Self-imposed corporate regulations control workers but choke productivity

Two new industries have emerged in this neo-liberal era. The first is what I call the ‘unemployment’ industry, which operates to case manage the unemployed that poorly crafted fiscal policy has deliberately created and entrenched into our modern societies. A whole parasitic array of private providers get paid by the government to coerce and threaten the unemployed under the guise of retraining them for jobs. I wrote about this scandal in this blog – Why we should close the ‘unemployment industry’. In the last few days, a new industry has been identified which employs over a million people in Australia, making it one of the largest sectors, although no official data is published on it. This sector has been labelled in the press this week – the ‘red tape’ industry or the ‘compliance sector’. It is growing faster than any other industry in Australia and probably elsewhere, although there is no data available that can tell us that. It is largely unproductive because it undermines the productivity of other workers. Red tape, compliance, must be the public sector once again imposing its heavy hand on private endeavour, right? Wrong, the neo-liberals not only created and expanded a moribund and dysfunctional financial sector but has also created the red tape industry as it seeks to control workers down to the smallest degree. Hilarious really if it wasn’t so wasteful and hypocritical.

The typical narrative from those that hate government involvement in the economy is that there has to be more deregulation. The extremists claim that a self-regulating private market place will deliver the best outcomes for all.

The GFC proves that even a significantly deregulated private financial market with reduced prudential oversight from the relevant authorities delivers catastrophic outcomes.

But facts are not the natural territory of the neo-liberal. Free markets are what they claim to want whereas what they mean is a market tilted towards their own interests irrespective of what happens to the rest of us.

Every day there is some moocher from the private business sector demanding that the government regulative structure be stripped down. The media has a field day when they can find examples of public sector mismanagement, corruption, or plain waste.

The entire Eurozone narrative from the ECB, Brussels, the IMF and the right-wing commentariat is focused on so-called ‘structural’ reforms – getting rid of job protections, safety rules and other regulative stipulations that have been built up over many decades.

While many of these reforms will not do anything to stimulate growth in the Eurozone, they will, once growth resumes undermine the prosperity of workers and further reinforce the income and wealth inequality that has grown under the neo-liberal regime.

We certainly do not want a poorly performing public sector. Waste is waste. But the debate is so ridiculously concentrated on the public sector and the role of government that we often lose sight of the extent of waste and nonsensical work and business practices that are about in the private sector.

The moochers from the private sector lobby rarely comment on their own practices. While neo-liberals pretend to want freedom for all and as little regulative interference, they have perfected a system in Australia (at least) which is the exemplification of top-down rigidity and waste.

That is what the report that was released yesterday tells us.

The Australian Treasurer launched a report yesterday (October 29, 2014) – Get out of your own way – Unleashing productivity” – which has been produced by a private sector management consultant company. You have to register to get the full report but they respond with a link to the PDF file.

The Treasurer, consistent with his conservative ideological biases, really only wanted to talk about reforming government practices at the launch yesterday.

He actually told the audience (see transcript) that:

I was quite surprised that, according to the report, the largest source of growth in rules and regulations may actually be from the private sector itself.

And I bet all those moochers out there are wondering how they will incorporate the findings of the report in their on-going attacks against ‘waste’!

The ‘Unleashing Productivity’ report’s basic finding is that the private sector manages uncertainty and volatility:

… by laying down the law – imposing rules on ourselves – in areas as diverse as human resources (HR), information technology (IT), finance, legal, marketing and executive governance.

The time required for employees to comply with self-imposed rules has become a crippling burden. Middle managers and senior executives are chalking up 8.9 hours a week complying with the rules corporates set for themselves, with other staff spending 6.4 hours.

A 10 per cent reduction in these activities would yield a gain equivalent to “1.6 per cent of national income”, in other words, massive losses are being forced onto the economy and its workforce.

The report concludes that productivity gains made possible by new technologies which have reduced the need for so-called:

… ‘back-office’ workers such as switchboard operators, mail sorters and library assistants have been rapidly shrinking as a share of
the workforce, yet those productivity savings have been swallowed up amid the rising cost of Australia’s compliance culture.

They conclude that Australia has “bulked up, employing many people whose role is to create and then enforce a whole bunch of rules and regulations. That doesn’t just mean some lawyers and accountants. It also includes some people in finance, IT and HR functions, as well as in fast growing governance and security roles. As a result there are already more ‘compliance workers’ across Australia than there are people working in the construction, manufacturing or education sectors.”

