Precarity – It Isn’t about Employment, It Is the Economy, Stupid…

From the printer
Herrmann, Peter, 2018: Precarity – It Isn’t about Employment, It Is the Economy, Stupid…
No3 (209)/2018: 73-73
Издается с 1992 года Выходит 4 раза в год
DOI: 10.24411/ISSN. 1999-9836
(scroll for English abstract)

На прекаризацию обычно ссылаются как на проблему заня- тости и увеличения неуверенности и нестабильности су- ществования труда в качестве безопасной и предсказуемой основы социоэкономической безопасности – впоследствии мы обнаруживаем нестабильность включения, цельности и полномочий (и/или понимания). Намекая на лозунг «Это эко- номика, глупыш», который использовался в президентской компании Билла Клинтона в 1992 году, данный лозунг исполь- зован в заголовке публикуемой статьи: «Прекаризация – это не безработица, глупыш». Этот тезис звучит в таком объ- еме в обсуждении прекаризации как нестандартное понима- ние экономики, основанное на четырёх базовых принципах: денежная прибыль, экономический рост, конкуренция и заня- тость. Реальный вызов заключается в обращении к ограни- чениям данного базиса из четырёх частей, который преобла- дает в современной социологии, а именно методологический индивидуализм, методологический национализм, методоло- гический солюционизм и методологический презентизм. Объект исследования. Анализ неустойчивой занятости. Предмет исследования. Изменение методологических требований.

Цель исследования. Выявление недостатков существую- щей методологии социологии и перспективы альтернатив- ных направлений методологии.
Основные положения статьи. Определение метода пре- каризации в рамках меняющейся экономической формации.

Ключевые слова: неустойчивая занятость; методология со- циологии; экономика и общество; социальное качество; труд.


Precarity is commonly referred to as matter of employment and the increasing insecurity and instability of obtaining labour as secure and predictable foundation of socio-economic security – subsequently we find instability of inclusion, cohesiveness and empowerment (and/or perception). Alluding to the slogan «the economy, stupid» which had been guiding Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992, the slogan brought forward is here «Precarity – it isn’t employment, stupid». The thesis is that much of the debate on precarity is referring to a curtailed understanding of the economy, based in four main pillars: monetary gain, growth, competition and employment. The real challenge lies in addressing the limitations of the quadriga that dominates modern social science, namely methodological individualism, methodological nationalism, methodological solutionism and methodological presentism.

The Object of the Study: Analysing precarious employment
The Subject of the Study: Change of Methodological Requirements
The Purpose of the Study: Identifying flaws of existing methodology of social science and perspectives for alternatives The main Provisions of the Article: Locating precarity within the framework of a changing economic formation

Keywords: precarious employment; methodology of social science; economy and society; social quality; work.

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.

whereabout …?

The other day I talked with Turkish colleagues – one mentioned the Ankara Agreement, making emigration easy and apparently gaining a new momentum: the opportunity to make use of a quasi-free movement being taken up by many young, qualified people (that is hat I had been told).

https: //×2/640/426/43d81eaeeb4ba567a36be455ccee7930/Ci/chappatte_immigration-37930404.jpg

It is funny then in the sense that young people from all countries emigrate: Turks to various EU-countries, Hungarians to the UK, Chinese to down under, Italians to Ireland, Irish to Poland, Yanks to China … though leaving it as open question to where they really move at the end … – a question if we do not accept that “somewhere” is the mental state of precarity of different forms is.

Migrants of all countries, you are united!

Though there remains the challenge of developing a truly “portable citizenship”, i.e. to become migrants not only by themselves but also for themselves.

precarity and digitisation – it is not just about jobs

This is the title of a presentation of which the recording is online now.

It had been given during the




The presentation is more in search of the question, not pretending to know answers.
The contribution is crosscutting, mainly offering a theoretical and global in orientation. The aim is to contribute against the background of digitisation to the discussion of  the changing world of the organisation of work and underlying process of accumulation.
During the era of ‘industrial capitalism’ the tension between market and society was by and large processed and channelled via the firm – a conclusion we can draw from reading R.H. Coase and Karl Polanyi. However, looking at some of the current trends as they are tied up under keywords of gig-economy, sharing economy, collaborative consumption, collaborative production, on-demand-economy and the like, we are facing at least in some areas of the economy some changes which can be captured by two keywords:
  • de-firmisation of working frameworks
  • hybridisation of work or to be more precise employment

What are and what can be the answers? We see precarisation as one route, not suggested but actually taken. But it is a route based on two questionable presumptions: the first is that work has to be organised as labour and the second is that society has to and can bear and even accept major inequalities.

[Part of] The discussion is also recorded and focuses on issues of developments in China..

free candies for all

Some stimulation can emerge from this article indeed. It wants to convince us that

European regulators are about to kill the digital media industry

While working on digitisation, and becoming increasingly aware of the fact that much it means that social property, namely data, are used for private gain, I am wondering if it is not time to think about free candies for all.


Much of the debate is apparently misled, suggesting that we are mainly concerned with the protection of private data – leaving aside that there are some issues around this, I suggest that the main issue is the use of social data, i.e. public property. To me it seems to be a much more important point in question.

