Endurance, Shovedown and Pancaking
Noni hasn’t written a macro-philosophical op-ed for Angry Bear in a few years. She adds a different touch to our macro.
By Noni Mausa
Endurance, Shovedown and Pancaking
Over the past few years I have been trying to put a name to a dominant part of the human economy. Its defining nature is that it is essential, is ignored, is underpaid or even punished, and is done anyway.
Let’s call it the Endurance Economy. Many apparently unrelated activities fall into this class: Philosophy and religion, journalism, music and art and literature, farming and ranching, crafts and intricate skills, inventing and experimentation, child rearing, nursing, teaching, military, whistle blowing, emergency aid and rescue, blogging, and many more.
Without necessarily knowing it, we all depend on the “endurance sector” for our stability, support and sustenance. In its many guises, it is respected in theory (political speeches and most of country music praise endurance work,) but in practice it’s taken for granted and generally paid at or below cost and always below its value. Often it is even treated with contempt from those most dependent upon its services. Yet those most deeply rooted in the endurance sector say, “What, give up farming / children / my music / my faith? I cannot do that.”
I have written before about shovedown, where tasks are passed down the organizational ranks — federal to state, state to city, city to citizens, and citizens to immigrants, foreigners, or slaves, de facto or de jure. Endurance workers are the natural “buck stops here” of shovedown. And they are always human beings. Corporations, machines and other nonhuman entities cannot be part of the endurance economy because they don’t have the capacity for accepting a necessity and persisting in it.
With one exception — the earth itself, its plants and animals and living systems, is the base of the endurance economy. The living earth is not capable of any choice other than endurance.
So far, so good. But you run a terrible risk when you shove down more and more tasks and burdens. Eventually, pancaking results. Those who endure, can endure no more. They run out of energy, their bones break, their land goes to dust, their children die of hunger.
Pancaking is the end point of inequality. Like an earthquake-stricken parking ramp, the layers collapse and crush what is beneath them.
I think everyone, to a greater or lesser extent, is attached to the endurance economy. But some are consumed by it. Some, like the earth, have no choice but to persist. Since their work is essential it should be recognized, if only to selfishly monitor when it is at risk of collapse.
You bring up a good point. Here in Michigan I swat the flies of politics who malign teachers. If we rode along with Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman in the ” WAYBAC” machine going back 30, 40, 50 years ago to examine what it was like to be a teacher, one would find teaching to be a profession most would not want to do. You had to be dedicated and enjoy the long hours, low wages, and the months not working.
Rather than work for the local and state governments at low wages; it was felt, more money could be made in the private sector. “Tangent alert,” rather than pay higher wages to union automotive workers; GM gave union workers benefits fifty-sixtyish. Teachers gained state and retirement benefits.
Things started to change in the late seventies and early eighties. Labor was beginning to lose control, Reagan busted the Controller’s union, pensions were given over to 401ks, etc. Teachers still worked away while the states began to look for ways to cut educational costs. It was a transitional period and the stage was set,
In 1994, Michigan funded an ~60% of a college education for residents. Student loans were not-out-of-hand then. The state was kicking into the pension funds for teachers. Still a noble job; but, it was lacking in earning power when compared to the private sector where the big bucks could be made. People were grousing about higher property tax and Michigan passed the Headlee Act (1978) which set a constitution limit on how much a state could tax (9.49%). Proposal A (1993)changed the way schools were funded principally from an increased sales tax, while retaining a dramatically reduced and constrained amount of local property taxes, especially on homesteads. It also minimized the amount of increase property taxes could be raised. Proposal A also grandfathered certain district school taxes which created an imbalance between districts.
Going into 2000s, teachers were seeing improvements in salaries; but, it was still not as dramatic as what could be made in the private sector. No one held town meetings to improve the private sector pay raises. The state was paying into the teacher pensions and healthcare funds. A large portion of the teacher pension was handled by Lehmans.
Right around 2006, automotive started to head south with vehicle sales dropping. The industry reacted with cuts to white collar, blue collar, and put in motion plans to close facilities. It would have worked except All Street and TBTF crashed in 2008.
