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Author Topic: MSH Mantles Karl Marx -OR- The Crisis Discussion And Essay Thread  (Read 3858 times)

WealthyRadish

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Re: MSH Mantles Karl Marx -OR- The Crisis Discussion And Essay Thread
« Reply #30 on: June 14, 2018, 06:04:29 am »

Lately I've been reading The Fall of the House of Labor, a history of trade unionism and labor conditions in America from 1865 to 1925, and was struck by something relevant to this discussion, particularly regarding modern corporate life.

One of the accounts the author gives in the first pages of the book is of a small union of iron workers during a recession who were holding a meeting to discuss a contract with an iron mill (the minutes taken of the meeting provided the basis for the historian's account). The union had been offered a rate of pay by a mill owner per ton of iron rolled, and the purpose of the meeting was to discuss how this rate of pay per ton would be divided among the workers according to their differing positions. They started by each naming their price, and ultimately some positions were assigned a rate nearly four times what others were to earn, but in the end they worked out their disputes and agreed to accept the contract (and took special care that everybody did agree so that the vote should be unanimous).

Immediately on reading this, I was practically dumbstruck by the contrast between this way of doing things compared to employment today. This specific sort of arrangement wasn't particularly common, and the book goes on to detail the many different arrangements that existed across industries for the employment of skilled labor, but the idea of having a working life of this character in which issues were worked out among your co-workers (held together by common interest and solidarity) seems like a romantic fantasy compared to how all aspects of work today are just imposed by the employer.

Later in the book the author begins to discuss the development of a current among industrialists called "scientific management", which I think offers the clearest break between the first phase of industrial capitalism and the modern working conditions we labor under in modern corporate capitalism. Skilled workers of the type described above would usually work with sometimes great autonomy in a group, performing a variety of tasks and coordinating together to produce a commodity through the use of the owner's capital. The "skill" was not only experience and physical competence, but also knowledge of the production process and the ability to effectively exercise their own judgement independently of oversight. This skill and group coordination remained indispensable to many production processes through the early industrial revolution (even as labor-reducing machines had displaced the traditional mode of production by independent craftsmen) and with it came a greater ability for those workers to bargain for wages and the conditions of their employment. "Scientific management" was developed as a way of essentially appropriating that knowledge and experience of the workers, through the introduction of a new division of labor and organization that broke previously skilled complex tasks with overlapping participants into much simpler repetitive tasks that were directed instead by a management themselves familiar with the process (this sometimes required the creation of new machines, but oftentimes not).

While more skilled and autonomously coordinated groups of workers were more likely to successfully resist attempts by employers to cut pay or impose harsher working conditions (whether they belonged to a union or not), replacing them with unskilled labor that could not only be paid less but could be controlled by a management class aligned with the owners offered obvious potential benefits in cutting costs and worker assertiveness (tendency to strike and demand better working conditions). However, one of the new costs (or rather an existing cost that was exacerbated) that emerged as owners reorganized according to this model was that of turnover. Destroying worker autonomy and creating positions where workers perform the same repetitive task hour after hour day after day resulted in a much greater propensity for workers to skip work or quit. In manufacturing this irregularity creating an assortment of costs, not just including the costs of finding and hiring new workers, but also diminished quantity and quality of work that came from continuously replacing and training inexperienced workers and the additional difficulties caused when workers fail to show up and gaps are created in the "line". These costs were not only more frequently incurred per person, they were actually greater per person, as a skilled worker could usually be easily replaced by another skilled worker (as a class their available employment was constantly being whittled down and the traditional barriers to reaching that status eroded).

