WHY THE ECONOMY IS SO FUCKED UP. (Or: Marx made piss-easy.)
Right. Our distant ancestors had to make axes out of flints. In Star Trek, people make stuff by pressing a button and a machine makes it materialise. Science fiction, yes, but it illustrates the general point of how technology makes production involve less and less actual work. Pretty easily understood, right? There’s a scale from the flintknapper to the ultratech ‘make anything’ button. And through universities, bedroom inventors and corporate R&D departments, we’re moving along that scale.
Why are there no jobs any more?
The answer’s really pretty fucking obvious. You don’t need a degree in economics to work it out.
A couple of generations ago, there was a lot of work to be done in factories making cars, tellys, canned food, etc. Now there’s robots doing a shitload of the work and less work to be done. And loads of people with no jobs, and nowhere near enough vacancies to go round.
You’ve worked it out already, haven’t you?
Here’s the situation, folks. We need to consume food, fresh water, heating, clothes, etc. And we want to consume iPods, makeup, games, posters, etc. So the end result of economics is all them goods being taken home to be consumed. Before then, they have to be produced. Where? Factories and suchlike.
What’s the purpose of a factory? To produce that stuff. Right?
We live under capitalism. The purpose of a factory is to produce a profit for the people that own it; AKA, capitalists. It’s not a swear word, or an insult; a capitalist is a person who, when they go and consume their food and games and cars, they pay for it with money they accumulated by owning capital.
And that capital doesn’t run itself. People press buttons, fill hoppers, fix knackered buttons, check stock levels, call suppliers and distributors… work. The working class. Some of them might have degrees and get paid quite a lot for working. It’s still working. Working class is not a demeaning term, it doesn’t mean you go dog racing and drink stout. It means you work.
And there’s people who work in a business they own themselves. That’s the middle class. They’re not unimportant, but they only tend to thrive in areas where there’s lots of working class people with wages to spend. (Or factories needing a widget that some middle class business provides.)
And there’s gamblers, as well. People who make a living on betting. Don’t think lottery winners and people who chase the horses - that’s a tiny minority. I’m on about people who buy a shitload of Euros in the hope they can then sell them because someone buying a shitload of Euros has made Euros a bit more expensive. Speculators.
Finally, there’s benefit claimants. Couple of generations ago, capitalism had a problem with food riots and public health and literacy. When there wasn’t much work to go around, we had loads of people with no way of buying the things they needed. After experimenting with forms of insurance, capitalism realised that it was cheaper and things were more stable if the government taxed people to fund education, healthcare and a safety net for the poor and infirm; the welfare state.
So, then. Why are so many working class people finding themselves ruined? Why are disabled people being told to look for full-time work and instead committing suicide? Why are we being told there’s no money, yet Rolls Royce are getting record sales and the big corporate bosses are giving themselves 50% pay rises during a fucking recession?
Well, we’ve been moving further and further forward in technology. You don’t need to read Das Kapital to realise that if the factories are owned by capitalists, and technology reduces the need for labour, then the result will be more money for the capitalists and less money for the working class - even when the total amount of trade going on actually falls.
“Aha, but the capitalists will invest in more factories, hiring more workers! Blah blah equilibrium blah blah supply curve blah blah -“
We can only consume so much stuff, right? That can be proven by thinking about it for a bloody minute. So even if we all have infinite money, there’s only so much stuff a business can sell to us before our houses are full. And if we don’t have any bloody money, who’s going to buy any of the stuff produced by the new factories - shitting stuff out at a faster and faster rate and employing fewer staff as technology gets better and better?
We’ve heard all this stuff about mortgage markets, and the price of oil, and public debt. And yeah, the big bad wolf is huffing and puffing all these things at the house.
But if you build a house made of straw, what do you fucking expect to happen the second a strong gust comes along?
The only real debate you’ll hear in the mainstream is on the merits of free market capitalism versus welfare capitalism. They rarely use those terms, because that might raise the question of what other options exist.
Free market capitalism means a return to food riots. Its supporters think that disabled and elderly people committing suicide is a price worth paying to satisfy the legal loan sharks known as the financial institutions. Welfare capitalism means generations of economically unproductive people wherever unemployment is the norm. Neither work, because they’re based on these dumb 18th century conventions of the places that create stuff being owned by a tiny minority of capitalists, and the purpose of technological progress being to reduce the number of workers needed to produce stuff.
