employment – precarity – or what

Precarity of Employment – Precarity of Capital Accumulation – Helplessness of Social Science

Thoughts from the Panel during the 28thEconomic Forum, Krynica-Zdroj, Polonia:
Flexible Employment: A way to a global chaos or to a new model of labour market stability?

a brief note, while already on the way back to Munich …

And the changed title is:

Panem et circenses – but who bakes the bread?

There is no reason to carry owls to Athens – they are there, and at least also one is in Krynica, in the park

– repeating what is well known, e.g. speaking about growth and employment and looking for ways for its enhancement. Opposing is often naively just about rejecting it without thinking about viable alternatives. The core of my contribution in Krynica can be summarised in the following table and a short para, trying to get a bit closer to the ground of things:

(Click to enlarge)

and in the one paragraph:

Precarity can only be meaningfully looked at, if understood as one of two sides of the accumulation regime: there we are dealing with employment issues, around generating value; and we are dealing with accumulation as realising value by combining factors of production and by recombining in different ways use value and exchange value. The one is a matter of production, the other of distribution and exchange. The problematique emanates from the fact of what we may call a “realisation paradox”: Though the market is needed to make surplus real, it is only the productive sphere that makes it possible. The outcome is the “destruction of time“ in the sphere of production, in order to be artificially extended in the sphere of consumption. It should not surprise if one feels reminded of the process of production which consumes raw material, i.e. destroys nature in order to establish artificial consumables.

– I would not suggest that capital/capital accumulation is in a more precarious situation than employment/the employment regime and social securitisation; however, there is good reason to look at (parts of) this under the heading “sex, drugs and crime”.

On the new title: such an event has something of exactly the Panem et Circenses, trying to make us forget that somebody has to bake the bread ….
Follow the link for the recording of some schort remarks.

… revisiting tea leave readings …

Some time ago some musings had been published in this blog under the tile

science – new readings from the tea leaves

[www . freeastrology123.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/tealeafreading1.jpg]

Without any doubt, one gets easily caught, i.e. we all make easily some mistakes, follow simplifications and do so even without being aware of it; moreover: even circumspectly proceeding in our activities, we may end in some trap. Still, especially such general awareness should encourage being [self-] critical and it should also push our attention towards the roots.

This is important as such developments occur as a somewhat new methodological imperative – I talked about it during the third IsarKanalLecture, titled ‘Digitisation – Meta-Methodological Reflections‘. There I positioned besides methodological individualism and methodological nationalism the

Methodological Solutionismus as Strategy of Technizism, going hand in hand with permanent strategies of externalisation and relative downgrading of living standards.

Of course, there are two ways of looking at it:

  • the one is part of the wider process of infantilisation, seeing it as part of a phase that will soon get in a mature form on its feet, being well able to firmly walk and stand
  • we may call the other part of denialism – suggesting that such deviations are part of cultural and intellectual development – usually phases that are as short-lived as they are noisy for that period of time.

Sure, there is always some truth in the so-called country sayings – making weather predictions possible that are definitely correct – correct in 100 % of the cases. However, every country-person, doing some farming, knows that at some stage this is not enough, well formulated in the 11th thesis on Feuerbach,

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it

here adapted:

Every farmer will make some jokes while being at the cook-and-bull-story but will get serious when walking out on the field to get the work done.

Getting serious means at least the following – keep in mind that it is also some metaphorical talk:

  • It is about dealing with contradictions here and now, not even thinking about the beautiful world of harmony where everything’s and everybody’s wings are clipped, ready to be stored away
  • It is about the deep world, ‘measured’ by deep exploration – or as neighbour Andy, when I lived in Ireland, said: ‘All these measurements telling me about the chemical composition of the soil are grand – and still, I have to get the Wellies on, walk across the field and take a deep breath to know what exactly I have to do – in academia it is about reading books, engaging with complicate stuff instead of holding one of these fancy books in the hands, where looking at the title tells the entire content … – mushrooming, filling book stores, cash registers and too often emptying brains
  • it is about reduction of complexity not by way of simplification through wing-cutting but by exploring the path of El Cóndor Pasa – that means it is about actors and contradictions in daily life. Taking time to be solved while there is no time for any delay.

