Precarity is the new normal


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This is the sort of situation that typically leads to armed revolution, which of course can do nothing to solve the problem.


As machines can take over more and more of the jobs that don’t require artistic creativity or extensive education, I think the idea of an economy where most people have good jobs that give them a middle-class living standard will become increasingly unrealistic–my hope is that the basic income movement will take off, otherwise I feel like the disparities are just gonna get increasingly bad. Basic income could offer a smooth transition into an eventual post-scarcity economy where machines do all the grunt work and everyone can have a nice standard of living without any particular need for the vast majority of the population to do anything “productive” unless they find something that’s interesting enough to do even when there’s no significant money to be made from it (but maybe the whuffie system will be in place by then!) All assuming we don’t global warm ourselves to death beforehand, of course…


If somebody really screws up… Precarious semi-employment certainly provides an impetus to rebellion; but it also makes it comparatively easy and cheap to recruit security forces. If a regular paycheck, some degree of benefits, and a snappy uniform and sense of organizational belonging are largely unavailable, you’ll be able to put a very compelling offer on the table for a relatively small slice of the plutocracy pie. Plus, of course, ubiquitous surveillance and killer robots are always handy if you are a stratospherically wealthy minority surrounded by angry peasants.

The hard cases are going to be the people who don’t feel well off unless they can feel better off, preferably better than as many others as possible… Some people are good at contentment, some fall into a sort of self-defeating failure to find satisfaction; but the ones who aren’t happy unless they have a foot on your neck, those are in a class of their own.


Possibly. And if they manage to recruit solely from the “temporarily embarrassed millionaires” Steinbeck talked about, it might work out pretty well for the folks doing the hiring. At least in terms of enthusiasm.

In all other cases, they’re going to find they have largely unenthusiastic (or apparently enthusiastic but quite duplicitous) workforce. As a socialist, I’m not terribly bothered but I would rather they didn’t create the situation that would precipitate them hiring more working class folks to fight other working class folks who are just trying to survive.

This basic income model some folks have been bringing up is quite interesting. I suspect the U.S. could cut its defense spending by 90%, institute free higher education and healthcare for all residents, and provide basic income to all citizens and still have some left for NASA.

The only people who would notice the difference (negatively) would be defense contractors and war profiteers. I’m sure after ~80 years of profiteering, they have a nice nest egg built up that will nicely help them transition to something less ridiculous.

(Yes, I know things aren’t that simple but a girl can dream.)


Part of the problem is that, in the U.S, having a job and having money seems to be viewed in terms of morality. If you’re poor, out of work, or dependent on government assistance, you’re obviously lazy or otherwise immoral. There’s a stigma attached to it. “Good” people would “draw themselves up by their own bootstraps.”

For example, in my line of work, I’ve heard people say, “I’d rather be working at McDonalds than drawing unemployment (insurance), wouldn’t you?” And, “Maybe taking away their unemployment insurance will be like taking away a crutch, and they’ll work harder at getting a job.”

When in fact, working at a crummy minimum wage job, you might still need government assistance to make ends meet. Looking at unemployment insurance as a “crutch” implies that you think people are unemployed because they’re not working hard enough at getting a job, as if they’re unemployed by their own choice, when in fact the jobs aren’t out there.

That way of seeing things is so prevalent, even among people who are poor and out of work, in the U.S. that it’s hard to see any kind of significant change coming down the pike any time soon.


Nitpick: “precarity” sounds to me like the condition that preceeds tooth decay. Was it intended to be precariousness, or is this a legitimate usage I simply haven’t encountered before?

being a writer it’s easy to get that close focus killing everything in the periphery. seeing the world as techno centric might be an example of that.

i enjoyed this list, but taken out of context it won’t apply across the board. contemporary society is somewhat globalizing. the difficulties occurring with rampant elitism won’t continue to be sustainable because it is impossible to live globally: you are here▾. there is literally no way to assume that work either will be or could be unavailable. the shortage of it is an indicator resulting from severe abuses.

I thought it was a made-up word, but in fact it has a Wikipedia entry.

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Also, crutches help people recover, why else would doctors call for them? What the fuck is wrong with these metaphors? Would these people saying that taking away wheelchairs will help people walk? that taking away glasses would help people see? that taking away prosthetic limbs would help people with anything? Probably. Ableists demonstrate a remarkable ability to deny the obvious, and ableism is everywhere.


