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John Q

Reviving “Post-post-Fordism”

by John Q on May 15, 2023

I had an odd intellectual experience recently. A US high school student wrote to me as part of an assignment, asking for my thoughts on Brave New World, and its current relevance. I replied talking about the role of “Our Ford”, and Gramsci’s contemporary concept of Fordism.

That got me thinking about post-Fordism, and then to the idea of post-post-Fordism, referring to the information economy that has emerged since the rise of the Internet. I expected that this would be a reinvention of the intellectual wheel on my part, but when I popped the phrase into DuckDuckGo, I got a single hit, which was part of a 2015 interview with UK radical economist Robin Murray. whose ideas about the concept were very similar to mine, but whose comments were very brief.

I didn’t know of Murray, but I thought I should write to him and ask him how he had developed the idea. Sadly, I was led to Wikipedia, which reported that Murray had died in 2017, apparently without writing anything further on the topic. I’ve found a handful of citations, but of the “in passing” variety.

I’m not sure where to go next with this. I’d like to revive the idea (if indeed it died with Murray), but I’m not sure how to deal with an intellectual history like this. Perhaps some of my readers knew (or knew of) Murray or have seen the idea of post-post-Fordism?

May Day

by John Q on May 1, 2023

Yesterday was May Day, celebrated as the Labour Day public holiday here in Queensland. And this week, appropriately enough I’m giving two presentations on the case for a four-day working week, one to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, a business-oriented thinktank, and one to a parliamentary inquiry.

I started writing a post about the prospect of a radical change in the relationship between workers and managers in the information economy, arising from the combination of near full-employment and the shift to remote work for large groups of workers. But I ran out of time, so for now, I will just toss up some points I want to discuss

  • Will full employment be sustained, or will central banks succeed in recreating the reserve army of labor ?
  • How real is the threat of employer spyware extending surveillance into home workplaces ?
  • How should we conceptualise the relationship between workers, managers and owners of capital ?
  • What are the implications for unions?

I’ll throw it open for comments, and think some more about all this.

There’s been a lot of recent discussion about relative economic performance of the EU and US as well as (mostly separately) discussion of differences in mortality rates.

One way to integrate the two is to think of living in the US as a (very) dangerous occupation, and think about the wage premium demanded by workers to take up such occupations, relative to comparable low-risk jobs.

The typical estimate from econometric studies is that a 0.1 per cent chance of death on the job (a really dangerous job) implies a wage premium of around $10000/year.

For Americans aged between 25 and 65, the annual death rate in 2019 (pre-Covid) ranged between 0.13 and 0.88. EU mortality rates were one-third to half of that.

Doing the math, the wage premium that would be needed to take on the extra risk of being a working-age American, compared to the EU, is somewhere between $10000/yr and $40000/yr.

Even the lower figure would push the US down to the middle of the rich-country pack based on standard comparisons of median income.

(From my Substack)

There’s been yet another big leak of US secret intelligence. As usual, the main result was embarrassment for the US state, from the (re)confirmation that it routinely spies on its allies, and from the publication of some unflattering comments on those allies. The substantive content was uninteresting, revealing no greater insight (and sometimes) than that available to careful observers with no access to secret information (Daniel Drezner has more on this).

There don’t seem to be any lessons to be learned here that weren’t already evident from the last big leak (Snowden), except that believers in the spy myth never learn any lessons. I’ve been over this again and again, as did Daniel Davies, back in the day.

I’m appending my first post on this, going back to an article published in the Australian Financial Review around the turn of the century.
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The meta-view from meta-nowhere

by John Q on March 28, 2023

Pseudo-objectivity about pseudo-objectivity

Jay Rosen coined popularised the phrase “the view from nowhere” (originally due to Thomas Nagel) to describe the default stance of political journalism in the US and elsewhere, often defended as “objectivity”. This is closely linked to the concept of the Overton window, which I wrote about recently in relation to the AUKUS nuclear subs deal

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The hierarchy of excuses

by John Q on March 20, 2023

I’ve lived through quite a few financial crises, some local to Australia, and others global. Invariably, the first failures are those of obvious shonks (Australianism?) who would probably have failed anyway. Then there are seemingly reputable institutions that turn out to have been shonky. Then there are institutions that played by the rules, but it turns out the rules weren’t good enough. After that, no one is safe and the government steps in to bail the bankers out.Of course, ordinary people pay the bill.

So, I thought I’d get a headstart on listing the hierarchy of excuses, explaining why this isn’t just an inherently corrupt system, doing its inherently corrupt thing. Here we go:

*Silvergate: jumped up crypto bank, not really a bank at all
*Silicon Valley: mismatched assets and liabilities, classic mistake, also woke
* Signature: more crypto, more mismatch, also Trump
* First Republic: all these midsized banks misused the 2017 deregulation
* Credit Suisse: turns out all those capital adequacy requirements could be gamed. And just to prove this, we’ll wipe out the bondholders who helped make the books look good, while bailing out the equity holders

I’ve enjoyed Miriam’s posts on things, little and big, that restore our faith in humanity, so I thought I would share a little hope of my own.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about global heating, where it’s often hard to be optimistic about the future. But there are some bright spots. In particular, there’s a good chance that 2023 will be the year that coal use finally begins a sustained decline, and relatedly the year the carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation start to fall.
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Anti-presentism = anti-wokeism ?

by John Q on February 12, 2023

Last year, I wrote a couple of posts defending historical presentism, that is, the view that we should examine events and actors in history (at least in modern history) in the light of our current concerns, rather than treating them as exempt from any standards except those that prevailed (in the dominant class) at the time.

