Polanyi and Clopenings

by Henry on May 24, 2016

This piece by Mike Konczal and Patrick Iber on Polanyi’s double movement, Trumpism, and the difference between left neo-liberalism and the social democratic left is fantastic. Go read it – I’m not going to try to excerpt from it, and certainly don’t think I can improve on it. One of the things that it does, which I’ve wanted to write about for a little while, is to pick up on Polanyi’s notion that labor and land are fictitious commodities – that is, that much of the problem with classical liberalism is that it presumes them to be commodities when really they are not. Konczal and Iber pick out a key quote:

Labor is only another name for a human activity which goes with life itself, which in its turn is not produced for sale but for entirely different reasons, nor can that activity be detached from the rest of life, be stored or mobilized; land is only another name for nature, which is not produced by man; actual money, finally, is merely a token of purchasing power which, as a rule, is not produced at all, but comes into being through the mechanism of banking or state finance

One very good example of how treating labor as a commodity goes wrong is ‘clopenings’ – near back-to-back shifts, combined with the practice of many employers of requiring their workers to agree to irregular shift work where they may not know until very shortly before when they are supposed to turn up to work. Steven Greenhouse wrote a strong piece on this for the New York Times:

On the nights when she has just seven hours between shifts at a Taco Bell in Tampa, Fla., Shetara Brown drops off her three young children with her mother. After work, she catches a bus to her apartment, takes a shower to wash off the grease and sleeps three and a half hours before getting back on the bus to return to her job. … Employees are literally losing sleep as restaurants, retailers and many other businesses shrink the intervals between shifts and rely on smaller, leaner staffs to shave costs. These scheduling practices can take a toll on employees who have to squeeze commuting, family duties and sleep into fewer hours between shifts. The growing practice of the same workers closing the doors at night and returning to open them in the morning even has its own name: “clopening.” … Last summer, Starbucks announced that it would curb clopenings on the same day that The New York Times published an article profiling a barista, Jannette Navarro, mother of a 4-year-old, who worked a scheduled shift that ended at 11 p.m. and began a new shift at 4 a.m. … But several people who identified themselves as Starbucks employees complained on a Facebook private group page that they still were scheduled for clopenings, despite the company’s pronouncement. One worker in Texas wrote on Jan. 30, “I work every other Sunday as a closer, which is at 10:30 or really 11-ish, then scheduled at 6 a.m. the next morning.” Another worker in Southern California wrote, “As a matter of fact I clopen this weekend.” Laurel Harper, a Starbucks spokeswoman, questioned the authenticity of the Facebook posts.

Markets, given that they are what they are, treat labour as a commodity. There are obvious efficiencies for firms if they can require their employees to carry out clopenings, or be available at short notice for unexpected shifts. Perhaps, indeed, one could construct a model demonstrating that consumers will benefit in the aggregate – that their venti half skim lattes with an extra shot will each cost one or two cents less if firms can rely on these kinds of labour models. But labour is performed by actual people, with actual families, which often involve children or dependents relying on them. This is a significant part of Polanyi’s point – and modern shift practices in the service economy are an example which should be viscerally tangible to those of us who have had to juggle our work lives and raising kids or looking after other dependents (which is not all of us, but is many of us). Ways of thinking that turn labour into a commodity, divorcing it from the human beings that carry it out, are apt to produce monstrosities.

{ 132 comments }

1

Chris 05.24.16 at 6:53 pm

FYI, the links in the article don’t work.

2

Chris 05.24.16 at 6:55 pm

or more precisely the end link command was left out, which makes it seem as if the long linked section does not work.

3

RNB 05.24.16 at 7:17 pm

Look forward to reading piece. Still think there is an advantage in not moving to Polanyi’s labor as fictitious commodity from Marx’s labor-power (not labor) is a commodity. Marx builds power relations into saying that labor power is in fact a commodity because the point that once labor power is bought Mr. Moneybags has not completed the transaction with the possessor of the labor power; he still has to extract or compel labor during the time the contract has specified (the modern economist may say that the labor contract is incomplete).

What Marx’s superior theory allows us to understand is what the whole system of surveillance through which their move is tracked is all about (see Simon Head Mindless)–extracting maximal labor effort of and intensifying the labor process of those who have sold not the fictitious commodity of labor but their labor-power as a commodity.

4

RNB 05.24.16 at 7:19 pm

sorry typos in the last

Look forward to reading piece. Still think there is an advantage in not moving to Polanyi’s labor as fictitious commodity from Marx’s labor-power (not labor) is a commodity. Marx builds power relations into his theory by saying that labor power is in fact a commodity because the point is that once labor power is bought, Mr. Moneybags has not completed the transaction with the possessor of the labor power; he still has to extract or compel labor during the time the contract has specified (the modern economist may say that the labor contract is incomplete).

What Marx’s superior theory allows us to understand is what the whole system of surveillance through which workers’ every move is tracked is all about (see Simon Head Mindless)–extracting maximal labor effort of and intensifying the labor process of those who have sold not the fictitious commodity of labor but their labor-power as a commodity.

5

BenK 05.24.16 at 7:24 pm

‘In the market’ everything is for sale. Inconvenience, discomfort, time, life. ‘In the state’ everything is at command, coercion is unchecked. When a person enters into the market, the other is for sale – or he is for sale. When he contacts the state, either he wields power or becomes the ‘tax base.’

Ich and Du.

No reorganization, no regulation, no optimization, can remove the fundamental disconnection between the self and all others.

6

RNB 05.24.16 at 7:54 pm

7

Rich Puchalsky 05.24.16 at 8:19 pm

From the linked article: “Markets and trading in commodities are a part of all human societies, but to get to a “market society” in a meaningful sense (what some would just call capitalism) these fictitious commodities have to be subject to a larger, coherent system of market relations. This is something that can only be accomplished by state coercion and regulation.”

This is why statist leftism has lead to one dead end after another, and why anti-capitalism is more and more strongly associated with anarchism.

Polanyi’s “land is only another name for nature, which is not produced by man” does go some way further than classic leftist sources in incorporated environmental factors as an independent source of value that has nothing to do with labor power.

8

bob mcmanus 05.24.16 at 8:26 pm

Peter Frase is great! I had only read a couple pieces at Jacobin, and didn’t know he had a blog, so I am very grateful for the link.

I have read Polanyi, and a couple secondary works, but just have never been able to grasp his thought. Maybe I keep trying to translate him into Marxist categories, or maybe I am hostile to his conciliatory project. It is obvious at a glance that there could be an application of Polanyi that is radical and revolutionary just discarding those three fictitious commodities. The Frase is an ok start on Marxian objections to Polyani, and I should think the distance from the Berman seminar may have given them added force.

From the Konczal: “Arriving in Vienna, he lived out its years as a “socialist municipality,” governed by Social Democrats, which featured workers’ cooperatives, public housing, free health care, and a flourishing municipal culture.”

It’s called Red Vienna in most histories I know.

9

Chris Mealy 05.24.16 at 8:59 pm

Mike Konczal turned me on to Polanyi years ago and I’m incredibly grateful for it. I majored in econ and anth but had never heard of him.

Ages ago dsquared wrote something about how nobody really purchases labor, except for masseuses or prostitutes. I think he was making a point about labor being a factor of production, but it was a long time ago, and Google can’t find it. Anybody (Daniel?) remember it?

10

Placeholder 05.24.16 at 9:18 pm

Just so we’re clear about this articles very dogged insistence that Karl Polanyi isn’t Karl Marx:

‘If then labour is a commodity it is a commodity with the most unfortunate attributes. But even by the principles of political economy it is no commodity, for it is not the “free result of a free transaction.” … The present economic regime “simultaneously lowers the price and the remuneration of labour; it perfects the worker and degrades the man.” … “Industry has become a war, and commerce a gamble.” …Up to the present, industry has been in a state of war, a war of conquest’ – Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844

If this article, by phrasing it ”Polanyi’s “fictitious commodities”‘, wants you to believe in an economist who believed that who isn’t Karl Marx, then rejoice, Polanyi is indeed saying exactly that almost exactly a hundred years later at the age of 58 and who isn’t Karl Marx at the age of 26.

11

Lee A. Arnold 05.24.16 at 9:44 pm

Polanyi’s conception is simple.

It may be easier to understand, by reframing Polanyi as saying that under capitalism, the economy is NO LONGER embedded in society — rather the market system is disembedded:

“In a market economy, the production and distribution of material goods is carried on through a self-regulating system of markets, governed by laws of its own, the so-called laws of supply and demand, motivated in the last resort by two simple incentives, fear of hunger and hope of gain. This institutional arrangement is thus separate from the non-economic institutions of society: its kinship organization and its political and religious systems. Neither the blood tie, nor legal compulsion, nor religious obligation, nor fealty, nor magic created the sociologically-defined situations that ensured the participation of individuals in the [market] system. They were, rather, the creation of institutions like private property in the means of production and the wage system operating on purely economic incentives.” (Polanyi, The Livelihood of Man, p. 47)

In other words, in societies up to the modern period, economic anthropology showed that most of the trading between people was not carried on by the logic of a price-market system, it was due to other sorts of social relations, such as very complicated kinship relations:

“Indeed we may ask in regard to preliterate society — ignorant of bookkeeping — how could reciprocity be practiced over large stretches of time by large numbers of peoples in the most varied positions, unless social organization met the need halfway by providing ready-made, symmetrical groups, members of which could behave toward one another similarly?” (p. 53)

The economy was “embedded in the society”. In the market system, this is no longer true. Thus, as he shows in the The Great Transformation, the total market system leads to social atomization.

Polanyi’s point in calling land, labor, and money “fictitious” commodities was merely definitional, as noted above. They don’t fit the original definition of the word commodity, because they originally weren’t produced for sale.

12

root_e 05.24.16 at 10:36 pm

From the cited article: “One candidate, Bernie Sanders, has argued explicitly that health care and education—two things that the New Deal mostly left alone—should be rights and therefore accessible to all. While public policy pundits fight over the specifics, they miss that Sanders, by discussing these things as rights instead of just policies, has changed the nature of the debate. ”

Ok, I’m too uncool to even know what “changed the nature of the debate” means concretely.

Here’s what Bill Clinton said in 1993 about Hillary’s Health care plan:
“This principle speaks to the human misery, to the costs, to the anxiety we hear about every day, all of us, when people talk about their problems with the present system. Security means that those who do not now have health care coverage will have it, and for those who have it, it will never be taken away. We must achieve that security as soon as possible.
Under our plan, every American would receive a health care security card that will guarantee a comprehensive package of benefits over the course of an entire lifetime, roughly comparable to the benefit package offered by most Fortune 500 companies. This health care security card will offer this package of benefits in a way that can never be taken away. So let us agree on this: Whatever else we disagree on, before this Congress finishes its work next year, you will pass and I will sign legislation to guarantee this security to every citizen of this country.”

13

root_e 05.24.16 at 10:38 pm

For that matter, Harry Truman in 1945 said: “The health of American children, like their education, should be recognized as a definite public responsibility.”