At least it is time to think seriously about the dangers of privatisation of everything, not being funny at all – this German language docu on privatisation of airlines and training of pilots

under the title

Die Schattenseite des “Traumberufs”


is definitely frightening.

challenges – attempts to move forward


Attributed to Johann Caspar Lavater, the words

Those who do not strive to move forward, are not taking themselves seriously

are at the House of Science in Bremen. It is the venue of yesterday’s symposium to honour Rudolf Hickel.

The symposium is aiming on addressing the

Herausforderungen für Politik und ökonomische Wissenschaft im 21. Jahrhundert/ Challenges for politics and scientific economic disciplines in the 21st century.

The event was organised by the University of Bremen, its Institute for Labour and Economy and the Arbeiterkammer Bremen.

In particular André Heinemann put a huge effort into compiling an interesting programme. – And actually he brought me back to Bremen, to the university, from which I obtained my doctorate. A long way if you want as André and myself actually met on occasion of the Shanghai Forum.


Importantly, the sessions and the overall event aimed on creating some space for really reflecting on some of the issues, allowing for more than presentations and Q&As only, and furthermore crossing borders. This did not (only) mean to look at wider issues of political economy but also emphasising the need of developing questions. The evening before we had been actually sitting together, mocking about parts of the current mainstream:

It is not really so important to have a question. Relevant is having data – and then you can define a question from calculating the data in some way that allows you to arrive at some interesting result.

Of course, some answers had been given during the event; and many questions had been raised. For my part, I was continuing [here and here frequently updated information the work] to ventilate the issue of precarity, in this case in close connection with the challenges posed by ‘Industry 4.0’. Soon an update will follow – linking to a text with some background considerations on the topic, titled

Beklagen von Prekarität oder Forderung nach neuen Sicherheiten/Sicherungsstrukturen – Herausforderungen durch Industrie 4.0

the audio recording of the presentation of during the symposium is available and another, more extensive presentation, to be given in early next week in Changsha will follow.

First, back to my students in Vienna … – teaching European integration at times of increasingly disintegrating pressures an interesting topic.

“New Economics”

A standard definition of participation rate defines it as measure of the active portion of an economy’s labor force, namely those who are employed or actively looking for employment.

Now, some students came up with a participation rate higher than 100 % – first I thought it is absurd, but then I considered that it may be a reflection of the current economy, where people are working in different jobs, looking for several employment opportunities as one job doesn’t allow to “make a living” – thus a personal participation rate of more than 100 % says something about the economy today and when it makes with (and against) life …

The Devil, the Detail and the Devil’s Home

It is often said that the devil can be found in the detail – and this is not contest here as general rule. However, we should never forget to think about the place where the devil can be found, namely the devil’s home.

The Council of the Economic Advisors is looking in an issue brief from April 2016 at the

While we talk in the meantime extensively about inequality of wealth and the unbelievable affluence of the super-rich, and while we look with disgust at the Panama-papers, there is indeed something in the report that is more appalling  and actually the showing the real issue that is covered by all those scandals, clearly apparent from the report: the real inequality is still the inequality in the control of means of production though, though those means changed over the years they appearance – it may be true that

we are about to make the transition from a society in which energy was the engine of progress, innovation and productivity to one where data and the information technologies that underpin it will be the engine of progress.’

(Degryse, Christophe, 2016: Digitalisation of the Economy and its impact on labour markets; Working Paper 2016.02; Brussels: ETUI: 9 f.; with reference to Babinet, Gilles, 2015: Big Data, penser l’homme et le monde autrement; Paris: Le Passeur)

The inequality not in terms of money but in terms of capital is the decisive factor, so the analysis should really look at The Capital of the 21st Century, and not just at the distribution of money – students are at least sometimes told that there is a difference between money and capital.

This means as well that we have to be careful, resisting the attractive models that are easily offered – resisting in the dialectical way of overcoming the shortcomings while maintaining the potentials. Joe Stiglitz looked recently at the

Monopoly’s New Era

surely raising important issues. However, this makes us easily forget the systematic character, the law if you want, that stands behind the development. It is not the Sshumpetarian entrepreneur who develops with inventiveness and courage the empires, be they empires of steel barons or information gurus. As long as we believe in such magic powers, we easily find ourselves in the trap of distributing income, forgetting to consider the need to question power. Brecht’s words

The womb is fertile still from which that crept

are also valid in this context, not least making us alert of the dangers, posed by capital looking for spheres for investment and war. Indeed, taking it from my forthcoming publication “Security in insecure times” (which is linked to the presentation I made in Gdansk)

… we find as well the mention if the immediate security threat: Paul Krugman, in a conversation with Tony Atkinson on Inequality and Economic Growth at the Graduate Centre of City University of New York speaks of ‘a large public work stimulus programme known as the second world war’ (15/05/16; minute 1:18:13 ff.).[1] And in his opinion page/blog in The New York Times, Krugman contends that ‘World War II is the great natural experiment in the effects of large increases in government spending, and as such has always served as an important positive example for those of us who favor an activist approach to a depressed economy.’

And indeed, we have sufficient evidence of the aggressiveness, be it in international relations, regionally in Latin America or in the name of national democracy.


[1] Btw, going hand in hand with a rejection of trade unionism.