The working poor (aka the precariat) have been a direct byproduct of the economic policies in vogue for the past 30 years or more, all over the Western world. The resultant anger – and related sense of hopelessness – now finds political expression in the open hostility to migrants (seen as a further source of job insecurity) and the existing power structure.
That anger was evident in the Brexit vote, and it underlies the support for Donald Trump in the United States. As automation scythes its way through more and more jobs, we’re setting ourselves up for more of the same, and worse. We’re creating a society where incomes will be increasingly reliant on low wages and short-term, part-time contracts, reduced collective bargaining rights, and token increases in the minimum wage, if we’re lucky. Basically, a seedbed for all kinds of misery and social dysfunction.
Not that Finance Minister Bill English seems aware of any of this and/or is happy enough to remain in denial, thanks. In the House yesterday and on RNZ this morning, English still seemed to be living in the 1950s, within a Norman Rockwell painting. In his happy imaginings, hard work will still be rewarded with upward mobility, and anyone who wants to get ahead, can and will. Hope exists, and virtue and effort are amply rewarded. Kids of today can expect more, and better. This fantasy is a world where downward mobility and the rising tide of income inequality do not exist. And if you do happen to get in trouble… why, Social Welfare will always be there to lend you a cheery hand up, as the annual increases in the minimum wage roll in and put extra money in the kitty. God bless you, Mister English!
Oh yeah, there is the little matter of people sleeping in cars. That, English added, was not a fault of central government but of poor local planning rules. Nothing that a bit of better zoning couldn’t fix. Not his problem. Is this what English really thinks? Or is this more from the usual government readiness to ignore the social distress through which they drive in their ministerial cars – while they pitch their political messages entirely to the 50-60% of the public still not experiencing these life-blighting problems?
Other politicians are at least talking about the future shape of work. Ideas like the Universal Basic Income may have flaws, but at least they’re a recognition that business-as-usual is not going to be sustainable for much longer. English has yet to get up to speed on that reality… and obviously, he isn’t planning for it. Meanwhile, instead of offering a hand-up, his government has been hellbent for the past five years on making welfare support harder and harder to access.
As political rhetoric goes, it is all so very threadbare. Look, English told RNZ this morning, think how much better things are here than in Australia (!) and in the United States. Yep. That’s his version of the old 1950s parental saying – eat your vegetables kids, there are people starving in India. So, and similarly… count your blessings folks, as you work two and three crap jobs to pay the rent and put food on the table. Bill English sees hope on the horizon. And if you don’t… well, that’s your problem, not his.
Hillary and Elizabeth
The bonding going on between Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren has been one of the stranger aspects of the 2016 presidential campaign. Clinton has supposedly been sizing up the heroine of the left as a possible vice-presidential candidate. Yeah, right. The cosiness has had far more to do with signalling to Bernie Sanders supporters that look, I can’t be so bad – Elizabeth Warren likes me! For her part, Warren is doing her bit by reacting positively, in the hope this will make it even harder for Clinton to zigzag back to the right, after her coronation in Philadelphia.
In fact, the chances of Clinton choosing Warren as her running mate at the Democratic convention are low to non-existent. A double female ticket would still be widely seen as a too risky move, even after centuries of double male tickets, broken only by Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, and Sarah Palin in 2008.
On Slate this week, there’s an excellent piece spelling out why Warren-for-Veep would be a bad idea even beyond the obvious – that Warren would easily upstage Clinton, and turn this into a Warren/Clinton campaign, not a Clinton/Warren one. That’s not what a vice-presidential candidate is supposed to do. Secondly and far more importantly, it would weld Warren-as-Veep into support for the Clinton agenda, when Warren could be better deployed in continuing to achieve meaningful results in the Senate as a free agent. Thirdly, the Democrats would lose Massachusetts in a by election, if Warren departed to become vice-President…and so on.
The more likely choices? Tim Kaine of Virginia (male, old, and reliably dull yet popular enough in a state that the Dems might then win) or Julian Castro ( male, young, and Hispanic) or Tom Perez ( male, youngish, Hispanic.) All these guys being well to the right of Elizabeth Warren.
Live From The Plantation
Its an oldie, but Mr Lif’s “Plantation” song is still on target as a theme song for the precariat… Lif really nails the nature of shit jobs, and the fantasies of revenge that go with them.
And then there’s Jennifer Aniston in the very great Office Space movie, expressing her flair…
And there’s the memo, and the cover sheets…