Home > General Comment, Off Blog, shorter work time > A question for John Bellamy Foster: Why does Monthly Review hate working people?

A question for John Bellamy Foster: Why does Monthly Review hate working people?

As part of our series of exchanges with Michael Lebowitz, we noticed that he often writes for the magazine, Monthly Review, which touts itself as an “independent socialist magazine.” On its website, the magazine states:

Monthly Review speaks to workers, labor organizers, activists, and academics. A scholarly, accessible critique of capitalism, edited by John Bellamy Foster.

Intrigued, we investigated further, particularly interested to see their take on the current crisis, and to discover how they addressed the problem, raised by this crisis, of hours of work. We did not have to look long. The magazine highlights the crisis in an editorial note for February 2010 that delves into several aspects of the crisis, including the tepid response given by Washington to the plight of working families versus its lusty embrace of the gangsters on Wall Street.

Of the latter, Monthly Review had this to say:

The titans of Wall Street came calling in Washington, D.C. just a few months ago, and were given the keys to the Treasury’s vault. So successful has been the government’s multi-trillion-dollar bailout that even those giant financial institutions in the worst shape are paying back what they owe, mainly to get out from under what they consider to be onerous public interference in their extraordinarily lucrative business activities.

The editors detail several of the most sordid gifts showered on Goldman Sachs and Company at the expense of the public, who, no sooner bailed out of their predicament, began dictating the terms of their future relationship with their benefactors. It is not a bad performance, yet we did not come to this independent socialist voice to hear an analysis of crimes, the crude facts of which might be found on Huffington Post, or any other left of center Democratic Party organ. We know the financial plutocracy is looting the Republic, we also know how it is looting it, and we have a fair idea of why the looting is taking place. Congress’s own oversight committee has already exposed the farce of too big to fail to an astounding level of detail.

The editors then turn their attention to the plight of working families:

Workers, in contrast, haven’t fared nearly as well. Much was made by the news media and the Obama administration that the rate of unemployment in November fell by two-tenths of a percentage point after an extended period of rising rates, and that the loss of jobs in November was down substantially, to 11,000, after many months of losses well in excess of several hundred thousand per month. Do these data signal that recovery is at hand?

Let us look at unemployment first. In November, there were 15.4 million officially unemployed persons (those who were not employed and actively seeking work in the past four weeks). As high as that rate is, a record one-third of the officially unemployed (5.8 million people) have been without work for twenty-seven weeks or longer. And, if we add those reduced to working part-time (hours cut or only able to secure part-time work) and those “marginally attached to the labor force” (want work and have looked in past year), we get an unemployment rate of 17.2 percent, or 26.9 million persons. If we were also to count as unemployed all those who want a job but have not looked for one in the past year, the unemployment rate would be in excess of 20 percent. The slight fall in November’s unemployment rate is accounted for by a big increase in discouraged workers, that subset of those marginally attached to the labor force who have stopped looking for work because they believe no work is available for them. Given that there are about six times as many job-seekers as job openings, and that a job-seeker can expect to look for work for about half a year before finding a job, it is easy to see why people would stop looking for work. A recent New York Times/CBS poll of the unemployed tells us that a fearful toll is being taken on those without work: anxiety, fear, shame, insomnia, depression, family problems, and deteriorating health. In a few years, as research by Harvey Brenner and many others has shown, we will look back and be able to demonstrate that the “Great Recession” was responsible for a significant increase in suicides, homicides, domestic violence, arrests, prison admissions, stress-related diseases, and overall mortality.

The editors are appropriately disgusted by the tableau of economic carnage: “We are in the midst of a human crisis, make no mistake about it.” Which naturally caused us to wonder, “Who, reading an independent socialist magazine, is mistaken about the scale of horror being visited on working families across the United States in this crisis?” “Who are the editors trying to convince?” “Who do they think they are speaking to?”

How Zero Hedge scooped Monthly Review

Slightly confused, we nevertheless continued to plow through this now disappointing note from the editors of this independent socialist magazine:

With respect to employment, many of those with jobs have suffered pay and hour cuts, loss of benefits, unpaid furloughs, and heavier workloads. The fact that productivity has risen dramatically during the Great Recession means that profits are increasing at the expense of the well-being of employees.

Okay, we figured that much out by reading Zero Hedge this morning:

Goldman’s S&P forecast summary:

Our top-down EPS forecasts of $76 and $90 for 2010 and 2011 reflect +33% and +20% growth, respectively. Our pre-provision and write-down EPS forecasts are $81 for 2010 and $91 for 2011. Bottom-up consensus forecasts a 38% increase in 2010 to $79, and a 20% increase in 2011 to $95.

The plutocracy is writhing in a spasm of profit-induced orgiastic bliss, and they are about to come into money. Come on guys, tell us something we don’t know, and, can’t find by googling “ponzi scheme riches beyond belief”.

Economist Paul Krugman estimates that, to replace the eight million jobs lost since the downturn began two years ago and to provide employment for the normal growth of the labor force over the next five years, the economy has to add at least 18,000,000 jobs, or 300,000 a month, to get “anything that feels like full employment.”