This [way of] presentation may also help to approach two rather fundamental flaws we witness in two disciplines – academic issues but relevant as it is not least by this thinking that we are disciplied in our daily life.


Positive law and its extension into procedural law is always challenged by its own tendency to push aside questions that are concerned with right[eousness]. One point for the exploration is the thought that Gustav Radbruch formulated in his short ‘Fünf Minuten Rechtsphilosophie‘ in the following words:

Es gibt also Rechtsgrundsätze, die stärker sind als jede rechtliche Satzung, so daß ein Gesetz, das ihnen widerspricht, der Geltung bar ist. Man nennt diese Grundsätze das Naturrecht oder das Vernunftrecht. Gewiß sind sie im Einzelnen von manchem Zweifel umgeben, aber die Arbeit der Jahr- hunderte hat doch einen festen Bestand herausgearbeitet, und in den soge- nannten Erklärungen der Menschen- und Bürgerrechte mit so weitreichen- der Übereinstimmung gesammelt, daß in Hinsicht auf manche von ihnen nur noch gewollte Skepsis den Zweifel aufrechterhalten kann.

In translation:

There are therefore legal principles which are stronger than any legal statute, so that a law which contradicts them is not applicable. These principles are called natural law or the right to reason. Certainly they are surrounded by many doubts in detail, but the work of the centuries has worked out a solid existence, and in the so-called declarations of human and civil rights with such far-reaching agreement that in regard to some of them only deliberate scepticism can maintain the doubt.


The other mechanism of disciplining is about economics: positive economics, equally focusing on procedural aspects, in this case dealing with exchange processes is caught in a similar vein, unable to deal with contradictions, – correctly, though not rightly – presuming equal exchange as core of the entire process determining value. However, here we are concerned with valuation – an individual issue: Everybody is allowed to highly value a palace and then pay for it – just a matter of personal choice, complementing the fact, pronouncedly highlighted by Anatole Frane:

La majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain.

In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.

Individualisation, the reduction of a complex and contradictory social relationalities to individual, isolated acts, performed by isolated individuals that relate to each other only by way of individual contracts is the ultimate way to avoid talking about value as it is produced, defined as social value due to the fact that the process of production is itself by and large a social process, its market-defiition only ex-post used as tool for the calculation of what had been defined a long time earlier.

There is a lot of fight in a seemingly simple flight.

Independent thinking ….

… and the small steps the academic world undermines it …

Two weeks teaching are over, today with the long Sunday sessions … – it is good to see the students (well, some of them) again being around, eager to learn, interested in understanding the world and gain independent thinking. Sure, independent thinking does by no means deny the meaning of work that had been done – putting all us of on the shoulders of giants and as well on those of the forgotten labouring masses of the academic world on which the monuments of giants are erected. Al this talk about giants and the acknowledgment of the pedestals on which they stand is not just about referencing but it is of fundamental importance to learn about the work that had been done, climbing on the shoulders of giants. And this is not least a matter of methodologies, theories and methods. Only this way we are able to work according to fundamentally important principles: Asad Zaman presents them in the following way:

The first of this is to consider the central role of institutions as mediators of change. … A second principle is “methodological communitarianism,” according to which only collective action creates social change … . A third principle is the strong interaction between the social, economic and political spheres which requires simultaneous consideration of all three … . A fourth principle is the reflexive relationship between theories and history. Changing historical circumstances generate theories designed to understand this change. In turn, theories affect history, since responses to change are mediated by theories. Finally, … social change is initiated by external factors, but understanding the process of change requires considering responses to these external stimuli by various groups.[1]

But what is then about independence? Just before taking up teaching again, I submitted an article to a journal – and the style guidelines deserve in the context of learning independent thinking some special attention:

The use of personal pronouns (‘I’ and ‘we’) is to be generally avoided in the text, as are phrases such as ‘This paper will analyze …’, since the paper itself is an inanimate object and incapable of cognition.

