FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why is the Party of Jefferson So Hamiltonian?

by KEVIN CARSON

Robert Reich (“Syria and the Reality at Home in America,” Nation of Change, September 7), noting that the share of the population either working or seeking work was at a thirty-year low, writes “A decent society would put people to work — even if this required more government spending on roads, bridges, ports, pipelines, parks and schools.” The column is illustrated with the picture of a guy holding a sign that reads “Need Work.”

Reich advocates a Rube Goldberg apparatus, with the state first doing something criminal on behalf of the exploiting classes, then doing something stupid and inefficient to remedy — in a suboptimal manner — the worst side-effects of its previous actions.

Why would a decent society put people to fake make-work on industrial-age dinosaur infrastructure, when a decent standard of living simply requires less labor now? No, we don’t “Need Work” — or at any rate work beyond that actually required to produce what we consume. What we need is to eliminate the barriers — mostly imposed by the state — between our skills and effort and what we consume.

If we eliminated waste production (like the military-industrial complex, sprawl, planned obsolescence) and rents to privileged monopolists, we could probably produce our current standard of living on a 10-15 hour work week. Instead of resorting to expedients like paying people for the moral equivalent of digging holes and filling them back in, why not change the institutional structure so that we get the full fruits of our labor? Why not fully internalize the benefits of our increased productivity ourselves through a shorter work week, instead of letting a bunch of monopolists enclose them for rent?

Reich’s thinking is essentially Hamiltonian anti-deflationism: Reengineering society to maximize the amount of capital and labor used even if they aren’t necessary instead of  marking the prices of things down to their real cost. A society designed on Reich’s principles is a high-overhead dinosaur, like a human body bloated by constipation and edema.

The “jobs” that Reich and other New Deal liberals make so much of are just one historically bounded institutional mechanism for transforming human labor into consumption. It came about both because production technology shifted from individually affordable artisan tools to highly specialized industrial machinery that only the rich could afford (and hire others to work for them), and because ruling classes acting through the state stole land and denied the working classes direct access to the means of production and subsistence.

After two centuries and a little more, the job culture and the wage system are becoming obsolete from equally big technological changes. Thanks to desktop information technology, network communication and cheap garage-scale digitally controlled machine tools, we’re shifting back to an economic model where the main implements of production are cheap, general purpose — and high-tech — artisan tools.

As a result the job-based distinction between “employment” and “unemployment” is becoming increasingly meaningless. The lower the overhead and capital outlay required for production, the smaller the revenue stream needed to service them. Hence, the easier it is to ride out prolonged slow periods while shifting temporarily to other sideline sources of income or living off of informal production in the commons.

Ana Silva (“The future of work — on to a freelance model?” The Future of Life and Work, September 8)  anticipates a “future of work” in which a growing share of production is on a freelance model, and households spread risk with one spouse working on freelance projects while the other works at wage employment.

I agree with Silva that, in forms of production characterized by cheap tools and small production units, there will be a shift to project-based work like that practiced now in the construction trades or software.  This shift will be accompanied by a shift to meeting a greater share of our needs in the unmonetized sharing and informal economies. In fact I expect it to go a long way beyond Silva’s example of the nuclear family. As average work hours continue to drop, we’ll see more extensive income-, cost- and risk-pooling arrangements like multifamily or extended family cohousing projects, neighborhood associations, urban communes — not to mention a larger share of the population living in squats and favelas increasingly tolerated by hollowed-out and fiscally strapped local governments.

The first European towns in the eleventh century were basically favelas grown up around strategically situated village clusters, only grudgingly acknowledged by the neighboring feudal lord. As squatter settlements and informal communities around the world increasingly incorporate cheap micromanufacturing tech, modular energy and water infrastructure, permaculture, etc., they may well be the nucleus of the future society.

Contra Reich, we reached Peak Employment at least a decade ago. Rather than combating that state of affairs, the state needs to stop impeding our attempts at building a successor society.

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory.

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He is a mutualist and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail