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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Thursday, 4 March 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Get with the program - the most influential item published today...

What might that be? What is being linked everywhere (even by the conservative but gay Andrew Sullivan) and quoted everywhere? Who gets the big prize for actually managing to nail the proverbial mashed potatoes to the wall?

It's William Saletan.

See Confidence Man: The case for Bush is the case against him.
William Saletan, SLATE.COM, Posted Thursday, March 4, 2004, at 4:24 PM PT

I recommend reading the whole thing by clicking on the link - but here's the core.

After a long discussion of how Bush will run as "steady and principled" and try to portray Kerry as "wavering" and ever changing and thus dangerous, Saletan offers this advice:
How can Kerry persuade moderates to throw out Bush? By turning the president's message against him. Bush is steady and principled. He believes money is better spent by individuals than by the government.

He believes the United States should assert its strength in the world. He believes public policy should respect religious faith. Most Americans share these principles and think Bush is sincere about them. The problem Bush has demonstrated in office is that he has no idea how to apply his principles in a changing world. He's a big-picture guy who can't do the job.
The idea is to show what "steady and principled" really means.
From foreign to economic to social policy, Bush's record is a lesson in the limits and perils of conviction. He's too confident to consult a map. He's too strong to heed warnings and too steady to turn the wheel when the road bends. He's too certain to admit error, even after plowing through ditches and telephone poles. He's too preoccupied with principle to understand that principle isn't enough. Watching the stars instead of the road, he has wrecked the budget and the war on terror. Now he's heading for the Constitution. It's time to pull him over and take away the keys.
Then, of course, you give Bush credit!
Bush was right to go to war against the terrorists who struck us on 9/11. He was right to demand the overdue use of force against the scofflaw Iraqi regime. But he couldn't tell the difference between the two threats. He figured that since both Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden were evil, they had to be connected. Saddam must have helped orchestrate the 9/11 attacks. He must have built weapons of mass destruction to sell to al-Qaida.
Well, he had the GENERAL idea. Not subtle, but we bought it.

And really not based on any facts - but no problem, right?
In recent months, congressional hearings and document leaks have unearthed a disturbing history. Again and again in 2001 and 2002, U.S. intelligence agencies sent signals that Bush was wrong. The FBI and CIA debunked putative links between Iraq and al-Qaida. The CIA rejected the claim that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Africa. In its National Intelligence Estimate, the CIA calculated that it could take Saddam up to five years to make a nuclear weapon and that he would transfer WMD to terrorists only if he were invaded. The Defense Intelligence Agency advised the administration that there was "no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing or stockpiling chemical weapons." The Air Force disputed the suggestion that Iraq had developed aerial drones capable of delivering chemical or biological toxins. Analysts questioned whether the White House was right that Saddam's aluminum tubes were designed for building nukes, or that two trucks the White House found suspicious were designed for making biological weapons.

Bush ignored every one of these warnings. They couldn't be true, because they didn't fit his theory. He couldn't stand the complexity of the facts or the ambiguity of intelligence. "Until we get rid of Saddam Hussein, we won't get rid of uncertainty," he told aides in November 2002. Four months later, on the eve of his invasion of Iraq, he declared, "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." After the war, when Diane Sawyer asked Bush about the discrepancy between his ironclad statements and the more tentative weapons estimates provided by U.S. intelligence, he replied, "What's the difference?"
Well, perhaps most people feel exactly the same way.

The problem is some people, maybe more than you would expect, don't feel the same way.

Here's the deal. We all needed certainty. And that's what Bush provided, in spades. And may get him reelected.

This all comes down to whether one values certainty above all else.
That's Bush all over: Certainty. No doubt. No difference. But it makes a difference to Britain, France, and Mexico, which no longer trust our requests, based on U.S. intelligence, to cancel flights to the United States. And it makes a difference to China, which refuses to accept our report, based on U.S. intelligence, that North Korea is operating a highly enriched uranium program. Bush's overconfidence - reflected in a series of exaggerations wholly unnecessary to the punishment of Saddam for his noncompliance with U.N. inspections - has trashed our credibility and cost us vital help with other terrorist and WMD-related threats.
Yeah, well, who needs these other folks? When you're certain you are just, well, by definition, right.

