Lefty Resource Library

Posting articles as I go

Month: January, 2014

Tech v. neoliberalism as the cause of rising inequality; where is the social power?

Argues that the focus on neoliberalism as the primary cause of rising inequality may be misguided. That we should put more focus on the role of tech developments:

‘Compare two photography companies. Kodak was founded in 1880, and at its peak employed nearly 145,300 people, with many more indirectly employed via suppliers and retailers. Kodak’s founding family, the Eastmans, became wealthy, while providing skilled jobs for several generations of middle-class Americans. Instagram was founded in 2010 by a team of fifteen people. In 2012 it was sold to Facebook for over one billion dollars. Facebook, worth far more than Kodak ever was, employs fewer than 5,000 people. At least ten of them have a net worth ten times that of George Eastman.

‘People without the ability or good fortune to make it to university or acquire valuable skills will find it increasingly hard to make a good living. Many lower-wage jobs will disappear: production line or supermarket checkout jobs are already disappearing, but as computers become get cleverer, even accountants and lawyers will start to feel the heat. Those who keep their jobs are increasingly likely to see their income stagnate, as a greater share of wealth is captured by highly skilled, the highly creative and the highly lucky.

‘“We pretend we’re run by people. We’re not run by anybody. The secret of modern Britain is there is no power anywhere. The politicians think journalists have power. The journalists know they don’t have any. Then they think the bankers have power. The bankers know they don’t have any. None of them have any power.”

‘Being a leader isn’t what it was. Power has become more dispersed, even as wealth has become more concentrated. It’s enough to make you have sympathy for Nick Clegg, or with Barack Obama when he defends himself against the left’s charge of political timidity. The impotence of our rulers isn’t, as sometimes appears to be the case, because they are uniquely inept or feeble. It’s because so much of their power is illusory. History is being made, to borrow from Marx, “behind their backs”. The age of titans has passed.’


White feminism

‘Every single time women of colour talk about “white feminism” or “white feminists” within the context of discussions about the way that the mainstream feminist movement privileges whiteness, we deal with an onslaught of defensive white women insisting that they personally are not like that, and would you please say “some white women” and not make generalizations?

‘What those women fail to realize is that by making that request, they are exemplifying Mikki Kendall’s #solidarityisforwhitewomen battle cry; by once again insisting that a conversation created to facilitate discussion about the issues of WoC, be centered around the feelings of white women.

‘”White feminism” is the feminism that doesn’t understand western privilege, or cultural context. It is the feminism that doesn’t consider race as a factor in the struggle for equality.

‘White feminism is a set of beliefs that allows for the exclusion of issues that specifically affect women of colour. It is “one size-fits all” feminism, where middle class white women are the mould that others must fit. It is a method of practicing feminism, not an indictment of every individual white feminist, everywhere, always.

‘When I talk about “white feminism,” I’m talking about the feminism thatmisappropriates womanist thinkers like Audre Lorde to declare that keeping white women’s racism in check is “bashing.” I’m talking about the feminism that cheekily denounces “twitter feminism” as useless, without considering that twitter is the main medium through which less economically privileged women (usually women of colour) can put their feminism into practice and gain access to and engage with like-minded women. I’m talking about the feminism that publishes an articleadvocating for forced sterilization, completely disregarding the way in which forced sterilization was used as a tool of genocide against black and native women. I’m talking about the feminism that thought holding a writer’s retreat at a former slave plantation was a swell idea. I’m talking about the feminism that throws women of colour under the bus in thequest for body diversity and acceptance. I’m talking about the feminism that thinks barging into a Maasai community and “breaking barriers” is feminist, disregarding the work that actual Maasai women are doing to help achieve equality on their own terms, and obliviously parading its class privilege along the way. I’m talking about the feminism that insists that “Muslim women need saving” and refuses to acknowledge that cultural differences mean different, culturally specific approaches to feminism and equality. I’m talking about the feminism that thinks not “leaning in” is the only thing standing between women and economic success. I’m talking about the feminism that defends The Onion when it calls a little black girl a “cunt”. I’m talking about the feminism that celebrates Tina Fey, Lily Allen and Lena Dunham, but tears down Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé and Rihanna. I’m talking about the feminism that pats itself on the back, but doesn’t apologize after supporting a known abuser of WoC feminists who confesses to his transgressions. I’m talking about the feminism that did all these things in the space of one year.

‘I’m talking about the feminism that disregards the fact that whiteness is a privilege that is not afforded to all women.’


