by the stormy present
Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 09:39:34 AM EST
In this comment on this diary, Metatone said this:
High end employs less people. This is a problem that someone needs to actually address. Maybe there is no alternative but for us, as a whole to get poorer, but we should be managing this decline, else the resulting inequalities between a "skilled elite" and an "unskilled (and largely unemployed) mass" are going to be problematic.
...and Migeru wanted to talk about it some more. Actually, so do I.
Metatone's comment clicked with something I'd been thinking about a lot over the last few days, and while sitting in a coffee shop the other day sucking down a vast amount of caffeine, I jotted down several pages of notes toward a rant on migration and policy that I haven't gotten around to actually writing up yet.
So in the meantime, here's some stuff to chew on.
I'm not sure when I'll have time to write up my rant, which is regardless on a different topic, and I'm the furthest thing from an economist, so this is intended to be a jumping-off point for discussion, not a policy treatise. In reading it over, it seems wildly incoherent even to me, so I apologize for that, but hopefully y'all can take it someplace better in the comments.
Somewhere, in the stew of things I've been thinking about, fits this paragraph from a profile of Tariq Ramadan in this week's New York Times Magazine:
“Western Muslims and the Future of Islam” throws some light on Ramadan’s idea of “Islamic socialism,” an ideology, combining religious principles with anticapitalist, anti-imperialist politics, that goes back to the time of the Russian Revolution. (Libya’s strongman, Muammar el-Qaddafi, is one who claims to rule according to these principles.) The murderous tyranny to be resisted, in Ramadan’s book, is “the northern model of development,” which means that “a billion and a half human beings live in comfort because almost four billion do not have the means to survive.” For Ramadan, global capitalism, promoted by such institutions as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, is the “abode of war” (alam al-harb), for “when faced with neoliberal economics, the message of Islam offers no way out but resistance.”
To be a sworn enemy of capitalism does not mean you are a communist, a fascist, a religious fundamentalist or indeed an anti-Semite, but it is something these otherwise disparate groups frequently have in common. Advocating a revolt against Western materialism on the basis of superior spiritual values is an old project, which has had many fathers but has never been particularly friendly to liberal democracy. Ramadan’s brand of Islamic socialism, promoted with such media-friendly vitality, in conferences, interviews, books, talks, sermons and lectures, has won him a variety of new friends, especially in Britain and France.
Now, I don't particularly want to talk about Tariq Ramadan himself (not at this point, anyway, but probably later), but about this idea of the "northern model of development," connected to Metatone's comment about the evolving gap between skilled/unskilled, elite/unemployed. (I'm oversimplifying, I know.)
In another comment on nanne's diary, Migeru said this:
My interpretation of that (backed by some anecdotal evidence from press articles online) is that the Spanish leatherworking industry is dying off, except for high-end, high-quality manufacturing for major brands, and that the low-price range manufacturers are moving their operations abroad in an attempt to cut their labour costs to compete with China.
This is a point that is often made about Germany, but it seems to be true for al of the European productive economy, and it is that cheap labour abroad is forcing european producers to concentrate on high-quality, high-value-added, high-margin, low-volume products. Germany's capital goods are usually the prime example of this, but I think organic food and high-quality leatherworking can also follow the same pattern. There is still room for products made in europe, but they are in niche markets.
In the US, outsourcing seems to have hollowed out entire inductrial sectors to the point that not even the high-end manufacturing or even the design are carried out in the US any longer, just the branding. I am concern about Europe's ability to retain some manufacturing base in the sectors that are now being outsourced, because without contact with manufacturing one quickly loses the expertise necessary for doing the high-end stuff, or the design.
I'm currently reading The Cave by the Portuguese Nobel Prize winner (and possibly the world's best living novelist) Jose Saramago. It's an allegorical novel, like much of Saramago's work, and is (so far, I'm only 60 pages into it) a harsh critique of much of our contemporary retail/consumer/corporate/centralized society.
The novel -- and this is not intended to be a book review, but like I said, it's what's on my mind -- centers on a potter (ceramacist, I think, is the "elite" term) who lives and works in a rural village and trucks his handmade plates and crockery into the city every week for sale at The Center, a vast, windowless complex that my sibling the city planner would refer to as "mixed-use," in that the 48-story building is both residential (the windows are fixed shut, can't have any suicides, that would look bad) and commercial (although Cipriano, the potter-protagonist, dares not actually go in to wander around and look at how his wares are displayed, out of certainty that he will be "escorted" from the building by security if he is clearly not buying anything).
(That paragraph I just wrote, in its length and comma-riddled form, could in fact be seen as a tribute to Saramago's writing style.... Let's think of it that way so I don't have to revise it, ok?)
In the world of the book, Cipriano and other (traditionally) skilled specialists are utterly dependent upon the "modern market" that is The Center, upon the whims of its buyers and its intrusive security apparatus. The world outside The City and The Center is poor and desperate, filled with factories and farms who sell their wares to The City and especially The Center. The City is surrounded by a band of squatter settlements filled with would-be hijackers who might actually be decent people but who lack a whole lot of other options, who keep being displaced for The City (and who knows, maybe The Center) to expand. Perhaps the police stage a car-burning to create a pretext to raid the place. Who knows.
In other words, it's a lot like a lot of places I know. It's a lot like where I grew up, in fact. I might have worked at a bookstore in The Center when I was 16.
But I digress. The point is the world's two classes: one less-skilled and poor and/or unemployed, the other more-skilled and rich(er).
Because I would submit that this is already the case; we have two worlds, one clamoring for entry to the other, the latter building ever-higher walls to keep the former out, and we have not managed this decline at all.
So, assuming that most people here fall into the set of people living in comfort, rather than the set of people without the means to survive, this is the question: As our economies transform and specialize, do we have to get poorer in order to change this?
I may not be understanding the question correctly, and if not, someone should feel free to set me straight.