Digitisation – Employment – and What?

The recording of the keynote presentation on Digitisation, Employment, and What? is already online. It is an attempt to socio-locate the challenge of today’s productivity puzzle and had been given on occasion of the symposium in Helsinki, organised by the Pellervo Society and the European Academy of Science and Arts, today on the 18th of September 2018.

Usual beginning is about “I do not know where to start” – all is so terribly confusing, a multitude of extremely different things.

There seems an obvious reply in the present case,

  • at least for digitisation – the apparent omnipresence of issues that are in one or another way about digital stuff – from the CD-player to the computer on four wheels
  • also for AI – the fact that it is not entirely clear is part of AI itself: there seems to be something that we, humankind, came up with and that is now “beyond our capacities” – the Frankenstein of Intellect if you want
  • and what seems to be equally clear: precarity in the vein of decreasing employment – another time we hear in different rhythm the old melody: there is not enough work anymore. But if we listen around we hear also something else – something we also heard for many times throughout history: There will never be an end, though there will be many changes.

Having said earlier that presentations are often started with something like “I do not know where to begin”, waiting for an Ariadne who may help. At present, my point is a different one, namely “I do not where it will end”. It is the famous Alice-in-Wonderland-situation, leading elsewhere to the conclusion “but I would not start from here”.

Annunci

employment – precarity – or what

Precarity of Employment – Precarity of Capital Accumulation – Helplessness of Social Science

Thoughts from the Panel during the 28thEconomic Forum, Krynica-Zdroj, Polonia:
Flexible Employment: A way to a global chaos or to a new model of labour market stability?

a brief note, while already on the way back to Munich …

And the changed title is:

Panem et circenses – but who bakes the bread?

There is no reason to carry owls to Athens – they are there, and at least also one is in Krynica, in the park

– repeating what is well known, e.g. speaking about growth and employment and looking for ways for its enhancement. Opposing is often naively just about rejecting it without thinking about viable alternatives. The core of my contribution in Krynica can be summarised in the following table and a short para, trying to get a bit closer to the ground of things:

(Click to enlarge)

and in the one paragraph:

Precarity can only be meaningfully looked at, if understood as one of two sides of the accumulation regime: there we are dealing with employment issues, around generating value; and we are dealing with accumulation as realising value by combining factors of production and by recombining in different ways use value and exchange value. The one is a matter of production, the other of distribution and exchange. The problematique emanates from the fact of what we may call a “realisation paradox”: Though the market is needed to make surplus real, it is only the productive sphere that makes it possible. The outcome is the “destruction of time“ in the sphere of production, in order to be artificially extended in the sphere of consumption. It should not surprise if one feels reminded of the process of production which consumes raw material, i.e. destroys nature in order to establish artificial consumables.

– I would not suggest that capital/capital accumulation is in a more precarious situation than employment/the employment regime and social securitisation; however, there is good reason to look at (parts of) this under the heading “sex, drugs and crime”.

On the new title: such an event has something of exactly the Panem et Circenses, trying to make us forget that somebody has to bake the bread ….
Follow the link for the recording of some schort remarks.

Privatisation through the backdoor

 

on New Deal For Irish Families, states at the end of his article

Real choices for mothers and their partners requires a social investment state that supports families throughout their life course.

Of course, at first sight it is laudable but then …

 

Would it not be even more laudable and plausible to establish another reference as the words of Bertrand Russels who suggests in his In Praise of Idleness

that four hours’ work a day should entitle a man to the necessities and elementary comforts of life, and that the rest of his time should be his to use as he might see fit. It is an essential part of any such social system that education should be carried further than it usually is at present, and should aim, in part, at providing tastes which would enable a man to use leisure intelligently.