One of the ways employers who employed "scientific management" had to lower turnover was to offer higher pay and a shorter workday; Ford famously offered "profit sharing" (relevantly only to workers who stayed at least 6 months) and an eight hour work day before it was commonplace. The drivel one can expect to hear when Ford's praises are sung in a typical school classroom is that he did this so that his workers could afford to buy the cars that he was making, or out of some prototypical "enlightened self-interest", but naturally it is never mentioned that he had a 416% turnover rate from October 1912-13 and a chronically high rate of worker truancy. The work was so mind-numbing, soul-crushing, physically fatiguing, and just generally unpleasant not just in famous cases like Ford's factories but in general under this new form of "scientific management" (where a worker may have 4-8 bosses breathing down their neck, have their actions timed and productivity constantly accessed, and be reduced to something called by Henry George as "less than animal") that these wage increases above the going rate and reduction in the workday were one of the only means available of countering the mounting turnover and truancy costs.

So the improvement in the general material condition of the (unskilled) working class that accompanied the transformation into modern corporate capitalism was at least in part due to the inability for employers to entice workers to such a miserable mode of production without greater compensation above subsistence and the old prevailing rates.

This form of management of course went on conquer nearly every industry, and not just those of an explicitly corporate character. In the course of time, employers have gotten better at lowering turnover and mitigating its effects (i.e. through managing "human resources") while expanding the management structure and further compartmentalizing tasks at all levels. Even non-menial tasks still performed by skilled or educated workers (or the lower managers themselves) are by rule today mindless drudgery, and even though few escapes from this system exist a level of turnover is created simply by people seeking a change of scenery from one form of toil to another. Where possible, employers have also gotten better at shifting the costs of turnover, retraining, and unemployment on either the workers or society at large. Consider for example how the troublesome behaviors of a habitually drunken European ex-peasant freshly arrived in America would conflict with the regime of an assembly line, or how useful our school system proves in breaking children of independent tendencies before their future lives of perpetual subordination.

But what I think is particularly relevant today, what I think helps partially explain that convergence of factors that is keeping wages low and misery high in our modern apogee of corporate capitalism, is that our "advancement" into a service economy has reduced the effect turnover has on our prevailing industries and the prevailing wage rate. Generally in a service gig, someone failing to show up (or the perpetual staff shortages most shops operate under) doesn't directly impinge profits to such a degree that employers find it necessary to offer higher compensation; the quality of service enjoyed by the customer might suffer to some minor degree, which has some intangible indirect effect on profits, but generally a labor shortage in the workplace is only paid for by inflicting even greater misery on those who remain (and without unions, a worker's misery isn't worth much). Whereas in manufacturing, there are all sorts of immediate complications that make the absence of truant workers or a shortage of labor a serious problem, and so tolerable hours and a decent wage have their own rewards.

It's not a comprehensive explanation of our modern condition and trends, certainly, but it's an interesting angle that I had not considered previously and seems understated (despite how often we hear about high turnover, low wages, and low job satisfaction today).
« Last Edit: June 14, 2018, 06:16:42 am by UrbanGiraffe »
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McTraveller

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Re: MSH Mantles Karl Marx -OR- The Crisis Discussion And Essay Thread
« Reply #31 on: June 14, 2018, 06:45:10 am »

Too many ideas floating around in my head on this one... so just take this post as me sticking my head in the room and making my presence known.
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Reelya

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Re: MSH Mantles Karl Marx -OR- The Crisis Discussion And Essay Thread
« Reply #32 on: June 14, 2018, 06:50:35 am »

Don't automatically assume that the model outlined in that book is dead everywhere, just because it is in the USA: Examples:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enterprise_bargaining_agreement

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_agreement

redwallzyl

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Re: MSH Mantles Karl Marx -OR- The Crisis Discussion And Essay Thread
« Reply #33 on: June 14, 2018, 06:46:51 pm »

So does anyone else get really annoyed at past injustices by claiming ends justify the means? Especially when it is assumed by the speaker that said means were the only way to get the ends by ignoring the possibility of any other means? Related because this is often used to justify the exploitation of people by capitalism. I hate that.
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martinuzz

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Re: MSH Mantles Karl Marx -OR- The Crisis Discussion And Essay Thread
« Reply #34 on: June 14, 2018, 11:36:43 pm »

