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17 August 2006

Neo-slack and organized labor

yet another fan site

Recently the main$tream medium (and generally the "lighter" side even of it)
has noted (at least among some adult American males) an apparent comeback of the medium-generated "nineties" concept
that is Slack. We're talking main$tream medium here, so that's Slack as in
ers rather than ware.

The medium seems to think it has something to do with "drugs,"
although (lucky for America) the suspect drug (according to them)
seems to be coffee, considered (it seems) by the leading scientists or our time
to be a "soft" "drug," but slackers and others (many others by my guesstimate)
should be alert to the possibility of medium stories about
findings that caffeine (or one of the other "drugs" in coffee)
is a "gateway" "drug," or alternatively that the Internet is a "hard" "drug."

The central topic (and yes there is one) to the present screed
is not the Drug Wars, but a pet hypothesis (which is only a hypothesis)
that Slack circa 2006 might be positively correlated with past
or present union membership, perhaps even more closely than with
membership in the male sex.

I suggest this because for most of my working own life
(say 1983-2002, which is getting REALLY SCARY here in post c.1980 Amerika)
I (mistakenly, it turns out) almost envied union cardholders
since in some cases their "severance pay" check was
bigger than a typical paycheck with my name on it issued
BETWEEN periods of unemployment.
Needless to say, any such envy is strictly past tense!

One of the reasons for this replacement of envy with a sense of militant solidarity
is the fact that the concessions being asked of trade unions and their members
today exceed literally by the better part of an order of magnitude those
concessions given away during the late-1970's-and-early-1980's-recession.
I think any sufficiently old person sufficiently familiar with the so-called real
world would (like me) peg that particular period of history as the locus
of the most intense and formative part of the 30(+?) year period
of restructuring of the so-called first world from timid experiments in mixed economy
to militant laissez-faire capitalism.

One thing I learned about humyn nature (at least as it applies to myself)
the hard way is a passing familiarity the theoretical economic
construct called "opportunity cost."
Thanks to the dumb luck of falling in love with someone who grew up middle
class, which is to say the daughter (yesIam) of someone, not whose
"generation" (I prefer "cohort") I envy in any sense, but whose middle-adulthood,
while scarred by Amerikan Apartheit, Militant Anticommunism, sex-typed occupational roles,
the old MIC, etc.,
was measurably better off by the scalar (i.e. one dimensional and therefore
at most narrowly relevant to anything) "yardstick" called "economic security,"
and to an even greater degree "job security."

But as Ron March has stated so honestly and frankly, the
so-called postwar boom years (or as I call that period the golden
age of bennies) were White Affirmative Action, and a much
less modest form of affirmative action than the one I and
I hope sufficiently many others hope to defend by defeating
(hopefully by a more than decisive margin) the so-called
Michigan Civil Rights Initiative[sp?].

When our joint net worth went from negative to modest-but-noticeable
with the death of my father in "law,"
I found myself largely unable to resist certain
(but only certain)
temptations that come with having lower opportunity costs.
This partial failure on my part is partially due to failure
on my partner's part to resist certain temptations to which she
her idealistic self (and she's even more idealistic than me if you can believe it)
is especially vulnerable.
These would include her tendency to react to "I got the job"
almost as if it were bad news.
Many spats and also many less heated philosophical expositions
later, I started to get it about her rationale.
Danger begets more danger, it seems,
but what's in the past is in the past.
"Sunk costs are sunk" seems to be one definition
actually agreed upon by account-ants and econo-mists alike.

Just now it occurred to me that a severance paycheck from
one of what's left of the "union jobs" might noticeably (even if not seriously)
outweigh a (typically, though not always) nonexistent
"unemployment" check which just a temp might qualify,
at least following those periods of nonunemployment ("assignments")
long enough for that particular "safety net" to kick in.
It has also occured to me that one side-effect experienced by people
(or even families in some cases) fortunate or unfortunate
enough to be among the unionized unemployed might be (in short term terms)
a drop in certain opportunity costs, such as the "steepness"
(can steepnesses be modeled as "costs?") of "tradeoffs" between
various things one would like to be able to (looked at another way,
which IS relevant, "have the right to") say about their next J.O.B.
I wonder if any empirical studies have been done re. opportunity
cost differentials among demographic subsets of the unemployed

One "study" which I don't consider empirical (but isn't advertised as such)
is the "X and Y'ed duology(?)" of Barbara Ehrenreich, consisting
of Nickel and Dimed and its sequel Bait and Switched.
I have referred to these books as participant-observer studies.
By professional or scholarly standards they probably don't even measure
up to that level of rigor, but no claims are made to the contrary,
and Ehrenreich is nothing if not generous with disclaimers.
She describes the first book to be about what "blue collar" work
is like in America, while the second book is about the sociology
of America's "white collar" unemployed. Terms like "blue collar"
and "white collar" are inexact and therefore contentious.
I would describe $.05&$.1ed as about people with alternating
pink/blue stripes on their collars, and B&S as definitely
(based on multiple real world experience yardsticks) not
BS, but also definitely lacking the research-oriented focus of the first
book, although a substantial fraction of the level of prosecraft
of $... is present. She seemed there to get too lost in the $ubculture of
organized $alescrittership to find her way back to mainstream white collar America,
but I do think her observations there looks frighteningly similar to
my own best sober guesstimate of what the medium-term future looks like,
specifically the "worldwide best case scenario"
in what to me are "core quality of life issues."

If Ehrenreich were to expand(?) the series(?)
to a trilogy(?) perhaps a worthy third subject of study would be
yet another sub2culture within the nouveau pauvre
subculture�newly unemployed persons on severance pay, or perhaps
on almost-gainful unemployment checks. In the strictest sense,
in the short term anyway, such persons are not (like, to a person,
the characters other than Barb in $..., literally) perpetually
calculating opportunity costs using the assumption (among others)
that getting a job offer effective yesterday is part of the opportunity
cost of non-homelessness, non-foodlessness, non-non-support of dependents,
or even (and this is the part that I think is SICK) that other pre-requisite
for being a somebody�non-carlessness.

Ehrenreich is trained in biochemistry and has more than a passing familiarity
with "higher" "math." Maybe the reading public will get really lucky
and she will further multidisciplinarize in an "economic" direction, gaining passing familiarities with
utility functions, possibility frontiers, normative vs. positive issues, and opportunity costs.
This would be (I think) possibly a powerful methodological armamentum
for studying unemployed journeypersons. I can practically guarantee
it to be the core toolset for figuring out the latt�-sipping slacker set,
but Ehrenreich would (I imagine) be in danger of getting permanently lost in that thicket.

Maybe the caffeinated cypherpunks are ex-unionists.
Maybe the Today Show is spot on and they're just slackers.
Maybe, like me, they think of themselves as vagrant netizens, although I prefer my coffee cheap, Black, and free trade.
(pick 2!)

At any rate, the window of opportunity for scholars or others
to study the "gainfully" unemployed and their economic
production and consumption preferences will most likely permanently
go the way of the study of the gainfully employed, which is to
say you may as well (restricting the discussion to "first world" countries, anyway)
make a project of studying the passenger pigeon.
I wouldn't suggest that Barbara Ehrenreich is best qualified
for such research projects, but she's certainly proven herself
more qualified in the relevant disciplines than, say, Katie Couric.

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