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Is The Developed World Un-Developing?

Updated on September 3, 2020

“Money is so near you almost touch it, but it is all on the other side – you can only press your face up against the glass…you can’t drop out anymore. Money has seen to that. There’s nowhere to go. You cannot hide out from money…And so sometimes, when the nights are hot, they smash and grab.” - Martin Amis, Money

The biggest kick in the stones for 90% of the developed world is not the rapid pace in which the wealth gap is widening; it is the noun “developed”. An atom sized crumb of comfort in the developing world is the understanding, or rather hope, they are in the midst of a process that shall arrive at prosperity. If they are “lucky” the pillaging will stop at the thrifty purchasing of their national assets / organisations and a market orientated economic philosophy injected into their system. If they are unlucky this process shall result after the exchange of a million bullets probably sold to both sides by the same manufacturer. The belligerence will be, of course, the evil means to the liberated ends, sponsored and executed by the intellectually superior developed minds who will deter at nothing in their zealot pursuit of spreading private enterprise. Naturally, one might feel more compelled should said philistines sit on a reserve of natural resources such as oil or copper.

But in the developed world it has been complete; the end of the process. No need for wealth distribution. The system works. “Developed” remember. Or perhaps the past tense of the word is more accurate? Maybe we are undeveloped or un-developing; working backwards since the safety net days of John Maynard Keynes and his understanding that free markets have no balancing mechanism. Into the psychopathic doctrine of Milton Friedman and his dangerous band of Chicago Boys Neoliberalist fanatics – whose ranks are swelled by the likes of Donald Rumsfeld. Neoliberalist or Neoconservative ideals were adopted or forced upon world economies from late 1970’s onwards and define the Presidency and Premiership of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The Bush administration would later take this to a new level culminating with significant private sector involvement in the war in Iraq.

Freidman’s Chicago School of Economics were a group of conservative academics who rallied against the statist thinking of the time. They hypothesized the idea of a complete laissez-faire economy devoid of any state interference i.e. regulation. This included education, health care and defence, even the welfare services. Aside from the horrific human cost of transitioning to such a regulation sparse economy it had the addition downside of not working. Chile and the 2007/8 banking crisis being quintessential of that, respectively. Furthermore, “everywhere the Chicago School crusade has triumphed, it has created a permanent underclass of between 25% and 60% percent of the population.”1 Graduates of the Chicago School of Economics would go on to have leading roles in World Bank, International Monetary Fund, The U.S Treasury, The Department of Defence and the Washington Consensus to name but a few.

Central to Freidman’s idealism is the belief that capitalism works best when individuals and organisations acts in their own best interests then through some magic interconnected market tapestry society flourishes. Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine states: “that humans are governed by self-interest and that society works best when self-interest is allowed to govern almost all activities – except when it comes to a little activity called voting”2. This paradox has always struck me as idiocy. The idea that the vast majority of the world’s population has led such a small group of elite individuals accumulating so much wealth, and thus influence, is frankly baffling. Even more so in Western Democracies. The expectation that people will vote for poorer quality, and less numerous, public services along with reduced work benefits to receive droplets of the Trickle Down system is more baffling.

It would also be fair to assume in a developed economic system there would be a reasonably fair distribution of wealth. Or a notable and ongoing decrease in the gap between wealthy and poor but apparently not so:

  • · Britain’s total wealth grew by 13% in the two years to 2018 to reach a record £14.6tn, with wealth among the richest 10% of households increasing almost four times faster than those of the poorest 10%.3
  • · The wealth gap between America’s richest and poorer families more than doubled from 1989 to 2016, according to a recent analysis 4
  • · “After the implementation of neoliberal policies in the 1970s, in the U.S the median of compensation of workers to salaries of CEOs increased from just over 30 to 1 in 1970 to nearly 500 to 1 by 2000”5

0 = perfect equality, 1 = inequality
0 = perfect equality, 1 = inequality

Note also, from the graphic above, that the U.K and U.S have the greatest degree of inequality of the G7 countries. A coincidence that the two biggest subscribers to Freidman’s idealism have also developed the widest wealth gap.

One reason why, and by no means the only reason, is the commodification of the labour market. The removal of the humanity and replaced by a percentage allied to the “McDonaldization of Society”6. Capitalism, and thus the ideology of its most devout pupil Friedman, is “a monstrous, infinitely plastic entity, capable of metabolising, and absorbing anything with which it comes into contact”7and even labour.