The Saletan extend the argument to other areas:
Bush was right to propose tax cuts in 1999. The economy was booming. The surplus was ballooning. Liberals were itching to spend the money on new programs, despite Bill Clinton's promises to pay down the national debt. Bush wanted to get the money out of Washington before that happened. That's why, under his plan, the size of the tax cut was to grow from year to year. The point was to keep the surplus from piling up, refunding more and more money as it poured in from a growing economy. That's also why Bush cut taxes across the board instead of targeting middle-class families who would spend the money immediately. He wasn't trying to stimulate the economy. He was trying to give the money back to the people who had paid it in, which meant largely the rich.

Then everything changed. The stock market tanked, and the economy slowed. Sept. 11 shook the nation's confidence and drastically altered military budget projections. Bush didn't need to drain a surplus anymore. He needed to fund national defense and stimulate the economy. He needed to get rid of his back-loaded across-the-board tax cut and replace it ... with front-loaded tax cuts aimed at consumers. Instead, Bush claimed that his original tax-cut elixir was just as good for the new malady as for the old one. The deficit exploded, the economy failed to recover the jobs it had lost, and much of the country remained unprotected from terrorism. The world changed, but Bush couldn't.
Ah yes, but he WAS certain and stuck to his principles.

Then there are some other matters:
When Bush banned federal funding of research on new embryonic stem cell lines, he said sufficient research could proceed because "more than 60" existing cell lines would still be eligible for grants. The true number turned out to be less than half that, but Bush didn't budge. Last fall, in the name of human life, he signed into law a bill that required any doctor performing a second-trimester abortion to cut up the fetus inside the woman instead of removing it intact. Good principle, atrocious policy. His initiative to fund faith-based social programs has been a classic liberal misadventure, adding religious mini-bureaucracies to various Cabinet departments despite a study last year that showed faith-based job training programs were no more effective, and in some ways less effective, than regular job training programs.

Now, to save the family, Bush proposes to monkey with the Constitution. Why is this necessary? Because conservative states might be forced to honor gay marriages performed in liberal states, says Bush. But didn't the Defense of Marriage Act void that requirement? Yes, Bush argues, but DOMA might be struck down. Unwilling to wait for a ruling on DOMA, Bush prefers to circumvent the court system and local democracy by reopening the nation's founding document. He seeks to impose a permanent federal definition of marriage on "any state or city," regardless of what the voters in Boston or San Francisco want.
As I have said elsewhere, this forms a symbiotic "call and response" liturgy with the American people.

It's like this. Thousands die two and a half years ago - and most Americans suddenly realize that the world is indeed a dark and scary place, full of mortal uncertainty. Of what now can we be certain? Oh woe, the world is a chaotic place -

"... for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

"Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night."

See The Bumper Sticker Version Of Existentialism from February 6, 2004 for a discussion of Matthew Arnold's poem and all the rest.

Anyway, we were desperate for strength and confidence, and certainty. We needed that. George jumped in and started chanting back to us. He was sure. Evil was evil and one just had to say so. We were good. They were bad - whoever thay were. As simple as that.

Was he wrong about things? No matter. He was confident. What a relief!

We all signed on and worshiped him.

Not Saletan.
President Bush. Strength and confidence. Steady leadership in times of change. He knows exactly where he wants to lead this country. And he won't let facts, circumstances, or the Constitution get in his way.
But we're scared, still, and we know we're innocent victims who never did anything bad to anyone anywhere else in the world, and thus we will reelect [sic] him. We need the comfort.

He may be a fool, and dead wrong, but he's certain of himself. That's his trump card. He knows our need for strength, for certainty, far outweighs our need for common sense.

And that's the price of assuming the role of frightened, innocent victim. We get four more years of this foolishness, but can feel noble and wronged.

Stay sacred - and feel noble and wronged - and this is what you get. You get what you deserve.


The emphases are mine throughout.

