Saturday, March 07, 2009

Culture of Dive Bombing

Job losses in the graph look like the World War II movie where the Zero dives full-speed straight into the sea. This time, Zeros-R-Us.

There have been four major modern explanations for mass layoffs, and the accompanying article mixes together the last two. Mass layoffs:

1. result from acts of God or nature. There is nothing to do but wait and pray.

2. express the superior power of the capitalist class, which benefits itself by liquidating labor when it feels the need.

3. results from natural obscelencence, capitalism's creative destruction, and markets' natural genius for outing the old and lofting the new.

4. are an optional piece of business strategy. Business for Dummies.

(4) is a nice version of Marx's class struggle (2). This piece says, for example, "Layoffs are multiplying because of dysfunction in the financial system, which is prompting even healthy companies to shed workers and shut down operations out of concern they may soon lose access to credit."

In other words, even while they are still making money, companies choose to protect their credit rather than their workers.

The idea that this is just fine, that it is legal, ethical, and logical to fire employees can be fired as a precautionary measure, was carefully developed by decades of conservative activism and argument.

A preferred argument is (3), which says firing is simply an expression of natural transitioning to a higher order. A typical manifestation, again from this article:
“The decimation of employment in legacy American brands such as General Motors is a trend that’s likely to continue,” said Robert E. Hall, an economist at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “We have to stimulate the economy to create jobs in other areas.”
Oh, so the US isn't going to do transportation anymore?

(3) is the sum of all wisdom of the field we know as economics. This field has been a disaster, and someday there will be . . . the Corporate Inquisition.

In the meantime, journalists need to hear that (4) is not actually justitifed by (3) - there's nothing natural about mass layoffs as your one solution to economic problems, and to your own deep fears.


Gerry Barnett said...

Geez, and I thought the firings are variously to preserve cash flows, prop up stock prices, keep credit ratings, and send a message to the unions that they had better start negotiating. See this explanation by Boeing in response to workers offering to take a pay cut to save jobs:

What's even worse, state governments and public universities appear to be using the same approach--firings rather than lower or deferred salaries, and the like. Something about recruiting "talent"--they will chop off a leg to have better eye shadow.

Chris Newfield said...

ha -nice! true that about university firings - UC all over