Home > Critical Thinking, Current Affairs, Dystopia, Musings, Philosophy sans Sophistry, Reason, Secular Religions, Skepticism > On Long Term Social, Economic and Cultural Effects of Job Insecurity: 3

On Long Term Social, Economic and Cultural Effects of Job Insecurity: 3

In the previous part of this series, I talked about how the upper-middle class and the aspirational types (the main lay supporters of neoliberalism) are now getting screwed over by the very ideology they enthusiastically supported. Now some of you might say.. “I have not seen that yet” or “I still see people in STEM getting good jobs, marrying, having kids” etc. To which I say, enjoy that delusion while you can still afford to bask in its fake promise of maintaining the status quo.

While believers in the old status quo might wish to continue in their belief that not much has changed, the reality is far different. There are however a couple of caveats we need to address. Firstly, the effects of job and career insecurity are not obvious if you look at the 65-and-over group within the upper-middle class. Most people in this group have good pensions, fully paid-off houses (often more than one) and other investments as they were the main beneficiaries of income and asset inflation which we saw until 2008.

The second group which has still not experienced the full assault of neoliberalism are credentialed professionals in certain areas such as medicine, older upper and middle management types etc. They have so far been partially protected from income and career instability because of their cartel-type behavior or residual usefulness to super-rich. The most important words in the previous sentence are “so far”. This will almost certainly change for credentialed professionals and many older management-types within the next decade for reasons beyond their control.

Of course, as many of you realize, the upper-middle class is larger than licensed doctors and the alumni of 10-15 business and law schools. Which brings us to other previously upper-middle class or inspirational type careers. Let us start by talking about professors (of all types) who work and teach at universities or colleges. Have you ever wondered how many of those who perform the jobs of professors (research or teaching) in such institutions are permanent employees and how many are casual or contract employees? And why does that matter?

The simple answer to that question is that between 70-90 % of those who perform that tasks traditionally associated with being a professor in post-secondary educational institutions are underpaid and overworked temporary employees. In teaching, this takes the form of ‘adjuncts’ who are hired each term and paid wages typically associated with janitorial staff. In research, this takes the form of post-docs, graduate students and research associates who have a slightly more secure income stream than adjuncts but almost no real chance for the promised upward career (and income) mobility.

But the ‘work’ is getting done.. right? Well.. not quite. Academic areas which have the worst degree of such neoliberal exploitation, such as biomedical research, also have the most amount of unreproducible research. As I might have mentioned in the past, the vast majority of biomedical research produced today is either the result of extreme cherry-picking, outright fraud, pedantry or clever rewriting of the obvious. There is a very good reason that progress in the sciences, as measured by products or services that improve the quality of your life, has gone down to almost zero over the last two decades- inspite of breathless fake press releases which suggest otherwise.

Ask yourself.. which great breakthrough benefiting the lives of more than a handful has come about from all the money ‘invested’ in biomedical scientific research over the last two decades?

Do you see any radically new or better drugs for diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, pain, alzheimers, schizophrenia, depression, various types of kidney failure, coronary and cerebrovascular disease.. you know, the sort of diseases that affect and kill most people. The conventional ‘explanation’ for this state of affairs is that all the ‘low lying fruit have been picked’. But is that really so? And how did people in previous decades go about finding effective treatments for diseases when they often “knew” much less about those diseases than we do today?

For all the hype about targeted genetic engineering through zinc finger nucleases, CRISPR/Cas9, TALEN, Gene Drive etc- how many people have been successfully cured of any disease with such methods? Now some of you might say.. “it is because of excessive regulatory or ethical considerations”. Sadly, that is not the case. Most human diseases (by number of affected people) with known genetic predispositions are not single or even ‘few’ gene diseases. To make a long story short, most disease conditions with a hereditary component are basically impossible to treat without highly risky large-scale genetic tinkering.

And this brings me to the issue of income and career security in the pharmaceutical industry. As some of you might remember, many hundreds of thousands in that corporate sector have lost their jobs and often their careers over the last decade. Even the most optimistic propaganda about the fate of these people has to acknowledge that things have been pretty bad for most people laid off during those years. But why did that happen in the first place? Why were there very few large layoffs in that sector for almost 50-60 years and why did so many of them occur between 2005-2013?

How could a corporate sector legendary for providing stable and well-paying jobs and careers for many decades start to resemble the american manufacturing sector after “free trade agreements” within less than eight years? Interestingly, I tackled this particular issue in one of my earliest posts on this blog. The short version of the story is the financialization, “new” management techniques and the obsession with productivity and metrics killed the proverbial goose who laid golden eggs. Nowadays pharma makes money by yearly increases on drug prices, stopping or co-opting generics after patents run out and a whole host of other “legal” shenanigans.