Classic ‘are you a feminist’ diagram

Shows how calling yourself a feminist isn’t actually necessarily the same as calling yourself someone who believes in equality (e.g. those who believe in focussing more on men’s issues aren’t feminists, even if they can be allies)


‘Do what you love’

‘By keeping us focused on ourselves and our individual happiness, DWYL distracts us from the working conditions of others while validating our own choices and relieving us from obligations to all who labor, whether or not they love it. It is the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.’ [emphasis mine]

‘by portraying Apple as a labor of his individual love, Jobs elided the labor of untold thousands in Apple’s factories, conveniently hidden from sight on the other side of the planet — the very labor that allowed Jobs to actualize his love.

‘the twenty-first-century Jobsian view demands that we all turn inward. It absolves us of any obligation to or acknowledgment of the wider world, underscoring its fundamental betrayal of all workers, whether they consciously embrace it or not.

‘One consequence of this isolation is the division that DWYL creates among workers, largely along class lines. Work becomes divided into two opposing classes: that which is lovable (creative, intellectual, socially prestigious) and that which is not (repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished). Those in the lovable work camp are vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society’s racial biases, and political clout, while comprising a small minority of the workforce.

‘For those forced into unlovable work, it’s a different story. Under the DWYL credo, labor that is done out of motives or needs other than love (which is, in fact, most labor) is not only demeaned but erased. As in Jobs’ Stanford speech, unlovable but socially necessary work is banished from the spectrum of consciousness altogether.

‘Ironically, DWYL reinforces exploitation even within the so-called lovable professions where off-the-clock, underpaid, or unpaid labor is the new norm

‘And it’s no coincidence that the industries that rely heavily on interns — fashion, media, and the arts — just happen to be the feminized ones, as Madeleine Schwartz wrote in Dissent. Yet another damaging consequence of DWYL is how ruthlessly it works to extract female labor for little or no compensation. Women comprise the majority of the low-wage or unpaid workforce; as care workers, adjunct faculty, and unpaid interns, they outnumber men.

‘The DWYL dream is, true to its American mythology, superficially democratic. PhDs can do what they love, making careers that indulge their love of the Victorian novel and writing thoughtful essays in the New York Review of Books. High school grads can also do it, building prepared food empires out of their Aunt Pearl’s jam recipe. The hallowed path of the entrepreneur always offers this way out of disadvantaged beginnings, excusing the rest of us for allowing those beginnings to be as miserable as they are. In America, everyone has the opportunity to do what he or she loves and get rich.

‘Historian Mario Liverani reminds us that “ideology has the function of presenting exploitation in a favorable light to the exploited, as advantageous to the disadvantaged.”

‘In masking the very exploitative mechanisms of labor that it fuels, DWYL is, in fact, the most perfect ideological tool of capitalism. It shunts aside the labor of others and disguises our own labor to ourselves. It hides the fact that if we acknowledged all of our work as work, we could set appropriate limits for it, demanding fair compensation and humane schedules that allow for family and leisure time.’


The impossible dream of home ownership

‘I go out about three times a week at a cost of $150. I spend about $3,000 on holidays every second year. So adding up my frivolities and “luxuries”, I could save $58,400 in five years if I gave it all up. Keeping in mind I still have to eat – replacing my take outs with cheaper home cooked meals would maybe take a few thousand of dollars off that figure. So that is five years of not going out, no holidays, not even a freaking café-bought sandwich for lunch. And I still don’t have enough for a house deposit for a median priced house in Sydney

‘Why do I even want to own a home, you ask? Well, as much as I enjoy rental house inspections and being kicked out of where I live with a few weeks notice when the owners decide to sell or renovate, there is also the issue of where I’m going to live when I retire. I’m probably going to have about 15 years of retirement and therefore a much reduced income to now, when I already barely struggle to pay my ever-climbing rent

‘Buy somewhere you can afford then, I hear the home owners’ brigade squak. Well, I could probably afford a house in Brisbane. I could definitely afford a house in the country. I could maybe afford a house in the outer suburbs of Sydney.