The report provides a graph (Chart 9, page 20) which documents the “rise and rise” of workers engaged in compliance. I have reproduced it below.


To give you a sense of scale, they say that the ‘compliance sector’ is:

– Already larger than the construction, manufacturing or education sectors in terms of people employed

– Close to 1.5 times the size of the public sector in Australia (including federal, state, territory and local government)

– More than three times the size of Australia’s mining sector.

The bottom line of the research is that:

Where rules don’t exist, we create them. Where they already do, we make more. They overlap, they contradict, they eat our time and they weigh us down.

There are many examples given in the report. As a sample they document the case of a “firm that insisted staff complete an ergonomic checklist and declaration when they moved desks, then introduced ‘hot desking’ such that everyone spent 20 minutes a day filling out forms.”

Ah, the hot desking epidemic which is now infiltrating universities. The consultants claim it build team spirit and energy but the reality is that academic staff just work from homeand only go in when they need to see students. Then they meet them at the cafe rather than try to scrabble for a hot desk. Hot desking is idiocy of the highest order.

The report argues that this is all to do with risk management and consistent with their view that we overestimate our vulnerability and gold-plate risk management processes to such an extent that they become dysfunctional and get in the way of endeavour.

I consider this is only part of the story. Micro-management is part of the shift in power distribution under neo-liberalism away from workers towards management.

The compliance culture is intrinsic to micro-management where workers are subjected to minute scrutiny in the name of transparency but it is really about ensuring the firm can get as much surplus value as possible in an environment of changing technologies which make it easier for workers to have self determination.

Nothing much has changed really. While the orthodox economists claimed way back that the development of the factory system was the answer to new mass production technologies nothing could be further from the truth.

These compliance jobs play and important role in controlling the labour process within a capitalist system of surplus production and extraction.

That role is crucial to the maintenance of the capitalist system – a lesson the early capitalists learned when the workers in the cottage industry either stopped working once they had enough for food and beer or scarpered to neighbouring town to sell the “capital” (spinning jennies etc) to buy even more food and beer.

The creation of the factory system – the so-called “production under the one roof” – was not, as neoclassical economics has claimed, a technologically-driven development. The technology was unaltered. They just brought all the spinning jennies together – same machines as before but different organisation.

What was different was the introduction of control and supervisory functions and the early beginnings of workers in a so-called contradictory class locations.

Clearly, workers are not enslaved under capitalism but the major challenge facing the capital is to ensure the labour power they purchase becomes a flow of labour services. This observation suggests that the capitalist firm faces a control problem pertaining to how the managers extract work from the potential they have bought.

In 1974, American sociologist – Harry Braverman – published his premier work – Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century (New York, Monthly Review Press, 1974).

He wrote (pages 57-58):

When he buys labor time, the outcome is far from being either so certain or so definite that it can be reckoned away, with precision in advance. This is merely an expression of the fact that the portion of his capital expended on labour power is the “variable” portion, which undergoes an increase in the process of production; for him the question is how great that increase will be. It thus becomes essential for the capitalist that control over the labor process pass from the hands of the worker into his own. This transition presents itself in history as the progressive alienation of the process of production from the worker; to the capitalist, it presents itself as the problem of management.

In modern terms, the firm agrees to pay a wage to the worker for a given working day (which itself might vary according to various rules). At that point in the exchange the firm has purchases the labour power, which is the capacity to work. No actual labour services have been purchased in that transaction.

So the compliance industry is part of this evolving need to control and realise surplus value.

I considered that argument in more detail in this blog – Bullshit jobs – the essence of capitalist control and realisation.

The report considers whether these “rules and compliance workers” actually add value.

They conclude that these practices “cost Australia $249 billion per year, every year” or around “16 per cent” of our available productive resources are allocated to “administering and complying with rules and regulations”.

And they note that is an understatement.

They also conclude that the impact of government compliance requirements is equal in cost terms to about 5.9 per cent of total national income, which sounds large.

But then the private sector ‘self-imposed’ regulations – including those that seek to control labour – impose costs equal to 9.7 per cent of national income.

And that figure doesn’t take into account the “efficiency costs” – the lost income that the regulations impose.