“The fetishism of the commodity”8 has seeped itself into the wage labour system where the worker “only needs to be allotted the indispensable minimum for maintaining his labor(sic) power, and never considers him in his leisure or humanity”9. What perhaps is interesting is that the wage is less than the value of that labour or what Marxist theory would argue “accounts for only a mere portion, equivalent to the worker’s mean of subsistence”10. In order to give something away of superior value than what ones receives back the worker would require a level of coercion or the lowering of the value of his labour.

Sociologist George Ritzer (author of the Macdonaldization of Society) observes that society is being organised into a series of compartmentalised pigeonholed roles. He argues that the new social order is defined on 4 key aspects: Efficiency, Calculability, Predictability / Standardisation and Control11. Akin to Macdonald’s model organisations are dumbing down their job roles and separating them into groups where less skilled employees are paid less to perform fewer tasks. Often “the human capacity for reason seems to be not all present in the transaction or experience which are marred by rigid adherence to rules”12. With jobs being dumbed down and requiring less skilled labour wages are consequently stagnating and / or decreasing. By reducing the skills required organisations have lowered the wages that must be paid for the same output value. And thus, there is an aggregate exploitation of the workforce.

A working example of this can be found in the British banking system remarkably after the bailout resulting from the Banking Crisis of 2007/2008. A bailout, incidentally, paid for by British public in the form of increased VAT and reduced public services. The banks dumbed down their employee’s job roles by separating their services such as card services, international transactions, and plethora of others into stand alone departments. They then replenished those departments with cheaper agency staff removing almost all benefits offered to their previous occupants of those roles. This process became all the more ridiculous when staffed call centres roles had become so diluted on Saturday’s their main task was to answer phones to explain no one was available to help until Monday. The distancing of skilled labour from production, both in a physical sense – wages become lower than the skilled employee’s base line sustenance level, or in psychologically sense – the employee has reconciled low wages against the level of care they apply, has led to a Kafka-esq idiocrasy. By making a service less user friendly, paying less and stagnating employees skill set development one can only argue that we are un-developing.

Nike stopped manufacturing their own products; outsourced to cost efficient workshops located out-with what we’d consider to be the West. Nike were by no means alone at following this model. Aside from deplorable pay, standards and general health and safety of these workshops it represented a distancing of brand and quality. Where once a brand acquired customers through a reputation of quality craftmanship based on durability and quality, a campaign of seduction lay in it stead. The top to bottom philosophy of quality had shifted to solely creating the perception of quality through marketing.

The consumer has now been put to work. One must now participate in the service in the form of pouring your own drink, scanning your own shopping, assembling your own furniture, and collecting your own train tickets. Margins can be increased by taking tasks away from the traditional worker’s remit of limited responsibility and given to the consumer – subsequently saving on the labour hours needed. And the savings don’t stop there. Production has now identified it can encroach upon downtime or inactivity. Through social media’s various platforms many organisations provide feedback and updates off the clock. In many cases production, as Guy Debord observes, is dependent on this encroachment. Should the aforementioned feedback be negative or an update challenging, employees can feel anxiety or depression during rest periods. Therefore, there is an unpaid emotional labour that has crept, and shall creep further, into the modern work role.

A further point on commodification. Chinese citizens are so fed up with the level of pollution in their cities they are willing to pay for clean air. Yes, even the excretion of capitalism is now commodified.

Once his workday is over, the worker is suddenly redeemed from the contempt toward him that is so clearly implied by every aspect of the organisation and surveillance of production, and finds himself seemingly treated like a grown-up, with a great show of politeness, in his new role as a consumer13

And (partially) free from production one can look forward to home time with all the tools on demand for immediate self-gratification which rather handily prohibits social groups from forming to represent their various interests in the form of any political movement. One must also subscribe to the multi platform media agents in order to learn consumer society’s lingua franca and thus participate in modern society. Where the media can convey its notion of beauty and expectation with the subtext that through the correct purchasing one can obtain that just out of reach happiness. Mark Fischer notes that many young adults are in a state of “depressive hedonia”14 referring to being unable “to do anything except pursue pleasure”15 and a sense of something is missing when unhooked from the matrix of artificial stimuli. Apple, Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, Microsoft et al has everyone paying monthly for the privilege of escapism.