Who needs to develop new drugs when you can sell old stuff at increasingly higher prices. Also selling expensive niche and often barely effective drugs (aka most newer anti-cancer drugs) is another way to pad the financial spreadsheet. But have you ever wondered what happened to the lives and mental world of the couple hundred thousand people who got have had to abandon that field or even worse, swing from one insecure job in that area to the next? Before this happened, they used to be solidly upper-middle class and often spouted distinctly neoliberal beliefs about “competition”, “meritocracy” and other assorted BS.

Nowadays, the general sentiment among that group is that they were scammed. Some are more forgiving than others, but the dominant feeling among most of them is that they were exploited and abused. Oddly enough, you never heard sentiments like these from them before 2005-2008. I wonder why.. Even the ones who are still employed in that area after going through multiple layoff cycles have become extremely cynical people who now are more focused on pretending to work as expected than do anything innovative or profitable for their employers. It will be a long time, if ever, before the pharma sector recovers its ability to develop truly revolutionary new drugs.

Did I also mention that the demographic profile of western countries is also highly unfavorable for any spontaneous recovery in that area. The point I am trying to make here is that the two areas which I am most familiar with have undergone highly damaging and essentially irreversible changes with regards to income and career security. In the next part of this series, I will talk about the deleterious effects of neoliberalism on the income and career prospects of people in the area of general areas of information technologies and computer programming.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. January 8, 2018 at 4:01 pm

    I did not know that had been happening in the medical industry nearly to the extent you reveal. This is very enlightening, and not surprising considering the fact that ALL industries are infested with the same “MO”…. scam recruit then, use and abuse the workers / managers until they are either too exhausted, too old, or have begun to see through the conn jobs and tyranny while simultaneously charging exorbitant prices any where possible. I stupidly assumed “progress” has been significant in the medical industry mostly because of naivety and the way new drugs are advertised and hospital ad campaigns that paint a rosy picture of “the fight against cancer” ( I reside in Houston Texas). My personal experience watching a mother in law, my mother, my father and two aunts on the in-law side die of cancer during the past few years does not support the claims and implications of progress depicted in the ads and medical research propaganda. Did you, or do you, work in the medical or pharmaceutical industries or a related one?

  2. January 8, 2018 at 4:40 pm

    This basic corporate profit at the expense of all else mentality, also pervades the construction industry believe it or not. I worked for a production home builder for 20 years as a project manager which is really nothing more than a present day slave driver, cat herder. Almost ALL labor is performed by non English speaking illegal Hispanics who do not, and likely never will, possess the knowledge or craftsmanship really necessary to produce quality construction. It is impossible to “train” people who were born in a tin hut with a dirt floor to embrace the standards necessary. The company “paid well”, 200K – 250K per yr total including bonuses, just enough to keep you thinking that working 12 to 16 hours a day, not including the commute, may be worth it. The company principals are filthy rich, while the lower level employees and contract laborers barely survive. The company owner was incubating a harem of female Hispanics through a couple orphanages in Mexico. He was busted when one of his concubines became pregnant and demanded more compensation than he planned. Nothing of any significant consequence to him came of it. The laborers are paid below poverty level and management is driven in to the dirt with the usual churn and burn hamster wheel on a merry go round combined with destructive inter company competition and political backstabbing. I have friends in the oil and gas industry who have experienced the similar issues. Companies that were once stable have been purchased by large conglomerates owned by the elite and run by MBA cracker jack types with no real working knowledge of industry details to make intelligent decisions. Complete companies are bought and sold today like slaves who were bought and sold in the 18th and early 19 centuries. Its not just people who are slaves today, at the higher levels, actual whole companies are slaves bought and sold, and manipulated in various ways by their “masters” often causing severe damage to the lives of employees.

  3. P Ray
    January 9, 2018 at 2:07 am

    Great news, just following what dissention / advocatus has written:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5244317/Pfizer-ends-research-new-Alzheimers-Parkinsons-drugs.html
    Pfizer abandons hunt for new drugs to treating Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease after series of failures
    US drugs giant is cutting 300 neuroscience discovery jobs in the UK and US
    It has decided to redistribute funding to other areas more likely to get results
    Alzheimer’s charities have branded the move a ‘heavy blow’ to patients
    By Lara Keay For Mailonline
    PUBLISHED: 19:50 GMT, 7 January 2018 | UPDATED: 02:17 GMT, 9 January 2018

    As a person you are encouraged to try, try again. Looks like Pfizer can throw in the towel early, yay corporate masters 🙂

  4. Yusef
    January 9, 2018 at 4:45 pm

    I do think that there has been a broad decline in progress in medical/pharmaceutical research and development due to changes in the way medical/pharmaceutical R & D has been funded.

    I also agree there is an entirely short-sighted emphasis on profit over every other possible social and political consideration, and you are right to identify that short-sightedness with Neoliberal ideology.

    Neoliberalism is just a fancy word for “go ahead and make money and we don’t care how you do it or what happens to the rest of the world as a result.”

