The subtitle of this book is slightly misleading: the book’s focus is not so much the transformation of work in recent years, but rather the distance between the discussion of work by academics, journalists, and politicians, and the material reality of work in the 21st century.
The nature of work is changing, but not for the reasons as popularly understood. Doogan explores these shifts through an engaging analysis of the secondary material available, as well as concise reference to his own research. This book also brings into sharp focus the uncritical use of right-wing assumptions by left-wing commentators and trade unionists, much to the detriment of their own position and of those they represent or support.
Doogan writes that New Capitalism? was prompted by the gap ‘between widespread perceptions of job insecurity and the actuality of employment stability.’ He found that while in terms of public discourse a consensus has been reached that job insecurity is the norm, in actual fact ‘job stability has not declined and that long-term employment has increased in many sectors of the advanced economies.’ He explains in great detail why this gap in perception and reality has come about, taking into account factors such as the rise of neoliberal management theories, the greater abstraction of representations of change within economies and societies, the exaggeration of ‘the mobility propensity of non-financial capital’, and the downplaying of the significant ‘role of the state in the workings of [a] market economy’.
In an analysis pertinent to Ireland’s current economic woes, Doogan challenges the myth of the powerless state, arguing that far from being unfortunate and passive recipients of the negative forces of Globalization, nation-states use Globalization as a bogey-man for the implementation of unpopular national policies relating to the national economy.
The construction of a world ‘out there’ beyond government control is central to the claims of nation states who have attempted to reduce the scope for social amelioration and the lowering of public expectations of social protection. They have forsaken Keynesian policies and embraced neoliberalism using globalization as a means of abrogating certain welfare obligations. This is a period of ‘state denial’ in which big government absolves itself of certain welfare functions, by presenting itself as incapable of dealing with technological, demographic and global forces beyond its control. Thus the ‘myth of the powerless state’ is a central feature of neoliberal policy, yet ironically the state itself appears as chief myth maker.” (p.119)
The idea of the powerless nation-state is a ruse, a neoliberal foil, yet one used and accepted by the Left in almost every economic discourse relating to jobs and welfare. In America, for example, corporate greed and market irrationality has led to an enormous waste of resources, as well as job losses, yet ‘the unions appear to accept that outsourcing is the scourge of American labour.’ Doogan shows that outsourcing has had a limited effect on job losses at a national level; instead, jobs tend to be ‘outsourced’ from the northern to the southern states.
this does not stop the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) from stating in 2007 that ‘up to 14 million middle-class jobs could be exported out of America in the next ten years.’ Doogan argues that:
… the strength of the neoliberal perspective is abetted, almost perversely, by left-wing commentators and trades union representatives who offer their own curiously sympathetic, but ultimately self-defeating approach to labour market restructuring [and whose] assessment of impact of institutional change is both pessimistic and self-limiting. The approach of the AFL-CIO to outsourcing in its campaign against outsourcing, must represent one of the more extreme examples of those who support the cause of labour yet are wedded to a perspective that can do little other than undermine its capacity to defend itself.’ (p.80)
Doogan is particularly strong in undermining the methods and fallacies of the neoliberal chorus. In a passage which could almost be a synopsis of recent Irish publishing, (for example, Follow the Money, Picking Up the Pieces, and Back from the Brink), Doogan writes:
Self-styled ‘management gurus’ become media friendly commentators on matters of technological change, economic trends or government policy. Other kinds of experts are also pressed into service in the contemporary representation of social transformation. Educationalists, psychologists, sociologists and economists, whether they are based in a university or in the head offices of financial institutions, lend credibility to the prevailing accounts of economic transformation, Overall there is an increasing sense that the boundaries between milieux, whether academic, corporate, government, think tank or the various mass media are being undermined.
The transferability of these concepts across different sectors and milieux adds to their pervasiveness and their legitimacy. If the same story is told by journalists, academics, and management consultants its acceptance is greatly enhanced. The narrative format that can transcend media will prioritize particular rhetorical styles. This narrative is expressed in the use of stylized facts, sound bites, attention grabbing headlines, memorable story lines, the stress on novelty and newsworthiness and anecdotal evidence that captures changes in lifestyle, and generational shifts in attitudes. Large concepts are expressed in small settings. The impact of global processes are emphasized in their ability to penetrate the minutiae of daily experiences influencing what we eat, read, wear or watch. The growing significance of the narratives of new capitalism has been sustained by shifts within social science, most obvious in the rise of postmodernism, which have licensed a lay understanding of contemporary social understanding and privileged ahistorical perspectives of social change… Commentators such as Beck and Giddens do not seek empirical support for their position, but seek to convince rhetorically by setting themselves up as more plausible and ‘common sense’ than other discredited accounts.’ (pp.40-41)
New Capitalism? challenges those narratives which seek to disengage economic forces from material reality. By focusing in on the Labour market – the ‘machine in the ghost’ as he phrases it – Doogan reiterates the fact seemingly forgotten by the left that Capital needs labour. As such, Capital cannot separate itself from labour, it cannot replicate itself in a virtual world. This need for labour is the Achilles heel of right-wing economic analysis, and should form the basis of any left-wing analysis of how the machine works.
There are so many other aspects of the book I have not covered, including its wonderful critique of popular assumptions about global capital, flexible labour markets, and technological change.
The last word to Doogan.
To understand new capitalism, at the end of the day, is to understand an ideological offensive, a mode of domination, as Bourdiueu suggests, that seeks to create uncertainty and anxiety and fear on the side of labour in order to guarantee its compliance. Accordingly, sympathetic commentators should recognise the risk of self-inflicted weaknesses created by the overstatement of capital mobility, job instability and powerlessness. A very different bargaining environment might pertain if unions accepted that capital is relatively immobile, and not inclined to relocate overseas in search of cheap labour. In addition to reducing the threat of withdrawl, if bargainers recognized the high value that companies actually place on labour retention, as witnessed by the persistence of job stability and the widespread increase in long-term employment, a more favourable environment for negotiation would arise. The fact that this does not occur suggests that the weaknesses on the side of labour are not structural but ideological.’ (p.214)
(New Capitalism? The Transformation of Work by Kevin Doogan. Available from Amazon here.)
Latest posts by Conor McCabe (see all)
- Padriac White and the Establishment of the IFSC - April 8, 2013
- Video: Selma James- Defending Caring and Welfare in Careless Times - March 14, 2013
- Prof. Terrence McDonough on the Irish Promissory Note Deal – Galway 12 Feb 2013 - February 13, 2013
- Selections from Finance Dublin Magazine, 1988 - February 11, 2013
- Ireland & the Shadow Banking System: Audio & Slides from 18th Oct 12 Dublin Talk - October 22, 2012