Sunday, November 18, 2012

Calling All Personal Assistants!


“The Servant Economy – Where America’s Elite is Sending the Middle Class,” by Jeff Faux, 2012

After the crash of the capitalist economy in 2007-2008, a flood of books has emerged from the left, tracking the bi-partisan coddling of Wall Street since Carter.  This is another.  One of the main tendencies, as you would expect, are new-born Keynesians and Rooseveltians, who see the limitation of the blue-dog in Obama, Clinton and Cater, yet dig no deeper into the capitalist economy than that.  Regulation and government stimulus spending are the be-all and end-all of their political economy. The other main tendency is Marxist, many of the books of which I have reviewed below. (see “Global Slump,” “The Great Financial Crisis,” “Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism,” “Occupy the Economy,”   
“Structural Crisis of Capital,” “Zombie Capitalism” and “The Endless Crisis.”)

Faux is one of the Rooseveltians, and if this is your point of view you will especially like this book.  Like many, he gives us yet another historical and detailed run-down of the decay of the U.S. capitalist economy, especially since the mid-70s.  The framework remains the increase in class stratification, the off-shoring of industrial work, the growth in the military sector as an economic bulwark for capital, the weightier role of finance, the ideological dialectic that led both main U.S political parties to embrace different forms of neo-liberalism, and the consequences of this market vision spreading across the world.  All these topics are now almost basic commonsense. 

Given his pro-capitalist bonifides, his pessimism is extreme - which is significant.  He essentially spends the whole book attacking neo-liberalism, and only has one suggestion that he believes will stop the juggernaut – a Constitutional amendment that establishes that Corporations are not ‘persons’ and do not have the same political or economic rights.  Well, if you think this is weak tea for his baleful picture of the increasing levels of austerity that all workers will be facing, you’d be right. 

Faux’s rundown of the Wall Street bankers working in the Obama administration is hilarious, especially given the populist rhetoric we just heard that won re-election. Faux has one chapter engaging in a polemic against various American neo-liberals, from the dreadful Fareed Zakaria on down, which might be of interest if you actually take the suggestions of neo-liberalism seriously.  He has chapters on the coming complete privatization of education and the deceptive ‘education is the solution’ baloney; the insulting way the U.S. auto industry was rescued and the coming ‘grand bargain’ for austerity between the two Parties.  Faux quotes Rupert Murdoch as predicting that education privatization is a $500 Billon dollar market.  The auto bailout structured by leveraged-buyout artist Steve Rattner cost 21,000 workers their jobs, closed 14 factories and 3 warehouses and slated 1,454 dealerships be shut.  Under Rattner, more production went to China, South Korea and Mexico.  As Rahm Emanuel said when the UAW protested:  “Fuck the UAW.” 

Of interest, Faux shows that Jimmy Carter laid the groundwork for neo-liberalism in the Democratic Party.  A southerner from Georgia and a peanut capitalist, Carter explicitly rejected a national industrial policy even when major corporations supported it.  He refused to use wage/price controls, a la Nixon, to deal with inflation – which was the real reason he lost to Reagan in 1980, not the Iran hostage drama.  According to Faux, the majority of Americans supported price controls.  In a many domestic ways, Carter was to the right of Nixon – a hard thing to say, after all the abuse heaped on that twisted man.  Carter’s breaking of the national miners strike in 1978 should be fresh even in the mind of Rich Trumka.  Carter hired Paul Volcker for the Federal Reserve, who plunged the economy into stagflation by instituting very high interest rates.  Carter started deregulation of certain industries, including airlines, trucking, banking and telecommunications.  Carter actually was the first one to say, ‘Government cannot solve our problems’ in his 1978 State of the Union speech. 