‘Of the above options, the outer suburbs of Sydney is the place I could afford a home which is most compatible with my work (again, assuming I want to give up everything that makes my life fun for five years to move a two hour commute from work, and add hefty commuting costs to my budget). But by the time that money is saved, it might not even be enough. According to the latest census data, the prices of homes in the more median priced areas is rising faster than in the high priced suburbs. According to Greg Jericho’s analysis, from 2006 to 2011, the median household income grew by 17%, but across Australian median mortgage payments in that period increased 38.5%. Similarly, the average first-home buyer mortgage grew by 26%.
Of course, we can pretend for a minute I have never heard of the global financial crisis, and that i am therefore comfortable with taking on a mortgage from a bank that is more than 90% of the value of the home I’m purchasing. Then there is the stamp duty states insist on slugging us with for moving from one house to another; the pest tests and surveying; the body corp fees if it is a unit. And the rates (although I would get decent tax breaks). On top of all the associated fees, a mortgage that size would slowly crush a 25-year-old on an average income.

‘It would crush a 35-year-old on an average income. A 45-year-old. Because housing affordability is not a Generation Y issue, it’s not even a Generation X issue. It’s an issue for every single one of us not born rich.

‘Our common housing enemy is not the baby boomers, who scrimped and saved a deposit of perhaps $15,000 to buy a house. It is the people with ridiculous amounts of cash who see a sellers’ market and buy up investment properties. They’re the ones driving up the prices. The enemy is the state government which continues to give multiple property owners even more money through ridiculous laws such as negative gearing. And it is the federal government, which refuses to tax the capital gains made on the family home.

‘If renters want to point their finger at the culprit, they should look towards the policies of successive state and federal governments which have rewarded the rich at the expense of the average worker.’


Corporations taking much more from the economy (and individuals) than they give

This article is US-specific. Case studies of tax cuts and companies just using them to amass wealth for themselves while giving less and less back to the economy e.g. by moving jobs overseas.


The self under neoliberalism

It can be argued that ‘the neoliberal project is less about the rich imposing an agenda from the top down and more a matter of forming subjects from the bottom up.’

‘the neo in neoliberalism is “the remaking and redeployment of the state as the core agency that actively fabricates the subjectivities, social relations and collective representations suited to making the fiction of markets real and consequential…In neoliberal society markets don’t serve the pre-existing needs of subjects; subjects are fabricated to serve the market. The subject’s purpose in life becomes synonymous with the facilitation of economic growth. Entrepreneurship becomes the ethical model of how to live. For Mirowski, neoliberalism constructs a subject who “has to somehow manage to be simultaneously subject, object, and spectator … the neoliberal self dissolves the distinction between producer and consumer.” The self thus becomes more a malleable set of economic relationships than a coherent and continuous whole. This coincides with policymakers’ calls for increased “flexibility” on the part of individual workers when it comes to labor’s vulnerabilities to the business cycle.

‘The individual is too fragmented to sustain broader forms of belonging, If this is too theory heavy, consider Jennifer Silva’s recent Coming Up Short (2013), which interviews numerous working-class young people in the wake of the economic crisis. Silva finds that they define adulthood in the rejection of social groups and institutions and an embrace of an individualized, therapeutic, self, matching the theory remarkably welllet alone class solidarity, and this alienation from collective identity is matched by an ontological, even religious understanding of “risk” perceived as a given, one that isn’t to be mitigated but instead mastered…[an] entrepreneurial view of risk as spiritual calling…

‘the neoliberal self ends up resembling the corporate firm as defined by Ronald Coase: an entity articulated by a loose set of contracts, with the primary purpose of minimizing its “transaction costs.” Like the Coasean firm, the neoliberal subject makes a fetish of efficiency and aspires to be able to reorient itself at a moment’s notice, to expedite the flow of goods, though it has no ontological cohesion outside an imperative to engage in the swirling needs of the marketplace. This is the self under neoliberalism, an executive function carved out by the entrepreneurial embrace of economic risk.’


‘At the same time as neoliberal commonsense trickles down from above, Mirowski argues that it also wells up from below, reinforced by our daily patterns of life. Social networking sites like Facebook encourage people to view themselves as perpetual cultural entrepreneurs, striving to offer a newer and better version of themselves to the world. Sites like LinkedIn prod their users to present themselves as a fungible basket of skills, adjustable to the needs of any employer, without any essential characteristics beyond a requisite subservience. Classical liberalism always assumes the coherent individual self as its basic unit. Neoliberalism, by contrast, sees people as little more than variable bundles of human capital, with no permanent interests or even attributes that cannot be remade through the market. For Mirowski, the proliferation of these forms of everyday neoliberalism constitute a “major reason the neoliberals have emerged from the crisis triumphant.”