Posted by Alan at 22:13 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 4 March 2004 22:02 PST home

Wednesday, 3 March 2004

Topic: Bush

Kulturkampf? Blitzkrieg? Why would a critic of George Bush use such words?

Sidney Blumenthal is a former senior adviser to President Clinton and author of The Clinton Wars - a book which explains, in detail, just who was out to "get" Bill Clinton and when, and who paid for it. And he's a man with a grudge. Here's something he just published regarding Bush's new culture war against gays and uppity scientists and who know who else....

See: Bush goes to war with modernity: The more Bush supplicates his core voters, the more he repels the rest
Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian (UK), Thursday March 4, 2004

After a discussion of the primaries here, he gets to the point:
The launch of his Kulturkampf has been a blitzkrieg. Bush proposed a constitutional amendment against gay marriage. He dismissed two scientists who dissented on his bioethics board, which he has used to ban forms of stem cell research, replacing them with adherents of the religious right. Bush made a recess appointment of William Pryor of Alabama as a federal judge, blocked in the Senate for his extremism. Pryor had said that "abortion is murder" and supported the building of an altar of the 10 commandments in a courthouse. Then the attorney general, John Ashcroft, subpoenaed the medical records of women who have had abortions at planned parenthood clinics.

Bush followed by supporting the unborn victims of violence bill, creating a new federal crime of foetal homicide that passed the Republican-dominated House of Representatives on February 26. At Bush's order, the Senate is being transformed into a battlefield of the culture war.

But Bush's instigation of religious wars in America, while it mobilises the evangelical Protestant faithful, is also unexpectedly thwarting him.
Well, his popularity didn't exactly jump due to all this.

But as Blumenthal points out, Bush lost the popular vote by more than half a million. And Bush does seem to have decided he has no choice but to chase his base, so to speak.

And I haven't said much about the Pryor appointment, or about Ashcroft's subpoenas of the medical records of any woman who has had an abortion. What is there to say? That's the way things go. I did, a bit back, comment on how twenty Noble Prize winning scientists were a bit put off by this administration's sort of kind of changing the basic findings in all sorts of studies because those findings gave people the wrong impression - that global warming might be real, that minorities had rather bad health and even worse healthcare, that condoms actually worked to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, and so on. (See Not that it matters from Thursday, 19 February 2004)

Blumenthal ties this all together in a discussion of Bush courting the Jewish votes by leaning toward Israel and, at the same time, courting the Evangelical Christian Right vote. Heck, that is rather hard work. You have to satisfy the neoconservative theorists who want the world changed to be full of new secular free-market democracies in the Islamic world, and, on the other side, appeal to the folks who long for a theocracy here at home run on the idea the New Testament contains everything you need to run a society and order the functioning of its government. Satisfying both sides a lot of work.

The problem?
The born-again Bush, who reconstructed his self-image after 9/11 as a messianic leader, assumed that the agendas of the neocons and the theocons were one and the same. However, Bush outsourced his foreign policy on the Middle East and Israel to the neocons in part for an electoral purpose, hoping to capture the Jewish vote, which will not be fulfilled because of his anxious devotion to the theocons.
Cool. Each part of the base was concerned with different, contradictory things.

But both sides hated the sixties, if that matters. And this alliance worked for Ronal Reagan.
The neocons and the theocons were bound together in reaction against the 1960s for different reasons: the neocons by foreign policy, the theocons by their continuing fundamentalist revolt against modernity. Under Ronald Reagan, this coalition was held together in the crusade against godless communism. But George Bush is haunted by what happened next to his father.
Yep, what are you going to do when what Ronald Reagan called "the evil empire" is gone. Find another, of course. The Muslim hoards and the gay guys! They'll do.

