Hazy shade of winter

22 09 2013

I have—surprise!—some sympathy for declinist narratives.

It’s easy, it’s fun, and it adds a nice gloomy depth to one’s otherwise-apparently shallow existence.

Still, sometimes the dread is a real question, as in, Are we humans nearing the end of a long moment of open society and democratic governance? Will our polities at some point transform into mere corporations of some sort of consumerist, militarist, or theocratic bent?

Two linked—or maybe one double-sided—dynamic(s) seem to be emerging: i) no work, and thus no use for, those who are unable to fit themselves into an increasingly technologically complex economy; ii) increasing control over the lives of those who are employed.

Tyler Cowen has been hitting on the first theme at his blog, Marginal Revolution, and in his new book, Average is Over. From what I can tell of his numerous references to the book, our present economic situation is dissolving into one in which most people, precisely because they are “most people” (i.e., average), will be squeezed out of economic life and will have to make do with a marginal social existence.

And the second? Consider Penn State’s desire to reduce its health care costs. It’s instituting a new wellness plan aimed at creating healthier, which is to say, cheaper, employees; a part of that plan, since shelved, required those employee to fill out a mandated survey in which they were probed about their plans to become pregnant, whether they’ve suffered depression, or been divorced.

Capitalism has always required the worker to conform to the workplace—the creation of the manu-factory is one of the markers of capitalism—but out of this required conformity emerged a counter-trend of uninterest in what the worker did away from work. (Owners didn’t want the responsibility, and labor wanted the liberty.) At higher levels of corporate life managers might have to sign contracts with morals clauses, and non-unionized workers might know that to criticize their company could be firing offense, but, for the most part, if you did your job you’d be left alone away from the job.

I hasten to add here that I think this remains the dynamic, at least in the US, and there’s no clear sign that our society will inevitably devolve into one of en masse control of the low-employment outcasts and individualized control of the fully employed.  I don’t know what will happen, and given the complexity of human life, I am leery of making any kind of long-term predictions about us.

But the hazy signs of decline? They’re all around us, just waiting to be plucked for a Sunday afternoon musing on how the story ends.

 





Little pink houses for you and me

13 11 2009

Shocking.

Pfizer to Leave City That Won Supreme Court Land-Use Case

From the NYTimes story by Patrick McGeehan:

“Look what they did,” Mr. Cristofaro said on Thursday. “They stole our home for economic development. It was all for Pfizer, and now they get up and walk away.”

That sentiment has been echoing around New London since Monday, when Pfizer, the giant drug company,announced it would lead the city just eight years after its arrival led to a debate about urban redevelopment that rumbled through the Unites States Supreme Court, and reset the boundaries for governments to seize private land for commercial use.

Pfizer said it would pull 1,400 jobs out of New London within two years and move most of them a few miles away to a campus it owns in Groton, Conn., as a cost-cutting measure. It would leave behind the city’s biggest office complex and an adjacent swath of barren land that was cleared of dozens of homes to make room for a hotel, stores and condominiums that were never built.

Robert  Pero, a city council member who’s about to become mayor, noted that the city lost over a thousand jobs with the move, but retain the building.

Then again, he added, “I don’t know who’s going to be looking for a building like that in this economy.”

He also noted that he was unhappy that Pfizer didn’t contact the city before deciding to leave.

“I’m sure that there are people that are waiting out there to say, ‘I told you so,’ ” Mr. Pero said. “I don’t know that even today you can say, ‘I told you so.’ ”

Hmmm. And yet many of those screwed over by their own city retain the ability to say precisely that.

Large swaths of barren land where neighborhoods once stood, driven out not for the public good (always a tough call, but if not always justified, at least justifiable) but because regular citizens living their lives don’t produce enough profit benefit to the city.

Not that that would even happen in New York. I mean, the Atlantic Yards project—it’s all good.

Right?