14

Lee A. Arnold 05.24.16 at 10:54 pm

Found it. Polanyi explicitly describes the market system as disembedded, here:

“…the nineteenth-century version of an independent economic sphere in society. It is motivationally distinct, for it receives its impulse from the urge of monetary gain. It is institutionally separated from the political and governmental center. It attains to an autonomy that invests it with laws of its own. In it we possess the extreme case of a disembedded economy, which takes its start from the widespread use of money as a means of exchange.

“In the nature of things the development from embedded to disembedded economies is a matter of degree. Nevertheless, the distinction is fundamental to the understanding of modern society. Its sociological background was first mooted by Hegel in the 1820s and developed by Karl Marx in the 1840s. Its empirical discovery in terms of history was made by Sir Henry Sumner Maine in the Roman law categories of “status” and “contractus”, in the 1860s; finally, in the more comprehensive terms of economic anthropology, the position was restated by Bronislaw Malinowski in the 1920s.”

Polanyi, Primitive, Archaic, and Modern Economies, p. 82.

15

RNB 05.24.16 at 11:14 pm

Marx did not say labor or labor power produced but that labor power is reproduced by means of the wage of which he has a theory and it’s not a subsistence one. Polanyi has no wage theory

16

Lee A. Arnold 05.25.16 at 12:20 am

Polanyi didn’t need a wage theory. Nor does anyone else, really.

Polanyi was a theorist of economic anthropology concerned with making a description of ALL economic systems in the same framework, even the ones that didn’t use money. He went beyond Marx.

In a remarkable little historical critique of economic theories from Montesquieu and Quesnay to Max Weber, Polanyi writes that Marx tried correctly for a “societal” approach, but that Marx’s tendency to “economism” (wage theories etc.) was a grave error:

“Marx accepted the Ricardian analysis as valid. Consequently, his only alternative was to reject the whole institutional system of market economy. He asserted that industrial capitalism was an historical phenomenon which would disappear again as it had come. The argument was anthropological, institutional, and historical. It centered on society as a whole. It was supplemented by a whole philosophy, which distinguished Marx sharply from writers like Carey or List who accepted the bourgeois order.

“Marx emphatically ranks as a representative of the return to the societal approach. Yet at the same time he involuntarily strengthened the economistic position. Having accepted Ricardian economics, he turned it into an argument against capitalist society. This was the meaning of Das Capital. Capitalist society, Marx argued, was economic society, and therefore it was ruled by the laws governing the economic system, i.e. the laws of the market. Marx, however, failed to emphasize (to put it at the least) that such a state of affairs existed ONLY in capitalist society. [my caps] The discovery of the importance of the “economic” under a market economy induced him to overstress the influence of the economic factor generally, at all times and places. This proved a grave mistake. Although Marx himself insisted on the influence of non-economic factors in history, especially in early history, nevertheless Marxists made a veritable creed of the economic interpretation of history. This amounted to an assertion not only of the predominance of economic factors, but also of economic motives. This enormously strengthened the classics. [i.e., it inadvertently strengthened the dominance of mainstream classical economics – my note] The societal approach personified in Marx was sapped by the economistic element inherited from the classics.”

Polanyi, Primitive, Archaic, and Modern Economies, pp.133-4.

17

RNB 05.25.16 at 12:28 am

Lee, you make an important criticism of Marx, to be sure. Godelier, among others, responded. Gareth Dale reviews the debate in his Polity book on Polanyi. Don’t have the readings here with me, and don’t have time to reread them when I get to the office. Let me say that I found Gareth Dale’s book judicious and insightful throughout.

18

root_e 05.25.16 at 1:59 am

#16

Interesting. Capitalist society is also not as economics driven as claimed. The success with which European governments destroyed socialist movements with nationalism and state repression in Europe around WWI is a good example.

19

root_e 05.25.16 at 2:03 am

I’m depressed by how paint-by numbers Koczal’s paper is. Hillary Clinton simply refuses to play the assigned role of neoliberal market dogmatist.

Clinton also wants higher education to remain a market commodity, because she says that if the government paid, it would needlessly be giving a free ride to the children of the wealthy and the upper-middle class. Clinton’s reasoning appeals to ideas of market efficiency, while Sanders, in stating that “Education should be a right, not a privilege,” appeals to ideas of community beyond markets. Dissent.

Excuse me? Clinton’s reasoning is that poor people’s taxes should not pay for the education of the rich.

“I believe that we should make community college free. We should have debt-free college if you got to a public college or university. You should not have to borrow a dime to pay tuition,” Clinton said. “I disagree with free college for everybody. I don’t think taxpayers should be paying to send Donald Trump’s kids to college.”

How does this have anything to do with market efficiency?

20

John Quiggin 05.25.16 at 3:23 am

A few more thoughts on decommodification, also in the linked post by Seth Ackerman

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2013/01/john-quiggin-on-the-red-and-the-black/

21

Plarry 05.25.16 at 3:37 am

This is a great paper, thanks for posting. I also had not heard the term “clopenings” before. I agree with #19 that the distinction that is attempted between Clinton and Sanders is strained.It seems to me that Sanders, Clinton, and Trump (insofar as he has positions) all want to subordinate the market to great concerns, but differ in how they want to do it.

22

Matt 05.25.16 at 3:45 am

I like Polanyi a lot, and agree that the “clopenings” are awful, but I’m left unsure why we would need any fancy theory to see this, or why we’d need any to stop it. Why wouldn’t it be enough to have normal, decent, labor laws? I mean, I understand that that’s a hard thing to get right now, but surely it’s not a hard thing to get in principle, and a lot easier than over-throwing capitalism or the like.

23

J-D 05.25.16 at 4:19 am

In the first twenty-two comments, twelve mention Polanyi and two mention clopenings.

24

Paul Davis 05.25.16 at 5:21 am

@22: if labor was a commodity, there’d be nothing awful about clopenings. That’s the point: we know they suck, and we understand why. If we leverage our understanding, we see that Polyani is right (to some degree) that labor is not a commodity.

25

Tim Worstall 05.25.16 at 9:01 am

“There are obvious efficiencies for firms if they can require their employees to carry out clopenings, or be available at short notice for unexpected shifts. Perhaps, indeed, one could construct a model demonstrating that consumers will benefit in the aggregate – that their venti half skim lattes with an extra shot will each cost one or two cents less if firms can rely on these kinds of labour models. But labour is performed by actual people, with actual families, which often involve children or dependents relying on them. This is a significant part of Polanyi’s point – and modern shift practices in the service economy are an example which should be viscerally tangible to those of us who have had to juggle our work lives and raising kids or looking after other dependents (which is not all of us, but is many of us). Ways of thinking that turn labour into a commodity, divorcing it from the human beings that carry it out, are apt to produce monstrosities.”

Rotating shifts weren’t an unknown part of the manufacturing economy, were they? Nights this week, days next, graveyard shift the third?

I agree with the basic point but just not sure about that emphasis upon “service economy”.

26

Lee A. Arnold 05.25.16 at 10:53 am

1. I think the thing to do is to make the FULL argument, in short, and agreeable to all sides:

Mass production capitalism is good. It works in favor of the two main principles, freedom and efficiency. It allows freedom for anyone to come up with new ideas and to innovate. It allows some of the fastest means to do things easier and better. And its environmental negatives are solvable.

BUT it leaves increasing numbers of people at the bottom of the income ladder, their efforts increasingly unnecessary to the mass economy, and with no way to go up.

Therefore, we need to provide small baseline means to live: guaranteed income, universal healthcare, free schooling, retirement security, etc. — all permanent. These should be automatic and lifelong for everyone, no matter how high the income, thus avoiding big bureaucracy. If you want to privately make more money to do even better, fine no problem.

In addition we must increase gov’t-funded research into the basic sciences, permanently.

In addition we need to provide temporary programs — New Deal-type experiments — to fund local arts and crafts, sports and competition, music and festivals, etc. This will help many people to grow into their own excellence, and possibly to find market-productive careers.

This will all cost LESS than the financial bailout.

It means everybody will have to think about voting without screaming at each other about being greedheads. It’s all very simple. So figure it out. Nobody is right, and everybody is an arsehole.

What’s not to like?

2. This argument gets us to several goals at the same time. This list is rather more technical and intellectual than most voters will care to follow, to say the least. I shall adumbrate:

a.) It is intellectual digestible by almost everyone; compact and comprehensible as a holistic political movement.

b.) It “saves the system” as it is now, thus retaining capitalism’s promotion of freedom and efficiency and whizzy gadgets — while allowing for the (Polanyian) point that classical philosophical liberalism is being destroyed for increasing numbers of people by the contemporary return to full-blown laissez-faire.

c.) It increases freedom and efficiency in providing the basics for life, because non-market institutions in this sphere serve to greatly reduce a lot of unnecessary transaction costs of time and energy — costs which now, instead, are reducing the possibilities for individual creativity and productive innovation.

d.) The issues of laziness and ghettoization are partly removed from the realm of market psychology, and given to possible solutions by the building of social capital. This relocates the work-and-status ethic to different loci; it does not obliterate it.

d.) It avoids judgment on ownership in The System. It avoids judgment on the course of The System in the future. Indeed it provides many more opportunities and options.

27

Leo Casey 05.25.16 at 5:12 pm

The New York State Constitution has, as part of its Bill of Rights (Article 1), the declaration that “labor is not a commondity.” The pertinent section reads:

§17. Labor of human beings is not a commodity nor an article of commerce and shall never be so considered or construed.

No laborer, worker or mechanic, in the employ of a contractor or sub-contractor engaged in the performance of any public work, shall be permitted to work more than eight hours in any day or more than five days in any week, except in cases of extraordinary emergency; nor shall he or she be paid less than the rate of wages prevailing in the same trade or occupation in the locality within the state where such public work is to be situated, erected or used.

Employees shall have the right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing. (New. Adopted by Constitutional Convention of 1938 and approved by vote of the people November 8, 1938; amended by vote of the people November 6, 2001.)

I don’t know of any attempt to make this section of the state constitution more than a declaration of aspiration. What is interesting is that, if you know the details of your American labor history, you know that at the turn of the 20th century, courts used anti-trust law — particularly the Sherman Anti-Trust Act passed by Congress in 1890 — not to regulate trusts, but to break unions and to outlaw strikes and boycotts, declaring them to illegal monopolies and conspiracies in restraint of trade. If you read the state constitution in this light, it becomes apparent that this declaration is an attempt to remove unions from the purview of anti-trust legislation. This removal and the reining in of court injunctions against strikes were two of the major objectives of the union movement at the time.

When I first discovered this clause, I was not aware of all of the history, and read it as a statement of principle — and, for that matter, one that was distinct from the Marxist tradition, with its focus on labor power as a commodity.

I would agree with those in the comments above who find the attempt in the article to distinguish between Sanders and Clinton in terms of Clinton’s purported allegiance to markets and commodification, as opposed to rights, rather overwrought, attempting to create evidence for profound policy divergences out of minor semantic differences.