Don't automatically assume that the model outlined in that book is dead everywhere, just because it is in the USA: Examples:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enterprise_bargaining_agreement

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_agreement
Indeed. Over here, nearly all job sectors have collective agreements.
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MrRoboto75

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Cthulhu

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Re: MSH Mantles Karl Marx -OR- The Crisis Discussion And Essay Thread
« Reply #36 on: June 15, 2018, 09:28:38 pm »

☑ Drastic checks on the fourth branch of government (Eliminate popular vote for presidents is step one. There's a reason we have the electoral college).  Going by my experience teaching, the need for every person to be an informed civic actor is a big chunk of educational bandwidth.  Which leads to 2.

☑ Descope school.  You spend 30-some hours a week for your entire childhood in Kid Prison and going by remedial course rates in college it was all a big waste of time, not even considering that it makes kids go insane.  School shootings aside, basically everyone I've ever known is hindered in some way in their adult life by issues arising from shit that happened in school.

Not sure about the details, but major reform in the general direction of no compulsory education at all. Which leads to 3.

☑ UBI.  Basically a bribe.  Robot-based UBI is basically robots paying to put their senile parents in a home while they wait for the inheritance.  Which brings us to 4

☑ Human extinction and replacement by synthetic life.  All problems go away.  It doesn't matter if the world is fucked because robots don't need a biosphere.

Smash the system. Yeah, I know, advocating violence and all but... how the fuck else? The ultrarich are just too damn entrenched and play the current sociological system like a damn fiddle to remove otherwise. Of course, preventing whomever topples them from just taking their place is also a rather big issue regardless of how you remove this international elite.

Personally I can't wait to use the ensuing chaos to enrich myself on plunder and murder people I don't like with no repercussions.  It's also got the inherent problem of setting precedents.  If you think the only way to win is the helicopter, guess what's gonna happen to you as soon as somebody else is flying it.
« Last Edit: June 15, 2018, 10:08:28 pm by Cthulhu »
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Egan_BW

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Re: MSH Mantles Karl Marx -OR- The Crisis Discussion And Essay Thread
« Reply #37 on: June 15, 2018, 10:12:18 pm »

Technically humans don't need a biosphere any more than robots do, given the proper technologies.
Doesn't matter if the atmosphere isn't breathable anymore if you don't have lungs anymore.
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redwallzyl

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Re: MSH Mantles Karl Marx -OR- The Crisis Discussion And Essay Thread
« Reply #38 on: June 15, 2018, 11:06:42 pm »

☑ Drastic checks on the fourth branch of government (Eliminate popular vote for presidents is step one. There's a reason we have the electoral college).  Going by my experience teaching, the need for every person to be an informed civic actor is a big chunk of educational bandwidth.  Which leads to 2.
God no. The electoral college is the problem not a solution. We need to get rid of first past the post not set have a system that disenfranchises people.
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Cthulhu

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Re: MSH Mantles Karl Marx -OR- The Crisis Discussion And Essay Thread
« Reply #39 on: June 15, 2018, 11:46:49 pm »

Both alternatives swing the balance in favor of certain sectors of the population, which is why opinions on the electoral college tie almost 1:1 with which sector of the population a person thinks will vote for the candidate they want.

Why is it a moral imperative that citizens decide the President at all?  He's the leader of one branch of the government.  The clash between electoral and popular vote exists because they weren't supposed to coexist. 
« Last Edit: June 15, 2018, 11:50:13 pm by Cthulhu »
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Baffler

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Re: MSH Mantles Karl Marx -OR- The Crisis Discussion And Essay Thread
« Reply #40 on: June 15, 2018, 11:50:44 pm »

☑ Drastic checks on the fourth branch of government (Eliminate popular vote for presidents is step one. There's a reason we have the electoral college).  Going by my experience teaching, the need for every person to be an informed civic actor is a big chunk of educational bandwidth.  Which leads to 2.