After all whole lot of words Blumenthal then trots out the fellow who loves making crude jokes about gay guys and films devoted to torture and death:
Just as Bush stokes the culture war, Mel Gibson enters, sprinkling holy gasoline on the fires. Only in the combustible atmosphere Bush has fostered could Gibson's grand guignol version of an anti-Semitic medieval passion play, The Passion of the Christ, become the number one box-office hit. This is the ultimate Mad Max escapade: blowing up the cultural contradictions of American conservatism.
Yep, the culture war is underway. And it's a mess. Gibson forgot the Jews are the good guys now - killing Palestinian children (by mistake) and building big walls to keep them out (Bush chants again and again Ariel Sharon is a "man of peace"). Mel, get it straight! Jews are victims of the Islamic bombers killing their children! They aren't the bad guys! They may vote Republican in the fall! Man, you just can't depend on religious zealots anymore....

But Blumenthal sees the real problem for Bush in broader terms.
With his culture war the son is echoing another political error of the father, who alienated Jews and Catholics by permitting his 1992 convention to be used as a platform for the religious evangelical right. This latest revival is frightening Jews, cautioning American Catholics (overwhelmingly of the liberal John XXIII/Vatican II persuasion, and holding the same view on abortion as other Americans), and scourging mainline Protestants. The more Bush supplicates his base, the more he repels the others. Moreover, Bush is running against a Democrat who's a modern Catholic, with lineage to the oldest mainline Protestant families of New England and Jewish ancestry.

This political miscalculation at home is far outweighed by the disastrous consequences in the Middle East. With increasing desperation, Bush is campaigning on behalf of his various fundamentalisms in a crusade against modernity in America, his greatest war of all.
Oh well. The modern world is overrated, isn't it?

One sort of wonders if Bush was always like this? Was he always so opposed to what some call modern ideas?

One of his former teachers says this:
At Harvard Business School, thirty years ago, George Bush was a student of mine. I still vividly remember him. In my class, he declared that "people are poor because they are lazy." He was opposed to labor unions, social security, environmental protection, Medicare, and public schools. To him, the antitrust watch dog, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Securities Exchange Commission were unnecessary hindrances to "free market competition." To him, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was "socialism."

Recently, President Bush's Federal Appeals Court Nominee, California's Supreme Court Justice Janice Brown, repeated the same broadside at her Senate hearing. She knew that her pronouncement would please President Bush and Karl Rove and their Senators. President Bush and his brain, Karl Rove, are leading a radical revolution of destroying all the democratic political, social, judiciary, and economic institutions that both Democrats and moderate Republicans had built together since Roosevelt's New Deal.
Hardly surprising.

See President George Bush and the Gilded Age
March 1, 2004 - Yoshi Tsurumi (now Professor of International Business, Baruch College, the City University of New York)

Read all about the economy and about the man who wishes to direct it. He has his principles -- moral and economic -- from which he has never really wavered. He just didn't mention them in his campaign against Al Gore. Wouldn't be prudent. But we should have known.

Geez, at least none of my former students has really embarrassed me, so far.

Posted by Alan at 22:33 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: World View

Mel Gibson gets his audience in France...

On Sunday, 29 February 2004 I commented on how Mel Gibson's new film "The Passion of the Christ" was creating some uproar in France and might not find a distributor. Passions regarding anti-Semitism were running high. See Jerry Lewis, not Mel Gibson for that.

Well, the matter has been settled as I see from a scan of items from l'Agence France-Presse (AFP) by way of The Tocqueville Connection.


Here's the scoop:
PARIS, Feb 29 (AFP) - Mel Gibson's controversial film "The Passion of the Christ" will be shown in France despite rumours that it could not find a distributor, the Journal du Dimanche newspaper reported Sunday.

Gibson's production company Icon was quoted as saying that the name of the French distributor would be revealed Monday.

Marin Karmitz, president of the French National Federation of Film Distributors, angrily rejected reports that the film might be boycotted because of fears it could stoke anti-Semitism -- saying the row was manufactured as a marketing device.

"It was a deliberate tactic on the part of Icon to make themselves look like martyrs ... It is a totally unacceptable kind of marketing," he said.
It is? Unacceptable?

This Karmitz fellow doesn't know anything about marketing as we practice it here. And no wonder Vivendi made such a hash of their brief ownership of Universal. The French think us crass, but this seems just na?ve.

On a lighter note, I did also come across this:

PARIS, March 3 (AFP) - Nostrils were twitching at Paris railway stations Wednesday as olfactory advertisements wafted the scent of rosemary over commuters to remind them of the joys of holidays in the south.

