End of Work as Endtimes

Work, a topic that comes up a lot. The US is a society obsessed with work as identity and as a way of life, not just as a means to an end. We idealize work ethic, the greatest praise being that an individual is hard-working and the harshest criticism being that someone is lazy.

We broaden it as an entire cultural ethos, the supposed Protestant work ethic, even though Catholic Americans seem just as obsessed with work. The traditionally Catholic Hispanics used to be stereotyped as lazy, but I doubt that was ever true. The stereotype is now changing and Hispanics are perceived as hard-working, which is their ticket into mainstream American society and their pathway to assimilation not just as Americans but also into potential whiteness.

Black Americans, of course, aren’t given the opportunity to assimilate into whiteness, no matter their real or perceived work ethic. It has been assumed by centuries of whites that blacks are inherently lazy, a justification for slavery and then later forms of prejudice and oppression, including the reinstatement of slavery through chain gangs. The reality, however, is that the whites who complain the most about others being lazy are probably projecting. This country was built with the labor of minorities, along with poor (often ethnic) whites, both supposedly being without the proper work ethic of upper class WASPs. I imagine many of those upper class WASPs wouldn’t know real work if they ever saw it.

There is endless weirdness, besides bigotry, around American notions of work and all that goes with it. In recent years, some have begun to worry about the end of work. It is through work that we have defined our society. The end of work sounds like the end of the world as we know it, which I suppose is true. If machines took over most human work, then what would we do? The fear is the lazy masses, without anyone forcing them to work for survival, would just laze about and do nothing productive at all. We better build work camps to keep the masses occupied or else they might start thinking about creating a free, democratic society.

Even many left-wingers can’t seem to imagine anything genuinely different. Labor has been the pillar of left-wing politics for long before Marx was born. We talking about the lower class as the working class. That is what they are. They are what they do, work. They have no inherent value beyond that. Organizing the masses inevitably means labor organizing or so it has meant in generations past.

I get the sense that there is something odd about all this. It’s not just the obsession with work, as identity and ethic. It’s one of those issues that seems to be about something else entirely. Most of the time when people talk about work I don’t think they’re actually talking about work. It’s maybe a symbolic conflation, like abortion, pointing toward something else. That something else has to do with the social order and social control.

To give this some contrast, consider hunter-gatherers. They don’t worry about work. In fact, they do as little as possible for survival and they probably never think of it as work. Almost everything hunter-gatherers do is a social activity. It’s the social part, not the work part, that defines who they are. Hunter-gatherers don’t have specialization, as everyone does a little bit of everything. Besides, most of their time is spent doing social things, as the most important part of being human in a tribal society is the fact that you belong to a tribe. That is who you are. Work is only important for what it accomplishes for the tribe and one’s place in the tribe, not as an end in and of itself.

What if modern society ends up back where we all started? Hunter-gatherers don’t work that much in order to maintain their lifestyles. What if in the future we too won’t work much to maintain our lifestyles? Would that be such a horrible thing, that like hunter-gatherers we spent more time with our families, friends, neighbors, and communities?

The hyper-focus on work is one of the most bizarre aspects of modern society. If you can’t imagine life beyond work, the problem is in your mind not in the world. Just because cars will eventually start driving themselves, civilization isn’t going to collapse nor will the moral fiber of humanity be rent asunder. Calm down. I’m sure humanity will somehow survive the end of work.

Americans will probably find other ways to work endlessly, such as mowing their lawns more often. That is the future of the US, Americans mowing their lawns everyday because robots took over their jobs. Sure, those future Americans could buy one of the new fancy robot mowers, but then they’d lose all meaning to their existence. To preoccupy themselves, Americans will have mowing contests to prove their human worth and to prove their being part of respectable society.

Minimum Wage, Wage Suppression, Welfare State, etc

I’ll keep this post simple. I mostly just want to offer some views on the wage issue that most people don’t come across. You won’t hear most of this in the MSM. You won’t likely even see it in social media, unless you have some very well informed friends. But first let me summarize the issue while offering some straightforward analysis.

