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

January 7, 2018 10 comments

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?