Indeed,

(l)eisure is essential to civilization, and in former times leisure for the few was only rendered possible by the labors of the many. But their labors were valuable, not because work is good, but because leisure is good. And with modern technique it would be possible to distribute leisure justly without injury to civilization.

https://www.datocms-assets.com/45/1522837592-soldi-alati-2.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&ch=Width%2CDPR&auto=compress&w=
500&h=500&fit=crop&dpr=1&fm=jpg

Isn’t the rhetoric of “social investment”, seen in connection with targeting choice between family and career, not only wrong by way of reducing social policy on a labour market instrument, but also by way of misguiding the understanding of work? Isn’t it with such social investment perspective also established as private matter through the backdoor? Instead of paying for childcare privately the state (or possibly private public partnerships) ar paid in kind, through the work they do instead. Redistribution of wealth has to go hand in hand with redistribution of  work. Indeed, Nicolas Bueno in his short Introduction to the Human Economy makes a point that is surely interesting enough to overcome the idea of social investment as a social policy. He writes

Once human beings are delivered from being thought of as mere producers of economic value, a part of the time and energy that was before only dedicated to producing goods and services can be used in order to create something else. But what can individuals create with their human potential? Human benefits.

 

Vermeers “Woman in Blue” and the challenge to counter global hegemony of “stakeholder-democracy”

Of course, this “Davos of the East” as it is sometimes called,, and which I mentioned previously, is a special challenge as it is about an invitation to accept the rules of the hegemon, while it is for me the obligation to maintain the role of the anti-hegemeon while knowing that there is always the one option: being seen as fig-leaf or, and this is the serious problem, being absorbed: the anti-hegemonic position being reinterpreted and smoothly welded into the existing interpretation of things. – Dialectic of change one may say; there is no way to succeed but one has to try nevertheless and endlessly like Sisifo.

Part of the dialectic is of course to be in one way or another part of a group that is in line with widespread claims of a

representation of a post-nation state governance system

referring to Katerina Gladkova who is analysing Two years into the SDGs, asking if it is about neoliberalised development? What she says with respect of the SDG-strategy, finds its valid application in many of these “new institutions” – they are another

window-dressing exercise in democracy. The multistakeholder model dilutes boundaries of accountability and is not representative of the needs of the many; on the contrary, it serves the interests of the privileged minority advocating for the neoliberal world order.

******

I became aware of the task in an entirely unexpected context, namely when looking – together with Angela Maria Opel, as part of the guided tour “Love letters in the Painting of The Netherlands” – at Vermeer’s Women in Blue Reading a Letter, currently hosted in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. A seemingly harm-, possibly meaningless painting of which the value is at first glance its beauty – and as well all know beauty is always contestable. And equally any interpretation of one painting is questionable because painters are children of their time and a single painting is only a piece of the jigsaw, composed by painter and time. The contemporary trinity of Dutch paintings can be seen in map, letter and necklace, frequently appearing not only in Vanmeer’s work. It is the trinity of the young and independent republic, the temptation by the glamorous jewellery, representing the ancient regime – and the dispute over it, now, as the weapons had been laid down. As such , reading the letter may have been not least a matter of political commitment, a question of resisting the temptations of short-sighted glamour and persisting in moving forward towards the new republic which represented at the very same time a new economic formation. Seen in this light, the review of the painting can also be seen as reflection of the close connection between the political and the personal: the urgency of reading, pushing aside the obvious temptation by vanity, the longing for true love standing against the superficial glamour, and this means also the possibility of rejection, the dispute about love going beyond the visible glamour – indeed, the rejection of such letter as depicted by Gerard ter Borch; indeed, not every gallant soldier had been a welcomed soldier.

On the other hand, the light, so typical for Vermeer, can be in some way as competent for the glamour of the pearls: the glamour of the outreaching trade of the new republic … – sending the loved one away for the explorations or receiving the news from abroad? – it had been the tension also of Gabriël Metsu, positioning the Man Writing a Letter and the Woman Reading a Letter side by side, all at a time when Claude Lorrain was painting the variations of the seaport (yes, I had been teaching on tis, in Budapest [economic thinking in six paintings])

An interesting detail may be that Vermeer actually used “real blue”, extracted from lapis lazuli – something for instance van Rijn could not afford /// …. . In other words, Vanmeer represented very much the upper class, most likely the new hegemons. This thought may be extended – the blue of the woman’s garment finds its continuation ih the cooer of the wall in front of her, where it still continues as shadow. As such it continues as well from the map – on may suggest that it is marking the seafarers nation, and it finds finally its strange settlement in the chair, covered with a material with of darker blue, kept tight with golden nubs. – Thus we would have the perfect tension: while the weapons are silent, the soldiers trying their fate in a peaceful “mission with their gallantries”, representing the old regime as much as the regime’s attempt to convince by jewelry and words, the new economic power provides a firm and guided resting point. The old and the new hegemons standing against each other, courting her, The Netherlands.

