Friday, February 24, 2012

Workers are Costly Burderns

Today I spoke with a coworker who has been working with corporate clients in a particular foreign country (for confidentiality reasons, I'm trying to give as few details as possible). The coworker expressed surprise at the different attitude exhibited in this country toward their employees. In essence, they view their employees as costs, and try to minimize the costs as much as possible. Education and training, for example, is not quite as popular there as in the U.S. because it is perceived to not have much bang for the buck.

I tried (as much as it is possible in an office setting to express "anti-capitalist" ideas.... I tread lightly) to suggest that this particular attitude may not be confined to that one particular foreign country.

In fact, it is the quintessential attitude of capitalism. As capitalism is defined by wage labor, labor is central to profitability in a capitalist system. A capitalist profits only to the extent that they can obtain surplus labor (labor in excess of what they are paying). Technology, contrary to popular belief, does not increase profitability in the long run; in fact, it decreases the rate of profitability as it decreases the proportion of human labor embedded in a product (and thus, decreases the possible surplus labor embedded in a product). A capitalist may try to maintain profitability by creating a monopoly. However, monopolies tend to be difficult to sustain the in the long run. At the foundation, profitability derives from keeping the cost of labor low.

What this means is that, it is absolutely a capitalist's most basic and primary interest to contain the cost of labor. This can be accomplished by preventing the rise of wages parallel to inflation (a more systemic solution); organizing and managing the workplace to increase productivity; simply not paying employees for all hours worked (a common complaint leveled against some major corporations like Walmart); and trying to minimize "extra" costs (benefits, overtime, training, etc.). It is due to the nature of capitalism, where labor is a major component of the "input" side of the equation, that employees are viewed as "costs."

If this seems strange or nonapplicable in the U.S., it is because a large portion of the U.S. occupies a more specialized role in the global capitalist system, and the consent of a majority of its citizens to capitalist ideology is necessary for the functioning of the system.  In other words, it is more necessary in the U.S. and other industrial powers to maintain an illusion of capitalism that conceals what is really going on, than in places where the sweatshop and the plantation are more blatant.  The consent of Western and middle and professional classes is the lynchpin to the whole system.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Why I Hate "Travel": Part 2

I wrote last year about why my panties get in a bunch every time a person says they like to travel.  Here is the link to that post if you want to read.  I just received an email from someone close to me who is vacationing in Belize, and it contains a description which backs up my arguments with a concrete example of the tourism industry as a form of exploitation.  I didn't get their permission to post this, so hopefully they don't mind!

"We even went into the 'tourism village' built for the cruise ship patrons. It's really said how the government and the tourism industry built this village which excludes the local artisans. They had high hopes when it was built that they would have a place there, but when it got built, they were told they needed to come up with $10,000 to purchase a spot. They were pushed to a junky craft area outside tourism village. The cruise ship staff tell the passengers that it's dangerous to shop out there. So sad. They are the most friendly people you could ever meet, just trying to make a living. Their stuff is beautiful and half the price of the tourist shops."

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Israel's Role In Foreign Affairs

It is clear that Israel is a key player in world affairs. To many in the West, Israel is seen as an indispensible ally, while to others, particularly in the Middle East, it is viewed as a provocateur and invoked as a justification for violence. In fact, some people (generally those in the latter camp) believe that Israel is pulling all the strings of Western foreign policy. And there are people who think that Jews secretly run the world. Clearly, a lot is attributed to Israel/the Jews.

While I do think that the West, and in particular the U.S., are very vested in Israel’s security and exhibit a public bias toward the nation in their handling of regional conflicts, I don’t think that it’s fair to say that Israel is calling all of the shots. And the idea that Jews control the world does not even deserve comment. In fact, I would say, quite contrarily, that Israel has more often been used as a tool by the West in pursuit of their own goals, and that a general anger over colonialism/neo-colonialism has to some extent been unfairly (I will admit, also to some extent fairly) displaced onto Israel, as the visible arm of Western colonialism in the Middle East.

For example, let’s look at the creation of this nation-state. The establishment of the state of Israel could not have occurred if Britain, the occupier of the territory, did not will it. And Britain did not will it because of its sympathy for the victims of Nazi genocide. It had been planning the creation of a Jewish state prior to WW2 as a strategy to counter any potential expansionary aims of the new Egyptian regime. The British took advantage of the Zionist attitudes and devastation felt by the Jews in order to place colonial agents in the region.  And they continued to use Israel as a check against the emergence of any regional power that could threaten Western hegemony.

It is true that Israel lobbies, both directly and through its organized American supporters, for particular foreign policy interventions whose strategic aim is to prevent the rise of any regional power that could rival Israel. This is rational. It is also true that the U.S. often seems to bend to the sway of this influence. However, that is only because the U.S.'s own strategic objectives happen to dovetail, in large part, with Israel's. The U.S., as world hegemonic power and chief instrument of neocolonialism for the capitalist class, also does not want any regional power to emerge in the Middle East. But the U.S. interest is in maintaining control over as much of the region as possible, and the rise of any hostile power would threaten that control. Israel just happens to be a useful ally.

Israel may have a lot of nukes, but the global elite is strong and globally integrated.  And the bottom line, under capitalism, is always the bottom line:  profit.