Timed to coincide with the return to work after the winter school break, the week-long campaign was launched by the region of Languedoc-Roussillon which wants to boost its image as a tourist destination.

Posters set up on the metro system are equipped with tiny emitters which spray out essence of rosemary -- the odour which "best evokes the atmosphere, food and landscape of Languedoc-Roussillon," the region's tourist office said.

Perfume manufacturers have used olfactory advertisements in the past, but this is the first time the technique has been used to promote tourism here, the office said.
Will we catch a whiff of similar promotions in the subways of New York and Boston? Perhaps a strategic puff of nitrous oxide mixed with taco spices to make you think of visiting Los Angeles?

As for the French thinking of heading south, just don't take the TGV to get there. I once took the TGV nonstop run from Paris to Avignon. Nice trip. I wouldn't do it today.

PARIS, March 3 (AFP) - The French government is being blackmailed by a previously-unknown group which has planted at least one bomb on the country's railway system and is demanding a ransom of more than five million dollars, the interior ministry said Wednesday.

Since December a group calling itself AZF has sent six letters to President Jacques Chirac and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, condemning France's political and economic establishment and threatening to explode 10 bombs on the railways unless the money is paid.

The government said it is taking the threat seriously and has activated the anti-terrorist section of the police as well as the domestic intelligence agency DST. A judicial investigation has been set up under the country's top anti-terrorist judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere.

No group called AZF is known to the authorities, but it may be significant that AZF was the name of a chemical factory that blew up in the southern city of Toulouse in September 2001, killing 30 people and injuring around 1,000 others. The accident caused enormous local anger.

Police said there was not believed to be any link with Islamic terrorism.

The first letter, received on December 14, contained a series of denunciations of "politicians more pre-occupied with themselves than with the state ... a corrupt economy ... and a reductive education system" and ended with the words, "You will hear from us again soon."

In subsequent messages AZF described itself as a "pressure group of a terrorist nature." It said that 10 devices had been planted across the railway network, and that these had been fitted with timers to go off at intervals unless four million dollars and one million euros were handed over.
Actually this is quite refreshing. Not much of a political agenda here, and certainly no fanatical religious agenda either - these guys just want the money. Quite straightforward, isn't it?

Perhaps this group could ask for a bit more if they identified themselves with some religion or other, or against some religion or other. "Entrepreneur" may be a French word, but these guys need to get with the program.

Posted by Alan at 09:25 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Tuesday, 2 March 2004

Topic: The Culture

Who to trust on the question of whether Lars and Spanky should have the right to be legally married?
On one side you have Bush and the Evangelical Christian Right, and then on the other side....

Okay, get your press releases here!

First up? The good folks over at the American Anthropological Association.

See Statement on Marriage and the Family from the American Anthropological Association

Here's what these subversives and perverts say:
American Anthropological Association
2200 Wilson Blvd, Suite 600, Arlington, VA 22201
February 25, 2004

Arlington, Virginia; The Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association, the world's largest organization of anthropologists, the people who study culture, releases the following statement in response to President Bush's call for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage as a threat to civilization.

"The results of more than a century of anthropological research on households, kinship relationships, and families, across cultures and through time, provide no support whatsoever for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution. Rather, anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies.

The Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association strongly opposes a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to heterosexual couples

Media may contact either of the names below:
To discuss the AAA Statement please contact: Elizabeth M. Brumfiel, AAA President (847) 491-4564, office.
To discuss anthropological research on marriage and family please contact: Roger Lancaster, Anthropologist, author, The Trouble with Nature: Sex in Science and Popular Culture, - (202) 285-4241 cellular
Well, these folks are not moralists, or theocrats. Make of it what you will.

What do doctors say? Well, there is The American Academy of Pediatrics.


These guys seem to think gay folks with children might be better parents of they were legally married. Huh?

