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You could say, as many do, that shipping jobs overseas is no big deal because the high-value work—and much of the profits—remain in the U.S. That may well be so. But what kind of a society are we going to have if it consists of highly paid people doing high-value-added work—and masses of unemployed?
—Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel. He goes on to quote Alan Blinder, who wrote, “as TV sets became ‘just a commodity,’ their production moved offshore to locations with much lower wages. And nowadays the number of television sets manufactured in the U.S. is zero. A failure? No, a success.” Grove, however, warns, “…abandoning today’s “commodity” manufacturing can lock you out of tomorrow’s emerging industry.”: via Bloomberg BW
Arguably, the most important economic trend in the United States over the past couple of generations has been the ever more distinct sorting of Americans into winners and losers, and the slow hollowing-out of the middle class. Median incomes declined outright from 1999 to 2009. For most of the aughts, that trend was masked by the housing bubble, which allowed working-class and middle-class families to raise their standard of living despite income stagnation or downward job mobility. But that fig leaf has since blown away. And the recession has pressed hard on the broad center of American society.
—Don Peck: via The Atlantic
—Owen Jones, quoting a tittering dinner-party participant in his recent book, CHAVS The Demonization of the Working Class
Dwight Garner opens his review of Chavs with Jones’ story of the dinner party. Perhaps a dozen people of many walks and both genders, with no obvious predilection toward snobbery, nonetheless quickly and casually snap a whip of derision toward the hapless chav. On which Jones asks, “How has hatred of working-class people become so socially acceptable?”
The word chav has come to convey a thuggish conception of the working class in England. It describes the flash of zirconium-encrusted pendants and track-suits, perhaps dressed up with an edging of Burberry plaid and encircled with a pair of bug-eye, imitation Prada sunglasses, that festoons the imagined ignorant and menacing prole. What may have begun as a criticism of poor taste came to qualify an entire class of individuals, and somehow, it was ok. But why?
Garner collects a handful of answers. He suggests that it may have to do with the increasing degree of wealth and privilege that characterizes the political and cultural elite in England. Much is made of David Cameron’s Concorde-arranged, super-sonic commute to the New York birthday party of Peter Getty, the scion of John Paul Getty.
The Labor Party is no less to blame. Once the guardian of England’s working class and a symbol of upward mobility, they “didn’t really like these people very much” anymore.
But Garner misses the main shift that has cultivated the notion of and the attitude toward the chav. Touching on the culpability of the chav, he quotes Jones: “Those who were poor or unemployed had no one to blame but themselves.” But he doesn’t assign its origin, which sits in the shift toward a market-based meritocracy.
A market-based meritocracy registers one’s merit on the basis of Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Wealth will accrue according to one’s merit, and in a market, wealth is the measure of success. Those titans of industry, those John Galts, are each the envy and the measure of success, and success and standing equates to wealth, doled out or denied by the machinations of the market, but in a market-based meritocracy, some poor working slob has only themselves to blame for their station.
What Garner misses is the drastic acceptability of what’s bubbling beneath the surface, “If they were worth a damn, they’d be rich.” There’s no room for respectability among the working class in a market-based meritocracy. The notion of and attitude toward the chav, however appalling, is a necessary outcome. That’s why hatred of working-class people has become so socially acceptable.
I’m sympathetic to the protest movements and to challenging power in society, but youre not going to do it through self-organizing networks where you all sit around and there are no leaders and there is no guiding vision except self-organization. It’s a retreat, and in many respects it’s a cowardly retreat on the part of the left from confronting the fact that power is getting more and more concentrated in our society, but they don’t have an alternative, and they retreat like bureacrats, like librarians into process…processes of organization, without actually inspiring me with vision of another way of organizing the world.
—Adam Curtis, interview in Little Atoms
we must force the people to be free.
—Louise Antoine Saint-Just, articulating a naked assertion of Isaiah Berlin’s notion of positive liberty
Simply give them what they want. Freedom isn’t for anything in particular, only an assurance of non-interference with any individual’s needs or wants. Start with market democracy. Destroy the elite institutions that instruct individuals on what to do and how to behave. Allow individuals to determine their own needs and wants. And the market will rise up to satisfy their needs. This would fulfill Isaiah Berlin’s notion of negative liberty and his concern that freedom for something, some ideal, to make the world a better place, would lead to tyranny.
It’s the subject of the The Trap, three part series by British documentary film-maker and antagonist, Adam Curtis. Parts one through three are linked below.
Part One – F**k You Buddy, (11 March 2007)
Part Two – Lonely Robot, (18 March 2007)
Are the markets a means of consent? –Thomas Frank
Part Three – We Will Force You to Be Free (25 March 2007)
The third film in the series provides an astonishing analysis and indictment of Paul Bremmer’s transitional government program in Iraq. Remove the government apparatus. Immediately privatize all state assets. Encourage reconstruction through the efforts of multinational corporations with the promise of tax-free profits. Unfortunately, rather than coalesce into a shining economic and political success, Iraq erupted with violence and burned its immediate economic prospects as a result of Bremmer’s policies.
the spirit of commerce has a tendency to soften the manners of men, and to extinguish those inflammable humors which have so often kindled into wars
—Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Papers