Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Back to the Future Part I

The Long Slow Slide

“As short a time ago as February, the Ministry of Plenty had issued a promise (a ‘categorical pledge’ were the official words) that there would be no reduction of the chocolate ration during 1984. Actually, as Winston was aware, the chocolate ration was to be reduced from thirty grammes to twenty at the end of the present week. All that was needed was to substitute for the original promise a warning that it would probably be necessary to reduce the ration at some time in April.”
-1984
George Orwell


Do you ever wake up in the morning with a certain dread, a sense of impending disaster? Not the cataclysmic variety disasters such as a hurricane or tsunami, or something manmade like a nuclear plant meltdown, but rather the slow slide into a bleakness stamped with inevitability. In short, a realization that the future is not what it used to be.

Some of this is I blame on the malaise of middle age; that time in a man’s life when the horizons begin to constrict and the realization that the years behind you are greater than the ones that lie ahead. But, with advancing years comes a perspective of having decades, rather than years, to measure. And from this perspective comes a disheartening conclusion that “things” are not going well in our brave new world.

Like Orwell’s protagonist, Winston Smith, it is becoming increasingly apparent that there is a wider and wider gap between the message of the bleating duckspeakers on the evening news and the reality that is most of our situations. The chocolate ration has been cut; yet, we are told there will be plenty of chocolate to go around.

Two pieces of news recently that bring this point to mind: the recent announcement from the government about jobs creation and General Motors decision to eliminate 25, 000 mostly blue-collar jobs over the next three years.

Paul Craig Roberts of Counterpunch sums up the first story thusly,

“In May the Bush economy eked out a paltry 73,000 private sector jobs: 20,000 jobs in construction (primarily for Mexican immigrants), 21,000 jobs in wholesale and retail trade, and 32,500 jobs in health care and social assistance. Local government added 5,000 for a grand total of 78,000.

Not a single one of these jobs produces an exportable good or service. With Americans increasingly divorced from the production of the goods and services that they consume, Americans have no way to pay for their consumption except by handing over to foreigners more of their accumulated stock of wealth. The country continues to eat its seed corn.”

This was followed by a headline in the New York Times detailing GM’s biggest wave of job cuts since 1992. GM’s chairman and chief executive engaged in a bit of doublethink as he announced the planned cuts:

“Addressing such costs ‘will be challenging and discomforting, but it is clear that not addressing them will cause significant risk to the long-term viability of our business.’”

“Challenging and discomforting”, what a lovely euphemism for tossing twenty-five thousands souls into the ranks of the unemployed; the harsh reality is that these twenty-thousands will in all likelihood never regain the standard of living they once enjoyed. Yes, I would call that “challenging and discomforting”.

What is noticeably absent in the report is the ripple effect these cuts will incur. Hundreds of vendors and local businesses are dependent on the high wage levels of these manufacturing jobs. Anyone living through the huge dislocations in the manufacturing sector during the Reagan years, particularly those of us in the Midwest, will remember the double digit unemployment figures and the shuttering of many small and medium size cities, most of whom have never recovered to this day.

The alternative: part-time employment as a Wal-Mart Greeter for slightly more than minimum wage?


The future is not what it used to be... Posted by Hello

20 Comments:

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"Not a single one of these jobs produces an exportable good or service."

Roberts should have added, "And not one of these jobs pays a living wage."

The chickens are waiting.

 
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