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.



Mayan campaign mashup 2012: Hold it steady, hold it steady

2 11 2012

I’m off shortly to volunteer unloading and distributing relief supplies, an effort organized by the Red Hook Initiative, (and found through the Brokelyn website, via the Red Hook Recovers Twitter feed)—but before I go, a bit o’ political prognostication.

I think Barack Obama is going to win, both the popular and Electoral College votes, and by a comfortable margin. Not overwhelmingly, not a landslide, but with, say, more than 290 electoral votes.

And since I’m in a predicting frame of mind: The Dems retain the Senate, and while they pick up some seats in the House, Republicans will likely control that chamber.

I’m really going out on a limb, I know, but I’m usually allergic to predictions and this time I just feel so. . . calm about this.

This is not normal for me. I usually try to game the worst that could happen and prepare myself for that, partly because I genuinely believe the worst will happen, and partly as a hedging strategy: better to be pleasantly than unpleasantly surprised.

My new-found serenity may be due to an (over-)attentiveness to polling aggregators and explanations of Obama’s small-but-persistent edge by Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight as well as by John Sides  and the folks at The Monkey Cage and Jonathan Bernstein at a plain blog about politics: they offer good probabilistic evidence for confidence in re-election.

Still, I’ve rarely let evidence get in the way of my neuroses before, so why the calm this time?

I dunno, I truly don’t. Maybe it’s the sense that even if Obama loses and we end up with President Romney (may those words never truly be joined), things will be worse than they’d have to be, but we’d survive. Hell, we’re still here after eight years of the thoughtless, careless George W. Bush as president, so would the empty privilege of Willard Mitt Romney destroy us? No.

Anyway, since I’ve been quietly confident of the president’s re-election for some time, it seemed only right that I put it out there—if only to take my licks if I’m wrong.

But this time, this time I think it’s going to be all right.