by The Other Katherine Harris
The Other Katherine Harris’s blog
Feb. 17, 2008
Written your business plan yet?
“Self” will soon be our nation’s top employer, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) admits. It’s the ultimate triumph of YOYO economics, allowing corporate elites and government to shift the last vestiges of risk and responsibility onto the individuals who do the nation’s work and pay most of its taxes.
“You’re On Your Own” applies already to almost a third of the American workforce, like it or not, and the proportion is steadily rising. Around 650,000 new businesses roll out yearly — most launched not by eager let’s-build-a-biz types, but by permatemps, contract staff and “consultants” trying to survive on short-term projects. By and large, the self-employed are an educated legion with professional skills, often working in creative or high-tech fields, but there are also a scandalous number whose primary income derives from selling on eBay (nearly 430,000 in 2005, almost as many as were in servitude at Wal-Mart). It’s a fair bet that even the most menial service gigs will fully transmogrify before long into freelance forms, in order to be stripped of benefits.
This is literally the definition of what the BLS calls “non-standard work arrangements”: jobs “not expected” to offer traditional benefits. They’re quite blatant about the abuse. Another bit of jargon they enjoy is the phrase “worker-entrepreneurs”. (See SCARY RAND DOCUMENT.)
The phrase flatters but, with that title and a buck, you can buy a cup of coffee (unless you go to Starbuck’s). Within this pathetic framework of options, “entrepreneur” does sound far more appealing than the others — never mind that more than half of all independent ventures fail. One can always try again. And again. Until all will and resources run out. Or until you get lucky. Some do. In fact, Little Firms That Could have accounted for 80 percent of our net job growth in the past decade (lame as it’s been, with everybody else — including government — outsourcing jobs by the tens of millions). Much more frequently, however, these enterprises are supplementary means of raising crucial cash. Of every 10 secondary jobs held, the busy self-employed hold 9!
A particularly dirty little secret, confessed in another paper (pdf) is that self-employment rises steeply with age. In 2002, those 45 and older accounted for 38 percent of the workforce, but 54 percent of the unincorporated, non-farm self-employed. No doubt the number is higher by now. This is no accident, but the result of social engineering. As long ago as the Reagan era, our oligarchs began fretting about contraction of the labor force when Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) retired. It wasn’t enough for the government to start charging double for Social Security — meant to cover our own retirement, as well as benefits for the generation retired then — and proceeding to steal the money for other purposes; they also suppressed wages and benefits through offshoring and union-bashing, made sure people had to keep working to get health care and lately enacted a poisonous bankruptcy law while allowing the financial industry full reign to make predatory loans and jigger real estate and securities scams. Now, when the last thing today’s companies want are employees experienced enough to deserve and expect fair rewards (and especially those nearing eligibility for pensions, where such still exist), people can no longer afford to relocate for suitable employment opportunities, or even scale down their living arrangements, since the loss on their homes would be too great. The timing is absolutely perfect — for the corporations, who can exploit them as temps, part-timers and contractors. The BLS of course makes it sound like self-employed seniors are just keen to launch new careers, and also tap-dances around the fact that their health isn’t as good as that of the conventionally employed. However, the tiniest whiff of common sense suggests most are scraping by however they can after layoffs and job buyouts, likely without access to medical services through the decade or more until they qualify for Medicare (when, as other statistics widely available show, the health status of recipients improves). And naturally the government is now aching to cut Medicare, too.
Regarding the other end of the age spectrum, the Scary Rand Document informs us: “To the extent that educational levels are projected to increase in the future at all…the rate of increase in the next several decades will be slower than …was experienced in the past several decades” — which is lunacy: For kids to be decently educated, all we have to do is decide to make primary and secondary schools really teach again and dump the greedy college loan industry that was invited into the scheme. The truth is, our corporate rulers want a proper education denied to most Americans, so they can continue degrading compensation here by importing workers from countries that do invest in education — and so we’ll be grateful for any jobs at all (and distracted and dumb enough not to identify and combat the real problem).
Moreover, suppressing education, social mobility and pay obviously leads ultimately to lower Social Security outlays — and, in the shorter-term, cuts the cost of unemployment benefits. Those aren’t available to the self-employed, you know. And, even if their self-employment income is marginal, they don’t have to be counted as unemployed, which bolsters the lie of American economic strength.
It’s an incredibly huge and convoluted lie. For instance, real unemployment — if you count the long-term discouraged, who know there are no jobs around and gave up looking (first dropped off the report by Bill Clinton) — is about 12.5 percent and, when the government issues stats on new job creation by U.S. businesses, those jobs don’t have to be located in this country. Too, our GDP figure is inflated by including “imputed income” — such as crediting all homeowners with having “earned” the amount they’d have to pay to rent their own homes — and inflation figures are held down by substituting the cost of a cheaper item, whenever the price of a certain product rises, on the assumption that people will automatically trade down. For proof of these claims, check out Shadow Government Statistics and this news release by our very own BLS.