28

MPAVictoria 05.25.16 at 5:15 pm

This is excellent.

Thank you

29

MPAVictoria 05.25.16 at 5:24 pm

“Clinton’s reasoning is that poor people’s taxes should not pay for the education of the rich.”

This is an argument against the government doing anything.

“Clinton’s reasoning is that poor people’s taxes should not pay for the roads of the rich.”

“Clinton’s reasoning is that poor people’s taxes should not pay for the public schools of the rich.”

“Clinton’s reasoning is that poor people’s taxes should not pay for the police of the rich.”

“Clinton’s reasoning is that poor people’s taxes should not pay for the safe water of the rich”

And so on.

30

Brett Dunbar 05.25.16 at 6:20 pm

Lee A Arnold @ 26

It isn’t actually true that it would cost less than the bailout, the bailout involved acquiring assets which in many cases made a profit. The AIG bailout for example made over $25 billion. The lender of last resort function is normally profitable. The damage was done by the credit markets drying up, the final bailout costs were negligible.

31

Philip 05.25.16 at 6:47 pm

Tim @ 28, yes jobs in lots of sectors have jobs that work on shifts but the emphasis here is on the pattern of the shifts i.e. people are told at short-notice what their shifts will be or asked to do extra. Manufacturing has moved this way too with just in time production. Nissan is a major employer where I live and from what I gather they expect people to accept working extra shifts, longer shifts, or to extend their shifts to meet Nissan’s production needs. Loss of jobs from Nissan leaving the UK is a major fear in the Northeast if there is a vote for Brexit.

The emphasis on the service sector seems to me to be because there are more unstructured shift patterns and in jobs which are mainly done by women. I am studying to be a social worker and have just finished my first placement. It was with a charity in a social care setting for children and young people and there was 24 hour provision from care workers, this was low paid work mainly done by women. The care workers either had permanent contracts with a minimum number of weekly hours or relief workers on zero hours contract to help manage fluctuations in demand around meeting the needs of the children. There was a shortage in the bank of relief workers so permanent staff were asked to do extra hours and be paid overtime, mostly they wanted to do this to help the children and earn extra money. The manager and team leaders had to say to people that they couldn’t do any more shifts because it would be breaking organisational policy, I think EU regulations were also relevant even though people had opted out of the working time directive.

MPA Victoria, yes or ‘Clinton’s reasoning is that we will not make education free for everyone in an Ivy League University so that Trump can buy his kid’s a privileged education.’

32

Lee A. Arnold 05.25.16 at 7:28 pm

Brett Dunbar #30: “the final bailout costs were negligible.”

This is the common story, but it’s rather more complicated than that.

The financial system used the bailout money to buy Treasuries, which were then redeemed by the taxpayer, and the shadowbanks used that money to repay TARP and all the other “facilities”.

Axel Leijonhufvud, “Debt, Inflation, and Austerity”, talk at INET, April 13, 2012:

“… central bank policy definitely does rob Peter to pay Paul, it has fairly dramatic redistributive effects, those effects are blissfully ill-understood by the public and go largely unnoticed. As an example of what I mean, take the TARP program. You know that the expenditures of the TARP money met with a lot of popular opposition. Subsequently the Fed went to basically a 0.2% repo rate and made money infinitely elastically practically, available to the banks at this zero rate, which the banks could use at one time to invest in government securities, first at 4% and now down at about 2%. You get money for free, and you earn a couple of percentage points on it, it’s good business, it doesn’t take highly technical portfolio management to profit from it. Then the earnings on those securities is used to pay back the TARP money, and the government then turns to the public and says, “Look, the TARP operation was very successful. It’s true we gave the banks money to begin with, but they have paid it all back.” Except how has it been paid back? Well, with earnings from the liabilities of the taxpayers that are now held by the banks. So this is a kind of shell game with a distributional outcome of these policies of which the public even today remains fairly ignorant.”

33

Corey Robin 05.25.16 at 7:30 pm

Leo Casey at 27: I had no idea about that clause in the NYS Constitution! Wow, thanks so much for pointing us to it.

34

Corey Robin 05.25.16 at 7:43 pm

But, Leo, following up on your explanation for the clause: Does that really make sense in terms of chronology? In 1937, the Supreme Court had upheld the Wagner Act of 1935, arguing that because strikes and unions could stop the flow of commerce, and because low wages suppressed demand and thereby thwarted flow of commerce, Congress had the right to regulate them, that is to say, to allow workers to organize and strike when necessary. Thinking of labor as an item of commerce, in other words, was considered the progressive position in the 1930s. It was the Court’s conservative wing that wanted to see labor relations treated as the realm of production and thereby different from commerce.

So why would New York labor progressives want to then remove labor from the world of commodities and commerce when it was precisely that argument that had justified what was called labor’s Magna Carta?

35

Robespierre 05.25.16 at 8:00 pm

I’m always amazed by the logical contortions needed to pretend the US Constitution is a progressive document. Seriously, if that above is a valid interpretation of the commerce clause, anything goes. What’s the point of even having a constitution?

36

TM 05.25.16 at 9:19 pm

root_e 12: Why is it that every attempt at instituting universal health care in the US has resulted in an unprecedented Republican landslide? It just doesn’t make sense. It seems that nothing makes Americans angrier than an attempt to make society less cruel.

37

root_e 05.25.16 at 9:29 pm

#29

Try reading what she said. The government SHOULD pay for free community college. The government SHOULD make it possible to got public university without borrowing for tuition. The government SHOULD NOT pay for private college for people who can afford it.

38

RNB 05.25.16 at 10:43 pm

34 LeGuardia decision figure in this?

39

F. Foundling 05.25.16 at 10:59 pm

If by saying ‘I disagree with free college for everybody’ Clinton actually meant ‘I disagree with the government’s paying for everybody’s *private* college’, then, AFAICS, it was a pointless strawman argument, since the other candidates weren’t advocating that either.

40

jake the antisoshul soshulist 05.26.16 at 1:27 am

@TM They are True Believers in Saulist self-loathing. Life is meant to be difficult and there is no redemption without suffering. Don’t forget how proud Saul of Tarsus was of beating his body into subjection.

41

root_e 05.26.16 at 1:34 am

#36
I think every improvement in social justice generates a powerful push backward. In this USA this usually takes the form of racial hysteria.

42

Rich Puchalsky 05.26.16 at 2:05 am

Having the government pay for private college for the rich and poor alike would clearly be better for poor people than not having the government do it. I have no idea why anyone on the left would hold it out as self-evident that it shouldn’t be that way. For one thing it would control costs: right now private colleges charge an astronomical amount because they can, then give an astronomical amount of “aid” to students from poor families which often either gets paid by the government anyways or results in a loan that the student has to pay off. If the government just flat-out paid it would have the negotiating power to lower costs significantly.

Remember Social Security? Remember how all of the people who wanted to “means test” it actually wanted to kill it? Programs that are only for poor people predictably get killed: programs that are for everyone survive.

The only reason that people are putatively forgetting this stuff now is because they need to defend HRC.

43

Leo Casey 05.26.16 at 2:14 am

Corey:

I haven’t researched this in any depth. I came across the section a number of years ago, and kept a mental note of it because it was so unexpected. I have asked NY labor lawyers if it ever played a role in litigation, and no one was aware of its use. Recently, I was reading Julie Greene’s Simple and Pure Politics, which is an excellent history of the development of the AFL’s politics under Gompers, and it reminded me of how the courts were so unremittingly hostile to unions in the late 19th and early 20th century, including the use of anti-trust legislation to bust unions. The way in which the section is written suggests to me that the underlying intent was to defend against this use of anti-trust legislation. The overall section was clearly the product of labor movement organizing, and reflected an attempt to institutionalize labor movement goals — right to collective bargaining, eight hour day and prevailing wages. It strikes me that this passage is most likely of a similar order. The chronology can work with that interpretation. Remember that FDR’s court packing proposal was 1937, and the Supreme Court only reversed course after that point. In 1938, decades of anti-union animus on the parts of the judiciary would be fresh in labor’s mind, and the changes in the Supreme Court’s posture would be in its earliest stages.

44

Yankee 05.26.16 at 2:47 am

C’mon people. HRC:”We should have debt-free college if you got to a public college or university.” Talking Points Memo has the clip.

If you go to Berkeley, welcome aboard. If you go to Stanford, bring money or influence. Or football skills, or whatever. But tuition that is, not a free ride. And Berkeley is big but not big enough for everybody. So why not stick to real issues if you want to … whatever it is you’re doing.

Oblig. OP: Polanyi, good. Mud man like.

45

RNB 05.26.16 at 4:27 am

Yankee,
RP recommends govt covering the cost of tuition @42 in part because: “If the government just flat-out paid it would have the negotiating power to lower costs significantly.”
How do you (and RP your further thoughts appreciated) think the govt would negotiate to significantly lower costs or otherwise interfere at UC Berkeley and other public research universities?

46

John Quiggin 05.26.16 at 7:05 am

“And Berkeley is big but not big enough for everybody. “

This is the core of the problem. Unless post-school education is genuinely available to everyone (not necessarily Berkeley for all, but something a lot better than the existing community colleges for those who are currently excluded from the state university system) then those who don’t get to university (mostly poor) are paying for something they aren’t entitled to themselves. So, the priority ought to be making the public post-school education system big and cheap, not small and free.

47

Corey Robin 05.26.16 at 12:08 pm

Leo at 43: In support of your point, someone pointed out to me that the language is also almost identical to one part of the Clayton Act, which passed in 1914: “The labor of a human being is not a commodity or article of commerce.” The purpose of that section was to amend the Sherman Anti-Trust Act so that it could not be applied to labor unions. So it could be that that was indeed what the NYS Legislature was doing, twenty years later, as you suggest.

https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/15/17

48

engels 05.26.16 at 12:27 pm

those who don’t get to university (mostly poor) are paying for something they aren’t entitled to themselves.

Oh God not this again. Are men who don’t receive breast cancer screening ‘paying for something they aren’t entitled to’ themselves? People who don’t use public libraries? People who die before they are able to claim a state pension? Maybe we should just privatise everything and introduce service charges in the name of ‘fairness’?

49

Layman 05.26.16 at 1:04 pm

“So, the priority ought to be making the public post-school education system big and cheap, not small and free.”

Maybe, but ‘big and free’ sounds better than either of those options…

50

Layman 05.26.16 at 1:06 pm

engels @ 48, very much agree.

51

Rich Puchalsky 05.26.16 at 1:21 pm

JQ: “those who don’t get to university (mostly poor) are paying for something they aren’t entitled to themselves. “

This seems confused. Let’s imagine that there are, as they are now, a small group of the best universities, but that the government pays for tuition and so on. Why are poor people paying for something that they aren’t entitled to themselves? Poor people can go to the best universities if they don’t have to pay. Presumably the choice of who gets to go would be meritocratic in some fashion (i.e. based on academic achievement).

