Do the Unemployed Not Want to Work? The Rise of Neo-Feudalism

I realize “Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) says something stupid” is a dog-bites-man headline, but this idiocy takes the cake:

When the conversation turned toward the extension of unemployment benefits, DeMint again emphasized what he is supposedly hearing from the business community. According to DeMint, “a lot” of companies want to hire but “can’t get employees to come back to work” thanks to the availability of long-termjobless benefits.

DEMINT: I have talked to a lot of businesses in South Carolina who can’t get employees to come back to work because they are getting unemployment and they’re getting food stamps and they say call me when unemployment runs out. […]

There are a lot of people who desperately need it and we need to make sure that we have that safety net in place, but we also have to realize there are a lot of people gaming the system right now. And we need to do better than we have done with just extending benefits, there have to be incentives for people to get back to work. These have to phase out in a way that we haven’t done it before.

This really doesn’t pass the smell test.

First, a few months ago, McDonald’s hired 62,000 people. Out of an applicant pool of over one million. It’s harder to get a job at McDonald’s than get into Harvard. Just want to put that into perspective. When people are willing to stand over a fry-o-later for eight-nine dollars per hour and shitty benefits (keep in mind, the McDonald’s wage is so low, the job will effectively be government-subsidized), it strains credulity (no, actually, it snaps it in two) to claim that people aren’t willing to get back to work.

Older workers are still being discriminated against–why hire an older person when you can get cheap younger people (personally, I think that’s stupid, but over the short term, it probably has some merit).

But DeMint is probably correct in one sense: there are a lot of shitty jobs that pay poorly. While people didn’t want to lose them for financial reasons, they really hated their jobs. Sure, they would rather be able to trade up for a better job while still working, but, given the circumstances, why not look for a better job? Or to put this another way, if these desperate employers paid better and treated their workers better, they wouldn’t have a problem (and, as Yves Smith recently noted, worker costs are typically a very small part of overall costs).

It’s pretty clear that DeMint et alia are neo-feudalists–DeMint wants you to accept the master’s wages on the master’s term. And you’ll like it! Corey Robin (boldface mine):

We must, in other words, change the argument from the abstractions of the free market to the very real power of the businessman. More than posing an impersonal threat to the deliberations of a democratic polity—as the progressive opposition to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision would have it, or as liberals like Paul Krugman and Hendrik Hertzberg have suggested about the unionbusting in Wisconsin—the businessman imposes concrete and personal constraints on the freedom of individual citizens. What conservatives fear above all else—more than higher taxes or lower profits—is any challenge to that power, any inversion of the obligations of deference and command, any extension of freedom that would curtail their own. FDR understood that. In his 1936 acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, he was careful to take aim not simply at the rich but at “economic royalists,” lordly men who take “into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor—other people’s lives.”

Mounting this kind of argument requires more than a strategic shift of frames; it calls for deep immersion in a wellspring of American political thought: the language of opposition to personal dominion and rule. Americans are notoriously uninterested in systemic notions of domination, but the struggle against slavery has left them with an abiding appreciation of—and visceral hostility to—individual forms of domination. And that is what the businessman, uncurbed and unchecked, portends: personal domination.

Learn to love kissing the ring on the whip hand.

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1 Response to Do the Unemployed Not Want to Work? The Rise of Neo-Feudalism

  1. Pingback: “Constitution” As a Dog Whistle | Mike the Mad Biologist

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