Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bill Moyers Interview with Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson on Engineered Inequality

I love Jacob Hacker's work and his new book with Paul Pierson is excellent and very accessible.
Whoopie at Enenews provided the link for this great interview.

I am going to post a discussion about the logics of government that enabled the shift in risk from collectives and society to individuals. This discussion is from my 2010 book Governing Childhood. I discuss Hacker's earlier book Risk Shift in this discussion.

The “Cognitive Age,” Neoliberal Logics of Globalization, and Families at Risk

            In May 2008 David Brooks ran an op-ed column in The New York Times titled, “The Cognitive Age” arguing that public debate about globalization misses the real significant societal change, which is the rising importance of education and intelligence:

We’re moving into a more demanding cognitive age. In order to thrive, people are compelled to become better at absorbing, processing and combining information. This is happening in localized and globalized sectors, and it would be happening even if you tore up every free trade deal ever inked.

The globalization paradigm emphasizes the fact that information can now travel 15,000 miles in an instant. But the most important part of information’s journey is the last few inches — the space between a person’s eyes or ears and the various regions of the brain. Does the individual have the capacity to understand the information? Does he or she have the training to exploit it? Are there cultural assumptions that distort the way it is perceived?

Brooks observes the cognitive age “emphasizes psychology, culture and pedagogy — the specific processes that foster learning.” Thus, he concludes, “different societies are being stressed in similar ways by increased demands on human capital” so individual “anxiety is not being caused by a foreigner.” Brooks’ argument about the cognitive age is part of a larger discourse about changing market circumstances and their implications for individuals. As implied in Brooks’ comments, this discourse presumes that there is a “correct” cognitive-cultural style that allows maximum exploitation of information. I will demonstrate that Brooks' discourse is ideological and is designed to obscure the neoliberal policies that are responsible for promoting unfettered globalization and for shifting risk from collectives to individuals, while they are impoverished by automation, globalization, and debt.
            Globalization is a term fraught with many meanings but the economic policies that encouraged greater financial flows and outsourcing of U.S. economic production in the closing decades of the twentieth century were not accidental but rather were the part of the larger neoliberal approach to market de-regulation. As explained in Chapters Two, neoliberal logics of government began to govern public policy making in the 1980s and 1990s with welfare-reform and de-regulation of financial markets and trade. Neoliberal ideas can be traced to Friedrich A. Hayek’s (1-283) and Milton Friedman’s (1-208) twentieth century economic and political philosophies. Their attitudes toward the market had strong ideological appeal in the 1980s and 1990s when computers and automation were transforming the organization and production of work. Automation of production and de-regulation of trade and finance contributed to the erosion of labor wages and power.
Offshoring and automation together contributed to the loss of many unionized manufacturing jobs in the U.S. As of 2007, only 12.1 percent of employed wage and salary workers were union members, according to the U.S. Government Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of this figure, 35.9 percent were public sector workers and only 7.5 percent were private industry workers. Comparatively, overall union membership in 1983 was at 20.1 percent (U.S. Department of Labor “Union Members”). From the 1970s onwards, wages for workers engaged in routine tasks in factories and offices slowly eroded. Many routine jobs simply disappeared, although losses were not restricted to routinized work (Wessel “Why Job” A2). A 2006 survey of more than 200 multinational corporations found that 38 percent planned to "change substantially" the global distribution of their research and development projects over the next three years, potentially leading to significant job losses in the U.S. (Lohr). The outcome of these trends and their widespread publicity in the media heightened the public’s sense of economic anxiety.
At the close of the twentieth century, public and expert sentiment about the future of work in the U.S. was increasingly pessimistic. A 2004 Rand Report The 21st Century at Work observes that the 15 occupations projected to have the largest absolute increases in employment through 2010 include food service workers, customer service representatives, retail salespersons, nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants (Karoly and Panis 203). Occupations projected to grow the fastest include personal and homecare aides, medical assistants, social and human service assistants, and home health care aides (203). As the Rand authors observe, none of these occupations requires postsecondary education and most tend to be regarded by economists as “lower-skilled” and low-wage positions.
The Rand report also notes that the “labor market may be shifting toward less job stability” (Karoly and Panis 203). Future labor markets appear to be evolving toward greater reliance on small business forms such as “freelance work and self-employment” (204), thus the report suggests governments consider providing self-employment assistance programs that promote microenterprise (204-205). The report notes that the trend toward less stability requires all workers to pursue “continuous learning throughout the working life” (205-206). The apparent contradiction between (1) trends in job growth and (2) the need for enhancing the K-12 science and technology educational curriculum and expanding opportunities for continuous lifelong learning is never fully explicated but the report’s implicit supposition is that an educated workforce has the capacity to produce its own knowledge intensive jobs.
Public anxiety about the stagnating and/or declining average wages of workers in the last three decades of the twenty-first century was somewhat contained as workers worked more hours and as women entered into the workplace. These trends maintained household income levels from the 1970s onward despite the decline in real wages for approximately 80 percent of all U.S. workers. Those workers who did experience wage gains tended to be professional and high-level managerial; many were employed in finance. The emerging “gold collar worker” was often celebrated in the media thereby encouraging the perception that education and hard work still delivered a high-consumption lifestyle (Kelley 109).