But perhaps poor people can never get to that level of academic achievement because they have poor grade schools and high schools and poor family resources to prepare them in early life? OK, then let’s have the government pay for that too. Even if the government doesn’t, this would still mean that the poor person who beat the odds could go to one of the best schools without the government indirectly paying for it anyways and without being saddled with debt.

But perhaps we should build “the best” universities for everyone? No. This is running flatly into the problems discussed in Hirsch, “Social Limits To Growth”. The problem is not that there are a whole lot of people who really want to be scientists or literature professors or whatever and a whole lot of jobs for them and they just can’t afford the education needed to let those people do those jobs. The problem is that “the best” universities are social status goods. You can’t build “the best” universities for everyone by definition, not if they are positional social status goods.

52

kidneystones 05.26.16 at 1:33 pm

Populism may the best, only, solution to robofacturing and roboservicesectorjobs. People are being streamed out of the labor/cost economics whether at Apple factories in China, or Mc’Ds, all in the name of cost-savings and efficiency. The notion that the state should be expanding university enrollment, rather than reviving bespoke trades and manufacturing (as an factured by hand as much as machine) seems to me to be ludicrous.

Service sector jobs at Starbucks are careers, they’re part-time employment for the unskilled. There is to be fair a certain craft to getting the swirl on a latte to stand ‘just so’ and a certain pleasure to be derived from smiling at strangers. Surely we can find something more rewarding and useful for people to do.

Handmade wallpapers, for example? It’s time for some robust neo-luddism.

Fuck robofacturing.

53

Corey Robin 05.26.16 at 1:37 pm

Rich at 42: “Having the government pay for private college for the rich and poor alike would clearly be better for poor people than not having the government do it. I have no idea why anyone on the left would hold it out as self-evident that it shouldn’t be that way…Remember Social Security? Remember how all of the people who wanted to ‘means test’ it actually wanted to kill it? Programs that are only for poor people predictably get killed: programs that are for everyone survive.”

Absolutely. The arguments being used against free higher ed for all are the same arguments that have been used against Social Security. Not only by the right but also by *self-identified* neoliberals of the Democratic persuasion. Here’s the relevant passage from Charles Peters’s “The Neoliberal Manifesto”:

“Another way the practical and the idealistic merge in neoliberal thinking in is our attitude toward income maintenance programs like Social Security, welfare, veterans’ pensions, and unemployment compensation. We want to eliminate duplication and apply a means test to these programs. They would all become one insurance program against need.

“As a practical matter, the country can’t afford to spend money on people who don’t need it—my aunt who uses her Social Security check to go to Europe or your brother-in-law who uses his unemployment compensation to finance a trip to Florida. And as liberal idealists, we don’t think the well-off should be getting money from these programs anyway—every cent we can afford should go to helping those really in need.”

As Theda Skocpol and other social scientists argued repeatedly in the 1990s, universal programs like Social Security and Medicare, which were so successful in reducing poverty among the elderly, develop mass constituencies that make them very hard to eliminate. Programs targeted explicitly at the poor are the easiest to get rid of or cut back on. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have those programs, too, but the more you can tackle the problem via universal programs, the better.

54

root_e 05.26.16 at 1:46 pm

#42
“Having the government pay for private college for the rich and poor alike would clearly be better for poor people than not having the government do it.”

Of course, what evil neoliberal Hillary Clinton suggests is that the government pay for PUBLIC SCHOOLS only. What you are arguing is the same thing that the wingnuts who want to be able to use their taxes to pay for Andover and Aryan Christian Academy argue.
I didn’t realize that left orthodoxy now wanted the public to subsidize private schooling, but as you and Professor R. both note otherwise, I’ll have to take that into account.

55

root_e 05.26.16 at 1:50 pm

“Remember Social Security? Remember how all of the people who wanted to “means test” it actually wanted to kill it? Programs that are only for poor people predictably get killed: programs that are for everyone survive.”

So Medicare is dead? Predictably?

I remember that social security was initially set up to exclude all black workers. Are we not allowed to mention that anymore?

56

MPAVictoria 05.26.16 at 1:57 pm

“Of course, what evil neoliberal Hillary Clinton suggests is that the government pay for PUBLIC SCHOOLS only. What you are arguing is the same thing that the wingnuts who want to be able to use their taxes to pay for Andover and Aryan Christian Academy argue.
I didn’t realize that left orthodoxy now wanted the public to subsidize private schooling, but as you and Professor R. both note otherwise, I’ll have to take that into account”

I am sorry? Are you suffering from a stroke?

57

engels 05.26.16 at 2:09 pm

Corey Robin’s Peters quote seems to me dead on target regarding what I believe has been the CT majority position on higher ed ‘fairness’ (briefly – free higher ed is unfair on the poor) I’ve been criticising here for years, and driving myself bananas in the process, whether it was advocated by John, Harry or Chris

58

bruce wilder 05.26.16 at 2:10 pm

So Medicare is dead? Predictably?

So neoliberal Clinton will predictably propose to destroy Medicare to Obamacare.

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2016/05/destroying-medicare-to-save-obamacare-hillary-clintons-public-option-plan.html

59

engels 05.26.16 at 2:17 pm

But really, John, if you as an economist believe that, say, the lower quintile of earners are paying for education they don’t receive, you ought be prepared to quantify that. How much are they paying? Can you sketch the calculation? I’ve never seen you or anyone go this despite regularly hearing this factoid, often from economists and I strongly suspect it can’t be done.

60

root_e 05.26.16 at 2:19 pm

So Naked Capitialism is no longer predicting that Obama is going to get rid of Social Security, but is now predicting Clinton will destroy Medicare. Fascinating.

61

root_e 05.26.16 at 2:22 pm

MPA Victoria:

There is a common right wing argument that it’s only fair for taxpayers to divert their public school taxes to private school tuition. Are you unfamiliar with that?

I’m impressed to see such a stirring defense of private university tuition here.

62

Corey Robin 05.26.16 at 2:22 pm

Sorry, I should be clearer about one thing. I don’t know where I stand on government making private colleges/universities free, and missed the “private” in Rich’s formulation which I was agreeing with above. So when I said “absolutely” to Rich, I should have clarified that I was referring, first, to Rich’s point about universal programs not being means-tested, and, second, to Sanders’s proposal to make PUBLIC higher ed free. Clinton of course is not proposing to make public higher ed free. She wants to means test that program. I don’t know if that makes her evil neoliberal, but it does fit with the general neoliberal argument, as it was articulated by the self-identified neoliberals of the 1980s.

Social Security was actually not set up to exclude ALL black workers. The workers it did exclude — farm workers and domestic workers — definitely included the majority of black workers (and about a quarter of the white workforce). But 35% of black workers were included in the original program. So, definitely not “all.”

Though I’d have thought that any liberal or leftist would agree that those programs became better — not worse — when they finally did include, by the mid to late 1950s, the remaining sector of the African American workforce, as well as the 27% of the white workforce that was originally excluded. That is, when they finally became truly universal.

63

engels 05.26.16 at 2:26 pm

(While Rich’s view is a vast improvement on John’s, it is not true that the fact that not everyone can attend the ‘best’ universities isn’t an unalterable law of the world either. Here’s Selina Todd arguing for a different view:
http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/sep/22/oxbridge-comprehensive-university-selection-criteria )

64

root_e 05.26.16 at 2:41 pm

“Clinton of course is not proposing to make public higher ed free. She wants to means test that program. “

She is proposing universal access to free community college. I’m intrigued by this opposition to means testing though. Is the progressive income tax bad too? EITC?

The theory that universal programs are more protected from cuts than non-universal ones is not obviously correct.

https://www.ced.org/blog/entry/why-arent-social-security-and-medicare-means-tested

Of course, I agree that SS became a fairer and better program when it became universal, however, I don’t see that it at all became less easy to attack. In fact, subsidies targeted at the middle class and above seem like the most secure ones – see, for example, the mortgage deduction.

65

Layman 05.26.16 at 2:50 pm

“She is proposing universal access to free community college.”

A genuinely odd proposal, all things considered. Why community college, and not public universities? What does ‘universal access’, and how does it differ from the access to community colleges today?

“The theory that universal programs are more protected from cuts than non-universal ones is not obviously correct.”

It looks pretty obviously correct. It isn’t perfect protection – nothing is – but just try to, I don’t know…privatize social security, and see what happens.

66

bruce wilder 05.26.16 at 2:54 pm

EITC is a good example of a neoliberal program. Its ideological justification is that it helps the poor, but arguably it is an indirect subsidy to low-wage employers that enables and perpetuates systems of low-wage employment, systems of lousy jobs. So, cruelty dressed up in the sanctimony of good intentions — pretty much Hillary Clinton’s whole policy program.

67

que_es 05.26.16 at 2:56 pm

root_e: “Of course, I agree that SS became a fairer and better program when it became universal, however, I don’t see that it at all became less easy to attack. In fact, subsidies targeted at the middle class and above seem like the most secure ones – see, for example, the mortgage deduction.”

Huh? Unless I misunderstand you are contradicting yourself here. Subsidies targeted at the middle class and above are the most secure (your mortgage interest deduction example is a good one) meaning that they are less easy to attack. So if the middle class and above are included beneficiaries of the subsidy, the subsidy (which includes a subsidy for the poor) is less easy to attack.

68

bruce wilder 05.26.16 at 2:56 pm

root_e: . . . subsidies targeted at the middle class and above seem like the most secure ones – see, for example, the mortgage deduction.

And, yet, here you are — attacking away.

69

MPAVictoria 05.26.16 at 3:02 pm

“There is a common right wing argument that it’s only fair for taxpayers to divert their public school taxes to private school tuition. Are you unfamiliar with that?

I’m impressed to see such a stirring defense of private university tuition here.”

Alright.. I am being trolled right?

70

Rich Puchalsky 05.26.16 at 3:26 pm

I don’t see any large difference between saying that there should be single-payer government payment of private doctors and hospitals and single-payer payment of private universities. And yes, that includes right-wing private universities if students want to go to them — right-wingers are part of the public, last time I checked. Of course universities can have accreditation to ensure that they are actually teaching students and of course they shouldn’t be immunized from general laws on how to treat people.

The means-testing vs universal entitlement thing has been known since the days of FDR:

“I guess you’re right on the economics. They are politics all the way through. We put those pay roll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program. Those taxes aren’t a matter of economics, they’re straight politics.”

The problem with economism or whatever you want to call it is that it forgets that political solutions need constituencies or they don’t stay if they do get implemented. I discussed this with JQ before the carbon tax in Australia was implemented and then un-implemented and predicted that these kinds of solutions would go away if they ever became economically important enough to actually change behavior.

71

TM 05.26.16 at 3:39 pm

The argument that free tuition was just a subsidy for the middle and upper class and it is “only fair” that they pay for education has been made by neolberals in Britain, Germany and elsewhere to get rid of free public higher education. They were successful in Britain, less so in Germany where the nominal fees introduced some time ago have meanwhile been abolished due to widespread protest.