Australian universities

These trends have also infiltrated the university sector in Australia. There is a proliferation of rules and regulations and paper filling out that have drained the time that academics have for the core business – teaching and research.

Consultants pop up from every little crevasse of the campus telling the increasingly highly paid and bloated management sector of the university how to innovate better. Micro-managers abound.

I was at a meeting once where the then director of finance asked the committee – why do staff require laptop computers?

Many services are outsourced including such things as travel. I travel on a plane at least once a week in the normal course of my work commitments.

Universities outsource travel to contracted travel agents who then get bonuses for booking the flights. Once upon a time, when the technology was proprietory and you could not easily book your own travel the use of the travel agent made sense.

Now it is much easier to book flights yourself and monitor the cheapest flights. But universities don’t like that flexibility. So you have to submit a travel form, wait for the travel agent to get a schedule together, deal with that, and sometimes it can take a week and several forms and E-mails before you have a flight from Newcastle to Melbourne booked.

Usually the fare is higher than you can get yourself and the agent rakes off a profit. It is a totally nonsensical control system. I can always get cheaper flights (I know what days the airlines change their fare structures for seats etc) than the agents by booking at given times and days etc.

That is just one example of many.


There hasn’t been much reaction today from the moocher class in Australia to the report.

I guess they are lying low and will wait a few days while the media cycle moves on before they launch into more self-serving attacks on government rules and regulations and demand unfair dismissal rules or minimum wages or penalty rates etc be abandoned.

But we all know now how hypocritical those claims are.

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2014 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. “There hasn’t been much reaction today from the moocher class in Australia to the report.”

    Isn’t it the case though that this is exactly what is to be expected when you have a system that requires the private sector to create *all* the jobs, yet the private sector only improves productivity and output if it is optimised towards *eliminating* jobs by automating them away.

    I’ve spent a lot of time in the past on business systems and the inefficiency of operation isn’t a public/private sector divide at all. It is a large/long lived operations vs. young/short lived operations – with the latter having the most efficient structure.

    In the former you get a build up of entropy over time that eats away at efficiency. If we want optimal output, then perversely we need to have a system where operations are destroyed and reconstructed on a regular basis.

    Unfortunately that requirement bangs right up against the natural human loss aversion problem. We don’t like to see firms fail and operations change.

  2. Bill,
    “Compliance” is just a perversion of what we used to call “Quality Assurance”, which is genuinely necessary to ensure the goods and services sold are fit for purpose, and proper customer service standards and practices exist. We are going way beyond that now.

  3. The police force in Ireland have now become de facto tax collectors and private security agents for water rent protestors and other such corporate enforcement duties.
    The amount of police man hours that has gone into this state / corporate venture is massive.
    Meanwhile they will not respond to anti social activity of any kind.
    Old people in rural areas are living in constant fear of attack and robbery and even rape and murder.(most of the rural stations have been closed down)
    I know of a German woman in her 70s !! who has been raped in a previously very quiet town.(now without a police presence)

    I think we have always lived within this corproate culture in ireland (after we painted the post office boxes green) but the economic crisis has exposed the dark heart of Irish state / corporate power and its not a pleasant view of our previously collective mass delusion.

  4. Correction
    private security agents for water rent installers rather then protestors as we are becoming the enemy of the corporate state.

    We Irish are currently living inside a fascist state .

    This phase of extremism probably started with the smoking ban in public houses some 10 years ago now.
    Health fascism always seems to come first in such circumumstances.
    Then policy “for your own good” becomes more extreme over time.

  5. I experience this in my business:

    Clients demand the latest certificates of currency for insurance policies, I have to complete safety analysis sheets for each site, even though they are usually identical in terms of safety issues, I have to produce estimates to try to guess the amount of funding available for individual projects because of the extra work imposed for fear of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, I have to complete a monthly report for one client of days worked and safety incidents, I have to read and sign contracts which essentially say that we will both behave in a reasonable manner, I need to apply for preferred contractor status and then there is the matter of quality assurance.

    For each of these there are people sitting in offices checking compliance.

    Just think about how much safer we are because of Workplace Health and Safety legislation. This is about paperwork, not differences in safety. NRM District Officers become compliance administrators rather than managing the natural resources.

    What can be done to change this?