☑ Descope school.  You spend 30-some hours a week for your entire childhood in Kid Prison and going by remedial course rates in college it was all a big waste of time, not even considering that it makes kids go insane.  School shootings aside, basically everyone I've ever known is hindered in some way in their adult life by issues arising from shit that happened in school.
Both alternatives swing the balance in favor of certain sectors of the population, which is why opinions on the electoral college tie almost 1:1 with which sector of the population a person thinks will vote for the candidate they want.

Why is it a moral imperative that citizens decide the President at all?  He's the leader of one branch of the government. 
For the first point I think you've got the problem right but not the solution. The office of president was never intended to be so powerful, but it was probably an inevitable consequence of the greater freedom of action and quicker decision making that made the framers include one in the first place that they would be able to consolidate power. That's what needs a reset. The legislature has been much too meek in allowing the executive branch to consolidate power within itself where they once fiercely guarded their independence. That's the paradigm we need to restore, not a move to constitutional monarchy or a parliamentary system with an unelected chancellor as the executive that's even less answerable to the people. The problem with that is that the legislature (and to a certain extent the voters as well) has realized that control of that strong executive is the most effective way of pushing their agenda through, which is a problem I'm not sure how to solve.

The second point I could possibly agree with, but again I think you've identified problem but proposed the wrong solution. It's obvious that our school system is not functioning as intended, but I don't think the reason for that is information overload. Curricula are less involved now than they were in the past, and still test scores are dropping both in general and in relation to other countries. Some say that it's just not up to the task of competing for attention with highly addictive and ubiquitous technology like videogames and smartphones. Kids not having their phones in class would certainly help, and videogames are a serious distraction for some kids (although it's doubtful that in a world without them they would become studious and not just be distracted by something else,) but I think that's only part of the problem. Others say that there's too much focus on sports, but that seems like a red herring. You need good grades to play sports, and even if some teachers will let the school's top quarterback coast by here and there that can't possibly be a statistically significant phenomenon. Hell the athletes at my high school (with just over 200 students at each grade level) consistently stood among the best students because to stay on the team they had to put the work in off the field and they actually had some personal discipline because of it; and that's a trend that holds true in other schools as well. This is well-trod ground on Bay12, but I think the problem ultimately is that the system is overly concerned with reviewing old material to ensure everyone is up to speed and not concerned enough with actually moving forward, and the majority end up jaded and disinterested because of it and even if they don't they're still behind where they ought to be and universities are having to pick up the slack. I won't write a whole fucking essay about that since, again, it's well-trod ground around here, but fixing that is the way to make our country educated enough to lead the modern world as it once did without having to rely on importing the massive numbers of opportunistic foreigners that we're told are necessary just to keep the institutions we set up running, and as knock-on effects go fixes (or fuckups) in the educational system are very powerful indeed.

Quote
☑ UBI.  Basically a bribe.  Robot-based UBI is basically robots paying to put their senile parents in a home while they wait for the inheritance.  Which brings us to 4

☑ Human extinction and replacement by synthetic life.  All problems go away.  It doesn't matter if the world is fucked because robots don't need a biosphere.

Why would we want this? It's as though you've forgotten the whole point of organized society in the first place - to improve the lives of the people living in it. The means of production are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Leaving the machines we built to make things easier to run the whole thing to keep churning away by themselves, for themselves, is tragic at best and masturbatory at worst. It would frankly be better if we turned our energies to slowly disassembling everything and turning Earth back into a wilderness but even that's still a lose condition, no different from suicide, unless it's becoming a nature reserve and we're sitting in big orbital habitats or something.
« Last Edit: June 15, 2018, 11:52:48 pm by Baffler »
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Even if you found a suitable opening, I doubt it would prove all too satisfying. And it might leave some nasty wounds, depending on the moral high ground's geology.
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Cthulhu

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Re: MSH Mantles Karl Marx -OR- The Crisis Discussion And Essay Thread
« Reply #41 on: June 16, 2018, 12:06:59 am »

My teaching experience was mostly the opposite as regards sports.  There are plenty of schools that let student athletes coast or worse.  The athletes at my school didn't give half a fuck about classes.  I don't think that's the problem though.  It may give some insight though.  If a kid doesn't plan on going to college, what is he getting out of school?  Certainly nothing worth 30 hours a week for twelve fucking years.  And even if he does, my first year of college (as it is for a lot of people) is catching up on all the necessary foundation that high school failed to build.

