The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class Paperback – Jul 24 2011
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A very important book Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA Buy Guy Standing's book, The Precariat! Or nick/borrow it! John Harris, The Guardian Guy Standing provides an incisive account of how precariousness is becoming the new normality in globalised labour markets, and offers important guidelines for all concerned to build a more just society. Richard Hyman, London School of Economics, UK This is an important book. Citizen's Income Newsletter This important and original book brings out the political dangers, so clear in contemporary America, of failing to address the insecurities of the Precariat. It also suggests the way forward: a reconstruction of the concept of work. Eileen Applebaum, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Washington DC, USA Over 90% of workers in India are informal, poorly paid, without any economic security. Guy Standing combines vision with practicality in outlining policies that are urgently needed to provide security to workers such as these around the world. Renana Jhabvala, Self-Employed Women's Association of India Standing has produced a well-informed and important book investigating, for the first time in a comprehensive way, the direction in which global economic security is moving in the 21st century. The book is packed with statistics presented in a very readable form and drawing on extensive published research. It is a compelling account of economic insecurity... Work Organisation, Labour and Globalisation [T]here is much in The Precariat to recommend it to labor educators, labor studies scholars, and activists of all sorts...a book that provides a clear and detailed understanding of how the situation of precarious employment affects the lives of the "precariat" individually, collectively, day to day, and over the longer term. This is the book's greatest value. Standing does this with many international examples, even though his main intellectual base is in Britain. His analysis of the impact of precarity, along with the diversity of examples from around the world, makes this the primary book on the topic to date. -- Joe Berry, Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, Berkeley, CA Labor Studies Journal In summary, the analysis and arguments are compelling, for The Precariat brings together and develops many current strands of thought within the (social science) literature, and builds on the materialist tradition which ultimately leads to a rejection of 'neoliberalism'. Standing captures some of the collectivist social policy tradition established by Richard Titmuss, but with more attention to all forms of work and notions of occupational citizenship...The social policy community needs to engage more with issues at stake here, making The Precariat essential reading. -- Chris Deeming Journal of Social Policy
About the Author
Guy Standing is Professor of Economic Security at the University of Bath. He was previoiusly Professor of Labour Economics at Monash University and before that Director of the Socio-Economic Security Programme of the International Labour Organization. He is co-president of the Basic Income Earth Network.
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Top Customer Reviews
Guy eloquently and masterfully links works such as "a brief history of neoliberalism" with what one might call the colloquial experience of every day people. He references many works, and builds a case for the emerging percariat class - and he did so in a way that made me feel something I have never felt before (even when I read books by Chomsky and Harvey);
I stopped feeling alone.
Also, its written well (fun) for an academic-style book.
Good demonstration of the necessity of basic income.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Guy Standing considers that we are now in a 'tertiary time', that societies have undergone a process of 'tertiarisation'. No longer is time divided between work, play and rest. And no longer is our geography divided between workplace, home and leisure. Everything, in Zygmunt Baumann's term, has become more 'liquid', less hard-defined. And in this post-modern and thoroughly commodified era, the homogeneous classes have given way to something far more fluid, heterogeneous and potentially dangerous.
There are now essentially four classes. There is a numerically tiny super-rich elite whose relationship with the rest of humanity appears fleeting at best. Then there is the 'salariat', still maintaining their career privileges of pensions, holidays and other employment benefits. Alongside the salariat there are the professional technicians, or 'proficians' as Standing terms them. Often working as highly-paid consultants and contractors, they do not conform to the old 9 to 5, jobs-for-life pattern but move from job to job, company to company as desired/required. Below them are a dwindling number of manual workers in the older sense of the term, the former bastions of 'old labour'. And then there is the 'precariat'.