  6. ‘Micro-management is part of the shift in power distribution under neo-liberalism away from workers towards management’

    One way micromanagement. It wouldn’t be so bad if workers could critique the decisions and performance of managers too but that would be a bit too much democracy I guess. I seem to recall some excitement a few years ago about ‘360 degree performance management’ at the Uni where I used to work, featuring the chance for evaluations to be made of managers by those they managed. It lasted about 10 minutes.

  7. One of the big issues is that we are awash in information. Companies are gathering more and more information about their workers, but then someone has to analyze the data, and come up with a response, but at some point the amount of data available outweighs any usefulness in he practical — you can accumulate and analyze all sorts of data, but at some point you have diminishing returns in what you can do with it.

    I have friends who work in health care who have been called and asked why their patients weren’t seen a few minutes after the actual appointment, and not at the exact appointment time. So they’re collecting data on the time the person comes in, and then the time the person is seen, and then someone has to asses that this was outside of what they consider acceptable and then someone is tasked to called and look into it, and then the physician has to respond. But what is gained here? How much time and energy are you putting into this and then paying the person to call and follow up, and then sorting out what is the issues? Do things like this really produce any value?

  8. Neil Wilson’s comment is typically fascinating; he always stirs up thoughts — unfortunately many of them in my case end up being beside the point. However, I would like to dispute at least one of the statements he makes above, to whit: “I’ve spent a lot of time in the past on business systems and the inefficiency of operation isn’t a public/private sector divide at all. It is a large/long lived operations vs. young/short lived operations – with the latter having the most efficient structure.”

    My experience as a civil servant suggests that that principle does NOT generally hold for public-sector organizations. I see no evidence that entropy over time necessarily eats away at the efficiency of large/long-lived operations. And when one looks at public services, it doesn’t appear to me that their destruction runs necessarily up against the natural human loss aversion problem. Electors, and civil servants themselves, are so imbued with neo-liberal propaganda and myth about the inefficiencies of public sector activities, that they not only expect but even welcome the failure of existing large services, or even unnecessary changes to them or their outright elimination; this is not a rational response, but rather a matter of faith. The destruction is rarely creative, and the solutions introduced, while often “smaller”, are almost always less efficient, less responsive to public needs, slower. Far from suffering from entropy, the older, larger services improved incrementally over a period of many years, becoming hyper-efficient. By contrast, the young (and not rarely short-lived) alternatives, highly efficient in theory and planning, break down utterly in the face of the real world challenges that the former system has adapted to meet.

    Take unemployment claims processing in my country (Canada). The old paper-based system we had in the 1950s to 1970s was able to turn around unemployment claims within a week “at the outside” and generally within a single day. The system was highly labour-intensive, but records on paper remained very secure and quick to consult. Capital costs were relatively small.

    By contrast, each stage of automation, far from increasing efficiency, slowed processing down, to the extent now that it generally takes at least a month to process an unemployment claim. If one sets aside the huge up-front capital costs of automation, it is possible to see that there may have been potential benefits to be realized from automation. But these benefits were rarely realized. Upfront costs were huge, the learning curve for remaining employees on new systems massive, the flexibility of the system to allow for alternative ways of processing claims (formerly done by hand at the discretion of decentralized managers) was reduced, and the new systems introduced rapidly became technically obsolete, and so hard to service and maintain. So, at far higher cost, on a repeated basis, government had to replace its existing systems with more modern ones. Each new iteration of the processing technology was “smaller” — it allowed government to reduce jobs and concentrate its efforts (and pension responsibilities), but led to a decline in the quality and extent of provision of services (for the reasons already mentioned). And of course, Governments became increasingly less willing to sustain this regular and costly reegineering of systems. The new systems’ efficiency was also greatly undermined by internal power games (for instance, policy staff being provided with better and more powerful technologies than the frontline staff who really need them to process claims).

    Now, entropy is rather complicated idea, and perhaps in fact I am in my roundabout way making Neil’s argument for him. But this experience seems directly opposite to his statement that “if we want optimal output, then perversely we need to have a system where operations are destroyed and reconstructed on a regular basis.” Optimal output, in this case, required not at all changing operations. Rather, striving to update them in very limited, incrememtal ways improves service and efficiency. In this context, human loss aversion is entirely rational, both in the short and long term; there is no reason to change a system that is always working well. Improvement strictly dominates change.