    An excellent book you might enjoy explains this well: The 800 Million Dollar Pill: the truth behind the cost of new drugs, by Merrill Goozner. It is better you read that book than me try to recapitulate all the lies the pharmaceutical industry told to justify its own self-destruction, but the main point was that, even though public funding of R&D had a proven record of success, no one got dirty stinking rich that way, and when the emphasis of an entire society became getting dirty stinking rich, trivial matters such as actually learning about diseases and finding working cures for them (hard, hard work, involving decades of intensive investment, labor and international, wholehearted, concerted cooperation of the best and brightest) got short shrift. (In other words, it didn’t attract funding. Period. It died.)

    Everyone, including the very rich and those who are so far sheltered from the direct economic effects of neoliberalism, will indeed sooner or later be affected for the simple reason profit is not the most important thing in the entire world; the only thing which counts. Economies can’t sustainably neglect the basics and the necessary because their ROI is delayed or small.

  5. January 10, 2018 at 10:45 am

    Unfortunately that neoliberalism is so inculcated into our culture that is has momentum and cannot be reversed due to psychological conditioning and the temptation to exploit invites more participants. We are past the point of no return and it isn’t a moral issue so much as a common sense logical consequence. You do not get something for nothing in the physical real world. All that we have in the way of modern conveniences requires intellectual and physical effort to produce. The more scam artists, and conn men, and free loaders we have in the system, the more screwed up, dysfunctional and less productive it becomes.

  6. P Ray
    January 10, 2018 at 6:24 pm

    Another data point here:
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11973246
    World Bank predicts decade of gloom for global economy
    11 Jan, 2018 1:04pm

    Superb news, now the CONservatives who talk about “survival of the fittest” can get to live in that world 🙂

  7. P Ray
    January 11, 2018 at 8:15 pm

    http://money.cnn.com/2018/01/11/news/companies/trump-carrier-plant-layoffs/
    Carrier plant Trump pledged to save lays off another 215 workers
    by Chris Isidore @CNNMoney
    January 11, 2018: 4:36 PM ET

    Looks like “the economy makes it so we can’t keep our promises” is going to be the corporate mantra to find ways around keeping to the spirit of a deal.
    Seems many businesses … are run in such a way that the only way to keep going is continuous profits with 0 losses ever … and such losses only results in workers getting let go, not a paring down of executive’s benefits.

  8. MikeCA
    January 14, 2018 at 4:21 pm

    A big factor in the decline of US business and jobs is the emphasis on financialization of business. The increasing importance of private equity funding is a corrosive influence. Until I recently retired, I worked for the last 15 years for a mid-size silicon valley software company. The company was the market leader in its field, although it had two large competitors. At the time of the 2008 credit market freeze up, they company had almost a billion dollars in cash and no debt. That put the company in a very strong position and it weathered the crises in good shape with no layoffs.

    But being so financially strong also put the company on private equity target lists. The idea would be to buy the company with borrowed money, take the billion in cash out of the company to pay back some of the borrowed money, have the company borrow a bunch more money and give most of it to the private equity owners, lay off a bunch of employees and generally cut expenses, then spin the company back out as a public company with a large debt load. This would be a much weaker company that would have trouble in the next big downturn. Fortunately this never happened, because private equity does not really understand the software business and the very high R&D spending required to remain competitive.

    This has happened to lots of other American businesses. Essentially private equity funds suck value out of American businesses and distribute it to their investors. This is a big reason all the income growth has gone to the top 1% who are investors in private equity. It has left many American companies too weak to compete in the world market.

    • Yusef
      January 16, 2018 at 5:23 pm

      The thing that gets me is what you are describing is not new or misunderstood. Exactly this has been going on since the 1980s. It has destroyed America. Yet because neither political party represents the interests of American labor (or American industry as such), nothing has been done except sweeping the worst effects under the carpet.

      Back in the 1980s when this sort of thing first began, the corporate raiders went for companies with over-funded pension funds. When they gained control, the raiders could make good just by taking everything out of the pension fund beyond the legal minimum. Selling all the assets off after that was often gravy. This was never explained very clearly in the mass media; the government’s response was to create Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA’s) which couldn’t be raided in the same way. In my opinion, not much of a response at all.

      American industry and the American worker were raped. I’m glad your company escaped. I wonder, though, if the reason it escaped was because private equity doesn’t understand the software business. They really only need to understand balance sheets. They aren’t planning to run the company so they don’t need thorough understanding of anything else. They are pillagers. I would look at that again if I was you.

  9. P Ray
    January 17, 2018 at 2:53 am

    https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/jan/16/carillion-subcontractors-laying-off-staff-collapse

    Looks like ~30,000 people out of work … so the women in the family can learn to make a living I suppose … on SeekingArrangement.com
    If you depend on a big crony for a living … you’d better make sure you can get on without them if they go bankrupt.

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