Jobs in the Era of the Politics of Apocalypse

SOURCE ITEMS

This is a time of the politics of the apocalypse — an all-or-nothing view of the difference between winning and losing an election and of holding power or not holding it. There is no middle ground on what winning or losing means. This has been on the rise for a long time. But it has intensified of late. No one really knows how to roll it back. Politicians say that it is time for the country to come together. But on whose terms?

Dan Balz, Bomb scares and the politics of the apocalypse, Washington Post, October 24, 2018.

COMMENTS

Back in Cold War times many smaller nations tried to be non-aligned, not on either side of the conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union or China.  Neither the U.S. or the Soviet Union would allow that.  Political money and weapons poured into small nations to force a choice.  That was the geopolitical dynamic of conflicting ideologies and programs of all or nothing.  It was inescapable; it was unresolvable until one or the other side was beaten into submission.  After that, the world’s nations had only one choice.

This is the dynamic of the politics of apocalypse in the U.S. and across much of the world.  Decades ago, here in the U.S. many middle class Americans chose non-alignment through third party movements and political disengagement.  Back then, this was a politically affordable luxury facilitated by the continuing weakness of the extreme right wing.  But, that shift to non-alignment and disengagement gutted the moderate wings of both the Republican and Democratic parties.  The right wing was becoming less affluent and more militant while the left wing continued to enjoy much offered by middle class affluence and remained relatively passive – until it was too late.  We have now entered into a state of affairs in which non-alignment and disengagement are no longer viable choices.  The right wing has engendered a long march for all or nothing which can only be satisfied by the capitulation of the left.  To my knowledge when such apocalyptic challenges have arisen, such as the clash over control of the formation of new states in the western territories and the spread of the institution of slavery in the 1850s in the U.S., the left has never capitulated.  Nor has the right ever capitulated.  The only outcome now possible is apocalyptic victory for one side or the other.

So, what does this mean for jobs?  If you check out the employment reports put out monthly by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, you will have noticed that most job growth is in services and a big chunk of those jobs are in social services and health care.  This is to be expected.  Suicide, family crises, workplace accidents, random acts of violence, epidemics of depression, violence, and preventable diseases are to be expected in times of apocalyptic political polarization.   Overwhelming stresses drive immediate emotions to the front, short-circuiting the intellectual capacity to look down the road behind us and up the road in front of us.  People become overly oriented  to the here and now , which makes us more susceptible to ideological scammers who take advantage of emotional vulnerabilities and more limited understandings of our situations.

So, workforce growth is now being forced into two complementary paths: jobs causing destruction (both legal and illegal) and jobs assigned the work of repairing the destruction to everyday life (both paid and volunteer).  Take a look at the massive number of personnel that was deployed in Pittsburgh to deal with one event of destruction and consider the enormous volume of costly equipment involved.  Multiply  that response by a thousand times a day across the world.  Throw in the industries and business support services required to create and maintain the military and policing forces and social and health services required to respond to these destructive events.  Now allow yourself to accept that the scope of the global conflict will continue to escalate as the extreme right wing assault on democracy and human rights continues to grow, as right wing governments take control of more and more of the world’s military and policing forces, as more non-violent and violent acts of resistance are mobilized, and safe havens from the conflict continue to disappear.

The world of work is not separate from these trends.  It is being polarized right along side the polarization of our politics.  More and more our work choices are between those that create destruction and those that try to prevent destruction and those that involve repairing and replacing what has been damaged and destroyed.

All of this, of course, has to be understood in the context of the ending of the era of real growth in wealth.  That real growth was fueled by growth in the use of fossil fuels to augment human labor and to power technologies that require an intensity of energy flows that cannot be match by massing together armies of workers.  We are still pumping more and more fossil fuel energy into the world economy, but monitoring and repairing the destructive side effects (current and cumulative, environmental and geopolitical) now require the consumption of more wealth than the increase in fossil fuel use produces.   Thus the politics and jobs of apocalypse are very much the politics and jobs of a world of people trying to protect themselves from the losses of wealth that are happening all around them.  The wealth losses take many forms.  Some, like the loss of quietness in the night and open spaces where a person can seek solitude, we only notice when we try to take account.  But, the emotional toll is still very real and very costly.