This is a piece I’ve planned to write for a month or thereabouts, while amassing notes and thoughts, but last night’s “Now” show nudged me into immediate action. If you missed it, have a look HERE. Usually I’m an admirer of David Brancaccio, but in this case — let’s say he barely scratched the surface. And then smacked a smiley-faced bandaid over the wound.
Setting the tone was Sara Horowitz, founder of the so-called Freelancers Union. Her organization offers insurance plans (mainly in New York, due to barriers in other states) and raises issues of concern to members, also mainly in New York, where it helped to spark a modest crackdown against employers in clear violation of the regs. Mind you, it takes a stunning level of managerial idiocy to be in clear violation of Social Security’s distinctions between contractors and employees. You practically have to seat them next to one another and require identical work on the same schedule to get nailed for deceit and back payroll taxes. To follow guidelines, all it takes is letting the alleged independent produce in his or her own space, without constant oversight, which costs the company less than providing a desk.
Far be it from me to damn Sara’s group for scant successes; every little helps. What rankled was the servile attitude: an absence of not only anger, but even judgment. That we can expect no better is simply, as she said with a tight smile, Reality. (Cue serfs to doff hats.) Corporations have made plain what they need, she observed, and so workers must band together in response to create their own security. Her role, then, is marshalling a sort of cleaning crew to follow in the widening wake of the wrecking crew.
By my lights, there’s a heckuva lot wrong with that picture. Human beings and the societies in which they live don’t exist to accommodate corporations. Quite the reverse was held as true, when the first corporate charters were issued — and for a while the right to operate with limited liability was duly withdrawn from entities that failed to serve the public good.
How they arrived at running the world is an extremely ugly story, the first segment of which is brilliantly told by Nick Robins in a recent essay for the “New Statesman” on the British East India Company. In their soulless greed, they not only maltreated and robbed all in their path, but even managed to starve around 10 million, as collateral damage from making a killing in the rice market. Their example also inspired the modern educational system: a rote of drills calculated to turn the outcast class into a chirpy assembly line. (See John Gatto’s deeply researched “The Underground History of American Education” – please. It’s generously available in full online, free of charge.)
Our modern multinationals, their heirs, are fueled by the products of their imperialist educational system and beatified by the media they own, which catechize that “free trade” equals freedom and that paying incessant tribute in the form of corporate welfare is the very lifeblood of democracy.
Bullshit, sez I — in defiance of our many elected leaders who’ve bought into those wrongheaded concepts, either because they’re bought or because they never gave a serious thought to economics.
Until a few years ago, I didn’t, either. It’s easier to play nod-and-smile-Louise than delve into a subject so abstruse. If you haven’t gotten into it much yet, it’s no shame. Here are a few very accessible places to start. Some were among my wake-up calls and others are more recent:
Bill Moyers’ speech at the 2007 National Conference for Media Reform
Bill Moyers’ speech at Occidental College
Marc Faber’s “Irreparable Cracks in the Financial System”
Larry Beinhart’s “The Fraud of Busheconomics”
Joel Hirschhorn’s “Delusional Democracy Breeds Delusional Prosperity”
Lucy Komisar’s “Corporate Profits Take an Offshore Vacation”
Joshua Holland’s The American Dream Is Alive and Well … in Finland!
David Korten’s “Assault of the Corporate Libertarians” at http://www.pcdf.org/corprule/assault.htm
William Greider’s “The Establishment Rethinks Globalization” at http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070430/greider
Sadly, our oppressors still have plenty of victims waving the all-power-to-corporations banner, although CEO compensation has mushroomed by 300 percent in the past 15 years, while wages have inched up by only 5 percent (far less than the rate of inflation). Had worker pay kept up with CEO pay, the average production worker would earn $110,136 today, instead of $27,460!
Significantly, as I pointed out in my last blog, average families used to have that kind of spending power. If you remember what your parents earned back in the 1960s and early 1970s, you can calculate what that represented in today’s spendable dollars at Measuring Worth. Prepare to be amazed by how much worse you’re probably doing.
Maybe writing a business plan isn’t a bad idea at all. As more of us wake up to how severely we, our communities and even our national security have been harmed by the long rule of the transnationals, we’re going to favor local, independent companies. In droves. How long can those who operate according to “survival of the meanest” principles last if, besides denying our purchase dollars to chain stores and service providers, we also deny them our talent?
Bill Moyers (posts prior to end of June 2007)