Obsolete People: A Disposable Problem?

Memorandum: Internal (Confidential)
Problem: High-Surplus Labor Pool
Solution: Austerity (i.e., De Facto Classicide)

A troubling problem that refuses to go away: what to do with our growing “surplus-population” (to paraphrase Scrooge by way of Malthus)? That is to say: in our 21st century post-industrial economy, tens of millions of people—i.e., human beings, right?—now have little or no “market-value.” Two factors are primarily responsible: hi-tech automation and offshoring (capital flight, “race to the bottom”). Their job-skills—such as they were—are now overpriced, redundant, outmoded, superannuated. They can neither be exploited as productive (but underpaid) workers nor as affluent (well-paid) consumers. They are idle, discontented, restless—and are liable to sudden spasms of rage and social unrest.

What to do? We’re talking of, say, up to 20% of the people living in the U.S. Within the ideological prism of late-capitalism—in which individual “worth” is reduced entirely to “market-value”—they’re “worthless.” (Remember: “there is no [civil] society”– Margaret Thatcher.) You can’t just… kill them—although that would be the easiest, most-efficient and cost-effective way of disposing of the problem. The elite 1% (or should we say, one-tenth of 1%) may still enjoy limited-liability for the crimes and reckless actions of the thousands of profit-squeezing machines they rely on, which we call Corporations. Still: there remains a residual, normative/legal constraint against premeditated murder. (The unmentionable if glaring exception: bombing and burning thousands of innocent people in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.)

So, I ask once again: what to do? In the U.S. alone, structural unemployment (plus part-time “under-employment”) equal close to 20%. And according to new UNICEF statistics, 23% of children in the U.S. are now living in poverty.

One approach often works, a variety of the “shock doctrine.” To paraphrase: “In these times of financial uncertainty—or rather, crisis!–we simply can no longer ‘afford’ to help all these people. After all, no one should simply be ‘entitled’ to low-cost, government-subsidized services like basic medical care or (substandard) housing.”

In a word: Austerity. When these people are “down,” a swift kick will make them “out.” How so? Out of desperation, they will steal a loaf of bread (figuratively speaking); and this army of Jean Valjeans can then at least fill some profit-making function—longterm “guests” in the expanding hostelries of PrisonsUSA (LLC). But despair and hopelessness can also simply make a lot of these people “go away” in another way—into self-destructive (and eventually) fatal alcoholism, drug abuse, shootings, “accidents.” You see–adopting a valuable military metaphor–you’ve attacked the poor and the useless; now, put them under a “siege” called austerity.

This is simply business: maximizing profit, the bottom-line. These people are “worthless,” right? But they’re an irritant, an annoyance, and we want to “get rid of them.” Do you get my drift? So get to work on it. There are many, many historical precedents to study for your strategy and planning.

Intellectual historian and psychoanalytic anthropologist, William Manson (Ph.D., Columbia) has published numerous scholarly books and papers, and is a longtime contributor to Dissident Voice. Read other articles by William.