Posts Tagged ‘unemployment’

global risks

A persistent topic of discussion with my once-a-week lunch partner is whether or not the elite is aware of economic inequality. Are they aware of inequality and choose to do nothing about it, or are they so sheltered they don’t even see the grotesque levels of inequality the current economic and social system has produced?

Well, to judge by the latest Global Risks report from the World Economic Forum (pdf), economic inequality has appeared from nowhere and has jumped to the head of queue for the last three years. (And it’s now joined, in third position, by unemployment and underemployment.)

However, as you can see from the chart below, inequality doesn’t even figure in terms of the significance of the impact, with the highest spot occupied by fiscal crises, after many years of focus on financial crises.

global risks-impact

One interpretation of this disjuncture between the high likelihood but low impact of inequality is that the members of the global elite are well aware of the growing gap between the tiny group at the top and everyone else but it’s not really a pressing problem. It’s simply their reward of how the economic and social system is currently organized.

58538_cartoon_main

 

Special mention

140408-equal-pay www.usnews

quits

In a recent speech, Fed Chair Janet Yellen admitted that “the recovery still feels like a recession to many Americans, and it also looks that way in some economic statistics.”

Some of those statistics are contained in the just-released Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS). While there may have been 4.2 million new job postings in February, 300,000 more than in January, many of these are low-wage jobs (temp jobs in business services, food-service jobs, jobs in retail trade, and so on), many of them at or just above the minimum wage. And, even though they’re less-then-desirable jobs at less-than-desirable wages, there were still 2.5 unemployed workers for every job posting. So, given that reserve army of labor, employers have absolutely no reason to offer higher wages. Which is why the so-called quits rate—the number of job quits divided by total employment, a measure of the willingness of workers to leave their current jobs in search of new, better, higher-paying jobs—remained at 1.7, virtually unchanged over the last 4 years.

The economic statistics are thus clear: American workers have been jolted and they’re still waiting for their recovery.

Protest_Credit_Crisis

Let’s leave aside for a moment whether the participants were the right ones to call on (I would have turned to plenty of better commentators, who have read both Marx and contemporary scholarship on Marxist theory, to offer their opinions) or even whether they get Marx right (very little, as it turns out).

What’s perhaps most interesting is that the New York Times felt the need at this point in time to host a debate on the question “was Marx right?” and, then, that most of the participants admit that Marx did in fact get a great deal right.

The problem is, of course, that at this point in time mainstream economics (in either its neoclassical or Keynesian varieties) is not a particularly good guide for analyzing or proposing solutions to the key economic problems of soaring inequality, massive unemployment, and generalized insecurity of a broad mass of the population in the United States and in other high-income countries. So, I suppose it’s not surprising people continue to turn to Marx for ideas about how to make sense of the economic contradictions that caused the Second Great Depression and the new contradictions that right now are preventing a full recovery of capitalism.

In the end, what is key to Marx is not this or that prediction (of which, as it turns out, there is very little in the texts, although there certainly are lots of tendencies that critics are hard put to ignore or effectively counter) but, instead, the idea of critique. Because what Marx set out to do over the course of the three published volumes of Capital was provide the cornerstones for a far-reaching critique of political economy. And the method of that critique—a two-fold critique, of mainstream economic theory and of capitalism as a system—is what endures, precisely as a challenge to what passes for serious economic analysis today.

Marx, then, was surely right about one thing:

if constructing the future and settling everything for all times are not our affair, it is all the more clear what we have to accomplish at present: I am referring to ruthless criticism of all that exists, ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be.

mcfadden-29-03

Special mention

-1 college-athlete-union-cartoon-darkow-495x384

poverty-and-marriage-650

Special mention

0326toon_wasserman-1947.r 140326_Hobby_Lobby_t618

PaulRyanDogwhistle

Special mention

145851_600 McCain Leads