  9. I challenge Bill to tackle the fundamental issue. The fundamental problem is capitalism itself. All of these other problems we complain about – from the rise of corporatism to the rise of managerialism and micro-management and on to unemployment and rising inequality along with the decline of democracy as it is subverted by oligarchic power – are due to capitalism itself. More specifically it is the inherent nature and ownership structure of capitalism that constitute the problem. A small, super-rich minority own and control the means of production and the large majority of people are alienated wage slaves who have the surplus value of their labour stolen.

    This capitalist ownership system is butressed not only by propaganda and indoctrination but more importantly by our laws and insitutional environment. “Ownership law” and corporate law buttress the current situation where most of the wealth and power is in the hands of capitalists and workers are progressively disempowered. There are now fewer and fewer legitimate way for workers to roll back the ongoing encroachments of corporate capitalism as the laws and coercive powers of the pro-corporate state are increased in force against the workers. The workers are now being forced into the position of “comply or revolt” where to revolt will equal being crushed.

    There are number of unsustainable processes which are now leading to an inevitable crisis. These include;

    1. Endless material (quantitative) growth. Capitalism is predicated on endless material growth and as such is in fundamental contradiction with the physical, biological and ecological laws governing a finite planet.

    2. Escalating environmental damage. Not only the attempt at endless material growth but also the wrong types of production (non-renewable, non-sustainable, once-through, non-circular) and the wrong attitude to production and consumption (over-production, over-consumption, waste, planned obsolescence etc.)

    3. Declining wage share in the economy compared to profit share. This trend is both theoretically and in praxis unabe to continue indefinitely. If it did, the wages of labour would fall below the reproductive cost of labour. That is to say labour could not afford to reproduce itself. In practical terms, this means working parents could not feed, clothe and educate their children adequately. Taken to the end point this would lead to a decline in the quality and then the quantity of workers (child starvation).

    4. Increase in non-productive overheads. Corporate micro-management, over-management and over-regulation are the first overheads to increase. These must eventually be backed up by increasing the state security apparatus (police, para-military, internal security and army) as the state becomes a corporate servant and corporate policeman rather than servant of the general public.

    Our current “progress” is towards corporate capitalist dictatorship. The USA is basically already there as are of course Russia and China. Each has their own predominant features but each has aspects of all the major features. The US is mainly a Corporate Oligarchy, Russia mainly a Chekist Oligarchy and China mainly a One Party Oligarchy. But we see the US becoming more of a secret police state (more “Chekist”) and China becoming more of a Corporate Capitalist Oligarchy for example.

    Against these powers, what can an ordinary, powerless worker (or unemployed person, retired person etc.) do? I am not sure. But these trends will continue until they can’t, as the saying goes. Then there will be an extended period of global rolling crises. The best thing to do is to be prepared with an intellectual system and program (Marxian and Green in nature) which correctly diagnoses the entire situation and attendant phenomena and prescribes realistic and viable alternatives to the catastrophically destructive hand of capitalism.

  10. ‘The fundamental problem is capitalism itself’

    For me that is second order, and given as you say the colonisation of every aspect of our lives and institutions by capitalism, can never be addressed unless and until the primary, first order issue is tackled.

    Which is to clear away the rotten and corrupt detritus of representative democracy and return to assembly or direct democracy, where citizens vote on issues rather than personalities, as they arise and on their own, rather than every three or four years in a deliberately confusing stew, expertly stirred by media and the political class, both owned and directed by the interests of capital and the empire we are appended to. We should have politicians as public servants administering our majority preferences (elected on promises to implement crowd-sourced political platforms rather than wedded to party policies at risk of elite contamination) and if we could manage that, to deny the 1% their vital avenue of political control thru parties and personalities and media narratives , then the nature of capitalism itself could be altered in favour of the many, and its externalities more accurately and thoroughly accounted for.

    Some see danger in allowing all those uneducated Alan Jones listeners and rural rednecks the chance to participate directly in their polity, but I am more sanguine. A – I feel there’s more common sense and decency out there than you might expect, B – in the end, if people have the power they will use to to make decisions based on what they think is best for them in each instance regardless of what Mr Jones says (a contrast with the one-time-only nature of an election, where all sorts of nasties and sweeteners can be coated with disinfo and cant), and C – the process itself would be educative and empowering, with a diminution of the influence of the shock jocks and op-ediots a happy corollary.