The age old and lasting Werturteilsstreit (value judgment dispute) in new veils. This dispute was at its height before WW I, in the early 1960 and it has its clandestine renaissance now — Doesn’t the quoted formulation suggest that any academic should leave personality, opinion, values etc, at the wardrobe when entering the ivory tower? – Sure, another reading is possible: academics of all disciplines, leave the tower and act in a responsible way wherever responsibility is asked for. Not least on the streets and squares – when crossing them and blocking them …

Coming back too teaching, the challenge remains: how to prepare academics to find the door of the ivory tower, making them thoroughly aware that getting in does not suggest one has to stay inside.

It is indeed still true what had been said in thesis 11:

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.

Part of my tiny contribution to the interpretation and change can be found here in the lecture recordings, which will be frequently updated throughout the term.


[1] Zambian, Asad, 2016: The Methodology of Polanyi’s Great Transformation; in: Economic Thought 5.1: 44-63; here: 46; I may add that I talked about methodological socialism in the book “Opening Views against the Closure of the World” which had been published earlier this year.

Sustainability, Non-Sustainability and Crime II

In the wider context of sustainability we have to deal not least with growth – to be more precise: the obsession with growth. Of course, this term is, at this stage, hugely problematic – a matter that is at this stage even widely accepted in mainstream economics and social science.

It is not least problematic if we take it as universally valid pattern.

(i) Growth is typically biased, limited to a quantifiable development, leaving by its very definition qualitative aspects out of consideration.

(ii) It also undermines even conceptualising systematically any non-commodifiable aspects of life (take happiness e.g.: we would speak of increasing happiness, not of growing happiness).

(iii) Growth is with this perspective in principle and inherently a completely individualist concept – even in its pretended ‘social’ understanding (for instance as matter of macro-economic growth) it is based on methodological individualism.

(iv) It is then difficult (if not impossible) to conceptualise ‘needs’ in a globally differentiated way: conventional growth is surely nothing needed in the so-called developed world; on the other hand we find in many regions severe under-supply of goods; as far as this undersupply is a matter of the lack of means of subsistence and ‘basic goods’, the answer will be obvious. However, in several cases there may be an unquestionable need although the means of satisfaction are not defined. An example for the latter can be seen in India where we find attempts to introduce cheap, i.e. affordable cars. This may well be an example where the need (transport for everybody) cannot and should not be questioned; but where the means to answer this need cannot be seen as given – in some respect the need may actually be limited (spreading availability of services, increasing local production by decentralisation  …); in another respect the means of transport can be directed in different ways rather than orienting on private means.

Fundamentally questionable presumptions are at least the following:

  • Growth is understood as growth of the production of ‘goods’ and with this actually leading to an understanding of economic processes based in consumption as ultimate end of the process. – It would be different by looking at (re)production of daily life (and the related means) as ultimate end. Only then economic growth would be a means rather than an end in itself.
  • This means also that production in the mainstream understanding is only narrowly understood, namely as production of goods. However, it is necessary to go beyond this understanding, searching for ways of determining other ‘means of production’, which themselves produce the ultimate product, i.e. daily life of socio-individual beings.
  • With this, a further qualification emerges: considering the human being as genuinely and indispensably social being requires – in the light of the demand of sustainable sociability – accepting equity not as secondary, i.e. as result of growth of the production of goods (thus is the fallacy of mainstream economics). Instead, equity is condition, i.e. means of production of sustainable sociability. – The latter can easily be shown by several empirical studies, for instance those that point at the Nordic countries facing less problems during crisis; cooperatives being let hit by the crisis etc.
  • Another and fundamental fallacy is that growth strategies as they exist today are to a large extent only mechanisms of (i) distribution and (ii) externalisation. A few remarks may be exemplifying this.


We find some evidence for emerging and increasing poverty, developing in countries exactly at that time when they closely entered the global economy …, and when they did so as ‘explicit periphery’ of the world economy. So-called developing countries had been for a long time sufficiently strong in their own reproductive and sustaining way before entering fully the global economy.[1]

Social I

We find several mechanisms of externalisation, not least ‘shifting costs’ to the organic environment (nature)

Social II

A further social dimension can be seen in ‘by-production’ and parasite-production: enterprises produce political influence (CSOs sitting on political boards); contribute to welfare (foundations); NGOs produce services; households are engaged in DIY-production and so on.