The growth of celebrity culture in the popular media seduced Americans with images of the rich and famous. The so-called “reality” media popularized at the turn of the twenty-first century promised everyday individuals the potential to enter into the ranks of the rich and famous. However, the vast majority of the U.S. population lived vicariously through these types of images. Cheap imported substitutes for designer goods sold at discount stores offered consumers means for demonstrating consumer power and for participating in mass mediated lifestyles. The link between eroding wages and globalization of production of these same products escaped widespread notice or commentary despite efforts by labor activists to publicize instances of labor exploitation in poor nations.
The historically unprecedented expansion of credit also operated to mask declining wages (Wolff). Citizens’ indebtedness grew substantially through credit-card mediated consumption and home equity withdrawals and borrowing enabled by the early twenty-first century housing bubble. The financial services industry seized upon and encouraged ever greater levels of debt. Growing public indebtedness began to raise alarm among some economists but this alarm was muted as household debt was recycled through mortgage refinancing and credit card transfers. Financial service institutions profited by securitizing debt, which was distributed across the global economy. Similarly, the U.S. government recycled its debt through the sale of government bonds, especially to China.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, social critics and journalists amplified their concerns about growing social inequality using demographic statistics to paint a picture of economic stagnation for the vast majority of the population. National well-being was represented as “at risk” from this inequality. For instance, the Washington Post reports in 2007: “Income inequality remains at a record high. The share of income going to the 5 percent of households with the highest incomes has never been greater. . . . (Aizenman and Lee A3). Likewise, the New York Times reports that “Just over half of household income was concentrated in the top 20 percent of Americans in 2006, about the same as 2005. Households in the lowest 20 percent, on the other hand, accounted for only 3.4 percent of the nation’s household income” (Goodnough). Economists observe that the poverty rate for African Americans in 2006 was 24 percent, 20.6 percent for Hispanics, 10.3 percent for Asians, and 8.2 percent for whites. Intergenerational data published in 2007 suggest that upward mobility for African Americans has declined (Fletcher “Middle Class Dream” A1).
Data collected by concerned sociologists and economist began to point to a great risk-shift that had occurred as social-welfare benefits were shifted from government and employers to individuals (Hacker The Great 1-194). One such “risk” is health insurance. U.S. adults and children increasingly lack employer and government sponsored health insurance; approximately 47 million Americans lacked insurance in 2006 (Goodnough). The number of children without health insurance increased to 8.7 million, or 11.7 percent, in 2006 despite establishment of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) in 1997. Another risk identified in this critical discourse is pensions. Many employers have stopped offering defined benefit pension-programs. For example, in 1980 approximately 40 percent of private sectors jobs offered pensions compared with only 20 percent in 2005 (Lowenstein). In the early twenty-first century, financial experts warn that the security of existing public and employer-based pensions is questionable due to years of underfunding (Lowenstein; Walsh “Once Safe,” “Actuaries”).
Another important shift in risk concerns educational and vocational socialization. As Brooks points out in the article cited above, the skills required of elite workers are more diverse, dynamic, and exacting than those of the past. Professional occupational socialization typically requires advanced college degrees and career success is often contingent upon access to prestigious universities. College educated liberal arts majors struggle to find relevance in an increasingly lean and technocratic workplace while those with technical degrees are required to demonstrate the social adaptability and communication competence formerly associated with liberal arts students. Exacting performance standards face all workers; workers are required to be flexible and to engage in continuous learning as their jobs are re-engineered, down-sized, outsourced, globalized, or otherwise reconfigured. Blue-collar workers must assume the well-publicized financial risks of failing to achieve a college degree. Many such workers manage the risks posed by de-industrialization, globalization, and automation by assuming several part-time positions in the service economy.
....The risks identified in this section are typically trivialized by neoliberal economic and political authorities. Neoliberal economic policy rejects collectivist approaches, including Keynesian demand-focused economics and redistributive taxation. Neoliberals favor monetary macro-economics that work by controlling the money supply because neoliberals want to control inflation in order to reduce capital losses for wealth holders. Additionally, neoliberals believe “regulation” poses unacceptable risks for market expansion by stifling enterprise and innovation. Finally, neoliberal authorities favor shifting risk to individuals away from institutions because this shift in risk is seen as encouraging individual responsibility, personal initiative, and economic innovation. Redistributive policies are seen as stifling the competition believed necessary for markets to operate optimally. Pursuit and exploitation of risk are also seen as vital to the competitive operations of markets. Neoliberalism, as Foucault points out, elevates competitive market exchange as the essential mechanism for evaluating the worth of all things (BoB 46).
Individuals at the beginning of the twenty-first century are obliged to assume responsibility for forms of risk previously collectivized. Individuals’ willingness to assume responsibility for managing risks is encouraged by a proliferation of social discourses that guide, advise, and prod (Baker and Simon 1). Declining government and corporate investments in the social infrastructures of health, retirement, and education leave individuals little choice but to shoulder more risk and responsibility. Individuals who fail to choose responsibly, or whose economic failures seem to imply irresponsibility, are cast as risky subjects requiring supervision and control. In what follows, these arguments are examined in more detail in relation to the economic responsibilization of upper and middle class children on the one hand and the surveillance and control of lower class children on the other hand....

Majia back: the remainder of the chapter examines the economic and social implications for the majority of the population in the US that are increasingly cast aside by neoliberal logics of government and exploitative oligarchic corporations...

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