Last week I inquired of myself:
Could it be because we have newspapers that represent people in terms of their consumption patterns, rather than in terms of what they face as workers?
Today, in the Irish Times, an evaluation of the effects of recession on shopping habits:
TV fashion dictator Gok Wan and his slashing scissors will have nothing on the effect of the wallets vandalised by developments such as Bord Gáis’s 20 per cent price increase.
And that might be no bad thing. A bit of stripping down, back-to-basics, a lessening of the accumulation of the unnecessary, would be purgative and purifying.
Tell you what, why don’t you volunteer to go on the dole for a year or so? That might be purgative and purifying too.
Losing access to what one considers a normal level of consumption can be a wrenching experience for the entire family. Social pressures suggest that workers should also create their identity around consumption. Children and spouses suffer embarrassment when they are unable to afford the kind of consumption befitting their earlier station in life.
Status in a market society is often bound up with employment. “Hello. Glad to meet you. What do you do?” Not surprisingly, unemployment takes a heavy toll on people’s psyche. In fact, being unemployed is more stressful than divorce or marital separation (Clark and Oswald 1994, p. 658). People can get over the pain of divorce or separation, but the psychological toll of unemployment lingers.
Psychologists have found that people who have lost a limb are naturally unhappy about their condition, but after a while they return to their previous level of happiness. Richard Layard, a highly respected British economist who recently turned to the subject of happiness, observed:
‘So unemployment is a very special problem. Moreover, it hurts as much after one or two years of unemployment as it does at the beginning. In that sense you do not habituate to it (though it hurts less if other people are out of work too). And even when you are back at work, you still feel its effects as a psychological scar. [Layard 2005, p. 67]’
Psychologists also know that dread anticipatory fear of a likely experience can be even worse than the event itself. So long as workers feel the dread of unemployment, the extent of unemployment necessary to make workers compliant will be less.
And also, a comment on Democracy Now! the other day. The comments are about the US, but are equally applicable here:
A second thing, I think the nation, by and large, hasn’t paid enough respect to workers as workers. You know, all the attention is about, you know, the Bill Gateses, the Warren Buffetts, the A-Rods, the Paris Hiltons, and not enough about workers. I think workers, in many ways, have become invisible as workers. They’re seen as Bud drinkers or Oprah watchers, but they’re not really seen as workers who, you know, bust their derrieres day in and day out, you know, making the trains run on time, you know, cleaning hotel rooms. And I think if the news media or if politicians really started paying more attention, more respect to workers, that might discourage corporations’ CEOs from squeezing their workers so much.
That’s from Steven Greenhouse, labor reporter for the New York Times. Fat chance of that happening here.