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151

Beyond Redistribution

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terms
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notes

so good!! unpacks the notion of predistribution (without using those words) in the context of a review of Philippe Askenazy's book Tous rentiers!

Grahl, J. (2018). Beyond Redistribution. In Left Review, N. (ed) New Left Review 113. New Left Review Ltd, pp. 151-159

151

[...] Much of the recent discussion has been limited to arguments for re-distribution after the fact, through taxes and social spending, thereby ‘naturalizing’ the sources of inequality in the primary distribution between capital and labour, ultimately leading to an impasse.

The prevailing orthodoxy accounts for the stagnation or decline of working-class incomes in Western economies by reference to productivity. The majority of workers are said to be less productive, either because competition from lower-income countries has reduced the value of the goods and services they produce, or because new technologies have made their labour redundant. Askenazy’s new book, Tous rentiers!, challenges such views. He argues that social-democratic parties, in reproducing the ‘productivity’ story, have surrendered to fatalism. By accepting primary distribution as ‘natural’, they are limited to proposing redistributive measures only—themselves problematic in the global economy—or abandoning the pursuit of equality altogether for the mirage of ‘equal opportunity’. Meanwhile the devaluation of work performed by the mass of people is pushing capitalism into a deflationary spiral. He links this dysfunctional primary distribution to the ability of powerful actors to capture ‘rents’—incomes deriving from certain socio-economic or political advantages, rather than their contribution to production. Those advantages can be challenged, and the primary distribution to which they give rise is therefore malleable. A second theme of the book is the ideology of private property, which is used to buttress existing rents by linking them to property rights. The notion of a ‘property-owning democracy’, sustained in particular by owner-occupation in housing, serves to defend the predatory claims of the strongest. [...]

—p.151 by John Grahl 3 months, 4 weeks ago

[...] Much of the recent discussion has been limited to arguments for re-distribution after the fact, through taxes and social spending, thereby ‘naturalizing’ the sources of inequality in the primary distribution between capital and labour, ultimately leading to an impasse.

The prevailing orthodoxy accounts for the stagnation or decline of working-class incomes in Western economies by reference to productivity. The majority of workers are said to be less productive, either because competition from lower-income countries has reduced the value of the goods and services they produce, or because new technologies have made their labour redundant. Askenazy’s new book, Tous rentiers!, challenges such views. He argues that social-democratic parties, in reproducing the ‘productivity’ story, have surrendered to fatalism. By accepting primary distribution as ‘natural’, they are limited to proposing redistributive measures only—themselves problematic in the global economy—or abandoning the pursuit of equality altogether for the mirage of ‘equal opportunity’. Meanwhile the devaluation of work performed by the mass of people is pushing capitalism into a deflationary spiral. He links this dysfunctional primary distribution to the ability of powerful actors to capture ‘rents’—incomes deriving from certain socio-economic or political advantages, rather than their contribution to production. Those advantages can be challenged, and the primary distribution to which they give rise is therefore malleable. A second theme of the book is the ideology of private property, which is used to buttress existing rents by linking them to property rights. The notion of a ‘property-owning democracy’, sustained in particular by owner-occupation in housing, serves to defend the predatory claims of the strongest. [...]

—p.151 by John Grahl 3 months, 4 weeks ago
153

Rather than accept the ‘naturalist’ interpretation of inequality, Askenazy maintains, it is necessary to understand the upheavals that have given rise to new rents and allowed their seizure. He notes the role played by three ‘especially powerful’ factors in recent decades: the collapse of Communism and incorporation of China into global market circuits; the weakening of trade unions and destructuring of the working class (salariat); and new sources of rent linked to technological change and urban agglomeration. In principle, the growing importance of intangibles and agglomeration factors in economic development ought to devalue the claims of capital, as the giant enterprises of the digital age hardly need physical capital anymore. Instead, capital benefits from regimes that extend and reinforce property rights, the two most important being real estate and ‘intellectual’ property. The development of highly productive economies in major cities gives rise to rents of agglomeration, frequently appropriated by the owners of real estate: London, where Askenazy thinks feudal forms of land ownership still persist, is a key example. The financial sector, by providing mortgage credit, is also able to capture part of these rents. (Of course, it would be possible to limit this trend through political action by rent control and the provision of public transport.) A key aim of official policy has been to extend the range of private-property forms. Askenazy draws particular attention to intellectual property—exemplified by the exploitation of pharmaceutical patents, which drive up healthcare costs—and the privatization of data harvested from the internet.