In many cases this can be closely linked to processes of tempoarilisation of costs, shifting them to later generations.

I am not yet sure if ‘development’ is a sufficiently thought through alternative – development carries with it the burden of Rostowian modernism though it can surely be questioned if this is a necessary burden.[2] One additional fundamental critique of growth emerges in this context: growth emerged in the meantime as by and large nationalist concept, being closely linked with the mechanisms of competitiveness. To the extent to which this is true, a Green Deal is highly problematic as long as it is conceptualised with the emphasis on ‘changed growth’ rather than changed understanding of ‘buen vivir’.

As long as we follow the mainstream growth model, we have to be aware that  there are two issues that are of fundamental importance, although they are easily overlooked at least in terms of their consequential character: the current model is based on two patterns that are frequently and in popular gist considered to be exceptions but that are actual fact structural foundation of the system – as such they are closely knit into the factors that had been laid before us in the previous paragraphs:

  • debt is the one
  • the other one is crisis.

The strictly economic side of debt can easily be described – and much had been written about it. It is not always considered sufficiently that there is a fundamental difference between private and public debt but by and large it is probably fair enough to say that the difference is usually seen and only naive political jargon draws simple comparisons. The perspective from political economy is a bit more difficult – but in any case it is also fundamentally a concern with a rather traditional model of growth, in particular looking at the wider understanding of distributing economic components over time. This is then not only a matter of financing current investment on the account of expected gain in the future. At least equally important are various inherent mechanisms of social transfer, as for instance business investment loans financed by agglomerating savings of private households, ‘cold expropriation’ of private and business households by the means of undervalued government loans (e.g. a short note on this here), shifts of public money to private businesses using also mechanisms of tax exemption and tax evasion.

However, another perspective has also to be considered, it is concerned with the soci(et)al time perspective. Both, personal and social history are based on a loan taken from the future, however without sufficient cover. The reason for the lack of security is not a matter of overspending. In order to understand the contradiction, it is not sufficient to consider the (im)balance between spending and borrowing – these are actually by and large brought into congruence with each other via various mechanisms of the economic crisis – a mechanism which is, at least insofar we are talking about a crisis of consolidation, nothing else than forceful negotiations which decide who is paying which share. This can be roughly broken down to the following: the investors, the mediators, the consumers. Still, there is another factor, socially constructed by a specific political-economic understanding, namely the ideology of infinite growth: it is the suggestion that the major share is paid by the future. So – simplified – we end up with the following rough scheme:

Current debt

Loan from future 1

Delayed payment:

Loan from future 2








paid by soci(et)al inequality

paid by societal inequity

remaining unpaid

At this stage it does not play a role if we are talking about debt in monetary terms, energy, raw material, space … . Importantly we have to aim n maintaining the link

  • between production and reproduction of daily life

and also

  • between the needs and means as mentioned earlier with reference to Wilhelm von Humboldt.

And of course, we can then clearly see the justification of speaking in the title of the crime of lacking sustainability: It is even in positive law – in terms of the criteria set by this society – a crime insofar it disrespects the fundamental principle of contracts: contracts are actually drawn with a party that is not part of the negotiations.

We can come back to what had been said before: for understanding the contradiction, it is not sufficient to consider the (im)balance between spending and borrowing. Such perspective is simply limited to the realm of circulation. However, the real imbalances are on the level of production. For a clearer understanding of such localisation we have to distinguish at least analytically the following dimensions – always keeping in mind that the fundamental reference is the production and reproduction of daily life. The following is suggested:

  • Systemic (re-)production, i.e. the (re-)production of the socio-political-economic system itself. Part of it is well reflected in the definition of the accumulation regime as brought forward the Régulationist School. Important is to consider that the definition is established by drawing a close link between production and reproduction, looking at

stabilization over a long period of the allocation of the net product between consumption and accumulation which implies some correspondence between the transformation of both the conditions of production and the conditions of the reproduction of wage earners.[3]

  • Personal (re)production, i.e. the (re)production of individuals and private households, importantly establishing a link between development of personalities and their ‘fit’ into the societal relations and vice versa.
  • National (re)production, i.e. the (re)production which is mainly concerned with a specific part of the systemic (re)production, however, limiting this to a certain social space and in turn providing a basis for specific exclusionary structurations
  • Class and cleavage (re)production, i.e. the (re)production of different relations that socio-politically ‘order’ the positions within the overall relationality.

