I do see a worrying trend in Europe for constant fiscal restraint in rather odd timescales; demonstrated in the problematic Greek crisis (where we will find out the referendum result this evening) and UK budgetary austerity. They both have rather arbitrary dates for a supposedly conclusions to a fiscal crisis for the former and to ‘balance the books’ for the latter – both are needed. I am not saying anything else but. Countries cannot simply constantly borrow more than their income over the long-term. Some would argue that this somehow puts me in the ‘anti-austerity’ camp. This is the problem. One that I will return to later.
I have recently, post completing a first-draft report on commercialisation of academic cybersecurity research from UK universities to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, been attempting to read about something other than the topic for my own sanity. This lead me to walking around the wondrous bookshop, Blackwells, in Oxford, where I came across ‘Cyber-Proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex’ by Nick Dyer-Witheford. I’ve not finished it yet due to having a fairly relaxed holiday period in which to enjoy doing very little (plus doing lots of admin for my College MCR at Oxford). Yet it has provided me with some thoughts on how space and capitalism is transforming our society with reference to technologies – some of this following the cybernetics of the 1950s and 1960s, through to more modern utterances that include Tiqquin. It makes very compelling arguments for deteriotation of working conditions for a variety of individuals who are not part of the ‘top’ (but this is not used explicitly in the book but think is a good summary of what he means here).
There may be a section on the welfare state and its ‘austerity’ in there but I have not yet come across it. However I believe there are interesting parralels of how the fiscal situation is being primarily considered as ‘sensible’. The troika of creditors in Greece all demand that it is the ‘only’ way. This vision is being destroyed by Syriza (the governing party in Greece). Thoguh I may not agree with Syriza themselves, I do have to applaud their ability to present another vision, one that is aggressively put-down by the creditors as not being ‘sensible.’ What is sensibility? This is forthcoming with Cameron et al., in the Conservative Party – ‘hard-headed pragmatism’. What does that even mean. Pragmatic to underinvest in capital expenditure? Reductions to tax credits (whether you agree with the policy or not), increases in the threshold in inheritance taxes to £1m? This ‘sensible’ decision is seen as devoid of ideology. Although I have some raucous arguments with my housemate in particular on whether post-politics works in this arena (I normally am more cautious about whether it is really exists). There is definitely something that rings true there. There is an implicit acceptance that neoliberal economics and the ever-increasing privatisation of public services (being brought forward by Osbourne to bring down the current deficit) – with reductions in support for working families. It cannot be said that if you earn minimum wage in the UK that you can live comfortably, if at all, without the supplementary income through tax credits. No matter how much you cut the threshold the cap for income tax, many of those who will struggle with a cut in credits will already be out of the threshold. Therefore pursuing this policy becomes a cut for the middle classes and the rich.
So, what does this all have with the ‘cyber-proletariat’ of Dyer-Witheford? Well, it is showing how there is an increasing polarisation in the work of those at the ‘top’ and those elsewhere. Automation and outsourcing phenomenon has depressed wages and lead to ‘flexible’ work. There are fight-backs against this – demonstrated in the legal action in France against Uber (the taxi-hailing app) – but it is becoming increasingly widespread as technologies enable far more accurate supply and demand forecasts where workers are only to be sustained for certain periods and then dumped when they are not needed (think the growth of zero-hours contracts). This is increasingly affecting the bastions of the middle class, where automation and flexible working are eroding the benefits they have had in the post-war period. Hence, it is entirely dispiriting to see the desperation in some parents’ eyes when they were milling around Oxford colleges earlier this week for open days. Not that they shouldn’t be eager for their children to attend an excellent university. It is the fact they are vulnerable. Vulnerable to an uncertain future. Their children’s future could be beset by problems in flexible working and attaining a ‘graduate job’ or through interning unpaid for several months at a time. Increasing house prices, particularly in the south-east add to this. It then makes me consider myself without any possibility of parental backing, what would happen if I was to try and buy property. Probably unlikely.
Anyway, the rhetoric, discourses, ideologies, are all neoliberal. We live in a neoliberal age. Why do we not have a plurality of economic futures? Where has the future gone? If we look at the absolute trouncing of the UK Labour Party in the recent general election; few candidates are opening new futures. Futures win elections. Something that was not offered at the last. There are some; think Islamic State, Russia. None of these are desirable. Yet Syriza is attempting to challenge the neoliberal dogma from within. One that I may not support in its entirety, but one I respect for opening up possibilities of alternate futures. It may not work. Strong winds are blowing against it.
Going back to my original point, about my concern we are cutting too quickly and should support small growth of spending to invest in infrastructure (classic example of how this could be done would be continuing with the electrification of Northern UK routes – one of them directly affecting my dear Sheffield). Yet to even say this means I oppose austerity completely. I advocate a flexible budegtary plan that leads to growth – positive future but one that will balance. I cannot see the problem in this. Yet the winds of neoliberal thought place me in an anti-future. A future of impossibility. A future which would lead us to economic disaster. That’s the true problem. A foreclosure of possibility. We need new future, and we need them now.