In 1994, Michigan’s per capita income ranked it at 14th. By 2013 it was 42nd and later increased to 35th. State funding of colleges was at ~60% in 1994 and by 2013 it fell to ~20% with parents and students picking up the slack. Headlee fell from 9.49% to 8.5% in 2013 leaving behind it large funding gaps as $billions in revenue was lost and $billions in cuts for business were enacted by a Republican controlled legislature since 1994. The cuts in business taxes have not spurred on growth and the state did far better with higher taxes through other recessions.
The same as auto workers, the healthcare insurance and pension funding came under the scrutiny of the legislature and citizens. Since the pension funds were at Lehmans, the state had to make up the difference and still is. But the citizens are complaining about teacher pensions and also the mostly paid for healthcare which was in lieu of pay in the seventies. It may be that teachers should pay a small portion; but, there is another reason for the complaining.
The private sector lost its profitability, security for workers, and high salaries. They sacrificed security for high pay the same as Wall Street and TBTF did with gambling on CDOs/CDSs instead of earning money the “old fashion way.” People are envious of teachers.
Run: People are envious of teachers.
People need to stop bitching about what teachers have and start asking for what teachers have.
The issue with value, is that the “blue collar” job became the middle class by design of our economy. As we changed the economy to one of making money from money, in that rhetoric used to get the people to vote for such, was the implication that the economy did not need the “blue collar” level of employment.
The policies and law (labor laws including union law) were the columns that stopped the pancake process. The people voting for such were the concrete reinforcing the steel. The people were intentionally swayed away from the opinions,. understanding and thus policy that kept them at the fortification for the steel.
At the same time, the view of the jobs that remained as being not blue collar jobs, thus not worthy of the pay of blue collar middle class has remained. I think this is because as a people it is our nature/culture to view these jobs as not as valuable as those that were jobs producing stuff beyond that of the stuff for daily living such as food, sanitation and child rearing.
This leaves a gap in the peoples understanding of our economy and history. That gap is the lessons of the labor war. What is missing is that blue collar jobs became blue collar. They were not and are not a natural phenomenon of an economy. The were in origin jobs considered of lesser value because it was the wealthy elite determining the value. It was the labor wars that took such undervalued jobs as we are left with today and made them blue collar.
If all we are going to produced for jobs is Walmart greeters, shelf/warehouse stockers and burger flippers then we have to make those the new “blue collar” sector of our economy.
The chief point, and the one which makes it possible for people to be taken advantage of in all societies and all centuries is the “do it anyway” part.
In the face of slavery, captivity and injustice, people cope, and by coping make it possible for their captors to rely on their continued productivity.
Responsible people, people of good will, are bound to their burdens by that responsibility. Worse, their “betters” hammer home the message of a good work ethic, of not complaining, of “putting this behind us and moving forward,” when what they want to put behind them is the previous injustices imposed on the good, hardworking endurance workers.
First, I should have looked at my writing closer, Noni (my sister’s name too) and Holly.
As you note, responsibility is what the upper crust counts on and was codified in the bankruptcy bill of a few years ago. The only why the banks could get away with what they did was to count on the fact that in general the citizenry is serious about debt and would not walk away.
Remember the uproar with a few lawyers started saying on TV talk shows that the best move for a lot of people was to walk away from their mortgage? I recall a study pointing out that it was those with million dollar homes that were walking away at a greater rate than those with lessor valued homes.
I think what you are pointing at is the legacy of slavery… not black slavery in America only, but slavery in its origins in what i think was every society in the world.
People put their slaves to work doing the least pleasant, jobs. Hardest in the sense of requiring “discipline” to keep at, not hard in the sense that they mostly did not require any special skill or thought.
As slavery was replaced by what I take to be the feudal system and then the capitalist system, labor was NOT paid for according to anything like “the market.” Labor was paid for according to society’s “value system”… the values of the slave owning class, or “upper” class in any case. So if you did “work” that was essentially “talking” and political you got paid the most. And if you “worked with your hands” you were despised but feared… the owners knew you were probably smarter than them at least at “mechanical” things. But if you cleaned houses you got paid like a slave, and if you cleaned sewers you were paid the least of all, because obviously your job was the “lowest” of all in terms of desirability. An actual free market in labor would have paid unpleasant jobs the most, not the least.