Below is a news release on a policy statement published in the February issue of Pediatrics, the peer-reviewed, scientific journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

For Release: February 4, 2002, 12:01 am (ET) (Headline updated February 7, 2002)

CHICAGO - The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says children who are born to, or adopted by, one member of a gay or lesbian couple deserve the security of two legally recognized parents. Therefore, a new AAP policy statement, "Coparent or Second-Parent Adoption by Same-Sex Parents" supports legal and legislative efforts that provide for the possibility of adoption of those children by the second parent or coparent in same-sex relationships.

The statement says there is a considerable body of professional literature that suggests children with parents who are homosexual have the same advantages and the same expectations for health, adjustment and development as children whose parents are heterosexual.

Coparent or second-parent adoption protects a child's right to maintain continuing relationships with both parents in a same-sex relationship. Several states have considered or enacted legislation sanctioning coparent or second parent adoption by partners of the same sex. But other states have not yet considered legislative action, while at least one state bans adoptions altogether by the second parent or coparent in a same sex relationship.

According to the policy statement, coparent or second-parent adoption in a same-sex relationship provides for the following:

Guarantees that the second parent's custody rights will be protected if the first parent falls ill or dies.

Protects the second parent's rights to custody and visitation if the couple separates.

Establishes the requirement for child support from both parents in the event of the parents' separation.

Ensures the child's eligibility for health benefits from both parents.

Provides legal grounds for either parent to provide consent for medical care and other important decisions.

Creates the basis for financial security for children by ensuring eligibility to all appropriate entitlements, such as Social Security survivors benefits.

The AAP recommends that pediatricians become familiar with professional literature regarding gay and lesbian parents and their children; support the right of every child and family to the financial, psychological and legal security that results from having both parents legally recognized; and advocate for initiatives that establish permanency through coparent or second-parent adoption for children of same-sex partners.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The February issue of Pediatrics also contains "Technical Report: Coparent or Second-Parent Adoption by Same-Sex Parents." The technical report provides details on the growing body of scientific literature that suggests children who grow up with gay or lesbian parents fare as well in emotional, cognitive, social and sexual functioning as children whose parents are heterosexual.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 55,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.
Well, they're only doctors. They could be wrong. Bush could be right.

One never knows.

These sites courtesy of pointers from Helena Montana (pseudonym?) writing in Demagogue.

Posted by Alan at 21:44 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 2 March 2004 21:46 PST home

Topic: The Economy

The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Falling!

Yep, this seems bad news for anyone who thinks we can do something about the outsourcing of American jobs to other parts of the world. They will lose their jobs too.

See Return of a conundrum: As technology devours jobs at an increasing rate, the conflict at the heart of the market economy is becoming irreconcilable
Jeremy Rifkin, The Guardian UK, Tuesday March 2, 2004

And who is this fellow? Jeremy Rifkin is the author of The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era. Geez! And he is president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington.

What's his point?
We are losing jobs all over the world. It has reached crisis proportions. In 1995, 800 million people were unemployed or underemployed. Today, more than a billion fall into one of these categories.

Even in America and Europe, millions of workers find themselves under- employed or without jobs and with little hope of obtaining full-time employment.

... Where have all the factory jobs gone? It has become fashionable, of late, to blame the high unemployment on companies relocating their production facilities to China. It is true that China is producing and exporting a far greater percentage of manufacturing goods, but a new study by Alliance Capital Management has found that manufacturing jobs are being eliminated even faster in China than in any other country. Between 1995 and 2002, China lost more than 15m factory jobs, 15% of its total manufacturing workforce.

There's more bad news. According to Alliance Capital, 31m manufacturing jobs were eliminated between 1995 and 2002 in the world's 20 largest economies. Manufacturing employment has declined every year in the past seven years and in every region of the world. The employment decline occurred during a period when global industrial production rose by more than 30%.

If the current rate of decline continues - and it is more than likely to accelerate - manufacturing employment will dwindle from the current 164m jobs to just a few million by 2040, virtually ending the era of mass factory labour.
Oh. That!

Well that's technology for you. Making things in factories with people, not computer driven machines, is so, so retro. It had to happen.