  11. Glenn Condell, I have sympathy for what you say. Certainly, representative democracy has failed because it has been bought and suborned by corporate and oligarchic capital. However, voting on civic issues even as you envisage will only be part of the true democracy equation. There can be no true democracy until we have workpace democracy. Workers must own and manage their workplaces and make overall decisions by direct worker democracy. A society is not democratic when you vote once every 3 years or once on every civic issue whilsts at the same time you work in an autocratic workplace every day. Hierarchical workplaces where workers are ruled by autocratic managers and owners are the antithesis of democracy.

    Thus true democracy will be fully dependent on removing the capitalists and specialist managers and implementing worker owned and directed workplaces; worker cooperatives in other words. Democratic ownership and management of workplaces is the first order issue that is inextricably linked to true society-wide democracy.

  12. well ikonklast Marx thought the capitalists would produce their own
    gravediggers but the proletariat are about as far away from building
    socialism as any time since the manifesto was written in 1848
    The irony is with rising inequality the capitalists might not need any help
    with another financial global meltdown we might see the
    capitalists dig their own graves!

  13. I see it like this. The current world needs to be analysed through the combined prisms of Marxian analysis, Realpolitik, Geostrategic Offensive Realism and Limits to Growth.

    The USA, Russia and China (to name the three biggest powers) are all authoritarian states. There is no credible way we can now be rid of them or their secret security apparatuses, at least not in the short to medium term. For the long term, which I would call 50 years or more, it is not possible to predict anything in these matters.

    The USA, Russia and China are converging in terms of their essential nature. All are becoming more capitalist, more corporate and more oligarchical. Each is doing so in its own way with its own characteristics but each is trending towards an almost final form of capitalist corporate oligarchy. Each is becoming more of a secret police state as this transition progresses.

    People seem to assume that natural enmity always flows from difference. It may do so at times. However, the most virulent natural enmity flows from similarities and competition for the same niche. Large totalitarian regimes are completely intolerant of each other. (They tolerate small vassal totalitarian allies.) The theory of offensive realism would posit that Machiavellian regimes are most likely to infer Machiavellian intentions in their opponents.

    Thus, the final (or near final) stage of capitalism gives us capitalist blocs which are corporate capitalist oligarchies, empires and completely intolerant of each other at the geostrategic level. They horse-trade in arenas where there are temporary win-wins for them mostly at the expense of other, weaker parties). The tensions of this situation do not appear to reach a crisis point while there are further portions of the under-developed world (say India) to be turned into genuine capitalist countries.

    The final stage must be reached when one of two things happens. Either the entire world is made or rendered capitalist or the world’s resources (including natural waste sinks) prove to be inadequate for the full transition to a completely capitalist world. My own view is the latter will occur first but no matter. Whichever occurs first, it presages an era of declining standards of living for the exploited masses. The USA is the model for this. We cannot say yet that the USA has hit the limits to growth. Even so, inequality increases and the absolute poverty of its underclass increases. This is the natural tendency of the final stage, corporate capitalist oligarchy.

    The ideal of each oligarchic class bloc (arranged and opposed along the current national empire lines) would be a single world corporate oligarchy comprised of themselves only. Something like the TPP is another wedge or plank designed to render national government secondary and subservient to international corporate governence. I don’t see this culmination in a single world oligarchic government as likely. Geography, ethnicity, nationalism and logistics are stubborn counter facts and will remain so.

    I think the key question is this. How much poverty and inequality will be tolerated before revolution? The broad Western middle classes will be the first mass class in history to achieve education, security and plenty and then lose it all again. The key, in the West at least, will be how and when the collapsing middle class / working class reacts to its mass collapse into the underclass.

  14. I’ll be happy when people actually realise there is a problem. Talk of revolution and so on is ridiculous given that most people are oblivious to what is actually going down between governments and the elites that own them.

  15. yes the idea of a proletarian socialist revolution is ridiculous
    but growing inequality,globalization and financial instability
    does threaten the status quo
    be careful what wish for any kind of collapse or revolution
    is liable to deliver greater tyranny

  16. Revolutions usually seem improbable until they happen. Apparently stable or even ossified poltical and social structures can collapse or re-align quicky. Witness the fall of the state capitalist (not socialist) Soviet Russian empire and the Berlin Wall.

