The economic scene: Links & comments 8/23/13

Here are links to articles I found interesting and you might find interesting, too.

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber for Britain’s Strike! magazine.

Some 80 years ago the great economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that advances in technology would make it possible to do all the necessary work of society without people having to work long hours at low pay.

David Graeber said that this, in fact, has happened, but the necessary work of society is being crowded out by unnecessary work.  He knows people who say frankly that their work serves no useful purpose, and they do it only to earn an income.

How do you distinguish between necessary and unnecessary work?  Simply imagine what would happen if all the people doing a particular job went on strike?  Society would be seriously inconvenienced if nobody taught school or staffed fast-food restaurants.  But if all tele-marketers ceased work, most people would be glad.

Graeber wrote that it is the people who are doing the meaningful work—teachers, factory workers, health care workers—who are under attack in the current economic struggle, and that they are targets of resentment by people trapped in meaningless work.   This is a good instrument of social control, he thinks.

An Open Letter to President Barack Obama by Ani McHugh, a high school English teacher in New Jersey.

Ani McHugh appealed to President Obama to abandon corporate school “reform” which, she says, prevents teachers from doing their jobs.  She would be an example of people with meaningful and important jobs who are under attack.

How to Become a Part-Time Worker Without Really Trying by Barbara Garson for TomDispatch.

The trend to part-time work is not just a result of fewer factories and more fast-food restaurants.  Barbara Garson described how companies are switching from full-time to part-time work, with the same work requiring the same skills and sometimes by the same people, but with less pay, fewer benefits and no job security.

The Confidential Memo at the Heart of the World Financial Crisis by Greg Palast for Britain’s Vice magazine.

Investigative reporter Greg Palast uncovered documents which show how Larry Summers, when he was Deputy Secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton, plotted with the CEOs of Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, Citibank and Chase Manhattan to open up the world banking system to risky speculation.

Summers, Robert Rubin and Timothy Geithner persuaded the Clinton administration to support repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which put a firewall between insured bank savings and financial speculation, and to prevent regulation of trading in derivatives, which are financial instruments not backed by any asset.  But the risk was that depositors would flee to countries where the banking system was safer.

To prevent that, Palast said, Summers, Geithner and their banker friends successfully lobbied for a redrafting of the World Trade Organization’s Financial Services Agreement, which forced countries on peril of economic sanctions to open up their markets to risky speculation.  Palast said the result was that they were all ruined by the financial crash, except for Brazil whose leader Inacio Lula da Silva refused to sign.

Montana’s State-Run Free Clinic Sees Early Success by Dan Boyce for National Public Radio.

A year ago the Montana state government set up a free clinic for state employees.  It provides better service at a lower cost that if the employees used their insurance.  I think there are lessons here for health services generally.

Please Stop Saying the Sequester is Good for Growth by Matthew Phillips for Bloomberg Business News.  (Hat tip to David Damico.)

‘The Con Is Leaving a Trail of Blood Across the Planet by Greg Palast for Vice magazine.

In this entertaining rant, Greg Palast said gun control is a bogus issue which diverts attention from what matters.  Outlawing guns will do as little to reduce violent crime as outlawing marijuana has done to reduce drug addiction, he wrote; on the other hand, Americans who think they need guns to protect their basic freedoms fail to realize they already have lost their basic freedoms.


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