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In a Word: Austerity

Jobs Report: an Ersatz Memo

by WILLIAM MANSON

“Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”—Mark Twain

Confidential Memorandum (Internal)

Problem: High-Surplus U.S. Labor Pool

Solution: Austerity=Phased-Out (Obsolescent) Workforce

A troubling problem that refuses to go away: what to do with our growing “surplus-population”?  That is to say: in our 21st century post-industrial economy, millions of U.S. citizens—i.e., human beings, right?—now have (virtually) no “market-value.”  Two factors are primarily responsible: hi-tech automation; and offshoring (primarily manufacturing).  Their job-skills—such as they were—are now overpriced, redundant, outmoded, superannuated.  They can neither be exploited as productive (and underpaid) workers nor as credit-happy consumers.  They are idle, discontented, restless—and liable to sudden spasms of angry social unrest.

What to do?  We’re talking about, say, at least 15% of the people living in the U.S. today. Within our capitalist ideology—in which individual “worth” is entirely reduced to “market-value”—they’re worthless.  (Remember: “there is no [civil] society”– Margaret Thatcher.)   So, I ask once again: what to do?  In the U.S. alone, the realistic figures for structural unemployment—subsuming also part-time “under-employed” and longterm “discouraged unemployed”–equal at least 20%.

You can’t just…kill them (although that would be the easiest, most cost-effective way of disposing of the problem).  Our elite 1% (or should we say, one-tenth of 1%) may still enjoy limited-liability through the legal protection of “corporations”—but that doesn’t include pre-meditated mass murder!  (Does it?)

An alternative approach often works: a variety of the so-called–Shock Doctrine.  To paraphrase our de facto policy: “In these times of financial uncertainty (and budget crises!), we simply can no longer afford to provide comprehensive governmental assistance.  After all, citizens—not to mention the undocumented!—are not automatically ‘entitled’ to a full menu of low-cost, government-subsidized services like basic medical care or (substandard) housing.”

In a word: Austerity.  When these people are down, a swift kick will make them “out.”  How so?  Out of desperation, they will steal a loaf of bread (figuratively speaking); and this army of Jean Valjeans can then at least fill some profit-making function—longterm “guests” (and forced-labor) in the expanding hostelries of PrisonsUSA (LLC)!    Or (more likely): despair and hopelessness can make a lot of these people simply “go away”—through self-destructive behavior, alcoholism, drug abuse, shootings, “accidents.”  You see, adopting a useful military analogy, you’ve attacked the poor and the useless; now, put them under a siege–called “austerity.”

This is simply necessary for improved business prospects and the longterm economic (if not moral?) health of the nation.  These people are “worthless,” right?  But–they’re an irritant, an annoyance, and they need to be phased-out of the picture.  So get to work on it.  There are many, many historical precedents to study for devising and implementing a more expedient policy.

William Manson, a psychoanalytic anthropologist,  formerly taught social science at Rutgers and Columbia universities. He is the author of The Psychodynamics of Culture (Greenwood Press).