Friday, April 19, 2013

Standing Precariat (4)

Guy Standing says that historically we are at a fascinating point. Karl Polanyi wrote a book called the Great Transformation in 1944. There was a period dominated by financial capital in the nineteenth century. Inequalities and insecurities multiply until there was a crisis, which can do go two ways. Society can lurch towards Nazism and Fascism, or a new progressive movement can emerge to change the patterns of distribution and freedom. He thinks that we are at that crisis point now, so it is exciting to see what might emerge.

Polanyi was analysing the emergence of the national market economy. What we have now is the emergence of a global market economy. The great transformation needed a proletariat: a stable, disciplined, full-time labour supply to work in factories. The global market economy needs an unstable labour supply that will accept an unstable lifestyle.

The young educated precariat are looking for new forms of freedom and association. The Occupy movement was a build up of primitive energy. 2012 was the lull before the storm. Standing hopes that the next two years will see the emergence of new progressive vision.

The precariat was the inevitable consequence of government policies. A Faustian bargain was made in the 1980s. All parties appealed to the middle class, and ignored the precariat. They knew when they liberalised their economies that wages and benefits would have to fall in the rich industrialised countries. The politicians knew that opening up to China and India would produce downward pressure on wages, but they did not say this publicly, because they needed to be re-elected. To compensate for lower wages, they allowed cheap credit and an orgy of consumption, knowing that they would have moved on before the crisis hit. The world has now gone into austerity and inequality is continuing to grow.

Standing went on to propose some solutions, but they did not seem to be relevant to a modern society. However, the problem that he has identified is a serious threat to the peace of society. If something is not done, it could blow society apart. Christians should be thinking about how they can bring a solution to this problem. Jesus was comfortable dealing with the precariat of his time. To be taken seriously, we will need to bring practical solutions, not just pass judgment.

I describe one alternative here.

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