Come on, Guys! Are you now reduced to quoting Saint Paul on the sink hole at the center of the economy? Do you think it adds credibility to your argument to include the pedestrian observations of this clown? As if you could not figure this out on your own? But, okay. When we looked at the numbers provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), we get roughly the same results as Krugman. As the chart below shows employment closed out 2009 at 131 million, and would need to rise to 152 million by end of 2015 just to stay with the long term trend line:

Trend line growth in employment between 1958 and 2015

The problem, as the editors state, “The chance that the economy, left to itself, will generate this many jobs is close to zero.” Indeed, although the editors may be deliberately conservative in their estimates, the long term trend is far worse than they let on. Based on the figures supplied by BLS, the long-term employment growth rate fell below 1.1 million jobs per year in 2008, before the vicious downsizing early last year. It has now turned negative for the first time in post-war history  – projecting a net loss of 200,000 jobs this year – as we show in the chart below:

Annual growth of employment is now negative

Annual employment growth went negative in 2008

Assuming the current long term trend holds – with no additional round of big job losses and no significant boost to job creation – the economy could see a net loss of another 2 million jobs between 2010 and 2015, rather than even the slimmest net job creation. And, if the BLS is to be believed, this will all happen while good industrial jobs are sent off-shore and replaced by the kind of low wage service jobs, Michael Lebowitz thinks we should value:

Here, we might note that the United States Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the occupations with the greatest growth over the next ten years are low-paying: home health aides, customer service representatives, restaurant workers, clerks, retail salespersons, personal and home health care aides, nursing aides, and the like.

How the Atlantic sent Monthly Review to a re-education camp

On the whole, the review of the obvious facts as parsed by the editors of Monthly Review is inferior even to the treatment offered in this Atlantic article:

There is unemployment, a brief and relatively routine transitional state that results from the rise and fall of companies in any economy, and there is unemployment—chronic, all-consuming. The former is a necessary lubricant in any engine of economic growth. The latter is a pestilence that slowly eats away at people, families, and, if it spreads widely enough, the fabric of society. Indeed, history suggests that it is perhaps society’s most noxious ill.

The worst effects of pervasive joblessness—on family, politics, society—take time to incubate, and they show themselves only slowly. But ultimately, they leave deep marks that endure long after boom times have returned. Some of these marks are just now becoming visible, and even if the economy magically and fully recovers tomorrow, new ones will continue to appear. The longer our economic slump lasts, the deeper they’ll be.

If it persists much longer, this era of high joblessness will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults—and quite possibly those of the children behind them as well. It will leave an indelible imprint on many blue-collar white men—and on white culture. It could change the nature of modern marriage, and also cripple marriage as an institution in many communities. It may already be plunging many inner cities into a kind of despair and dysfunction not seen for decades. Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for years.

And the solution offered is not more imaginative than that offered by the Atlantic as well. Compare, if you will, this solution provided by the author of the Atlantic article:

Of necessity, those solutions must include measures to bolster the economy in the short term, and to clear the way for faster long-term growth; to support the jobless today, and to ensure that we are creating the kinds of jobs (and the kinds of skills within the population) that can allow for a more broadly shared prosperity in the future. A few of the solutions—like more-aggressive support for the unemployed, and employer tax credits or other subsidies to get people back to work faster—are straightforward and obvious, or at least they should be. Many are not.

At the very least, though, we should make the return to a more normal jobs environment an unflagging national priority. The stock market has rallied, the financial system has stabilized, and job losses have slowed; by the time you read this, the unemployment rate might be down a little. Yet the difference between “turning the corner” and a return to any sort of normalcy is vast.

We are in a very deep hole, and we’ve been in it for a relatively long time already. Concerns over deficits are understandable, but in these times, our bias should be toward doing too much rather than doing too little. That implies some small risk to the government’s ability to continue borrowing in the future; and it implies somewhat higher taxes in the future too. But that seems a trade worth making. We are living through a slow-motion social catastrophe, one that could stain our culture and weaken our nation for many, many years to come. We have a civic—and indeed a moral—responsibility to do everything in our power to stop it now, before it gets even worse.

To that offered by the editors of Monthly Review:

What is needed to alleviate this misery? In a word: jobs. In two words: public employment. The federal government must create jobs and now—not by subsidizing private employers, but by directly employing workers in high quality, well-paying jobs. The needs are many, almost unlimited, from child care, health care, and education, to rebuilding our infrastructure, public transportation, environmental repair, and organic food production. Of course, jobs would have to be combined with shorter hours and an expanded and more generous safety net, so that the insecurity haunting workers is greatly diminished. But the kinds of jobs we are talking about would not only be great for workers; they would also help to shift the economy’s focus from a one-sided myopia on production for profit toward a much more sensible production for human use.

There is some subtle differences to be noted: For instance, the editors specifically reject employer subsidies, while the author of the Atlantic article expresses some concern over the budget deficit – which he quickly dismisses. They both agree on the need to increase support for the unemployed. And, the editors admit of the need to shorten hours of work, even as they assert – quite without any proof – that the need for more work is almost unlimited, including a litany of alleged service and construction tasks, and (curiously enough for a country that employs fewer than one percent of its work force in agriculture!) organic food production.

Why does John Bellamy Foster hate working people?

So, naturally, the question we had is why Monthly Review – who professes to speak to workers, labor organizers, activists – hates working people so much they would suggest replacing lost industrial employment with jobs even they admit are low paying wage drudgery, and hopeless attempts to resurrect the idiocy of 19th Century rural life?

We are, after all, talking about a potential shortfall of 20 to 27 million jobs over the next six years, or fifteen percent of the current work force. To this, we can add another five percent of the work force engaged in stupefyingly dumb work, such as Wal-Mart greeters, nail salon workers, call center employees, wait staff, and the like. Finally, we could throw in a lot of folks occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, or sailing aircraft carriers around the Indian Ocean. With a little luck, we could probably find 25 percent of the labor force who are either unemployed, or under-employed, or under-paid, or just plain paid to do awful things to people they don’t know.

Which would make it really easy to reduce hours of work from a five day/40 hours per week schedule to no more than a four day/32 hours per week schedule. How is that for gradually abolishing wage slavery – the alleged goal of socialists everywhere (but where it matters – in real life).

So how about it Monthly Review!

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