Because we’ve all heard the numbers – they’re high. Really high. According to the BLS’ (Bureau of Labor Statistics) data, the West (i.e. California, et al) “reported the highest regional jobless rate [this past] June”: 10.7 percent… the Northeast at 8.8 percent. As of 2 July 2010, the national unemployment rate inched down to an ostensible 9.5 percent. But word-on-the-street’s been telling different numbers.
If one were to apply the same metrics used during the Great Depression to measure today’s unemployment numbers, nationally, the rate would look more like twenty-five percent. In other words, these days the BLS conveniently excludes the homeless, part-timers seeking full-time employment, those who want a job but have ceased their job-hunting out of ready-to-drop frustration, and then some, from its routine employment evaluations.
To assess (read: fudge) the numbers so to generate data purporting to show a not-as-bad-as-it-really-is economy, the CPS (Current Population Survey) measures employment solely by “work-related and job-search activities during a specific reference week.” Moreover, because “unemployment” is a relative term, to explain it one must first define it. And so seeking a clearer definition during the Clinton Administration, “discouraged workers” was expunged from official US unemployment statistics altogether; “discouraged workers” a rubric consisting of: any person of legal employment age not currently looking for employment, or, in other words, folks “marginally attached to the labor force…” And there you have it – official employment mensuration that intentionally leaves out a large portion of the potential workforce; that is to say, the thing’s invalid, artificial.
Since 2004, the wealthiest ten percent of US households owned 81 percent of all stock, the lower 80 percent of the US, according to the Economic Policy Institute, owned a paucity of “less than eight percent of US equity.” Nothing has changed since ’04. The Ruling Class does indeed hold a monopoly on productive property. Writing in the July/August 2010 issue of Z Magazine, in his article “Hitting the Class Ceiling”, Rob Larson explains that, “higher unemployment puts employers in a stronger position relative to workers, who are afraid to join the jobless.” What this means, Larson avers, is: “higher productivity and lower wage growth for workers and, therefore, higher profits” for private industry – giving some vertical mobility to the stock indexes.
So, OK, recent rises in stock indexes only reflects how well the Ruling Class is doing these days. And unemployment numbers are bad, they’re probably, in all likelihood, far much worse than what we’ve been told, broadcasted incessantly via “specialists,” citing verbatim, contrived reports. But if you think about it, what’s really so bad about high unemployment numbers? Considering job losses in all sectors of the U.S. economy – i.e., white and blue collar, manufacturing and service sectors, both private and public spheres – if continued unabated, we can count on lowered consumption rates; less production of toxic chemicals; less worker-exposure to toxic chemicals; less PAHs (polyaromatic hydrocarbons) belched out into the atmosphere, absorbed into tree-leaves; encumbered productivity and more pressure on private producers (read: exploiters) and so on…
Think about it, with an economy slowing down to a snail’s pace, burgeoning with unemployment, collapse and the end of the Age of Imperialism is so close we can all taste it. Centuries of capitalism, corporatism, industrialism, governmental abuse, and the massive cultural and ecological damage perpetrated by those who have benefited from all the above, has finally come up against a wall. The era of “limitless” growth fueled by fossil fuels – a scheme as pyramidal as the culture that propounded it, has proven itself fallible, bankrupt, immoral, unsustainable – outright stupid. And now it is time to surf the decline, as it were, weathering economic caprice as mercurial as the climatic vagaries global climate change presents us. So surf’s-up (!)
And fret not. The more unemployment there is, the more funemployment there is. Simple. Don’t let the rhetoric of production (e.g., What’s wrong with you, get a job…) get the best of you. The word “unemployment” may have some pejorative connotations – but only according to the standards by which the Ruling Class measures the bottom majority. Conveniently, They (the Ruling Class) i.e., the top five percent who own two-thirds of American capital; i.e., those who control productive property, want you to believe that working for them for suppressed wages is much better than joining the (ulp) Unemployed. But when unemployment becomes funemployment, then never mind those greedy tycoons, who, don’t forget, are culpable for this mess in the first place.
And so like unemployment, “funemployment” must be defined: The fun employment of the unemployed and/or those marginally attached to the labor force to partake in cooperative endeavors, esp. endeavors entailing sustainable management of sustainable social arrangements, viz. social arrangements characterized by dynamic equilibrium and convivial reciprocity with the landbase upon which they rely. (Which we’ll get to in further detail, in a moment, down below.) Or, really, “funemployment” can just be any ‘ol fun-to-be-had, in a time of sociopolitical ataxia, in direct unequivocal spite of the Power Elite and the imbalanced, socially-stratified experiment we identify as civilization.