I am in favor of the free tuition systems. That is not to say that the “middle class subsidy” argument is totally wrong. In Germany, access to higher education is still unequal. But the response should be to work harder to remove those still existing barriers, rather than shrugging them off as a fact of life.

One should also, when confronted with the “subsidy” argument, point out that the public is already subsidizing Trump’s childrens’ expensive education, in particular through tax breaks. Here’s an obvious idea: make public universities free but take the tax breaks away that the rich enjoy when they choose to pay extra at prestigious private institutions, an investment which does pay for them.

Finally, I’d point out that free tuition isn’t enough to make education economically accessible. Students need to live from something while studying full time (and I know many in the US have to take jobs – even full time jobs – that make a joke of their “fulltime” studies). In Germany, the solution is a means-tested student aid program (going by the acronym BAFÖG), which students complain isn’t enough to survive (for my part I did manage to survive on full BAFÖG; student life is generally frugal, the rich students aren’t typical). BAFÖG was also partly converted to a loan (at least interest free). The US has Pell grants for low income students, which are ridiculously low now. What are Clinton and Sanders proposing in this respect?

72

Corey Robin 05.26.16 at 3:52 pm

TM: “In Germany, access to higher education is still unequal. But the response should be to work harder to remove those still existing barriers, rather than shrugging them off as a fact of life.”

Exactly. After all, some could have said about Social Security in 1950, before the program’s exclusions began to be eliminated and its coverage was expanded, this is a program to benefit the middle class. Look at all these poorer black and white workers who don’t benefit. Let’s just cut the whole damn thing. No, the right response was to expand it to everyone.

Or conversely in 1935, some could have said, let’s only have public pensions for the very poor who truly need it. Let’s design it like AFDC.

Well, 80 years later, one of those programs is not only still around but got expanded to include virtually one. The other one, which wasn’t that good, is gone. Replaced with an even worse program.

73

engels 05.26.16 at 3:57 pm

That is not to say that the “middle class subsidy” argument is totally wrong.

Agreed.

What I suspect to be totally wrong is the argument that it’s a subsidy from the poorest to the richest, or to put it in the even more self-righteous and inflammatory way it is often expressed, ‘the poor are paying for services they can not use’. I’ve never seen anyone defend that rigorously, which makes me suspect it is not the economic or financial argument it appears to be, but just rhetoric which collapses under serious examination.

74

engels 05.26.16 at 4:02 pm

Other exmaples of govt services which are skewed towards to the better off: pensions (middle-class people live longer), health services (google ‘inverse care law’). Is this an argument for introducing service fees? Maybe if we’d had neoliberalism ‘centre-leftism’ for another decade it would have been…

75

Rich Puchalsky 05.26.16 at 4:19 pm

One of the complaints that I’ve often seen (generally from right-wingers) is why should childless people have to pay for public school systems at all. They don’t use them, right? Why should they have to pay for public services that they don’t use?

So I’ve always thought that this is essentially a right-wing argument. What good is an expensive private research-oriented school to the poor if a particular member of “the poor” doesn’t personally go to that school? What good are the humanities to anyone, unless they are a job training program? What good is a medical center specializing in treatment of a hereditary disease if you didn’t inherit it? What good is a highway if you don’t drive there anyways? I mean, society doesn’t exist, right? — and people should just pay for whatever individual services they use.

“The poor” is just being grafted onto this argument, as if progressive taxation can not exist, because it has to be sold to the left.

76

RNB 05.26.16 at 4:31 pm

On labor not being a commodity, I suggested above that we should probably look at the question of yellow dog contracts (the history of Norris-LaGuardia). If labor [sic] is a commodity one simply sells it in voluntary transaction by which each party is made better off without making the worse off. But that could result in workers deciding it is in their respective individual interests to sign yellow dog contracts. It could be that to say that labor is not a commodity is to say that unlike with commodities in general, labor cannot be voluntarily offered on terms its owner may find find immediately advantageous since with labor the terms of that “commodity” transaction may involve a loss of what are understood to be human rights, such as the right to associate

77

RNB 05.26.16 at 4:36 pm

In California the State conditions its financing of UC research universities on capping tuition and limiting the number of out-of-state students who pay much higher tuition. When it becomes obvious that there will be massive shortfall given that the State contribution will not compensate for the loss of tuition, even the fairly liberal Governor Jerry Brown recommends that we rationalize costs, e.g. offer more MOOCs or focus on vocational as opposed to a broad liberal arts eduction. Yankee may have a different understanding of what is happening at UC Berkeley.

78

bruce wilder 05.26.16 at 4:49 pm

If you want to get into the legal and ideological weeds, it is not clear that Harvard or Yale or Dartmouth or many of the other prestige universities truly qualify as “private” institutions, in the sense of being properly constituted by and for private, as opposed to public purposes. Oh sure, they are functionally private and over the years have been shored up with various legal protections for their “private” endowments and governance, with some of that shoring up coming within the last couple of generations. Harvard is originally a creature of the Massachusetts Great and General Court, created by charter for public purposes by then-colonial legislature just like Michigan, Wisconsin, Berkeley and so on. Ditto for Yale. It is only an historical evolution including the steady manipulations of alumni and accidents of institutional history that make Harvard or Yale nominally private and William and Mary or Rutgers nominally public or Cornell some hybrid.

Their endowments are held in theory as public benefices. There’s really no reason, on the present ratio of endowment to student body for Harvard or Yale to charge anyone tuition — let alone the ridiculously high nominal rates they currently publish and then soften with aid-heavy, supposedly needs-blind admission policies that supply the meritocratic packing peanuts stuffed around the legacy admissions and the children-of-the-famous-and-powerful-admissions that fill up most of any class.

And, yes, arguably, there’s implicitly a lot of unpaid capital-gains, income and inheritance taxes layered into those endowments. (Not to mention the property tax exemptions and “voluntary” substitute payments.)

And, let’s not pretend that Harvard or Yale have some magical educational technologies that make them “better” than the flagship State universities. They are “better” in the sense of being a more valuable status good because they are the beneficiaries of a virtuous cycle built around delivering on that status good, by attracting students many of whom are extremely well-prepared and not incidentally almost guaranteed high achievement by family finances and networks.

79

armando 05.26.16 at 4:54 pm

The thing is that “middle class subsidy” argument has some merit and is pretty much a feature of higher education. (I often joke that as an academic in the UK, my job is really to impede social mobility.)

So, sure, free higher education would be best, but the system is pretty much rigged from the ground up to favour – not exclusively, but mainly – the middle classes. And there is no incentive to change that at all, and quite a bit of opposition. This is very different from Social Security which benefits a variety of people.

I’m not saying I know what the answer is – agitate, change the system I guess – but one should acknowledge what the effects of policies are.

FUN FACT: Since the UK tripled university fees, the entrants from lower socio-economic classes increased, yet the articles bemoaning the fate of the poorest students continued. Not, as far as I can tell, written by anyone close to a poor student. The motivations seem pretty clear to me.

80

Donald A. Coffin 05.26.16 at 5:02 pm

To revert for a “clopenings.” I am somewhat struck by the absence of a discussion of an existing mechanism to deal with this: Unionization. The practice in the steel industry of 12-hour, 7-day-a-week schedules (with a switch from the day to the night shift every two weeks–meaning one 24-hour shift and on 24-hour period off every two weeks) persisted until a union made an issue of it. The practice of split shifts remains common in many retail establishments, but when I worked retail in the 1960s, in a unionized firm, split shifts commanded a 50% pay premium–and were rarely used.

My suggestion is that much of the commoditization of labor can and would be combatted by a larger union presence.

81

Cranky Observer 05.26.16 at 5:13 pm

“o, sure, free higher education would be best, but the system is pretty much rigged from the ground up to favour – not exclusively, but mainly – the middle classes. And there is no incentive to change that at all, and quite a bit of opposition. “

One question that could really benefit from some unbiased research is whether ‘Baumol Cost Disease’ really exists. BCD is one of those ideas that is theoretically intriguing but in practice only seems to be observed when powerful interests are determined to do or destroy something. E.g. California’s once-excellent system of universally available college education. Once the public schools, the public symphonies, etc are burned down, the unions broken, the employees reduced to minimum wage BCD mysteriously goes into remission.

82

MPAVictoria 05.26.16 at 5:20 pm

“My suggestion is that much of the commoditization of labor can and would be combatted by a larger union presence.”

100% Right. We just need to get that larger union presence.

83

john c. halasz 05.26.16 at 6:21 pm

This article has some very astute comments on Polanyi, in the section so labeled:

http://ineteconomics.org/ideas-papers/blog/this-is-water-or-is-it-neoliberalism

84

Equalitus 05.26.16 at 6:45 pm

How about a cut-off at $100k income per capita/year? Then universal rights will be more financially practical in the short time frame.

85

Ragweed 05.26.16 at 6:57 pm

“To revert for a “clopenings.” I am somewhat struck by the absence of a discussion of an existing mechanism to deal with this: Unionization. The practice in the steel industry of 12-hour, 7-day-a-week schedules (with a switch from the day to the night shift every two weeks–meaning one 24-hour shift and on 24-hour period off every two weeks) persisted until a union made an issue of it. The practice of split shifts remains common in many retail establishments, but when I worked retail in the 1960s, in a unionized firm, split shifts commanded a 50% pay premium–and were rarely used. “

I am actually not sure that this is the right solution. Not that I am against unions – we definitely need to revive them – but I think that shop-based unionism is of limited value in our current economy, where so many workplaces are fragmented and ownership is diverse and obscured. Fast food workers are a case in point – one could conceivably have a baristas’ union and a bargaining agreement with a company like Starbucks, but each McDonald’s is considered a separate employer and there are countless actual small-business fast-food joints out there. Trying to organize workers shop-by-shop and enacting collective bargaining agreements with every fast-food joint is a non-starter, so fast-food workers’ union organizing focuses on political solutions like higher minimum-wage laws and stronger enforcement of existing ones (fighting wage theft, etc.). I think if our unions had been more political and more oriented toward bettering conditions for all workers (which some have, but many did not) we would be better off.

Since the OP is all about channeling Polanyi, this passage from The Great Transformation seems salient.

“The Continental worker needed protection not so much against
the impact of the Industrial Revolution—in the social sense there
never was such a thing on the Continent—as against the normal action
of factory and labor market conditions. He achieved it mainly by
the help of legislation, while his British comrades relied more on voluntary
association—trade unions—and their power to monopolize
labor. Social insurance came, relatively, very much sooner on the Continent
than in England. The difference was readily explained by the
Continental’s political bent, and by the comparatively early extension
of the vote to the working masses on the Continent. While economically
the difference between compulsory and voluntary methods of
protection—legislation versus unionism—can be easily overrated,
politically its consequences were great. On the Continent trade unions
were a creation of the political party of the working class; in England
the political party was a creation of the trade unions. While on the
Continent unionism became more or less socialist, in England even
political socialism remained essentially trade unionist.”

86

Ragweed 05.26.16 at 7:13 pm

Incidentally, I also think this is a salient observation to the question that Rich Yeselson raised in February .