Here’s a possibility — someone up-thread mentioned how Americans view prosperity as linked to morality. There’s your framework, right there:

  1. Make that association even more tangible; associate things that we consider ‘rights’ today — the ability for a decent education (not just for employment, but for anything), health-care, decent employment — as privileges only the deserving obtain.
  2. Remove elements of the social safety net, bit by bit by bit. Start by removing things that are “obviously” fripperies — public libraries, museums, unemployment benefits, food stamps. Move up to things that are a little more essential — public parks, programs for youth, anything related to public education that isn’t aimed at creating more workers. If you do it right you’ll eventually be able to even cut off basic utilities for the “undeserving”.
  3. Relentlessly automate, so that the possibility for employment — and later on, survival — become narrower and narrower for those who are not well-connected and well-resourced.
  4. Ensure that, in the name of being “tough on crime”, that punishment for violating the social order is harsh and uncompromising. Upgrade your security forces as necessary, until a single peace officer is able to oppress and subjugate hundreds, if not thousands.
  5. Justify the desperate straits that those who are not rich are in as something inherent and fundamental. Subtly denigrate those in these same straits, and with the eventual goal of dehumanizing them. Constantly repeat, against all evidence to the contrary, that all you need to succeed is hard-work and dedication.
  6. At some point the undeserving will rebel and will likely kill one of you who serves as an object lesson the the others — the lesson being, if you don’t escalate your treatment of the undeserving, they will get to you. Get them first.
  7. Kill, kill, kill, imprison, kill, kill, kill. Repeat point 3, 4, 5 and 6 where necessary. Those you imprison you convert to cheap labor to fuel your prosperity.
  8. Revel in your roles as a Peer, where all you need to do is the occasional culling and suppression of Helot rebellions while you work on technology to escape this cycle.
  9. A possible solution to this? Mind-uploads to an immortal computronium substrate. First one to get there gets to throw everyone else into the CHON disassemblers to be made into computronium for your infinitely worthy mind.
  10. You win! All you have to do now is to figure out how to beat heat-death / the Big Rip…

It sounds incredibly stupid, I know. But what was chilling was how much of it I’ve already seen happen in recent events during the past few years…


Good luck. There have been lots of experiments with alternate currencies. Most of them have died reasonably quickly unless the “currency” had intrinsic value. (For example, NYC subway tokens were a de facto city coinage for many years, because they were reasonably counterfeiting-resistant, had value to every resident of the city, and had a mandated rate of exchange with US currency. They did occasionally lose all value, but nobody had enough of them to make that a problem, and they also occasionally increased in value which made up for that risk.)

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We actually have a de-facto ‘two currency’ system that we use on poor people (minus any of that commie nonsense about ‘dignity’ and suchlike): WIC/SNAP (and whatever other acronyms are current at a given time, permutations, duplications, and mutations seem to be the norm rather than the exception). For sake of convenience, if nothing else, those are treated as 1-1 USD equivalents; but only for the purchase of approved items.

I don’t have enough background in the relevant literature to dive into the shark-infested minefield of “Is providing welfare in the form of special poor-people scrip a sound method of preventing its diversion to various addictions and pathologies commonly comorbid with poverty, or do we issue ShameCash™ at additional inconvenience and expense rather than just cutting them a check because we loath poor people and assume that they are poor because they lack virtue?”

Either way, we do have a ‘essentials-only’ parallel currency, and it’s actually really, really common (in terms of users as percentage of population; in terms of volume vs. USD, USD is obviously a much, much, bigger deal). It’s a somewhat dysfunctional, ad-hoc one; but it’s there.


It seems to me the main benefit of using ‘precarity’ (or one of it’s variants) is that most of the people for whom it is already a problem (or will be one soon) do not know what it means.
Pas devant les domestiques…

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I just call them assholes. Works for me.

A few points to muddy the waters - a large part of the great divide growing larger are trade measures that have helped remove a billion people in the rest of the world out of grinding poverty, even as these same policies immiserate a substantial section of labour pool in the West.

While it would be nice if we improved people’s lives in other countries out of the goodness of our hearts, the whole of human history pretty much indicates we won’t unless there’s something in it for us. And now, there is - cheap goods.

If we’re lucky, this is the “industrial revolution for the rest of the planet”, which after a miserable transition of a generation or two increases everybody’s wealth. What worries me is that after a century of being in the 1% (which last time I checked was about ~$45K), we’re going to find ourselves relatively wealthy in global terms (household income of $30K), but miserably poor by our current ones.

It’ll be interesting to see how hard I fight to keep my children in the global 1% (i.e. have a what was once a decent middle-class job) no matter what the cost to the rest of the world. Although no doubt I’ll continue to eagerly support charities that provide a few percent of the benefits of free trade as a sop to my conscience.

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In the article he talks as if engineers have safe jobs. Maybe so - until you hit the age of 50 or thereabouts. I know of so many older, unemployed engineers, and I’ve seen employers talk about how they won’t hire engineers over the age of 45 (which is why they need H1-B visa employees…). The only “safe position” is to have enormous family wealth/connections.

… or to have been saving for all those years. Most engineers should be able to be in in relatively survivable position by age 50, if they figure that into their lifestyle choices. That means either finding stable but average-paying positions, or remembering that the reason contractors and startups get paid so much is because they’re going to go through periods where they don’t get paid at all and their lifestyle needs to reflect that long-term average.

Then you’re in the same precarious position retirees are in, only earlier - having money tied up in investments that might so south (I know a fair number of retirees that had to re-enter the workforce in recent years thanks to the financial meltdown), you’re more susceptible to increases in the cost of living or spikes of inflation, etc.