Precarity – The General Crisis of Capitalism

Sure, working conditions today cannot be compared with those of the 1800s, but it is surely worthwhile to have a closer look at the overall shift that is going on in our societies. This had been topic of my recent presentation

Precarity – An Issue of Changed Labour Market and Employment Patterns or of Changed Social Security Systems?

during the EuroMemo-meeting in London.

The problem is indeed that we are facing a crisis that is going much beyond the economic crisis. It is a systemic crisis in the true meaning – and as such it is also a crisis of and for the ruling class. Coming from here, the question is not primarily one that looks for the relevant actors today. nor is it primarily a matter of simple-to-provide policy recommendations – the latter easily looking at an exit of the crisis instead of being serious about overcoming of permanently reoccurring crises.

We should not forget that capitalism is fundamentally and permanently characterised by unemployment though this takes very different forms, of course. These are not least characterised by cyclical movements.

What is then new about precarity?

We may have a look at the very general pattern of societal development which is characterised by a movement towards inclusion. However, this secular process (inclusion as matter of increasing appropriation of the “external nature” by human being) is going hand in hand with avower-related division.

Moving away from the philosophical perspective and looking at the economic side of it we find an interesting development, now looking only at the development that characterises capitalism/industrialism: a first movement is best characterised as rationalisation: reducing the variable part of capital in favour of the constant part of capital, and namely the part of the fixed capital. With the further development of capitalist production – and that means as well: the further development of the means of production, we find a more or less fundamental change of the process of realisation: as much as financialisation means that part of the capital is realising itself outside (and seemingly independent) of the process of production we see that labour and work are somewhat merging – at least the borders are blurring. In other words: at this stage they are actually not pushed back within the process of realisation by rationalisation. Instead labour is pushed to an area that is outside of the process of realisation. It deserves empirical investigation if this is actually going hand in hand with another change of the structure of capital, namely a decrease of the fixed capital in favour of an increase of the circulating capital – looking at anecdotal evidence the movement is contradicting.

A surely dangerous development as long as the system of gaining and maintaining material resources is still based on the traditional patterns of life-long full-time employment. With relevant policy development s it may also be an opportunity in the course of moving beyond the fetters of the capitalist mode of production. A further question is then in the wider historical perspective if and in which way we can actually refer to a permanently extension of the process of realisation. Putting the question in a different way we reach with the changed mode of production the challenge to turn away from a pattern of exponential growth, moving at least towards considering different perspectives on the objectives of the economy of (global) society (see in this context also Herrmann, Peter, 2013: Methodological considerations for a Theory of Social Policy/Social Policy Research at the Interface of Political Economy and Politics of Social Order: 13f).
Obviously, policy challenges arise for the areas employment, taxation and income, social security and societal policies. And they have to be consider both, system-conform and also system-transcending options.

Related reflections can be found in the working paper here – an earlier version had been replaced.

Critique as confirmation …

How criticising can confirm that the criticised is at least in part correct

The book is only in part worthwhile reading – the argumentation is too often unconventional. Adam quotes frequently authors as the visionary Herman Oberth or the japanese physicist Michio Kaku and his adventurous visions of the future. that do not really represent the academic mainstream.

In question is the book Kampf gegen die Natur. Der gefährliche Irrweg der Wissenschaft and the review by Gottfried Plehn in MaxPlanckForschung 1/13, page 90. I did not read Adam’s book – in question is the consideration of the reviewer: no representing the mainstream is problematic. With such disqualifying expression Plehn stands in the rows of those who one stood applauding against the thesis that the planet earth moves. Indeed, the thinking of the Plehns obviously did not move a single inch. Sure, Gottfried Plehn is probably not sufficiently important to be mentioned. However, he is part of a mafia in academia that push towards suicide of science.

Wie verkommen …?

Wie verkommen muss man eigentlich sein, um ernsthaft die Besprechung eines Buches wie folgt zu schliessen?

Lesenswert ist das Buch nur in Teilen, zu oft ist die Argumentation eigenwillig. Adam zitiert häufig Autoren wie den Weltraumfantasten Hermann Oberth oder den japanischen Physiker Michio Kaku und dessen kühne Zukunftsvisionen, die nicht gerade den Mainstream der Wissenschaft präsentieren

Es geht um das Buch Kampf gegen die Natur. Der gefährliche Irrweg der Wissenschaft und die Besprechung von Gottfried Plehn in MaxPlanckForschung 1/13, Seite 90 Was auch immer von dem Buch zu halten ist, was auch immer die Referierten Oberth und Kaku von sich gegeben haben: diese Art der Kritik ist nur eine Bestätigung, dass die Mainstream-Wissenschaft mit vielem kämpft, aber nur begrenzt mit den eigenen Problemen. Mit dieser unqualifizierten Ausdrucksweise reiht sich Plehn in jene Reihen, die seinerzeit applaudierend gegen die These standen, dass sich die Welt doch bewege. Es geht hier nur um die Art der Auseinandersetzung: und die zeigt, dass sich der Geist Plehn’s tatsächlich nicht bewegt hat. Er ist vermutlich zu unwichtig, um hier eigentlich erwähnt zu sein. Aber seinesgleichen sind es, die zum Selbstmord der Wissenschaft treiben.


A new working paper had been published under the heading


Reading the abstract may raise your interest in reading the entire paper, prepared for this years EUROMEMO-workshop in London

The fact of an increasing precarity of employment is widely analysed and discussed although we surely face various different definitional approaches. An important part of the differences in the definitions (as matter of the conceptualisation of precarity as analytical and political issue) is due to not tackling sufficiently consensual the following question: Is precarity a matter of dissolving the standard pattern of entering the social security system (i.e. fundamentally rejecting the right to work) or is it a matter of ‘lacking flexibility’ and even retrenchment of social security systems?

The contribution will, first, discuss some of the conceptual and definitional questions. Second, some broad outline of the situation will be given by empirical statements. A final third section will formulate policy demands in a long- and a short-term perspective.

The presentation is connected with editing a book in this area. The relevant individual countries that will be looked at in the book are Hungary, Italy, and Russia.