You are browsing the archive for Wage-labor.

Recommended: Michael Hudson: America’s Deceptive 2012 Fiscal Cliff, Part II

7:00 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

Wage Slavery plus debt peonage — these are the fates awaiting the ‘better off’ members of the 99%, Alan Simpson’s “lesser people.” The ‘worst off’ shall continue to find themselves existing on city streets, squatting in vacant land and buildings, suffering one of the many prisons which pockmark the body politic or dying from untreated illnesses. These fates — wage slavery, debt peonage and social outcast — should not be considered accidents of history. They have obvious systemic causes. The economist Michael Hudson explains in the second of a four-part series:

Today’s economic warfare is not the kind waged a century ago between labor and its industrial employers. Finance has moved to capture the economy at large, industry and mining, public infrastructure (via privatization) and now even the educational system. (At over $1 trillion, U.S. student loan debt came to exceed credit-card debt in 2012.) The weapon in this financial warfare is no larger military force. The tactic is to load economies (governments, companies and families) with debt, siphon off their income as debt service and then foreclose when debtors lack the means to pay. Indebting government gives creditors a lever to pry away land, public infrastructure and other property in the public domain. Indebting companies enables creditors to seize employee pension savings. And indebting labor means that it no longer is necessary to hire strikebreakers to attack union organizers and strikers.

Workers have become so deeply indebted on their home mortgages, credit cards and other bank debt that they fear to strike or even to complain about working conditions. Losing work means missing payments on their monthly bills, enabling banks to jack up interest rates to levels that used to be deemed usurious. So debt peonage and unemployment loom on top of the wage slavery that was the main focus of class warfare a century ago. And to cap matters, credit-card bank lobbyists have rewritten the bankruptcy laws to curtail debtor rights, and the referees appointed to adjudicate disputes brought by debtors and consumers are subject to veto from the banks and businesses that are mainly responsible for inflicting injury.

The aim of financial warfare is not merely to acquire land, natural resources and key infrastructure rents as in military warfare; it is to centralize creditor control over society. In contrast to the promise of democratic reform nurturing a middle class a century ago, we are witnessing a regression to a world of special privilege in which one must inherit wealth in order to avoid debt and job dependency.

What is truly astonishing about this situation is the nature of contemporary finance capital. In essence, it is functionless. It does not exist to generate capital for investment in the real economy. It does not provide safe storage for pension funds, insurance monies, personal savings, etc. It does not even provide the common investor with rational investment programs. Rather, finance capital today is just a system specific mechanism (or, better, set of mechanisms) which extracts massive quantities of wealth from the world. Profit taking — that is its sole purpose. Moreover, it is omnivorous and perpetually famished. It cannot be satiated. Its appetites thus put everyone at risk. It lacks a home, a national identity. It cares not for people, their cultures, societies and well-being. It is everywhere and nowhere.

It is, in a word, the vampire about which so many Americans fantasize.

Believing in a promise land

7:39 pm in Uncategorized by szielinski

I recently managed to gain full-time employment, thereby leaving behind a life given over mostly to study and political writing, but also a life punctuated by bouts of paid labor and a durable fear of becoming destitute. Despite my fear, which was realistic, I preferred the mode of living I have just left behind. It’s what I would do if I were wholly free to choose. But I’m not that free or, when better put, I’m not free in that abstract way.

I should feel grateful for my new job. After all, the real unemployment rate easily exceeds 20%. But I’m ungrateful. Why, I ask myself, should I feel grateful for having an opportunity to submit to a kind of social necessity? How might I appreciate my lack of autonomy while on the job? My subordination to others? My fatigue? My numb leg and aching back? My elemental need for money? I do feel grateful for being alive but I won’t live just to perform labor for pay. I sell my labor only because others depend upon me, upon my ability to earn a wage and my actually earning a wage. Heteronomy passes into autonomy when one chooses for sound reasons to carry burdens which compromise one’s freedoms.

It’s a privilege to have the time and means to read and write. That is, only a few have the opportunity to devote their lives to this kind of work. The typical path to making good use of this opportunity requires years of study and the mastery of the relevant puberty rituals. One might, if one is lucky, find a job teaching at a university, as a holder of a tenured position with the time needed to do original research. Some can live from their writing. But this is difficult. And it is especially improbable if one is a left critic. Even liberals work at the margin. Leftwingers are mostly outcastes.

I am writing this short essay in order to remind whoever reads it that it takes considerable time and effort to develop a defensible position on matters of public importance. Most lack that time. They also are unaware that they need to make the effort to learn about the world. They have friends and family, jobs and homes. These are, for most, decisive constraints. They occupy time and often occlude the larger issues that make life what it is. It is easy to denigrate the many for their comparative lack of political sophistication, for voting Republican (or Democrat), for falling prey to authoritarians and fascists, for believing in nonsense economics, for devoting their lives to sectarian religions, etc. But, many of these acts and beliefs are just havens in a heartless world, to paraphrase and expand Marx’s critique of religion. They give meaning to the various ways in which people suffer, meanings that are also ephemeral and even deadly in their effects. It is good to remember how difficult it is to live a fully human life.

But I’ll not think about these matters tomorrow, for I’ll be at work, earning a non-living wage, performing tasks which just about anyone can do, directly participating in a system which I would change if I could.