That’s all they are, by the way. Conventions. If someone tells you that private property is sacrosanct and challenging the right of a capitalist to own a huge amount of the economy is barbarism, tell them to fuck right off. Said capitalist will have received shitloads of subsidies for their business already; we’ve had our property taken off of us and given to you, mister businessman - you’ve agreed to allow reallocation of wealth, and it cuts both ways. You’re welcome to work for us as a manager if you’re so good at organising shit, but you’re not our corporate overlord. If 50%+1 of the population withdraw assent to you sitting on your hoard of capital and decide it should be owned by the community instead, you’re the fucking thief.
Oh, and don’t forget the racists. The fuckers who tell you that you can’t get a job because of the foreigners. I’m not about to go into a PC lecture. I’m just going to explain the economics of why racism won’t help. Getting rid of workers less foreign than you (you have foreign blood, we all do) won’t mean capitalists give you a bigger slice of the pie, because the pie is the economy as a whole. Unemployment is a percentage, not a plus-minus sum. Reducing the number of people does not mean fewer diners with bigger slices. It means fewer diners and a smaller pie. And we don’t even get slices, let’s be honest; we get crumbs. It’s the capitalists who own the pie and pay us crumbs to cut it for them who get the slices, right? By fighting other workers for crumbs, all we do is let the capitalists smugly tuck in, safe in the knowledge that their system is safe.
An alternative is needed. A planned economy, in which communities sit down and work out how much stuff needs to be produced and how to divvy up the work that need to be done to produce and distribute it; decent slices of the pie for everyone and nobody having to settle for crumbs. And if managers and decision makers are needed, make sure they’re elected by and accountable to the people, not an unelected clique of shareholders and speculators. And in the here and now, better conditions have to be fought for and won, otherwise the capitalists and speculators and their pet governments will just keep on making up pay for every one of their fuck-ups.
That’s why I’m part of the Socialist Party. It’ll take a broad section of society to fight for this, which is why the Socialist Party is part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. And it’s not something that can be worked towards in just one country, which is why the Socialist Party is part of the Committee for a Workers’ International. And if the establishment decides that socialists aren’t allowed to win elections, as they did when the Tories supported the coup of General Pinochet when Chile elected a socialist government, we won’t just give up and go home; that’s why whilst we stand in elections, we describe ourselves as revolutionaries.
Now. If you’re working class (even if you’re having to get by on benefits right now), you can easily tell who your class enemy is. They’re the ones who tell you to think that three million people are unemployed because they’re lazy scroungers choosing to live on benefits, despite there being bugger all vacancies for them to fill. They’re the ones who say that if everyone who’s unemployed started their own business and become middle class, demand for the stuff they’re making will magically appear - despite nobody having any fucking money to spend on it. They’re the ones who say that capitalists and speculators who don’t work create all the wealth, and that teachers and nurses and firefighters and all other public sector workers providing needed services are unproductive parasites. They’re the ones who say that private sector workers who aren’t in unions and are given crap pensions from their bosses who drive BMW’s have crap pensions because public sector workers who are in unions steal from them. They’re the ones who use ‘class warfare’ as an insult whilst cutting taxes for the rich and making the working class pay for it by cutting services and pensions we rely on. They’re the ones who tell you to think that if the pool of workers the capitalists watch fight over jobs contained fewer darkies and foreigners, the jobs to vacancy ratio would be better. They’re the ones who, when you say ‘but I read on this blog that modern tech means there’s not enough work to go around because capitalism doesn’t work’, start babbling about stuff they read in A-level Business Studies and Milton fucking Friedman. They’re the ones who tell you to think that absolutely any attempt to break away from the failed capitalist model will definitely result in a clone of the Soviet Union under Stalin. They are the stupid, the ill-informed, the liars, the racists and the cruel. And if they’re working class themselves, they’re at best misled into self-hating, and at worst they’re a traitor.
And if you don’t defend yourself, both in the workplace in a union and politically by getting involved in campaigning, don’t think for a second that your stupid, ignorant, lying, racist, cruel enemies will call a truce.