Faux is strong on the issue of the cheapening effect of the ‘digital revolution’ and its role for labor.  Not only is the quality of books, music and art degraded by digitalization, but so is labor, at least under capitalism.   As many studies have pointed out, almost 47 million U.S. jobs are based on digital technology – and given the flexible and movable nature of this technology, these jobs could be theoretically outsourced.  The only ‘safe’ jobs are ones that cannot be digitized – waitresses, for instance, or personal servants.  High-tech technology, unemployment and anti-unionism have gone hand in hand, which is why a certain level of “Luddism” makes sense.  Yet as efforts in certain sectors, like law have shown, training Bangalore Indians to create legal paper based on limited English, a foreign law understanding and other shortfalls might be an exercise in futility. 

But, like housing construction, even ‘safe’ jobs can also be undermined without union protection.  Witness the housing industry. What roofing company in the U.S. uses union labor instead of lowly-paid and slave-driven Mexican workers? 

Faux’s kicker – which gives the book its title – is that service jobs needed by the rich, especially jobs that in England would have been called ‘servants’ – nannies, au-pairs, cooks, maids, gardeners, dog walkers, diet coaches, drivers, personal shoppers, personal assistants, physical trainers, yoga teachers, masseuses, vacation planners, computer assistants, interior decorators - and labor contractors to coordinate all of the above – are predicted to be part of the cheery future of U.S jobs.   Even high-end prostitutes and efficient drug dealers can fit into this scenario!

Here are the ten jobs that the overall economy is predicted to need the most:    Registered nurses, college professors, nurse’s aides, customer-service representatives, restaurant workers, retail salespeople, office clerks, janitors, home health care aides and personal aides.  Except for the first two, most only require a high school degree – and nurses aides only a one-year certificate above that.   Of the first two, 75% of college professors are now working on year-to-year contracts, and are no longer on a tenure track. 

However, Faux is a ‘fellow’ of the Economic Policy Institute of Washington, D.C. and he used to be an economist for the U.S. Departments of State, Commerce and Labor.  That background should tip you off that, while he wrote a book titled the ‘global class war’ he is not a working-class warrior.  

For Keynesians like Faux, ‘government’ in the abstract is the solution, and in a sense, they are quite right.  However, government itself has a class character, as Marx pointed out long ago.  The ‘government’ is not a neutral body standing above the global class war.  As Marx put it in the Communist Manifesto: “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”

This rather simple idea stumps the modern Keynesians, as much as we all know in our guts that it reflects reality.  The ‘state’ actually has a class character, and the ‘government’ is allied to one class or another.  What any government does is a product of the class struggle.  Liberal ‘think’ tanks are not the same as actual, or figurative, working-class tanks. If the Keynesians understood this, then they’d see that a government of the working-class is the real, permanent solution to the austerity crisis.  Even during the 30s, the capitalist class still controlled the U.S. government, and was only forced to concede some benefits to the poor, workers and farmers because of the threat of revolution.  Tame house cats like Faux mention the word only once, and in the sense of ‘remote.’  Yet they want the government to change.  It is here that the failure of uber-liberalism is revealed.

Another favorite hobby-horse of the Keynesians is based on Henry Ford’s quote – “There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible.”  However, that theory no longer holds.  The owner of a software center in Kiev in the Ukraine does not need to worry about paying higher wages to his staff, if he expects to sell his software in England.  Nor does the auto capitalist in the U.S. need to worry about the wages paid to a car-part worker in India when he outsources Indian parts for American-sold cars.  In other words, as even Faux has started to notice, international manufacturing and international markets – and international imbalances of class - makes this bit of Keynesianism obsolete.  It is the other ‘9%’ of the world population that can buy these goods now, not just local workers.  You cannot appeal to the capitalists with this kind of logic anymore, because they know better.  And appealing to the capitalists is all this is.

People like Faux sees the problems but has no solution, like many of the books coming out now.  He does not believe that a viable ‘3rd Party’ can ever succeed in the long run because of U.S. laws, media hatred, and the successful but narrow cultural values each party has based its voting-getting prowess on.  So he ends up being, right now, another reluctant Democrat – which is to say, part of the problem, not part of the solution.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
November 18, 2012

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