Posts Tagged ‘David Graeber’

We Pretend To Work; They Pretend To Pay Us

December 3, 2020

            Wall Street’s DOW set a record high by going above 30,000 Tuesday (11-24-20). Many alibis were given. None explained how money could be making money when financial and personal misery is the coin of the kingdom. Analysis found a modicum of explanation for the financial sector outperforming amidst the otherwise abysmal condition of what ostensibly supports the market – employment, production and service. The late David Graeber is primarily remembered for his voluminous Debt: The First 5,000 Years. His last book came out in 2018. It is entitled Bullshit Jobs. What is a bullshit job? 

“consider the following quote, from an interview with then US president Barack Obama about some of the reasons why he bucked the preferences of the electorate and insisted on maintaining a private, for-profit health insurance system in America: “I don’t think in ideological terms. I never have,” Obama said, continuing on the health care theme. “Everybody who supports single-payer health care says, ‘Look at all this money we would be saving from insurance and paperwork.’ That represents one million, two million, three million jobs [filled by] people who are working at Blue Cross Blue Shield or Kaiser or other places. What are we doing with them? Where are we employing them?” I would encourage the reader to reflect on this passage because it might be considered a smoking gun. What is the president saying here? He acknowledges that millions of jobs in medical insurance companies like Kaiser or Blue Cross are unnecessary. He even acknowledges that a socialized health system would be more efficient than the current market-based system, since it would reduce unnecessary paperwork and reduplication of effort by dozens of competing private firms. But he’s also saying it would be undesirable for that very reason. One motive, he insists, for maintaining the existing market-based system is precisely its inefficiency, since it is better to maintain those millions of basically useless office jobs than to cast about trying to find something else for the paper pushers to do.” (pg. 157) A more contemporary and local example would be Ohio’s HB6 debacle which props up 2 scheduled-to-be-decommissioned nuclear power plants as well as two completely redundant coal fired power plants while dissing more efficient and sustainable forms of energy production. So much for bullshit jobs though it is important to understand the function they play in the “market” and why their existence is deemed desirable (Hint: they justify the funneling of money from the bottom to the top, as in 1%). Graeber does let drop some insights that contribute to our question regarding the current record DOW in really abysmal  times: “It’s almost impossible to get accurate figures about what proportion of a typical family’s income in, say, America, or Denmark, or Japan, is extracted each month by the FIRE sector [Finance, Insurance, Real Estate], but there is every reason to believe it is not only a very substantial chunk but also is now a distinctly greater chunk of total profits than those the corporate sector derives directly from making or selling goods and services in those same countries. Even those firms we see as the very heart of the old industrial order – General Motors and General Electric in America, for example – now derive all, or almost all, of their profits from their own financial divisions. GM, for example, makes its money not from selling cars but rather from interest collected on auto loans.” (pg. 177) So much for the stock market being about employment, production, and service. But wait, he has more: “It just seemed to make sense that, just as Wall Street profits were derived less and less from firms involved in commerce or manufacturing, and more and more from debt, speculation, and the creation of complex financial instruments, so did an ever-increasing proportion of workers come to make their living from manipulating similar abstractions.” (pg. 150) Almost prescient of what the current pandemic has revealed he writes: “if you complain about getting some bureaucratic run-around from your bank, bank officials are likely to tell you it’s all the fault of government regulations; but if you research where those regulations actually come from, you’ll likely discover that most of them were written by the bank.” (pg. 17) “JPMorgan Chase & Co., for example, the largest bank in America, reported in 2006 that roughly two-thirds of its profits were derived from “fees and penalties,” and “finance” in general really refers to trading in other people’s debts – debts which, of course, are enforceable in courts of law.” (pg. 177) “There’s a lot of questions one could ask here, starting with, What does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: If 1 percent of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call “the market” reflects what they think is useful or important, not anybody else.)” (pg. xx) For Graeber the contemporary stock market is all about trading in debt. This contributes substantively as to answering why Wall Street’s DOW is continuously in record breaking territory during these abysmal times; abysmal because debt is implicated in everything, even in “gov’t bailouts.”

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