87

Ragweed 05.26.16 at 7:14 pm

(HTML fail – but the link buried in the period at the end of that sentence works).

88

bruce wilder 05.26.16 at 8:01 pm

john c. halasz @ 84

I am not sure I can judge it, but I can honestly say I enjoyed it. The George Monbiot piece Mirowski links to and gives grudging praise — dumbed down closer to my level no doubt — seemed pretty good, too.

One completely tangential issue it raised for me regarding the essay by Mike Konczal and Patrick Iber linked in the OP is whether it is at all accurate as intellectual history to attribute commoditization of labor and land to the classical economists. Classical economics, it seems to me, took labor and land to be factors of production — a completely different conceptual category from produced commodities — and then went looking for rent and surplus. Whether their method was consistent or hypocritical was, of course, questioned by Marx in his Critique, but that was their approach. It was neoclassical economics that made the wage subject to endless vagaries of supply and demand, justified as equal to marginal product in perfect competition and thus ready (in later reasoning) to being subverted by the supposed skills bias of otherwise indifferent technology.

Mirowski has a much more nuanced view of neoliberalism and its intellectual evolution, and also a view better adapted to interpretation of actual texts and historical developments, I suspect, without really knowing on my own limited authority. He’s certainly not volunteering to suffer fools gladly:

If there is anyone who appreciates the shape-shifting character of this hybrid [neoclassical economic] ‘orthodoxy,’ it is me. . . . Now, if anyone wants to make strong reductionist statements about this squirming warring mass of doctrines [neoliberalism and/or neoclassical economics — he seems to mean both and either], to the effect that any conceptual differences don’t matter, then they are welcome to risk their reputation as a serious thinker. In the current climate, where not just doctrinal history but even economic history is banished from the economics curriculum, nothing I can do or say can prevent the further debasement of economic discourse.

I can second Mirowski’s assertion “the economics orthodoxy had become palpably more neoliberal” in recent years. On the other hand, when Mirowski pessimistically rejects the hope of a Post-Keynesian economics, he seems rather oddly to cling to that central trope of neoliberal economics, the mythical market.

Post-Keynesians and other heterodox factions seem not to grasp that effective political mobilization requires a thoroughgoing alternative to the neoliberal definition of what a market is, comprehension of how diverse markets work, and appreciation for what it means to participate in a market society.

I guess he didn’t get my memo: there are no markets, Phil — it was just another 20th century Big Lie.

89

RNB 05.26.16 at 8:04 pm

@84 So in regards to Mirowski and Wilder who’s riffing off of whom?

90

RNB 05.26.16 at 8:07 pm

Ha! Sent 89 before 88 came in.

91

Val 05.26.16 at 9:13 pm

Turning back to the commodification of labour/life issue that was discussed earlier in the thread, commenters here, and Konzcal and Iber (and possibly Polanyi though I can’t tell from the excerpts alone) are, as usual, forgetting about gender and patriarchy.

So just let me briefly point out that the consensual (social democrat I guess) solution to that problem in the early 1900s was the idea of separate spheres and the home as a domestic haven and refuge from the competitive strife of commerce, at least in the Anglosphere.

This was institutionalised in Australia through the Harvester Judgement that decreed a man should earn a sufficient wage to support himself, his wife and three children in “frugal comfort”. While this may be seen as a labour/patriarchy nexus, it also appealed to patriarchal values shared by capitalists, and was thus accepted by employers (even if grudgingly).

(It also appealed to women, including working women, in some ways, related to their wish to care properly for children and have time to do their domestic work, which of course at that time encompassed much production which was later done in factories and distributed through markets, particularly food processing and dressmaking)

So there may be, as usual, criticisms from the ‘anti-feminist marxists’ or the ‘you’re-doing-feminism-wrong anarchists’ etc, but I probably won’t have time to reply to them, sorry.

92

Jim Buck 05.27.16 at 6:26 am

Capital commodifies labour; Labour commodifies labour:

https://www.rmt.org.uk/news/rmt-campaign-over-social-dumping-scandal/

93

dax 05.27.16 at 8:49 am

On the HRC and not having the poor pay for the higher education of the rich: Everyone is concentrated on the spending side. If, in order to pay for the program (free higher education for everyone), you increase taxes only on the rich, then there should be no problem. Obviously, if to pay for it you increase taxes equally on the poor as on the rich, there would be a problem, but I don’t think anyone on the college-should-be-free side is suggesting that.

94

engels 05.27.16 at 9:19 am

Under a moderately redistributive tax system the poor shouldn’t be paying for anything – counting services received they should be net recipients of funds from the government. You would have to point to a segment of the population that is paying taxes in net terms and isn’t attending HE, and then demonstrate that ‘their’ taxes are being used to fund HE. I’m still waiting for John to do this…

95

ZM 05.27.16 at 9:22 am

From the OP — “One very good example of how treating labor as a commodity goes wrong is ‘clopenings’ – near back-to-back shifts, combined with the practice of many employers of requiring their workers to agree to irregular shift work where they may not know until very shortly before when they are supposed to turn up to work. Steven Greenhouse wrote a strong piece on this for the New York Times:

“On the nights when she has just seven hours between shifts at a Taco Bell in Tampa, Fla., Shetara Brown drops off her three young children with her mother. After work, she catches a bus to her apartment, takes a shower to wash off the grease and sleeps three and a half hours before getting back on the bus to return to her job. …””

I have sometimes worked “clopenings” although I have never heard anyone use the term before.

The 7 hours is quite a small break, but I can imagine doing something like that if you are rostered on for dinner, the restaurant closes around 12.30am when the last people leave and you clean up for about 30 minutes, and then are rostered on for breakfast starting around 8am.

But I think the emphasis on clopenings being an example of “treating labor as a commodity” is misplaced.

The examples in the article are probably franchises I guess like Taco Bell and Star Bucks, and I haven’t worked for a franchise before, but in my opinion clopenings are more likely due to the relationships you have working in hospitality : the relationship with customers, the relationship with staff and employers, and the relationships between different sorts of staff such as kitchen and wait staff.

You can’t really close the restaurant abruptly and send all the diners out on the street at 10.30pm if they are enjoying themselves and ordering desert wines or port etc. The number of staff are limited, maybe no one would have to work clopenings if there was an extra staff member employed, but then maybe everyone would lose 8 hours work a week, and everyone would rather do a clopening than this. And if the waitstaff start at 8am for breakfast, the chefs might start at 6.30am to start baking the bread and croissants and prepping.

So I think it is a bit more complicated than that clopenings are due to the commodification of labor.

If you think about the domestic environment as Val mentioned, maybe a housewife is up until midnight after cooking dinner, cleaning up, putting kids to bed, doing the ironing for tomorrow etc And then the next day she is up at 7am getting the kids out of bed, making breakfast etc.

The duties of the housewife are not commodified but she is still effectively doing clopenings.

If you are making dinner and making sure everyone is having a good night and sending them off happily to go to bed and doing the cleaning, and then you are responsible for the morning breakfast and coffees etc — this really lends itself to clopenings either in restaurants or in the domestic environment.

96

Peter T 05.27.16 at 10:11 am

ZM

Couple it with a hour’s commute each way, seeing your kids, a bit of housework… The commodity part is the employer treating the employee as purely a unit of labour, not as a person. Hiring an additional person or two to give people more time between shifts would cost money, so they don’t do it, any more than you would buy a tin of beans you didn’t need.

97

ZM 05.27.16 at 10:55 am

Peter T,

I did dinner shifts in another town where I had to take a train half an hour at night to get home, they only ran every hour or so at night, and I would go to the RSL Club (Returned Services Club) to drink tea and watch people play poker machines waiting until it was time to walk to the train station to get the last train, a lot of the time the train was late and I made chit chat with the man doing night patrol in the freezing cold pacing up and down to keep warm. Then I might be on the morning shift and had to get the train again. A few times I would stay overnight in the managers spare room. I don’t have children myself, but I certainly worked with people who did dinner and breakfast shifts who had young children.

98

engels 05.27.16 at 12:14 pm

Back on topic, from the linked article:

According to a libertarian way of thinking, the product of the market is just while taxes are a form of theft. The pre-tax distribution of income is fair, while the post-tax one is the result of government “interference” in the economy. But to a Polanyian, this is nonsense, because the pre-tax distribution of income is just as much a product of social and political institutions as is the post-tax distribution

..which is in fact the most basic reason for rejecting the Quiggin/CT-majority way of thinking on tuition fees

those who don’t get to university (mostly poor) are paying for something they aren’t entitled to themselves

99

bruce wilder 05.27.16 at 4:37 pm

A classical economist would analyze the distribution of income in terms of surplus and rent. The increase in the productive powers of labor from education would be seen as tending to diffuse thru the whole society rather than to lodge in the educated — not an example of private “human capital” adding to the (marginal) product and wages of particular educated persons, as our neoliberal neoclassical economists would have it, in other words.

Education adds to the productive potential of labor in the aggregate. An educated populace is a pre-requisite for democratic and egalitarian politics as well as the extension and application of scientific knowledge in increased production, organized by a dynamic capital, the magical third factor of production.

But, in the framework of classical economics, the sunk-cost and diffuse nature of education, absent such monopolistic practices as professional licensing or the benefices of an established church, would be competed away from the wages of the educated. Education might raise the general surplus and standard of living above the barest subsistence necessary for biological reproduction — the backstop on wages identified by Malthus — but the general long-run tendency of the (market) forces governing the distribution of income still favored (the owners of) land.

An educated populace might enable cooperation in highly productive enterprises directed by a dynamic capital, but as that population crowded into cities, driven by the logic of increasing specialization of labor toward working in systems of enormous scale, it would be the landlords who would ultimately benefit from education as rents rose — in the cities by crowding and the accidental enhancements of central convenience granted certain locations and in rural areas by increasing demand for food and other produce of land.

In the classical analysis, land rent was unearned and morally suspect, the property rights (and political rights) of the landed not an abstraction, but anchored in an English history of hereditary kleptocracy traceable to Conquest, Dissolution of the Monasteries and Enclosure.

The clear imperative of the classical analysis of the distribution of income was to tax rents as an unearned income in order to finance the provision of education and infrastructure as public goods to enhance the general welfare. Education would contribute to the development of the society and its enhanced productivity in the aggregate and enable an egalitarian and democratic governance.

This is a political economy in a virtuous circle, in which democracy restrains the overweening power of the landlord, siphoning off the unearned income of the rentier to finance the means to increase the standard of living, while providing an educated populace to sustain democracy itself.

100

Rich Puchalsky 05.27.16 at 5:19 pm

BW: “The clear imperative of the classical analysis of the distribution of income was to tax rents as an unearned income in order to finance the provision of education and infrastructure as public goods to enhance the general welfare.”

I’d add that a private university isn’t only a general producer of public goods: it produces public goods that are felt most strongly in its local area. Even the most backwards and elite-controlled U.S. states have generally come around to the idea that they need a university, with state support, because with no university there’s no local supply of people who actually want to live in that area and who are capable of working at advanced corporate tasks. That’s why the whole difference between public and private universities in the U.S. has blurred. With decreasing direct state funds, state governments now pay only something like a quarter of public university expenses in any case, so there really isn’t that much difference.