Like, say, e.g., you’re unemployed, collecting government money, and you’re just sitting around surfing the Web, using a pirated Internet connection, maybe in California, maybe smoking marijuana, legally, that you bought with government money issued to you via unemployment services (whatever it takes to stick it to ‘em). Don’t feel ashamed, you’ve just entered the “funemployment” pool. Keep going, or not going. The point being – you’re not your job. And don’t ever let some Talking Head make you think, feel or believe otherwise.
It’s absurd for anyone to allow his/her life to be characterized by an economy that has severely damaged the ecological infrastructure of this planet, imperiling our collective future; immiserating our communities while profits flee elsewhere and natural environments suffer degradation (e.g., Appalachia). It’s perhaps that era, now, in which our lives become characterized by the relationships we foster, between each other and the land, and, just as important, by the work we do. Not occupation, but work, good ‘ol Bruno Bauer-blessed work.
Here is where the good times roll. In an era of declining fossil fuels, and talk of the total collapse of entire economic and industrial infrastructures and institutions (the recent BP oil spill [along with the thousands of other oil and toxic chemical spills that occur per annum the world over] is testament to the fact that, in the words of Yale professor Robert Shiller, “we’re just plunging headlong into the future without knowing what we’re doing…”), one can flock to the very corporate institutions that are at fault for impoverishing the cultural, ecological and economical capital of the world, and toil in high-intensity production jobs for peanuts… or, one can turn the other cheek, completely ignore the industry behemoths for a change, and navigate the terrains of collapse within one’s immediate community. Practice endogenous growth (growth from within); create walkable, bike-friendly downtowns; turn lawns into gardens and/or participate in your local community garden; pick up a trade; barter; join your local Transition Town movement; forage for wild edibles; make musical instruments out of things you find in the trash and start a band; boycott the corporatocracy… The things one can do in a time of (f)unemployment are endless.
With all this (f)unemployment going around, there is now more time to get out in the local community, relocalize, meet new people, foster new relationships, grow food together, find food together, restore land bases, take a break, hop on a bike, go swimming, watch the land come alive with animated life and then, resume community-based work. Now is not a time for belligerent bigoted Rightwingism (you wacky T-Partiers, you… look what it’s done to Arizona: elimination of all-day kindergarten statewide, 4-day school weeks in some parts, an 80% budget reduction for state parks [2/3 of which are on the brink of closure], a deficit as bad as if not worse than Cali’s…). No, rather than allaying fear and grievances with patriotic nationalism, it’d be wise to turn inward toward the local community – think Gemeinschaft folks, not Gesellchaft. As famed anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski once put it: “The gardens of the community are not merely a means to food; they are a source of pride and the main object of collective ambition.”
Just as Chris Keating from the band Yeahsayer croons in the song “2080”: I can’t sleep when I think about the times we’re living in, I can’t sleep when I think about the future I was born into”… Seriously, I, too, can’t sleep when I think about all that. But not out of fear inasmuch as excitement, because these are compelling times. Just the other day I exchanged with my neighbor some chanterelle mushrooms I picked in the woods by my home for a week’s worth of produce grown from her garden. The only thing it cost the two of us was time. Time well spent outdoors, in the fresh air, in the soil, re-learning how to self-sustain, how to share, how to cooperate – not toiling indoors somewhere for some impersonal competitive corporate abstraction for some green paper we all perplexingly agree holds real pecuniary value.
Kirkpatrick Sale, commenting in 2007 on the dollar’s value, warned of the imminent collapse of the American dollar. Because constricted by a national debt of nearly $9 trillion and showing “no sign of declining —in fact, rising enormously since 1995 and precipitously since 2002 — and by a trade deficit of $545 billion,” Sale points out, the dollar does not have a bright future. “Whether the trigger will be China’s switch to euro investments, or Iran and Saudi Arabia’s opting for a petro-euro instead of a petro-dollar, or a general worldwide distrust of the American cockeyed economy, is hard to say — but it could be one or all,” admonishes Sale, “and our economic bubble will collapse in a heap. And then the only useful currencies will be those based on real worth, calculated at a basically local level, and precious metals, which are primarily useful at local levels as well.”
One of these days, soon enough, there will be a stark cultural divide – those with paper money, and those surviving, co-operatively living in functional sustainable communities.