Those posts referred to controversies within the history profession. Unsurprisingly, given the current state of the US, they have now been embroiled in the culture wars. Rightwing critics of wokeism have now added presentism to the list of evils against which they are fighting, along with critical race theory, cancel culture and so on.

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Phoenix crumbling into ashes

by John Q on February 7, 2023

While we are on the subject of universities, it’s worth noting the likely acquisition of the so-called University of Phoenix by the University of Arkansas System.

After a string of similar acquisitions, closures and conversion to non-profit status, this is pretty much the end of explicitly for-profit university education in the US. It’s a striking development given the strong support the sector got from Betsy de Vos in the Trump Administration, which turns out to have merely staved off the inevitable. The boom in online education during the lockdown phase of the pandemic seems only to have increased the marketability of for-profits to public universities looking to expand their options.

In retrospect, the whole for-profit boom was not an upsurge in enthusiasm for the free-market but a straightforward regulatory scam, exploiting public aid to low-income students. Australia had an almost identical experience with for-profit vocational education. As Richard Mulgan observed, this is a predictable outcome of introducing the profit motive into a system built largely on assumptions of professionalism and trust.

That’s true of contracting out of public services in general. Without tight regulation (which may or not be feasible) contracts will go to those who’ve worked out clever ways to rort the system[1], not those able to provide a better service at lower costs.

fn1. This Australianism roughly translates as “game the system”.

Digital hoarding

by John Q on January 31, 2023

Yesterday, I dug into the deepest nest of folders on my MacBook Pro to find an article I wrote on a 512K Mac in 1987, for a magazine that no longer exists and isn’t (AFAICT) digitally archived. The file must have made transitions from “hard floppies” to removable 44Mb drives (remember them?) to hard drive to SSD and then, when that filled up, to my iCloud backup.

Today, I read about “digital hoarding“. Count me in!

Whatever the psychological causes, it’s hard to imagine negative real-world consequences from storing files. And it’s easier to search for stuff when you need it than to spend a lot of time filing. I used to sort my email, but now I just delete 90 per cent as it comes in, and archive the rest every couple of years.

In the physical world, I’m the opposite. I’m hopelessly untidy, but I follow Marie Kondo in throwing out anything that no longer sparks joy, and in trying to avoid acquiring stuff I don’t need. Being free of paper has been a huge boon in this respect.

Mitigated disaster

by John Q on January 24, 2023

Over the past past few years we’ve had to deal with all sorts of new or resurgent evils, including climate catastrophe, Covid and the global assault on democracy. That’s been made harder by the fact that our political leaders (and plenty of their supporters) have either failed to respond effectively, or have actively promoted these evils. Yet there’s nothing positive about giving in to despair, either politically or personally.

In trying to respond, I’ve started thinking about the idea of ‘mitigated disaster’. Despite our collective failures on all of these issues, there’s still a good chance that the worst of the catastrophe will be staved off. And individually, we need to find ways to act responsibly and to resist the call of despair.
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Twigs and Branches

by John Q on January 22, 2023

A new Twigs and Branches post, open for comments on any topic. Please take long side discussions on other posts here. The usual rules on civil discussion apply.

Open thread on Brazil

by John Q on January 9, 2023

An open thread on the insurrection in Brazil. I’d particularly be interested in comments from a Latin American perspective.

Twigs and Branches

by John Q on January 9, 2023

A new Twigs and Branches post, open for comments on any topic. Please take long side discussions on other posts here. The usual rules on civil discussion apply.

Dasein and Der Fuhrer (update over fold)

by John Q on January 7, 2023

Back in the Paleolithic days of blogging, I got interested in the relationship between philosophical thought and political action, particularly in the cases of Hayek and Heidegger and their support for Pinochet and Hitler respectively. I think the evidence is in on Hayek (see here and here), so I won’t discuss it further.

In Heidegger’s case, there’s been plenty more evidence on Heidegger’s personal conduct, cumulatively quite damning. But the claim that he was one of the greatest of 20th philosophers remains widely accepted. This seems to imply (via an easy application of modus ponens), that his support for Hitler was not a consequence of his central philosophical ideas. The typical version of this claim attributes Heidegger’s embrace of Nazism to some combination of opportunism and a romantic (in a bad way) German nationalism (now known to include anti-Semitism) that can be separated from his main body of thought.

But in any discussion of Heidegger’s philosophy I’ve seen, his concept of Dasein plays a central role. So, what did he have to say about Dasein and Hitler? According to the Wikipedia article on Heidegger and Nazism[1], this:

The German people has been summoned by the Führer to vote; the Führer, however, is asking nothing from the people; rather, he is giving the people the possibility of making, directly, the highest free decision of all: whether it – the entire people – wants its own existence (Dasein), or whether it does not want it. […] On November 12, the German people as a whole will choose its future, and this future is bound to the Führer. […] There are not separate foreign and domestic policies. There is only one will to the full existence (Dasein) of the State. The Führer has awakened this will in the entire people and has welded it into a single resolve (italics in original).

The speech isn’t obscure, and this passage is often quoted in relation to Heidegger’s Nazism, but I haven’t been able to find any discussion of his invocation of Hitler as the embodiment of Dasein. And, while I’m no expert, nothing I’ve seen in discussions of the concept of Dasein suggests to me that Heidegger is misinterpreting or misrepresenting his own ideas here.

Has anyone done the work of drawing distinctions between this piece of totalitarian propaganda and works like Being and Time? If so, is it possible to sketch the argument ?

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