Sure, such interpretation is not least a matter of speculation, or turned positively: a matter of inspiration and reflection – the reflex of time and times, space and spaces.

******

– With this we return to the beginning, though we are not talking about any new republic, we surely talk about some far reaching changes. Understanding them, and understanding them in their deeper meaning we have to go beyond the reflection of extended stocktaking. Robert Cox actually outlined the challenge, writing about two different kinds of theory:

Beginning with its problematic, theory can serve two distinct purposes. One is a simple, direct response: to be a guide to help solve the problems posed within the terms of the particular perspective which was the point of departure. The other is more reflective upon the process of theorising itself: to become clearly aware of the perspective which gives rise to theorising, and its relation to other perspectives (to achieve a perspective on perspectives); and to open up the possibility of choosing a different valid perspective from which the problematic becomes one of creating an alternative world. Each of these purposes gives rise to a different kind of theory.

The first purpose gives rise to problem-solving theory. It takes the world as it finds it, with the prevailing social and power relationships and the institutions into which they are organised, as the given framework for action. …

The second purpose leads to critical theory. It is critical in the sense that it stands apart from the prevailing order of the world and asks how that order came about. Critical theory, unlike problem-solving theory, does not take institutions and social and power relations for granted but calls them into question by concerning itself with their origins and how and whether they might be in the process of changing.[1]

Indeed, then contributing to the debate on new technologies, unemployment and precarity, will be not least a matter of refraining from using those terms. It is more a matter of looking at the underlying overall goals and the framing contexts, the why behind the what. It is, in other words, about rejecting the mainstream principle, by Richard and Daniel Susskind[2]seen in the fact that professionals

are inclined to ask themselves what it is that they do today … and how they might make that service a bit quicker, cheaper, or better. Not often enough do professionals ask themselves the more fundamental question …” (37 f.)

which they understand as matter of defining the overall purpose of any undertaking we investigate. May be, being asked to talk about growth and security of employment, I should make socks statements that the need for growth is the real Sisyphos’ pain and security of employment a promised glamour of an ancient regime, similar to the jewelry that had been positioned as decoy against the new republic which may finally become at some stage a res publica, not worrying about privacy of data but about wrongly claimed publicness of GAFA.

******************

[1]           Cox, Robert W., 1981: Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory; in: Millennium – Journal of International Studies; 10/2; 126-155; here: 128; DOI: 10.1177/03058298810100020501

[2]           Susskind, Richard and Daniel, 2015: The Future of the Professions. How technology will transform the work of human experts; Oxford University Press

Employment – is that really the core issue?

In a brief presentation at ФГБОУ ВПО “РЭУ им. Г.В. Плеханова” (Plechanov University) in Moscow I addressed issues around employment, labour market policies and the structural challenges our economies and moreover societies face today by putting them into the perspective of critical and problem-solving research (Cox). This presentation is part of the research I outlined with the question: Is it really about Industry 4.0.?

In this context the recent publication of my article

may be as well of interest.

Abstract

A fundamental methodological problem is the relevance of an antagonism of capitalism. This needs to be classified in light of the developmental stage of the means of production: far too little attention is paid to the contradictory character of individualization and socialization. This brings us to Karl Polányi’s main argument of disembedding. He also deals with a shift from the socially integrated (and dependent) individual to the utilitarian market citizen. The French regulationist theory offers a major step toward understanding new forms of societal embedding linked to this “new personality.” It will also allow us to move beyond the misleading juxtaposition or dichotomization of individualization-socialization. Investigating five major tensions, it ventilates the possible meaning of the digital revolution and the challenges for monitoring development. The main aim of the article, however, is to bring the economy back in and to go beyond the traditional duality between economics and politics.

Keywords: change, development, economics and social science, economy and society, social quality, theory of regulation, work

Reference:

International Journal of Social Quality 6(1), Summer 2016: 87–106 ISSN: 1757-0344 (Print) • ISSN: 1757-0352 (Online) © Berghahn Books 2016 doi:10.3167/IJSQ.2016.060105

 

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.