—p.153 by John Grahl 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Rather than accept the ‘naturalist’ interpretation of inequality, Askenazy maintains, it is necessary to understand the upheavals that have given rise to new rents and allowed their seizure. He notes the role played by three ‘especially powerful’ factors in recent decades: the collapse of Communism and incorporation of China into global market circuits; the weakening of trade unions and destructuring of the working class (salariat); and new sources of rent linked to technological change and urban agglomeration. In principle, the growing importance of intangibles and agglomeration factors in economic development ought to devalue the claims of capital, as the giant enterprises of the digital age hardly need physical capital anymore. Instead, capital benefits from regimes that extend and reinforce property rights, the two most important being real estate and ‘intellectual’ property. The development of highly productive economies in major cities gives rise to rents of agglomeration, frequently appropriated by the owners of real estate: London, where Askenazy thinks feudal forms of land ownership still persist, is a key example. The financial sector, by providing mortgage credit, is also able to capture part of these rents. (Of course, it would be possible to limit this trend through political action by rent control and the provision of public transport.) A key aim of official policy has been to extend the range of private-property forms. Askenazy draws particular attention to intellectual property—exemplified by the exploitation of pharmaceutical patents, which drive up healthcare costs—and the privatization of data harvested from the internet.

—p.153 by John Grahl 3 months, 4 weeks ago
156

Historical trade unionism, although it still has strongholds in some sectors such as urban transport, ‘struggles to conquer new territory because it is too tied to the specific characteristics of the work-places where it is entrenched’. However, Askenazy does identify some promising developments: the alliance between nurses and patients against healthcare corporations in some states of the US, for example. Movements against low wages for cleaners or in fast-food outlets are also part of this ‘trade unionism of opinion’ that seeks to build alliances with user groups and the general public: where low-paid workers depend on subsidies, it is in the interest of taxpayers for wages to rise. He refers to two other successful struggles. In the first, hotel-room cleaners in central Paris exploited their criticité during the season of high fashion shows to boost their wages, improve working conditions and challenge their casualized status. The rents arising from the fashion houses could thus be partly captured by workers rejecting their ‘outsider’ status and demanding to be treated as ‘insiders’. In the second, the Teamsters won big concessions for the drivers of coaches ferrying the employees of big tech companies to work in Silicon Valley.

—p.156 by John Grahl 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Historical trade unionism, although it still has strongholds in some sectors such as urban transport, ‘struggles to conquer new territory because it is too tied to the specific characteristics of the work-places where it is entrenched’. However, Askenazy does identify some promising developments: the alliance between nurses and patients against healthcare corporations in some states of the US, for example. Movements against low wages for cleaners or in fast-food outlets are also part of this ‘trade unionism of opinion’ that seeks to build alliances with user groups and the general public: where low-paid workers depend on subsidies, it is in the interest of taxpayers for wages to rise. He refers to two other successful struggles. In the first, hotel-room cleaners in central Paris exploited their criticité during the season of high fashion shows to boost their wages, improve working conditions and challenge their casualized status. The rents arising from the fashion houses could thus be partly captured by workers rejecting their ‘outsider’ status and demanding to be treated as ‘insiders’. In the second, the Teamsters won big concessions for the drivers of coaches ferrying the employees of big tech companies to work in Silicon Valley.

—p.156 by John Grahl 3 months, 4 weeks ago

(noun) the quality or state of being pusillanimous; cowardliness

157

the book’s pusillanimous conclusion that it should be possible to ‘ameliorate’ the condition of workers ‘without calling into question the productivist dynamic’ contrasted glaringly with the force of its anterior critique

on Askenazy's 2004 book Les Désordres du travail

—p.157 by John Grahl
notable
3 months, 4 weeks ago

the book’s pusillanimous conclusion that it should be possible to ‘ameliorate’ the condition of workers ‘without calling into question the productivist dynamic’ contrasted glaringly with the force of its anterior critique

on Askenazy's 2004 book Les Désordres du travail

—p.157 by John Grahl
notable
3 months, 4 weeks ago