To simply say that the precariat is just 'everyone else' is unhelpful. However, it is difficult to clearly define and delineate such a heterogeneous 'class' - not least because the grouping does not recognise itself as a 'class-for-itself'. At the same time, the group is growing. It is first and foremost a result of 'commodification':
'This involves treating everything as a commodity, to be bought and sold, subject to market forces, with prices set by demand and supply, without effective 'agency' (the capacity to resist). Commodification has been extended to every aspect of life...' (P26)
Standing would, I think, agree with the sentiments expressed by Michael Sandel in his book 'What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets'. Everything now, it seems, can be bought and sold. The neoliberal project of marketising everything, the sweeping away of all barriers to marketability, has meant that any collective barriers to exploitation have been removed in the name of individual freedom - but the result is that if you have nothing to sell, you have no value. In the interests of the market, labour flexibility - the ability to hire and fire at will which is the ultimate commodification of labour - has been, as Standing says 'the major direct cause of the growth of the global precariat.' (P31)
This 'labour flexibility' has meant that the precariat is increasingly made up of women and older people. Both women and older people are cheaper - pushing down the real value of wages. Young people have fewer and fewer opportunities for developing skills and careers. Faced with shortages of meaningful employment, many may stay in education - but here the process of commodification means not only that education is increasingly expensive but also that the range of courses on offer is dictated more by marketing and the need to attract fee paying customers than any desire to develop human potential.
Another group forced most visibly into the precariat is, of course, migrants. The inclusion of this group illustrates the difficulty, not of defining the group, but of the class identifying itself as a class. So often migrants are used as scapegoats, accused of helping to push down wages but also as an excuse for identifying the indigenous precariat as racist:
'Capital welcomes migration because it brings low cost malleable labour. The groups most vehemently opposed to migration are the old (white) working and lower middle class, squeezed by globalisation and falling into the precariat.' (P103)
This argument is also strongly made by Owen Jones in his book 'Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class'.
The end result of all this is a huge group of people continually scrabbling along, always on the look out for the next job, always aware that their current job may not last, always hovering between paid employment and state benefits. And too often those benefits are in reality subsidies for frankly bad employers. This precarious existence is exhausting and hugely time-consuming, making the acquisition of new skills and the development of existing ones far more difficult. And the line between legality and illegality becomes increasingly blurred too. So the class may appear feckless, unambitious, even stupid (see again Owen Jones). Which results in an increasingly 'liberal paternalist' and 'panopticon' society where the rulers 'nudge' people into what they consider to be better ways, while watching, monitoring, measuring and evaluating every move.
All this is hugely depressing but so, so accurate. And it is also, as Standing points out, so dangerous too. Many have pointed to the economic similarities between now and the 1930s. But the rise of far-right groups suggests that the parallels go further than just the economic. This diverse class, if it cannot recognise itself as a class, may be politically exploited. It is perhaps interesting to note, in this respect, the recent elections in Greece - where generally speaking the youth voted for the left-wing Syriza party and older voters supported the more conservative parties including, of course, the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party. Similarly, the rise of the Tea Party movement in the US reflects the feelings of powerlessness and alienation of the so-called 'squeezed middle' - so squeezed that increasingly they are, of course, no longer in the middle.
Standing does, in the end, put forward some concrete proposals for not only averting the dangers inherent in this class but also for alleviating the growing hardships and deprivations experienced by it. One major strand is the provision of a 'basic income':
'The core of the proposal is that every legal resident of a country or a community, children as well as adults, should be provided with a modest monthly payment.' (P171)
This truly universal benefit would have far reaching consequences. For a start, it would mean that the precariat would actually have time - time to consider what to do next, to plan and consider and not always to be worrying about job security, about where the rent money is coming from. It would also change the nature of employment. Instead of the increasingly oppressive workfare schemes which emphasise that work - any work at all - is better than idleness, resulting in deep resentment and frustration, it would mean that employers would have to offer more than simply the minimum wage, effectively subsidised by state benefits. In fact, Standing goes on to suggest that labour should actually be even more 'commoditised'. If no-one wants the job an employer is offering, that employer will be forced to offer better wages until someone does take it, or until the employer is forced to reconsider the nature of the work on offer.
