Sunday, 18 January 2015

Unpaid producers and paid slackers

Where there is no tension between supply and demand, there can be no market and no capital accumulation. What peer producers are doing, for now mostly producing intangible entities such as knowledge, software and design, is to create an abundance of easily reproduced information and actionable knowledge.
...wrote Michel Bauwens, back in 2012. He wrote an optimistic follow-up, in which he proposed the Occupy Wall Street movement as a model for a new economic paradigm that would replace the old, broken one:
Occupy Wall Street set up working groups to find solutions to their physical needs. The economy was considered as a provisioning system (as explained in Marvin Brown's wonderful book, Civilising the Economy), and it was the "citizens", organised in these working groups, who decided which provisioning system was appropriate given their ethical values.
We're still waiting for that new paradigm and, if the success of Occupy is supposed to be the prototype, we might be in for disappointment, or at the least, a very long wait. Meanwhile, the old-fashioned "real" economy, where capital "efficiently" extracts the maximum surplus value from the employment of labour, blunders on in all its gloriously dysfunctional absurdity, as Roland Paulsen of Lund University in Sweden has been finding out:
Paulsen focused on the most extreme shirkers. He interviewed 43 Swedish workers who claimed to spend less than half of their work hours actually working. He tracked down these hardcore non-performers through friends of friends, web ads and the Swedish website, where people share slacking stories and tips. Most were white-collar workers, but a construction worker, a security guard and several house cleaners also participated. Paulsen's interviews were designed to answer two basic questions: How do you get away with this? and Why do you do it?

....Paulsen concludes that rampant slacking isn't hurting capitalism all that much. Nor is he convinced that slacking off at work is an effective form of psychological resistance, given that many subjects saw their idleness as involuntary or unenjoyable.

In the end, the most Paulsen can say about empty labor is that it underscores the absurdities of an economy where people are paid for their time rather than their output. Huge numbers of people are working significantly fewer hours than they're getting paid for, and the system grinds on just the same.

This is the shoddy reward that workers get for dramatically increased productivity: The work of an 8-hour day now fits comfortably into a 6-hour day. Corporate profits are skyrocketing, but the average worker is still obliged to sit around for 8 hours, on call for the boss. So, who's stealing time from whom?
In these times

Bauwens' new paradigm thingy may look like wishful thinking, but so does the idea that current way of carrying on is a good use of anybody's time.