the poorly educated, is now reaching the ranks of university graduates. Now, with digital technology, even high intellectual output tasks can be outsourced to where people with postgraduate degrees can be hired for the same cost per hour as high school graduates in a developed country.

Result: As more money is invested in raising productivity, fewer and fewer people can produce more and more for a market glutted with products that fewer and fewer people can afford to buy without going into debt.

Salaries don’t rise because most workers are not really needed that badly and are easy to replace if they go on strike, complain or even report in sick.. and thus they have no bargaining power. Any shortages such as one resulting from low birthrate in developed countries can be solved by outsourcing the jobs to poorer countries with high birthrates.

All people are really required to do is to buy many things that they don’t really need, which they can do, even with a McJob, by using a credit card… thereby kicking the can into the future: a future with poorer paying jobs, less horizon, more need of credit to participate, with less chance of ever paying back the debts incurred.

To make underpaid workers buy things that objectively they don’t need, an entire industry (marketing) exists to make them dissatisfied with what they already have. Perversely, unhappiness becomes a social good in such an economic arrangement. A thrifty person, one content with his lot, someone who for thousands of years was seen in all traditions as a wise and sensible man, is in this contemporary situation seen as a public enemy to be “stimulated”.

In a sense our entire “civilization” is sort of a universal “Ponzi scheme”. If the wheel stops even for a moment it all comes tumbling down.

It’s amazing that a structure this artificial, that fills so few truly human needs, has taken so long to nearly collapse.

Cross posted from:

Oakland and OWS… an inch ahead lies darkness

9:23 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

“An inch ahead lies darkness”
Japanese proverb

Many people are making facile comparisons between today’s OWS movement and the anti-war movement of the Vietnam era. A major difference between what happened then and what is happening today is that the 60′s anti-war movement occurred in the context of great prosperity and full employment, was led by middle class students anxious to avoid the draft, was not seconded by labor and  in the context of a foreign war was often opposed by the “silent majority” on patriotic grounds.

None of this applies today. Now we are seeing students, organized labor and even war veterans arm in arm lined up against the “one percent” and it is also significant that they are ignoring Washington and concentrating their actions directly on the economic powers themselves, occupying Wall Street and now paralyzing America’s most important sea port, Oakland California.

In other places and other eras, both these actions would have been considered pre-revolutionary. Read the rest of this entry →