Hard Working? Creative? Strong Language and Computer Skills? Earn Up to $4 Per Hour in the New Global Labor Force

ITEMS FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION

The job didn’t pay much: four bucks an hour if you really hustled. But for Catherine Fraser, a recent community college graduate from Mountain View looking to pick up a little extra spending cash, the work was a hoot.

… said analyst Martin Schneider with 451 Research. “Like manufacturing has done forever, crowd-labor lets us break down a job into tiny components, where one bit of fact-checking or writing a few sentences is now the equivalent of gluing that chip onto a computer board.”

… The larger question — and one with huge global implications as crowd-sourcing redefines and in some cases kills traditional jobs and long-established labor-management models — is whether the crowd-labor pool could essentially become one big worldwide digital sweatshop. While industry studies show average hourly earnings across all categories range from about $7 in India to $16 in Western Europe, the fast-growing segment of micro-taskers earn half that on average, and some make only $1.50 an hour.

Patrick May, ‘Crowd labor’ helps spur social networking revolution, San Jose Mercury News, Updated: 05/01/2012.

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Series Index May

Series Index Apr

Rate of Change

Employment Index

50.8

54.2

Slower

Business Activity/Production

55.6

54.6

Faster

New Orders

55.5

53.5

Faster
Source: May 2012 Non-Manufacturing ISM Report On Business, Institute for Supply Management, June 5, 2012

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For Great Wall, a private sector Chinese car maker that employs 50,000 workers, the Swiss robots and other machinery that line its bright factory floor produce more than cost savings. The company hopes they will help it build cars good enough to compete with the global auto makers.

According to Nomura, 28 percent of factory machines in China use numerical controls – one measure of automation. That may be far lower than Japan’s 83 percent, but China is growing far faster than Japan did at a comparable stage of development, says Ge Wenjie, a machinery analyst with Nomura.

In other words, China may soon be known less for cheap Christmas toys and more for high-end medical equipment, luxury cars and jet engines.

By Don Durfee, Analysis: Robots lift China’s factories to new heights, Reuters, June 3, 2012.

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Unit labor costs fell in 23 of 47 service-providing industries, the most since 2003 …

Output per hour increased in 32 of the 47 [service-providing industries] industries studied.  In most of these industries, productivity rose as output growth was accompanied by declines or more modest increases in hours.  Several  industries posted double-digit productivity gains as a result: local as well as long-distance general freight trucking; refrigerated warehousing and storage; radio and television broadcasting; wireless telecommunications carriers; and travel agencies.

In a few industries, productivity rose despite falling output.  In industries such as postal service; couriers and messengers; video tape and disc rental; photofinishing; and newspaper, book, and directory publishers, rising labor productivity reflected declines in both labor hours and output, with hours falling more rapidly than output.

Productivity and Costs by Industry: Selected Service-Providing and Mining Industries, 2010, Economic News Release, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 31, 2012.

COMMENTS

During the 20th century each new generation of U.S. workers faced declining employment opportunities in agriculture, mining, and manufacturing.  But those lost employment opportunities were offset by growing employment opportunities in government and private service sector industries.

This is no longer the case.  Job growth in government and service sector industries has slowed considerably.  Moreover, some government agencies and service sector industries are embracing new production technologies and becoming job shedders themselves.

The hallmark of the first half of the 21st century may well be a decades long global employment crisis.  National governments are still trying to apply economic remedies carried over from the 20th century in a world that is vastly different.  National economic sovereignty is gone.  Rich and poor nations alike are now joined at the economic hip in a single world economy.

Sticking with the “each nation goes it alone” strategy for addressing the global employment crisis isn’t working.  Rather than getting increasing prosperity, U.S. working families and local business owners are getting a larger share of the world’s very high level of poverty.

The practical alternative for the U.S. is to join with the world’s other nations to build institutions that coordinate national economic policies and set minimum global standards for corporate behavior, working conditions, wages and benefits.

Globalization cannot be undone, so there is no other choice.