Monday, January 11, 2010

On Job Recovery

Hal Pepinsky,,
History cannot be reversed. We cannot get back to doing business as we were before the crash. Historically speaking, I guess this position makes me progressive rather than conservative. As such, I resist calls to do what we have to do, instead I celebrate what anyone does that contributes to personal and social security, or imagine what might be worth trying (as my friend Olaf at ahs-talk puts it, I am an armchair commentator in this mode). Hence:
“We” can’t just put “them” back to work. It saddens me to hear messages that increasing jobs depends heavily on higher retail sales, led by Wal-Mart, on whether we in my part of the world revert to spending more and saving less. People who gave their public souls as highly productive workers are the most vulnerable to being laid off first, henceforth the least employable. And we are encouraged to set this economic beast back upon their backs—to renew this social contract?!
I’m in a peculiar position to write on this subject. I am socially and fiscally stable, except for the uncertainty of providing sufficient funds to keep an ageing parent out of a nursing home. It has been my luck to have chosen conservative investment and insurance. I begin drawing social security this month. My personal income is virtually fixed from now until my wife and I are both dead. I stopped investing in Wall Street on moral and practical grounds in 1982, and so have neither lost nor sought re-investment to increase return. Essentially, I try to practice the principle of avoiding making money out of having money, as do devout Muslims today, and as did devout Italian Christians when Shakespeare made the Merchant of Venice a Jew. I don’t credit my choices with the fruits of considerable social advantages I have held; I do credit my choices for having minimized my losses during this economic collapse.
Now that I’m past working for a living, I more fully appreciate the overriding importance of social stability to my own sense of security and life purpose. Here I count myself damned lucky to have found a partner who has shared a process of accommodating one another enough to remain together after 36 years, with a shared commitment in turn to our parents and (grand)children in turn. It happens that our daughter, Katy Pepinsky, continues a decade of commitment to building local community food networks and markets; she has certainly raised my own awareness of implications of economics of food production and provision.
Jobs for U.S. workers to manufacture goods for export cannot “recover.” I expect those odds-on to survive economic hard times generally to be the entrepreneurs of the future. It is well established among poor folks from urban ghettoes to the hollows of Appalachia that when times are hard, people take care of each other. They exchange childcare. They exchange hairstyling for maybe some food. I’m not pretending I know informal, let alone voucher and other more formal systems, for getting paid for one’s labors in hard times. I am thinking that the stories we can tell one another of how, especially the poorest of the poor, get by, might help teach us how to earn enough to get by when we lose jobs.
I don’t think global capital investors have much stomach for funding U.S. spending habits, private and public, for long. We won’t reduce unemployment much or more than temporarily by putting Americans back to spending. Buying and selling will become a less and less affordable global market as people survive most by investing in local economies, geographical and filial.
I can’t prophecy whether the U.S. economy is “on the road to recovery” or ruin. I do observe that from so-called left to right, people cling mightily to the question of how, not whether, we will resume “normal growth.” As prophecies fail, in this case the national myth that U.S. economic glory can grow forever, people cling ever more strongly on grounds that “we cannot afford to fail.”
I’m guessing that if we took closer looks at how laid-off people and others are getting by, we would learn how to survive U.S. decline a lot faster than on figuring out what our leaders have to do. Love and peace--hal

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