Two factors are of major importance. First, social and political divisions find their original foundation in the first of these (re)production-schemes, i.e. on the systemic level. However, these can only emerge from the division of roles – a matter of division of labour and also of – only in part subsequent – division of power positions. Second, in all these cases we find specific environmentalisations. With this term I suggest that human beings define themselves as depending in different degrees from the natural conditions of the organic environment, the other way round: the tendency to externalise of organic environment. This independence is itself relative as much as it is defined by human agency’s individual and/or collective ability to control the organic nature. It should be clear, however, that the dependency is a relational one. The highest thinkable degree of independence is one of the ability to make perfect use of the organic forces – though they cannot be overcome nor can human beings transcend their own organic essence.

Tensions and contradictions emerge within each of these realms and also between them – an apparently incalculable net of relations. These tensions and contradictions are in their historically specific form definiens of historical structures of meaning. – And this can be – and is at times – the nihilist demeaning of everything, arbitrariness of existence that is getting aware of the crime of lacking sustainability.

Is there a way out? One way out is the amplified nihilism: denial of the future, suggesting that the debt is already to high to be paid back at any one stage. Another is the religious or otherwise value-ridden suggestion that another world is longed for – and thus it should be possible: the internalisation of a deeply felt enigma and frequently the idealisation of the past and the suggested eternal while facing the crumbling away of parts of reality. There are technical suggestions – green deal and decoupling.

Finally – and in part contradicting the aforementioned suggestions – there is the need to concentrate really on a new mode of production as core of a new societal formation. This surely has to be socialist in its very core. But being socialist has to thoroughly consider a new productive basis under non-industrialist conditions. An important question is in which way socialisation of production can be employed as a means also of ‘steering needs’.

Part of the necessary analysis is to clearly answer in a differentiated way the questions of what is needed, how this is determined and who the actual producer is.

Including importantly the questions of capitalisation and commodification of labour power

This includes material, immaterial, mediated/symbolic dimensions

What id actually needed for the (re)production of daily life

Important is also the differentiation between the departments (I & II according to Marx; in addition III according to Luxemburg; in my own opinion this needs today further differentiation, for instance by looking at the service sector as candidate for a further department)

Including the question of marketisation[4] and commodification

How the need is determined – e.g. by physical necessity, social definition, technological requirements or suggestions … (a new approach to Maslow?)
By whom is actually produced (incl. public households,[5] private households, NGOs, as ‘by-product’ of other processes …)

[1]            It remains to be discussed how this relates to the thesis of world systems theory, in particular the interpretation by Gills and Frank (see Frank, Andre Gunder/Gills, Barry K. (eds.) 1993: The World System. Five Hundred Years or Five Thousand?; London/New York: Routledge); furthermore it would be interesting to analyse in this context the theory of major cycles (Kondratieff waves).

[2]            Part of this is more extensively reflected upon in my article  ‘Indicators – More than Evidence and Maths; forthcoming in: Journal of Globalization Studies’, Association with the Faculty of Global Processes of the Lomonosov Moscow State University; Eds.: Leonid Grinin/Andrey Korotayev/Victor de Munck/James Sheffield; Volgograd: Uchitel; and the more extensive document from the Cork-presentation on occasion of the Poverty Summer School at University College Cork.

[3]            Lipietz, Alain, 1986: New Tendencies in International Division of Labour: Regimes of Accumulation and Nodes of Regulation, in: Production, Work, Territory; Scott, A.J./Storper, M. (eds.); London: Allen Unwin: 16-40, here: 19

[4]            Important to note that marketisation does not necessarily means capitalist markets.

[5]            In addition public goods though they are not necessarily produced by public bodies.