I think there's some merit to a powerful executive and knee-capped legislature and vice versa.  I'd say legislature is more out of date than executive.  It's parochial by-design, no term limits means porkbarreling is the optimal strategy.  Like a lot of things, it wasn't made with 50 states and 300 million people in mind.

The means of production are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.

The means of production disagree.
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Egan_BW

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Re: MSH Mantles Karl Marx -OR- The Crisis Discussion And Essay Thread
« Reply #42 on: June 16, 2018, 12:44:31 am »

We still haven't make those smart enough to disagree yet. Honestly if the means of production disagree, it's because someone made them to disagree.
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Baffler

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Re: MSH Mantles Karl Marx -OR- The Crisis Discussion And Essay Thread
« Reply #43 on: June 16, 2018, 12:51:23 am »

My teaching experience was mostly the opposite as regards sports.  There are plenty of schools that let student athletes coast or worse.  The athletes at my school didn't give half a fuck about classes.  I don't think that's the problem though.  It may give some insight though.  If a kid doesn't plan on going to college, what is he getting out of school?  Certainly nothing worth 30 hours a week for twelve fucking years.  And even if he does, my first year of college (as it is for a lot of people) is catching up on all the necessary foundation that high school failed to build.
Well, I guess if you actually were/are a teacher you're closer to the issue than I am. Or maybe my county is just unusually well run, which I suppose is also a possibility. But anyway the point of it on paper is to equip them with the skills and knowledge required to function in a modern society, but without the specialist intellectual training that college (on paper) is supposed to provide, with trade schools existing to provide other specialist training. That system has broken down somehow, as high school diplomas count for less and less and college diplomas more and more serve as a signal to businesses that the person they're hiring isn't a fuckabout rather than training specialists, but that too is a very complicated problem.

Quote
I think there's some merit to a powerful executive and knee-capped legislature and vice versa.  I'd say legislature is more out of date than executive.  It's parochial by-design, no term limits means porkbarreling is the optimal strategy.  Like a lot of things, it wasn't made with 50 states and 300 million people in mind.
I can't really disagree, except to wonder if parochialism and pork in politics is actually a bad thing. As long as every division has a serious seat at the table it's a much more efficient and transparent way to ensure that local needs are met than lobbying an executive who's dividing his attention across the whole country. Which, incidentally, our legislature is explicitly designed to ensure and prevent the common problem of a country's government caring about the capital and surrounding region and nothing else - see Argentina and to a lesser extent the UK for particularly egregious examples of this. Given the choice to kneecap congress or the office of the president I'd choose the latter any day, but like I said before people seem to be more interested in exploiting that particular problem (if they even see it as such!) than correcting it so the decision has sort of already been made.
 

The means of production are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.

The means of production disagree.

Heh, as I see it these two sentences may well be the best soundbite succinct description of what the OP talks about that this thread will ever achieve. But I reckon that too is a problem to be corrected rather than compensated for (iPrez timeline) or embraced (AI Jesus.)
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Even if you found a suitable opening, I doubt it would prove all too satisfying. And it might leave some nasty wounds, depending on the moral high ground's geology.
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scourge728

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Re: MSH Mantles Karl Marx -OR- The Crisis Discussion And Essay Thread
« Reply #44 on: June 16, 2018, 01:02:12 pm »

I know that over in Wisconsin, all an athlete has to do is get a D- (Which in the states is the lowest grade that isn't an F, because we don't use the E grade for some reason) or higher, and then they can still do sports (atleast in the districts I've seen/heard about)
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