So are we going to support producers of public goods through the government or not? Before recent years, I would have thought that people on the left would generally have one answer. But the people defending HRC are completely without principle, so who knows what their answer is: it seems to vary from one day to the next depending on what HRC says.

101

root_e 05.27.16 at 6:02 pm

“But the people defending HRC are completely without principle, so who knows what their answer is: it seems to vary from one day to the next depending on what HRC says.”

Nobody is even defending HRC here. Instead people are challenging slogans presented as fact. HRC’s supposed neoliberal orthodox championship of market efficiency is just an invention. The claim that means testing is both politically untenable and wrong is shown to be a mix of invention (e.g. based on ignoring long term survival and expansion of means tested programs – including the progressive income tax itself) and wishful thinking about non-means-tested programs. The claim that making private colleges free is a necessary component of social democracy is upfront reactionary. Not going along with a self-congratulatory and morally dubious schematic line is hardly an indication of lack of principal.

102

Brett Dunbar 05.27.16 at 8:02 pm

The UK student loan system is for practical purposes a graduate tax. It isn’t an actual impediment for poorer students as repayment is determined by earnings provided that there is some outstanding balance. All it does is mean that the graduate pays a somewhat higher rate of income tax for up to thirty years, at which point any outstanding balance is wiped.

The EU working time directive requires a rest period of at least eleven consecutive hours in any twenty four hour period. This right, unlike the maximum 48 hour working week, cannot be waived. So this would be illegal.

103

engels 05.27.16 at 9:11 pm

Bruce #99 interesting – thanks

104

harry b 05.27.16 at 9:20 pm

On higher ed: the big difference between higher ed and social security (and k-12) is that it is a conditional program: conditional on having a high school diploma. And many private colleges and selective state colleges (which spend much more per-student than regional state colleges and community colleges) make admission conditional on having had pretty high quality public k-12 schooling and/or considerable parental supplementation that is not available to most people (and those it is not available to tend to be the less affluent). I’m preparing a post about this, but I’m pretty resistant to making a very large, exclusive, private benefit (top notch college education) free.

105

engels 05.27.16 at 9:38 pm

private benefit

The decisive movement in the conjuring trick has been made, and it was the very one we thought quite innocent

106

TM 05.27.16 at 10:06 pm

“The EU working time directive requires a rest period of at least eleven consecutive hours in any twenty four hour period.”

No wonder the European labor market is so sclerotic and inflexible …
Thanks for the info!

107

harry b 05.27.16 at 11:15 pm

You think the benefit is mainly to the public? In another kind of society sure. And of course for some programs and majors like nursing and teacher Ed. So let’s focus subsidies on those programs that we have reason to think produce public benefits and on children from less affluent families. You really want to subsidize accounting majors from wealthy background as much nursing majors from poor backgrounds? Or as most states currently do and would do even more if public college were free, subsidize them considerably more?

108

Rich Puchalsky 05.28.16 at 12:45 am

I hate those accounting majors too. It’s not like they contribute anything to society. Let’s just defund that whole department, those rich bastards. And philosophy too. What the heck do they do anyways? “Think” about things? Geez and those nurses. Why can’t they go to a vocational school? I mean, I guess that we need some nurses, but do we really need academics studying nursing? Waste of money, and nurses are well paid anyways. Look let’s just focus on K-12 and let the private schools do what they’re going to do with rich people’s money if those rich people want to spend it: that’s what’s fair for poor people.

109

RNB 05.28.16 at 12:55 am

Rich Puchalsky has characteristically accused people who don’t support universal access to the public colleges as being shameless people with no moral principles (see @100). But what is the principle here? That people in general should help pay for Trump’s kids go to college? Yet as Puchalsky himself recognizes the argument for universal programs is on political, not principled, grounds. On principle people in general should arguably be not paying for the wealthy kids getting degrees from which additionally they may derive largely private benefits (as harry b notes). One argument for universal access however is that such a program will be politically easier to defend over the long-term even if in principle it leads to the wrong of the public in general subsidizing at times the wealthy.

110

RNB 05.28.16 at 12:58 am

For example @53 reads as an argument for universal programs on the basis of politics, not principles.

111

Leo Casey 05.28.16 at 1:49 am

It is curious that no one has discussed what is done in K-12 education in the US. Public education is free, but with the exception of states or districts with vouchers, private education is not. On the left, both social democratic and liberal, it is generally (although not universally) agreed that vouchers are problematic, and actually strike at the viability of public education. Given a finite pool of public money for the financing of K-12 education, on what grounds could we justify the diversion of funds from public schools serving the poor and working class to Andover? I don’t see why this logic is not also applicable to higher education?

112

ZM 05.28.16 at 1:55 am

Peter T,

I have a response to you in moderation

I did dinner shifts in another town where I had to take a train half an hour at night to get home, they only ran every hour or so at night, and I would go to the RSL Club (Returned Services Club) to drink tea and watch people play pokies machines waiting until it was time to walk to the train station to get the last train, a lot of the time the train was late and I made chit chat with the security man doing night patrol in the freezing cold pacing up and down to keep warm. Then I might be on the morning shift and had to get the train again. A few times I would stay overnight in the managers spare room.

I don’t have children myself, but I certainly worked with people who did dinner and breakfast shifts who had young children.

113

Val 05.28.16 at 2:09 am

Ha ha so no one except ZM was interested in the gendered analysis. Typical. However the designation of the ‘public sphere’ as a maculinised world of competition and strife, and the ‘private (domestic)’ sphere as a subordinate, feminised sphere of caring, has ongoing ramifications and until we are prepared to acknowledge them, we won’t be able to deal effective with problems like war and environmental destruction. However, feel free to ignore feminist perspectives if you’re happy with the world that patriarchy created.

114

harry b 05.28.16 at 2:39 am

Leo.

Yes! I presume, though, that most people would draw the line at the for-profit sector in higher ed. And even most defenders of publicly funded vouchers do so on the grounds that they benefit the poor, which, whatever you think about vouchers in k-12, is a hard case to make for most private colleges…

115

root_e 05.28.16 at 2:45 am

#111

See: #54 “What you are arguing is the same thing that the wingnuts who want to be able to use their taxes to pay for Andover and Aryan Christian Academy argue.”

What’s remarkable is how the economic/social-status interests of “professionals” are now the staple of the left. Or maybe it’s not remarkable.

116

Peter T 05.28.16 at 3:02 am

ZM

I’ve done similar work. Now try thinking about what that does to life if you do it regularly, you have kids and other responsibilities, and your juggling all the demands of full adult-hood on an inadequate wage. Being a poor student is often fine as a stage in life – not so good as a permanent condition.

117

Rich Puchalsky 05.28.16 at 3:09 am

Leo Casey: “It is curious that no one has discussed what is done in K-12 education in the US. “

No one including #51:
“But perhaps poor people can never get to that level of academic achievement because they have poor grade schools and high schools and poor family resources to prepare them in early life? OK, then let’s have the government pay for that too.”

The U.S. K-12 school district system and the private university system are all part of one big setup that ensures that rich people’s money goes to rich people’s kids, and I’m assumed by the spectacle of “the left” — including a self-proclaimed Marxist — saying that we can’t socialize it because then Trump’s kids would have their education paid for as well.

118

ZM 05.28.16 at 5:03 am

Peter T,

That was a really condescending reply :-(

I am in my mid 30s and I have a disability since having a breakdown in 2005-2006 when I was doing my Honours. I have worked for many years in retail and hospitality, not for just a couple of years while studying. I have to study part time to manage my disability. Once I graduate I will have to look for part time or temporary full time positions with end dates, so as to manage my disability.

I don’t need you telling me to imagine what it is like for years regularly working in hospitality and retail industries with work hours outside of 9-5, since I have done it myself for many years, and I am friends with people who I have worked with in retail and hospitality.

I have only worked in small business and maybe in big hotels it is a bit different, since there are so many staff you can roster them without any clopenings.

In small businesses there is a limited amount of staff, and maybe someone with kids would rather work 35 hours a week with double time and more tips on weekends with a clopening on Saturday night and Sunday morning, than work reduced hours at only 27 hours a week, with 5 lost hours being double time on Sunday. Maybe she just does a clopening every second weekend.

I also was pointing out that clopenings in hospitality are more likely to be there result of relationships in hospitality and commitments to the business or the team or customers, rather than due only to the commodification of labour as the OP states.

I also know nurses who do clopenings. I think as Val points out this has something to do with gender, as while nurses and hospitality workers are not necessarily all female — cooking and hosting people and nursing are caring and domestic sorts of work which are gendered as feminine.

But even apart from this, I think people in professional jobs often work long hours too. but say an executive works 70 hours a week, he is probably more likely to be male, and either his wife does the housework and looks after the children at work, or else they hire a maid and a nanny.

119

Chris Mealy 05.28.16 at 5:07 am

Bruce, is the diffuse benefits of education captured by urban landowners thing just Henry George, or do you find it elsewhere?

120

bruce wilder 05.28.16 at 5:14 am

Well, it is Henry George. Nothing is just Henry George, is it?

121

bruce wilder 05.28.16 at 5:52 am

I was not intending to be antiquarian, even if I did reference classical analysis.

The idea that the success of local industry flows thru to enrich local merchants and landlords is a common enough insight, isn’t it?

The notion that education constitutes a personal possession of human capital that naturally ought to earn a return capturable by the possessor is an important rationalization for neoliberal policy aimed at financializing that return in the new peonage. Is it true?

122

Peter T 05.28.16 at 6:03 am

ZM

Sorry, didn’t mean to be condescending. Trying to get across that generalising from one’s personal circumstances usually under-estimates the difficulties of others (think, for an extreme example, of Colonel Blimps talking about how a good beating and cold showers never did them any harm, so why are kids these days complaining?). Compressed breaks, uncertain shifts, variable schedules all take their toll – in most cases an unnecessary one unless you privilege the need to maximise the getting of money above all else.

123

ZM 05.28.16 at 6:56 am

Peter T,

I was just trying to point out that clopenings are not unusual in hospitality, I have done clopenings and know other people who have (although I have never heard anyone use this term before) and that I think factors that result in clopenings are not just the commodification of labour as the OP says.

I pointed out that one reason for clopenings in hospitality small businesses is the preferences of employees to work more hours instead of another employee being employed, I also pointed out that relationships in hospitality is another reason, with employers, staff, and customers.

Restaurants are not high profit businesses in general, looking at figures from Australian Parliament House in a 2005 report the average net profit was about 4% but the majority of Restaurants (63.4%) had a net profit of less than 2%. Looking at a 2015 Productivity Commission Report the average net profit of small businesses in the hospitality sector was 3.6%.

If you look at labor costs in the 2005 report, over about a 5 year period from 2000 labor costs rose an average of 17% from 29.4% of turnover to 34.3% of turnover, which the report says demonstrates the need for workplace reform.