In many ways this is a pretty depressing book as I see the evidence Standing cites all around me every day. But his proposals, although initially seemingly radical and utopian (he refers to them himself as a 'Politics of Paradise') do make sense. And he has added his voice to a growing chorus of writers and thinkers who point out that the current situation is simply unsustainable, in every sense of the word.
The public discourse of 'recovery' with its nostalgic sense of hoping to get back to things as they were is shown to be utterly out of touch with what is actually happening - most importantly to the youth whose efforts we hoped would support us in our declining years as well as carry us forward into the more competitive future.
Standing makes it clear there will be no going back. The framing here is matched by the situation in Europe - where no going back is possible either. Standing shows the conditions of work and politics are subtly and brutally related - and likewise related to the slowly clarifying crisis of American democracy. Our precariat - such as the Occupy Wall-street movement - still lacks name, identity and focus, just as the European precariat is still a movement or class in the making. But Standing shows that - most importantly - the impulse is not an easily dismissed resurgence of privileged student neo-Marxism. Something fundamentally new is happening.
Anyone wanting think seriously about where we go from here, rather than scream inanities at each other in the way those in Washington DC do, will find powerful angles and levers in this fine example of how the best academic work serve the public as they seek to grapple with their anxieties. It is a book in the tradition of Hobbes and Hume, or even Paine.
When I see my friends and family who have sons and daughters coming of age, going to college, and then working at Starbucks. I have to wonder. When all my professors are Adjuncts making a pittance, while the college's administration is making more money then ever, I have to wonder. The older Americans aren't retiring, information technology is taking on more of their work resulting in less need for new labor, and so there just aren't jobs. It's hard to convince folks that the "slackard" generation of today is not the same thing as "slackards" of the 1960s or 1970s. Even though we are again making money hand-over-fist in the USA, it certainly isn't trickling down to the middle-class. Moreover, the "slackards" of today are going to college...it's just when they get out, and there are no good jobs, they opt to live in their parent's basement and play XBox instead of working.
While certainly one could argue ambition should force them to go out and make a job, realize that there has always been a segment of society that just "settles" on the decent job, somewhat comprable to his or her education and skill, and then settles into a respectable, but secure, life of kids, community, and prime-time television. But that option, as Guy Standing so eloquently discusses, was taken from us in the west by neo-liberal policies. That stability and security was transferred from the nation state to an oligarchy that now controls much of the world's wealth. No, Dr. Standing doesn't present it as a conspiracy, it just is...something that happened. The book doesn't lament how things got the way they did, or who's to blame, as much as asking what we are going to do to correct our current course of action?
The book doesn't just appeal to liberal morality, it stressed the danger this generation poses if we allow them to continue to drift with no community, no security, and no sense of purpose. I hate to say it, but, the Keynesian welfare state is starting to look pretty good right about now. Dr. Standing has me convinced, we need a guaranteed minimum salary for every working age person and we need to redefine what we define as work. What I think is interesting, to me, is how this redefinition sort of relates to what Jaron Lanier writes about in "Who Owns the Future." The secret is, "smart computers" aren't really all that smart...they are just formalizing *your* domain knowledge - for free - and subsequently rendering your job obsolete. Isn't that knowledge worth something? Why are you not getting paid for it? Anyways, how it relates is that it too is suggesting we rethink how we define work and being productive. And, what we consider human labor worth compensating. If it is your knowledge I'm formalizing into an AI system, shouldn't you get paid and not solely some rich Silicon Valley entrepreneur? Something has to change, lest we find ourselves all working at Starbucks or Walmart selling each other caffeine or cheap plastic junk.
We are at a point of unprecedented abundance, where we can produce much with little human capital. The book really gets you thinking. It points out that there really is something different happening, and unrest is seething just below the surface...and the book challenges you to consider what we can do about it to prevent the unrest in the first place, rather than suppress it when it happens.
A very eye-opening book.
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