But then Rifkin says that everyone else's job will eventually disappear too, as the white-collar and services industries are experiencing similar job losses - because, after all, intelligent technologies will replace more and more workers. Indeed he is right - banking, insurance, and the wholesale and retail sectors are all introducing "smart technologies" into every aspect of their business operations, and this is, indeed, quickly eliminating support personnel in the process. Rifkin points out that the US internet banking company Netbank has $2.4 billion in deposits and, while a typical bank that size employs 2,000 people, Netbank runs its entire operation with just 180 employees. And I guess they work hard. Or their systems do.

And all those call centers that have moved offshore? All those American jobs gone? This "pales in significance compared with jobs lost every day to voice recognition technology. Consider the US phone company Sprint, which has been steadily replacing human operators with this technology. In the year 2002, Sprint's productivity jumped 15% and revenue increased by 4.3%, while the company reduced its payroll by 11,500."

Well, this increases productivity, and profits, and reliability for the consumer - and makes shareholder value jump. Isn't that of more importance than the 11,500 losers in the transformation?

You see, here's the point:
Economists have long argued that productivity allows firms to produce more goods and services at cheaper costs. Cheaper goods and services, in turn, stimulate demand. The increase in demand leads to more production and services and greater productivity, which, in turn, increases demand even more, in a never-ending cycle. So even if technological innovations throw some people out of work in the short term, the spike in demand for the cheaper products and services will assure additional hiring down the line to meet expanded production runs.
Cool. It all works out.

The problem, Rifkin is claiming, is that this theory appears to be no longer applicable.

Why? He cites the US steel industry as typical of the transition taking place.
In the past 20 years, steel production rose from 75m tonnes to 102m tonnes. In the same period, from 1982 to 2002, the number of steelworkers in the US declined from 289,000 to 74,000. "Even if manufacturing holds on to its share of GDP," says University of Michigan economist Donald Grimes, "we are likely to continue to lose jobs because of productivity growth." He laments that there is little we can do about it. "It's like fighting a huge headwind."
Well, the problem is pretty obvious.

If giant and widespread advances in productivity can replace more and more human labor, resulting in more workers being let go from the workforce, where will the consumer demand come from to buy all the potential new products and services? Well, yes. Rifkin says we are being forced to face up to "an inherent contradiction at the heart of our market economy" that has been present since the very beginning, but is only now becoming irreconcilable.

Yep, you get your greatly increased productivity... and more workers are marginalized into part-time employment or just fired. And those who remain get paid less, because the flooded labor market makes each of them quite replaceable by someone less greedy for salary and benefits - someone out of work and desperate. So what do you get? You get a shrinking workforce - and those with jobs with less income - and thus reduced consumer demand - and then...? You get economy unable to grow. QED.

Rifkin claims that this is the "new structural reality that government and business leaders and so many economists are reluctant to acknowledge."

And he offers no solutions. A problem without a solution? Perhaps so.

It seems to me this puts unions, or even individual workers, in an awkward position. What can they demand these days? A raise? That's a joke with ten unemployed Americans with their noses pressed to the window willing to work for a lot less - and a thousand good workers are available for even less in the Far East. Get real! And who can demand healthcare coverage or any other benefits? What would be the point is even asking?

And as for the Christian conservative Republican view that those out of work are out of work because God does not favor them or their values or their attitude... well, that may be so, but it would be nice if these losers who God has abandoned had at least a little cash to buy goods and services to create some demand for goods and services. Oh well.

We face, perhaps, a zero sum game here. The number jobs of any sort is becoming more and more limited, worldwide, and thus the number of people with money to buy anything much will similarly shrink. Will we each fight tooth and claw in some sort of worldwide game - musical chairs? - king of the mountain? - to be one of the few left with a real job and enough money for food and shelter, accepting what we must?

Well, perhaps that's the way it has always been, really.

But this is what Rifkin is explaining. The problem was always implicit in the market system. We should have seen it coming.

There will be no job growth much from here on out, in North America, or anywhere else. Such is the situation.

Thomas Hobbes meets Karl Marx, I guess.

Posted by Alan at 18:33 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 2 March 2004 18:48 PST home

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