- Capitalism and Alternatives -

More assumptions from Everest

Posted by: Barry Stoller on November 17, 1999 at 10:10:52:

In Reply to: Your assignment sir! posted by Gee on November 16, 1999 at 14:32:34:

: In factory terms - when you buy a machine which paints cars you capture the knowledge involved and it is no longer necessary for people to paint cars. If you are an optimist then you'll state that these people are free to pursue ever more opportunities. If you are a pessimist then you believe that this throws people onto a scrapheap. Stable and low unemployment over the long term is suggesting that the optimists were right.

Is 'stable and low unemployment over the long term' to be our ONLY gauge of prosperity?

Stable and low unemployment over the long term, after all, was characteristic of the middle ages.

Some facts to contradict Gee's unwarranted optimism...

'Since the early 1970s, a rising share of university-educated workers have wound up with high school level jobs.' (Business Week, 6 October 1997, p. 30.)

'According to one Labor Department projection, the growing supply of college grads could outstrip growth in demand by as much as 330,000 annually by 2005.' (Ibid.)

Gee says:

What appears to have happened however is that people have not been left behind en masse (otherwise unemployment %s would be always rising rapidly) but are finding new jobs in services & productive work (where technology is not usurping their role) where their bargaining power is evidently still as strong, in fact stronger than when technology did not do those jobs it now does...

OK, unemployment is zip.

But what sort of jobs are people getting?

'A vast number of people labor in lower-skilled, lower-wage jobs that...offer few prospects for on-the-job training or advancement.' (Business Week, 1 September 1997, pp. 64.)

The Labor Department has projected that the top-growth occupations in America are: cashiers, janitors, salespeople, and waiters. (New York Times, 31 August 1997, sec. 4, p. 9.)

The percentage of Americans now working part-time jobs has risen to 25% of the workforce, compared with only 17% in 1985. (Statistical Abstract of the United States 1996, table 630, p. 402; and Statistical Abstract of the United States 1990, table 642, p. 387.) Part-time work, on average, pays 30% less than full-time work per hour. (Statistical Abstract of the United States 1996, table 668, p. 429.)

Which brings us, logically enough, to Braverman:

Those industries and labor processes subjected to mechanization release masses of labor for exploitation in other, generally less mechanized areas of capital accumulation. With the repeated manifestations of this cycle, labor tends to pile up in the industries and occupations which are less susceptible to engineered improvements in labor productivity. Wage rates in these 'new' industries and occupations are held down by the continuous availability of the relative surplus population created by the steadily increasing productivity in the machine occupations. This in turn encourages the investment of capital in forms of the labor process which require masses of low-wage hand labor. As a result, we see in capitalist industry a secular trend to accumulate labor in those portions of industry and trade which are least affected by the scientific-technical revolution: service work, sales, and other forms of marketing, clerical work insofar as it has not yet been mechanized, etc. The paradox that the most rapidly growing mass occupations in an era of scientific-technical revolution are those which have least to do with science and technology need not surprise us. The purpose of machinery is not to increase but to decrease the number of workers attached to it.(1)


1. Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital [1974], Monthly Review Press 1998, pp. 265-6, emphasis added.

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