The 2015 Report says “Minimum Wages in Australia are the highest in the world as set out below in the OECD table… What exacerbates the problem in Australia is that unlike other countries, minimum wages are subject to multipliers of penalty rates and overtime under Modern Awards that make labour costs prohibitive….. In practice where a public holiday is declared an “additional day” in a state or territory the Modern Award requires the business to pay 250 per cent penalty rates or in some cases such as the Hospitality Industry (General) Award 2010 casual employees receive 275 per cent penalty rates making trading on such days unprofitable.”

At the moment in Australia we are having a public debate about weekend penalty rates. If you work in hospitality, then penalty rates are favourable, but the businesses also have to be able to operate.

You say that “Compressed breaks, uncertain shifts, variable schedules all take their toll – in most cases an unnecessary one unless you privilege the need to maximise the getting of money above all else.”

But if you were making the policy you would have to be able to get businesses to agree to whatever you propose so there isn’t compressed breaks, uncertain shifts, and variable schedules, and that you proposal would work with the majority of hospitality businesses having less than 2% profit p.a.

You also would have to tie it in with other policy, like the governments decided they want to have lots of restaurants and cafes to keep things lively and interesting and also to keep public places safe by having “passive surveillance” ( this is where lots of people are around so crime is less likely due to there being eyes on the street), and they encourage some late night retail as well.

So while saying it would be difficult to work clopenings and juggle them with your family and social life is one thing, it is another thing to work out what sort of policy would facilitate businesses and employees to not roster clopenings.

http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_committees?url=efpa/services/subs/sub023.pdf

http://www.pc.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/189868/sub0097-workplace-relations.pdf

124

TM 05.28.16 at 9:58 am

124: Why do you think it’s amazing? A result above 20% for the initiative will be considered a success.

125

Peter T 05.28.16 at 10:14 am

ZM

When I worked in restaurants in London (30+ years ago), the accepted cost breakdown was one third wages, one third food, one third others. So 34% of turnover is not out of line.

3-4% is also the usual profit margin for small businesses. Again, not out of line.

The issue is who bears the social costs? The business can share, or it can load them on to the employee – in childcare, unpaid child-minding by grandparents or friends, by-standers when the tired driver crashes… They don’t just go away, which is the point of the post. Same with pizza places that give zero-hours shifts to delivery boys that use their own car – the costs have gone from the business to be picked up by the employee. See also unpaid internships, unpaid overtime, clean-up on your own time and much more.

126

TM 05.28.16 at 11:45 am

“Free money”, interesting concept. Why has nobody though of this before?

127

RNB 05.28.16 at 6:25 pm

@118 Puchalsky, I did not make an argument against what you are calling the socialization of public colleges, though I look forward to the discussion that harry b’s forthcoming post will engender. I pointed out that the arguments made here in favor of your position seem to be arguments made on the basis of politics, not principles.

128

ZM 05.29.16 at 3:53 am

Peter T,

I didn’t really start commenting on this thread, thinking I would end up being the commenter trying to explain clopenings.

Obviously if Shetara Brown, the woman in the article, really didn’t want to work clopenings, I am not in favour of her having to work clopenings.

The 2005 report says just over 60% of restaurants make less than 2% net profit, which is under your 3-4% average net profit. The report does not break down the labor costs figure into the amount of labor performed for the 29-34% of takings figure. Without a breakdown into the hours and type etc of labour performed, it is not possible to see if the about 1/3 of takings spent on labor costs in the mid 80s when you worked in hospitality, is the same as about 1/3 of takings spent on labor costs now.

In Australia the hospitality industry has transformed significantly from the mid 1980s to now.

This includes not just changes in cuisine and furnishings etc, but one of the major changes has been local and state governments extending trading hours and actively encouraging more hospitality businesses to open in the CBD and trade beyond 9-5 . Since i am studying urban planning I have seen presentations by urban designers on this, there was a deliberate strategy in the City of Melbourne to encourage hospitality and street dining to liven up the city and improve safety in the city by having more eyes on the street. There are maps showing the transformation over the last couple of decades from not a lot of cafes and restaurants to a great many now, and the urban designers now think maybe Melbourne has about enough cafes and restaurants.

I expect other cities and towns around the world have mirrored this strategy to encourage more hospitality businesses and for them to open beyond 9-5.

Also in urban planning, the social democratic left had some positives like building public housing, although mostly in brutalist architecture. I am sort of fond of brutalist architecture due to it being used for public housing, but it is well known now to encourage a good street life. There isn’t enough mixed uses in the buildings, often the first level at the human scale doesnt present well to the street, and there are not interfaces allowing the public to enter at street level. Also the brutalist buildings tend to be discrete small size neighbourhoods that foster separation from the wider community and locational disadvantage. Plus in Melbourne people in the 70s were not happy about slums being pulled down for high rises, and said they wanted slums they could renovate to preserve the historic character of inner city Melbourne, so that sort of public housing sort of faded away.

I think there are several issues with neoliberal urban planning, but social democratic urban planning had some deep seated problems too. In urban planning there is a need to shift away from neoliberal urban planning, but going back to social democratic urban planning is not the right way. There were significant problems with how social democratic urban planning tried to solve the problem of inequality, and also it isn’t capable of dealing with present environmental problems either.

Henry talks about the difference between left neoliberalism and the social democratic left, and also talks about conceptions of land and labor.

In terms of Land —

Henry quotes the authors of the first article he cites as saying “Land is only another name for nature, which is not produced by man “.

Land isn’t really another name for nature. Land is only the flat bit of ground, or hilly if there is a hill. Maybe in colloquial terms someone says “John and Beth are going back to the land” if they are going to start a small scale farm in the country side”, but apart from that land is the ground, it is not nature which is living things like trees and grasses and marsupials and birds.

Polyani died in the 60s, so I don’t think he can be held responsible for not knowing about developments in thoughts about land and environment from after he died.

The Victorian Planning and Environment Act 1987 is a good place to see these developments in thoughts about land and environment. And it is also something I know about, there is probably equivalents in the USA or UK, but I am not familiar enough with them to talk about them.

Before the P&E Act Victoria had The Town and Country Planning Act 1958. I had to learn about the chief differences between these Acts for uni.

The main difference is the T&CP Act 1958 is based around LAND. By this I mean the ground. Something that can be surveyed and measured and parcelled out and bought and then developed and used. The P&E Act 1987 was conceived as a response to developments in geography and other environmental disciplines that began seeing the physical environment as a system or overlapping systems. So the emphasis of town planning, in so far as the governing Acts, went from Land in the 1950s to physical and social Systems in the 1980s. There is a Ministerial Letter about this, saying the Minister and department were chiefly influenced by the theories of Andreas Faludi who is a systems theorist, and argued planning decisions should take into account overlapping systems currently interacting on the land and which would interact if the proposed development was to go ahead — such as the social uses of land, the economic uses of land, and environmental uses of land such as native plants and animals, gasses, etc.

I think this is an improvement on the 1950s Act, apart from it is easy for economic factors to be given more weight in decision making than other social factors, and environmental factors, which is a problem. Part of this is due to there not being strong metrics for decision makers to use regarding social and environmental factors.

You say “The issue is who bears the social costs? ” — this is the same in urban planning decisions. Often environmental costs are felt by poorer communities or else they are delayed costs which will be felt by voiceless future generations.

Going back to Labour —

Henry writes that “Markets, given that they are what they are, treat labour as a commodity. …. But labour is performed by actual people, with actual families, which often involve children or dependents relying on them. This is a significant part of Polanyi’s point – and modern shift practices in the service economy are an example which should be viscerally tangible to those of us who have had to juggle our work lives and raising kids or looking after other dependents (which is not all of us, but is many of us). Ways of thinking that turn labour into a commodity, divorcing it from the human beings that carry it out, are apt to produce monstrosities.”

I don’t disagree with this, I just wanted to point out that there are other relationships that come into play in making decisions about rostering clopenings, other than the commodification of labor. I also wanted to follow Val in drawing attention to the gendered nature of this labour, and that the housewife at home is probably just as likely to be doing unpaid labour late into the night and starting early in the morning, as the shift worker is in hospitality or nursing.

I also wanted to point out that the social democratic response to this problem (to be honest I am just using social democratic as a catch all term for post-WW2 government, and neoliberalism as a catch all term for post-mid-1970s government, at least in Anglo countries which I am most familiar with the history of) was things like trading hours must be from about 9-5, pubs closed at 6pm which in Australia led to the 6pm Swill, Saturdays shops only opened until noon and were closed on Sundays and public holidays, women had to stop working when they got married etc

I don’t think these policy remedies are feasible now. If the government wants to make rostering in the services sector more family friendly, or socially friendly, the solutions are not going to be the same as those of the post-war social democratic era . I don’t know what the solutions are, but I don’t think it will be a return to 9-5 business hours, nothing open on Sundays and Public Holidays, and Pubs closing at 6pm, and I wouldn’t really want policy that did this. And I am someone who has worked clopenings, and no it wasn’t the most fun waiting in the middle of the night for the last train in the dark and freezing cold chatting to the man doing security since we were the only people at the train station at that time. And I was very pleased he got rostered on late at night, or I would have been at the train station by myself and nights when no security was there I felt unsafe.

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ZM 05.29.16 at 3:58 am

“but it is well known now to encourage a good street life. “

but it is well known now NOT to encourage a good street life

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RNB 05.29.16 at 6:46 pm

OP presents Sanders as candidate to do more for social democratic equality than Clinton. Huffington Post links to an interesting piece by Theda Skocpol who says that Clinton would do more as Sanders’ heath care plan would reduce benefits for those on various govt programs while concentrating additional benefits on the top 20%; Skocpol also faults Sanders’ college plan as a defacto subsidy for the top 20%.

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bruce wilder 05.29.16 at 7:19 pm

ZM’s excellent comments have served to remind me that my chief objections to Polanyi (and Konczal & Iber, by extension) concern his metaphysics.

Statements like this from the OP: “. . . labor and land are fictitious commodities – that is, that much of the problem with classical liberalism is that it presumes them to be commodities . . . ” Or: blather in the linked piece about efforts to decommodify labor are not sufficiently grounded in the reality of actual social relations to enable productive discussion.

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RNB 05.29.16 at 7:34 pm

I think Sanders would have a tough time selling this social democratic, “de-commodifying” program of free tuition at colleges, in the general election, given Jane Sanders’ experience of presiding over a college that went bankrupt under her watch due to a lack of tuition payments from students. Despie her failure if not incompetence, she still seems to have gotten a pretty nice severance package that Bernie Sanders may well be hiding by not releasing his taxes (as WaPo columnist Catherine Rampell speculates). At any rate, critics will argue that the government picking up tuition is a way to tax people to pay huge sums for college administrators like Sanders’ wife and subsidize the wealthy families. Why isn’t the press going nuts about Trump’s and Sanders’s refusal to release their full taxes over the last half decade at least? It’s crazy.

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