The specific issue at hand is the minimum wage and whether to raise it. Everyone is talking about it. But the discussions I come across most often lack much depth and breadth. I see two related issues: wage suppression and welfare state.

Wage suppression is my main focus. It relates to decades (or even generations) of Fed hard money policy, union-busting, and off-shoring.

The Fed hard money policy is something I came across in William Greider’s Come Home, America. You can find the relevant passage at the bottom of the page.

Union-busting is something I was already well aware of. And off-shoring as well. These two are closely related.

It is easier to bust unions with threats of off-shoring. If labor tries to strike, the scabs will be in far off foreign countries. This is very sneaky and basically immoral in all ways. It undermines both democracy and free markets for there is no such thing as anti-democratic free markets. Corporations often off-shore to countries that lack not only democracy but also lack human rights, workers protections, and safety/environmental regulations. In these foreign countries, corporations are sometimes free to bribe officials and use private goons, police or the state military to bust up unions the old fashioned way.

It isn’t just foreign governments that corporations can bribe, threaten, control and otherwise influence. Off-shoring is possible because our own corporatist (corporate-owned-and-operated) government allows and encourages it with free trade agreements. These free trade agreements are shaped by big biz and so unsurprisingly are business friendly and labor unfriendly. Such trade is only ‘free’ for big biz. In these free trade agreements, there are rarely if any demands for participating countries to have democracy, human rights, workers protections, or safety-environmental regulations.

The second issue is where it gets most interesting.

Conservatives, libertarians and even many mainstream Democrats complain about what they deem an out-of-control welfare state. But this welfare state ultimately functions in two ways. Because minimum wage workers aren’t making a living wage, they end up on welfare which means the welfare state is a massive apparatus to use taxpayer money to subsidize big biz. And so without welfare the average American would be even more desperate.

What does desperation breed? Populist reform or even revolution. The ruling elite will never willingly end the welfare state because, along with mass incarceration, it is a social control policy. If minimum wage and all welfare was instantly ended, there would be revolution over night.

The minimum wage and welfare combo is the only thing making wage suppression and social oppression tolerable. As long as people are getting by, even if only barely, they won’t fight for their rights as citizens. It is the old bread and circus routine with big biz media serving the circus part of the equation.

There are a number of options here:

  1. We can raise the minimum wage while continuing wage suppression and while not increasing welfare.
  2. We can strengthen and broaden welfare while continuing wage suppression and while not raising the minimum wage.
  3. We can more moderate raise the minimum wage and increase welfare while continuing wage suppression.
  4. We can end wage suppression and solve the problem at its root.
  5. Or we can do none of the above and wait for the populist revolts to begin.

There are no other options. Excluding a return to such things as feudalism, indentured servitude, debt bondage, slavery, etc. Although there are other ideas that could work, such as a basic income, related to Paine’s citizen dividend. So, at least within the present system, there are no other options.

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Here are a few links to helpful articles and a couple of discussions:

An Idea Conservatives Should Love
By E.J. Dionne, Jr.
truthdig.com
Feb 17, 2014

The Skills Gap Argument as Cover for Wage Suppression
By J.URIS D.EBTOR
January 23, 2013

Suppressing wages and increasing corporate profits:
The tough math behind the current economic recovery.
By mybudget360

Suppressing wages
By davald
The Observer
December 10, 2012

The China trade toll
Widespread wage suppression, 2 million jobs lost in the U.S.
By Robert E. Scott
Economic Policy Institute
July 30, 2008

NAFTA AT SEVEN
Its impact on workers in all three nations
By Robert E. Scott
Economic Policy Institute
April 2001

ALEC AND WAGE SUPPRESSION
By Mary Bottari and Rebekah Wilce
from PRWatch
July 23, 2013

The Force Behind Bills To Lower Wages and Suppress Workers’ Rights? You Guessed It: ALEC
By Mary Bottari and Rebekah Wilce
inthesetimes.com
July 30, 2013

Union Busting adds to corrupt bureaucracy and incites crime
By zacherydtaylor
open.salon.com
September 26, 2013

On Becoming a Nietzschean Society
By Greg Horsman
About Questioning and Skepticism
November 1, 2013

What is ‘wage suppression’ and is it real?
Discussion on talkrational.org

Why should taxpayers subsidize low wage workers? (fast food, minimum wage, salaries)
City-Data forum

And below is the aforementioned passage from William Greider’s Come Home, America.

