Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Perma-crisis versus cheap shirts

This short paragraph puts some valuable context around the news headlines, which are usually framed in the language of funding crises and the spiralling cost of things like health care, education and social care:
A wage that would buy the labor embodied in a shirt 200 years ago will buy enough labor to make 100 shirts today. However, the number of hours it takes to teach calculus, play a symphony, or palpate a swollen gland has remained largely constant over that period. That means that the cost of health care and education will rise whenever the cost of manufacturing falls -- not because health care is getting more expensive, but because everything else is getting cheaper.
Cory Doctorow

It also opens up lots of questions around automation and productivity, de-skilling, autonomy and power.

The stories in the mainstream news are ones of of scarcity, lack of productivity, insecurity and permanent crisis.

But maybe the real story is of  lots of people, in lots of places, producing ever more for less, in which case the question isn't how societies can overcome scarcity by austerity, an ever-more "flexible" labour market and even leaner production, but why the abundance that's already come from an ever-more productive society is spread so unevenly.
But it was clear that an all-round increase in wealth threatened the destruction - indeed, in some sense was the destruction- of a hierarchical society ... For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty ... would sooner or later realise that the privileged minority had no function and they would sweep it away.