    It is true currently in the West and not just in the West that “most people are oblivious to what is actually going down between governments and the elites that own them”. But people are aware of is what is happening to them and their families. If the official story is that capitalism provides an endless cornucopia of wealth for all (with the rising tide lifting all boats) but the reality on the ground is different then people do begin to question what is going on. What is more they begin to express anger and dissatisfaction in active ways.

    And the reality on the ground is different now. The Keynesian accommodation between labour and capital was possible both because of the immense riches unlocked by industrialisation and by the imperial plunder of the third world. That epoch is over. Growth at industrialisation rates was a once-only boost. The relatively stagnating and weak growth now in the developed countries illustrates this. (* See Note 1) And the third world has ceased, in the main, except for perhaps Africa, to be a source of direct resource plunder and instead has become a source of cheap labour competing with developed world labour. This is driving wages down in the developed world and seeing manufactures moved to the developing world.

    The future for the so-called middle classes (really still working classes in the main even if they are white collar) and working classes in the developed world is grim. Declining real wages, rising unemployment, horrendous youth unemployment, mortgage stress, education loan stress and rising household bankruptcies are all part of this picture. This is where the real daily picture for masses of real people begins to diverge from the glozing lies told to them by corporate capitalism about endlessly increasing wealth for everybody.

    Of course, there is no guarantee that attempted revolutions or spontaneously arising insurrections will be well thought out, well directed or successful. There is every possibility, especially in the USA, of counter-revolutionary and reactionary responses being heavy, brutal and successful for a long time to come.

    The poor and mainly black people of Ferguson, USA, are or were, in essence, attempting a local revolution no matter how spontaneous and/or poorly organised it might have been. They had given up on proper or official progress or reform and had taken to the streets in direct protest and action. To fail to see this as revolutionary activity is to make a definitional or category mistake. You might consider their actions wise or unwise, timely or precipitate, justified or unjustified. These are value-conditioned and mainly ideological judgements you might make. But it is incorrect to say revolutionary flashes or sparks are not occurring. It is incorrect to misdefine these events and thus by misdefintion claim there are no signs of revolutionary activity or potential. It is also incorrect to assume such sparks might not at some point generate a much larger conflagration. The amount of tinder or “fuel-load” in our society (the alienated underclasses and working poor) is increasing all the time.

    * Note 1 – The decline of growth in the developed world has at least four contributing causes. In no particular order they are;

    A. Poor macroeconomic policy (the policies of economic austerity leading to poor demand).
    B. The fact that post-industrial growth (eg. automation and information age growth) is inherently slower. (Many would contest this but I hold to this point.)
    C. Growth is being shifted from the developed world to the developing world.
    D. Limits to Growth. Finite resources and the finite capacities of waste sinks become a drag on and then a hard barrier to more material economic growth (though not to qualitative growth).

  17. Some thoughts on red tape etc that chime with what you are saying. I wrote this when they did their first “red tape day” or whatever stupid name it was called.:
    Red Tape Green Tape

    Why do I feel bothered by all the red tape? Because it seems to be multiplying. All around us red tape seems to be causing problems. The NSW govt, the Victorian government, the Queensland, Peter Shergold for the commonwealth govt, all of them and others are bothered by it. I am too. I feel their confusion. Especially when you think of the amount of red tape cutting that has been going on over the years, at each election since 1975 I would hazard a guess.

    Here is where the differences emerge, however. They all say they want to cut the tape. Now I am puzzled and bothered because it is left in a mess. They cut it willy nilly, slicing here and there, no doubt with De Groot’s sword flashing about, but then they just leave it, discarded by the wayside, a tangled mess and a lot of us trip on it, get tangled in the ribbon, try to find the ends to connect, and get bogged down generally. We dimly see through all the piles of tape Mr Shergold, Mr Abbott, Mr O’Farrell and some hazy outlines of their friends (could it be a Murdoch, a Rinehart, a Twiggy just there?) moving away from us.

    They seems not bothered by the tangled mess they have left behind. Funny that. I am sure if we call it to their attention they will rush in the help clean up. Yoo hoo!! Oh look here they come, but they still have that sword and … what’s this, they are cutting the tape again!!! Into more and more pieces, scattering in more peoples path behind them. And they are also cutting tape of a new colour, green, to mix it up even more.

    Well why not I guess. Watermelons need a big sharp instrument to be operated upon so the red and green can be separated. What better than De Groot’s sword to remove obstacles and leave the slippery seeds and that useless rinds behind.

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