Monday, April 25, 2011

Non-stop Inertia... working under neoliberalism

My disciplinary home has a much greater leftist presence than Daniel's, which can make conversations interesting.  I've been thankful for my relationship with Daniel, which has pretty well inoculated me against some of the rather sophomoric economic critiques offered by humanists.  At the same time, from my inexpert political and economic position I wouldn't shy away from saying that leftist discourses of various sorts have very much rubbed off on me, and I don't feel any special allegiance to mainstream economic solutions from the libertarian to the progressive.  I'm not the poster boy for radicalism by a long stretch, but I'm just as open to these voices as I am to any others.

All that's just preface to this, since the work below comes from a somewhat different perspective than the readership of this blog.  It's a review for Non-Stop Inertia, a recent book about joblessness and temp work in neo-liberalism.  A few folks have been posting it in my orbit of the blogosphere and I thought some of you may find it interesting.

"Temporary to Permanent", The New Inquiry



  1. I skimmed it, and don't agree with all of it, but:

    1. The first two sentences are extremely well said. Even for market-oriented people like me, I think this point that the unemployment of resources is the fundamental problem of capitalism is central.

    2. I like the point about "precarity" too. The other day I talked about how the concept of "unemployment" as we normally think of it isn't "labor surplus" as it's taught in microeconomic at all, and that it's a little weird that those two ideas ever got associated with each other. We can have a clearing labor market and still have a meaningful social and economic problem that's in need of being explained. You can be on the labor supply curve, to the north-east of a market equilibrium and still be in a deep state of "precarity".

  2. Since we are recommending books:

    Heather Shouse, "Food Trucks: Dispatches and Recipes from the Best Kitchens on Wheels."

    Right now, in many cities, brick and mortar restaurants are doing their best to stick it to food trucks via the state.


    "Even for market-oriented people like me, I think this point that the unemployment of resources is the fundamental problem of capitalism is central."

    Really? Because I would say that the employment of resources is one the primary reasons to go the way of markets as opposed to non-market ways of doing things (that and, well, you don't get death camps with the former either). I mean, since you buy into the Keynesian trope I understand how the whole lack of aggregate demand idea works in your way of thinking, however, at the same time, all "markets" do (meaning here people interacting) is relentlessly figure out new ways to use old stuff and new stuff to use.

  3. Oh God - please don't start this "because he has a concern about markets he thinks that markets do a bad job" thing again. I called myself market-oriented for a reason, Gary.

  4. "My disciplinary home..."

    Wow. For a second I thought you and Daniel had home S&M bases.

  5. "all 'markets' do (meaning here people interacting) is relentlessly figure out new ways to use old stuff and new stuff to use."

    That's right. And one of the things they've figured out very, very well is that if people are kept in a constant state of extreme anxiety about losing their job and perhaps their entire community to boot, they may be miserable, but they really work their asses off.

  6. Gene,

    It is either truck, barter and trade or war. You pick. And no, this isn't a false choice fallacy.

  7. "It is either truck, barter and trade or war."

    Sure, Gary. We can either deal with other people as commodities to be bought and sold on an impersonal market, or we can kill them. That's it.

    The Gunnels family must be a grim place.

  8. I am impressed by how Mr. Callahan has graduated from being a mere capitalism skeptic to a complete conspiracy theorist.

    Unemployment is a deliberately manufactured scheme to scare people into working harder.

    Internet polemics is a fun hobby for many people, and the bricks of such polemics have been used to build a towering pyramid of speculation - with various vloggers and bloggers talking about how the recession was deliberately created to enforce austerity, how America is going to enter hyperinflation and become Zimbabwe, how the Gulf Oil Spill was deliberately manufactured by Goldman Sachs, and whatnot.

  9. Prateek Sanjay,

    I wasn't even going to get into the conspiracy theory deal.

  10. Daniel,

    I just don't understand your statement. Thus I want you to clarify.

  11. Anyway, just taking a few steps back from my previous post, isn't it obvious that if you hire someone, it was because he was worth more inside your doors than outside it?

    Although negative incentives do matter, I find strange the thought that an employer hires people just to fire them. And what - lose the revenue that person brings them?

    Yet we also have other people who say that excessive bean-counting is the true wrong of business today; that there are too many worries about getting just the last penny right. Well, which one is it - the careless employer or the bean-counting one?

    That's why I found Mr. Callahan's post rather...well...conspiratorial. That all employers have figured out that they should keep their employees terrified and worried about losing their job all the time. Really?

  12. Gary -
    I'm not sure what you need clarifying exactly, but the central problem with market economies is unemployment and regular, unavoidable downturns. The market economy is good for a lot of things, but if we had to focus on a single problem with it, that would be the problem.

  13. (1) Much of the cyclicality of "market economies" is the result of government intervention of one sort or another - generally to favor one industry, inside group, etc.

    (2) Unemployment is a feature not a bug. Take, for example, Therm-a-rest - a company which was founded by a group of laid off engineers in Seattle (they were laid off during 1970s recession). Therm-a-rest continues to make fine products; however, they are best known for creating a self-inflating sleeping pad for mountaineering. You know, creative destruction, etc.


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