* * *

Kindle Locations 557-562

It was mainly the Federal Reserve-sheltered from public scrutiny and protected from political accountability-that engineered America’s great shift in fortunes. The Fed “hardened” the value of money and wealth with its successful campaign to suppress price inflation. Then it proceeded to encourage or passively allow the scandalous financial behavior that followed-wealth being concentrated in the financial sector, the growing inequalities among Americans, deregulation and the creation of dominating megabanks, and recurrent frauds and financial bubbles followed repeatedly by government bailouts of banks and financial firms.

The Federal Reserve’s policy essentially tilted the normal economic balance hard in one direction, then held it there for a generation. It favored wealth over wage income, creditors over debtors, capital over labor, financial investors over producers.

Kindle Locations 601-602

“Hardening” the value of money may modestly benefit average consumers, but the true winners are people with vast accumulations of financial wealth. As the Federal Reserve drove the inflation rate lower and lower, eventually getting it close to zero, disinflation was a great gift to the wealthy, one that kept on giving.

Kindle Locations 621-635

The “hard money” policy was sustained in a way that might have shocked many Americans if they had known about it. The Federal Reserve suppressed inflation by targeting the wages of working people. It prevented their incomes from rising even though, in a healthy economy, wages would normally rise consistently. Nobody in authority ever acknowledged this strategy in a straightforward way, but the reality was well understood by economists and financial investors. By holding back the natural energies of the economic recovery, this monetary policy kept labor markets slack and the unemployment rate higher as a result, at around 6 percent. That made it very difficult for industrial workers, union and nonunion, to demand higher wages. If the economy had been allowed to grow faster, more jobs would have been created, unemployment would have fallen, and workers would have gained bargaining power.

But the conservative Federal Reserve regarded rising wages as an inflationary threat and worked deliberately to prevent it. Throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s, the Fed protected its victory over inflation by keeping its foot on the brake and tapping it occasionally to make sure the economy did not get too healthy. That is, the federal government-represented by the central bank-ensured that the broad ranks of working people would not share in the “good times.”

Paul Volcker used to carry in his pocket a card setting out the latest wage settlements in contracts negotiated by unions. When politicians urged him to let up and lower interest rates, the Fed chairman would cite recent wage agreements as evidence that he must hold tight. Monetary economists devised a theory to justify the antiwage policy. They claimed inflation would return if the Fed let the economy progress to below a so-called natural rate of unemployment. The theory was bogus; it was subsequently disproved by real-world experience when unemployment fell to 4 percent in the late 1990s, yet no inflation appeared.

The Federal Reserve, in other words, has played a central role in suppressing wages during the last three decades, a policy that was powerfully reinforced by globalization and the migration of US jobs to low-wage economies. Was this in the public interest? The question was not discussed in polite circles. The presumption among the governing elites, including the most influential newspapers, is that everyone shares a common interest in subduing inflation and therefore wage suppression is required. Wall Street celebrated the central bank’s success in restraining economic growth by dubbing it the “Goldilocks economy”-not too hot, not too cold, but just right. It may have seemed just right to financial investors. For working people, it was way too cold.

Simple Economic Truths

There is no capital without labor.
There is no land value without community.

Capital in the form of money is invested in capital in the form of raw materials and tools and labor-power, which is transformed — by the squeezing of actual labor out of the labor-power of the workers — into capital in the form of the commodities thereby produced, whose increased value is realized through the sale of the commodities for more money than was originally invested, which is the increased capital out of which the capitalist extracts his profits, only to be driven to invest more capital for the purpose of achieving ever greater capital accumulation.”
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