And not content with historic thinly disguised misogyny and forcing women to link self-esteem with appearance, the same process has been unfurled with the beautification of men which began in earnest in the mid to late 1980s. Sad to note then that “a generation of people born in the 1960s and 1970s, known as Generation X, are dying from suicide or drug poisoning in greater numbers. ONS data for England and Wales has shown that in the late 1980s to early 1990s, the age at which most people died by taking their own lives or drug poisoning was concentrated around this generation, when they were in their 20s”.16Women weren’t clearly feeling inadequate enough so men had to be forced to buy cosmetics to appease their newly articulated shortcomings. Guy Debord refers to the celebrity culture that peddles inadequacy as “agents of the spectacle.”17One also wonders how mentally developed today’s young adults will be in the future when depressive hedonia, on demand hardcore pornography and the law of diminishing returns fuse together. Just as well we live in a developed society.

In a developed society another assumption can be made. People will be happier. After all, “developed” remember. Stands to reason emotional well-being has been sorted.

  • Depression has also been linked to the loss of more than 100 million working days in England every year, and it is strongly associated with suicidal thoughts and with suicide, being implicated in around 2500 deaths a year (Thomas and Morris, 2003). McCrone et al. (2007) estimated the total annual cost of depression, including lost employment, in England as at least £7.5 billion a year.
  • 23% of the National Health Service Activity is taken up by mental illnesses18
  • In the UK, antidepressant prescriptions increased from 36 million in 2008 to 71 million in 201819
  • In 2017, 10.3 million Americans lived with serious suicide ideation20
  • More than 10 million Americans have unmet needs for mental health treatment21

Well it would seem not.

The treatment of mental health illness is predominantly administered through medication and therapy. Mark Fisher argues in Capitalist Realism, that “by privatising these problems – treating them as if they were only caused by chemical imbalances in the individual’s neurology and/or by their family background – any question of social systemic causation is ruled out”.22 But it does beg the question, with so many production hours lost to mental health issues, with so many resources needed to deal with the issue, why, therefore, does it not have its own political category? Is the source so obvious and yet so economically taboo that it is okay to simply medicate the issue into apathy? This issue needs managed by a high level of government - higher than the half-baked - we need parliamentary votes to start a war - joke ministries created. Usually the first sacrificed when the neo liberalist movement take advantage of yet another crisis.

It is of course, wishful thinking that any meaningful questions will be asked regarding the link towards modern capitalist society and the causation of mental health issues. If financially comfortable parents had 10 kids, 5 of whom had functional mental health issues and 3 with debilitating depression, it is highly unlikely that they’d point the finger at the money tree in the back garden as the source of this. The 2 remaining children along with the parents would form a coalition with a few of the functional kids to prescribe them drugs paid for by their modest picks from the tree. The others would receive an allowance to pursue escapism activities such as alcoholism which would have the added bonus of limiting their visits to the money tree and desire to exercise their right to say how the money should be managed.

Therefore, only ironically can the developed economies of the West refer to themselves as such. The wealth gap is widening, mental health issues are increasing and the encroachment of production into rest periods has become essentials to its purpose. We are most definitely un-developing.

References


1)Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine, p 405, Penguin Books 2008

2)Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine, p 134, Penguin Books 2008

3)https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/dec/05/gap-between-rich-and-poor-grows-alongside-rise-in-uks-total-wealth

accessed on 31.08.2020

4)https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/02/07/6-facts-about-economic-inequality-in-the-u-s/

accessed on 31.08.2020

5) Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism, p29, Zero Books 2009

6) Ritzer, George. "The McDonaldization of Society: 20th Anniversary Edition." Los Angeles: Sage, 2013

7) Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism, p6, Zero Books 2009

8)Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, p14, Bureau of Public Secrets, 2014

9)Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, p17, Bureau of Public Secrets, 2014

10) https://www.britannica.com/topic/surplus-value

Accessed on 02/09/2020

11&12) Ritzer, George. "The McDonaldization of Society: 20th Anniversary Edition." Los Angeles: Sage, 2013 cited on:

https://www.thoughtco.com/mcdonaldization-of-society-3026751#:~:text=McDonaldization%20is%20a%20term%20coined%20by%20George%20Ritzer,order%20based%20on%20efficiency%2C%20calculability%2C%20standardization%2C%20and%20control.

accessed on 31.08.2020

13)Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, p17, Bureau of Public Secrets, 2014

14&15) Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism, p22, Zero Books 2009

16)https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/articles/middleagedgenerationmostlikelytodiebysuicideanddrugpoisoning/2019-08-13

Accessed on 01.09.2020

17) Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, p12, Bureau of Public Secrets, 2014

18) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-41125009

accessed on 01.09.2020

19) NHS Digital cited on: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-41125009, accessed on 01/09/2020

accessed on 01.09.2020

20&21) https://www.mhanational.org/issues/state-mental-health-america

Accessed on 01.09.2020

22) Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism, p21, Zero Books 2009

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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