HIGNFY on OCW

Panelists on the BBC comedy quiz show Have I Got News For You trade jibes about the OCW movement in London.

Great line by Ian Hislop responding to the silly right-wing trope that protesters patronizing Starbucks are hypocrites: “You don’t have to want to return to a barter system and the Stone Age to complain about the way the financial crisis affected large numbers of people in the world.”

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10 Comments

Filed under Humour, Protests

10 responses to “HIGNFY on OCW

  1. jkg

    I saw this too, and I thought this was a brilliant deconstruction of this trope. The problem is that it is becoming very widespread. People who told me that the difficulties in getting a job can be partly attributed to systemic issues as opposed to just blaming it all on the individual are now lapping up this latest installment from PJTV. I see it everywhere:

    Thankfully, I now have Hislop’s video (who is hardly a anarcho-syndicalist) as means of a response. Ironically, the title is misleading, but it serves as a good trap!

  2. jkg

    Ah shucks, Red, I thought the embed would work. Ah well, just follow the link. You will see he repeats that exact same trope just in more sophisticated language.

  3. JKG: Thanks for the vid. I fixed your link so it’s now embedded.

    Holy shit! Did you notice that video has 1.8 million hits?

    Whittle’s “asymptotic” diagnosis of the OCW movement seems more concerned with demolishing the legitimacy of the messengers than addressing the actual nature of their grievances.

    Some of his criticisms of the protesters may indeed be valid, but they’re entirely beside the point.

  4. jkg

    Holy shit! Did you notice that video has 1.8 million hits

    I know that is the worrisome part, but given that PJtv is an unabashed vanguard of entrenched neoconservatism, it doesn’t strike me as too surprising because I bet all those disgruntled Tea Party Protestors were trying to find a more veiled, high-minded way to saying the OWS movement were all just “lazy.”

    Whittle’s “asymptotic” diagnosis of the OCW movement seems more concerned with demolishing the legitimacy of the messengers than addressing the actual nature of their grievances.

    It is pretty condescending. He assumes that they wasted so much money on a bad education while the rest of it is just armchair psychology. If it is true that the self-esteem movement gave rise to these protestors (ignoring that there are many other people from other age groups), then what would he make of the vast array of unemployed boomers who decided to spear head local Tea Part Organizations that blame government for everything under the sun? I mean, according, to his glib, Randian boilerplate, it was their fault they wasted their money on buying overpriced houses and investing in the wrong career. Somehow, I doubt he would be equally critical.

    And that is not even touching on the mind-numbing stupidity of his ‘asymptote’ premise. If it is true that prosperity is nearing an asymptote, that would mean that the magnitude of effort would result in a fraction of marginal increase in standard of living compared to previous points in time. Thus, by his own mathematically challenged logic, it would mean that it would take greater resources and debt just to avoid long time erosion of a standard of living, but given the evidence of wage stagnation and income inequality, this condition is only suffered by the middle and lower classes because due to financial greed, malfeasance, and dubious practices, higher earning financiers were still able to maintain a rate of return that was enjoyed during the supposed, previous expansionary periods. In other words, by his own description, he inadvertently makes the case of why people are protesting because the results of efforts of getting a degree and getting a job to survive are being eroded.

    Moreover, his own model contradicts his ideology. If we are approaching an asymptote, it would mean that supply side economics and cutting taxes would eventually become a system of diminished returns. If so, it would mean that relying solely on market fundamentalism to spur social and economic growth would become a case of greater inputs for lesser gains. Thus, it becomes a largely inefficient system because if the desire is to continue growth, there is no way a market equilibrium can be attained, especially since encroaching the asymptote would further render any equilibrium point unstable as economic actors would try, through any means such as amassing vast resources or quasi-monopolies, to get a greater share of the dwindling economic surplus. People like Whittle scoff at zero-growth economies, yet here they are improperly using a mathematical property as a means of discrediting everyone but themselves. If he is admitting there is an upper limit and we are near it, it would follow then that any ‘productive individuality form free enterprise’ is not going to overcome the systemic constraints of the socio-economic system. That is why usually, market fundamentalists assume continuous, limitless growth.

    His whole rant is just one big strawman. There are many hardened people who worked crap jobs just to exit post-secondary with fewer debts. I am sure there are farmers and workers sympathize with OWS. He sounds like he just recycled rhetoric from the sixties. It is pretty rich for somebody like Whittle who, by the consequence of his wooly thinking, grew up in a time in which there was rapid economic change to finger wag at those below him who have to contend with greater obstacles for maintaining or increasing standard of living.

  5. JKG: That was a pretty devastating and exhaustive critique of Whittle’s rant from a macroeconomic standpoint. Nice going!

    …I bet all those disgruntled Tea Party Protestors were trying to find a more veiled, high-minded way to saying the OWS movement were all just “lazy.”

    Most of the conservative media have been quite forthright in asserting as much. You know, when not describing them as filthy, smelly, pot-smoking rapists.

    He assumes that they wasted so much money on a bad education…

    In some cases, that may be true. Bill Maher on one of his last shows of the season made some scathing remarks about OCW that wouldn’t have been out of line with some what Whittle, et. al. have said about student loans and how the educational system is turning out a generation of people schooled in “film studies” and other such presumably frivolous academic endevours. Perhaps they have a point here – not that I should talk, having gone to Art School…

    Apparently there are many jobs going unfilled these days because of a lack of qualified applicants which would seem to support the argument of there being a growing “skills gap” of some kind resulting from misapplied education At least that’s the story frequently peddled in the corporate media. I wonder about the veracity of this however…One only needs to scan job advertisements to marvel at the extensive qualifications and prodigious accomplishments they demand as minimum requirements to realize that they present almost impossible, completely self-defeating barriers to entry. Heck, when I blindly applied off the street for my first job in a brokerage office 30 years ago, the only question they asked me was “Can you type?” LOL

    If it is true that the self-esteem movement gave rise to these protestors (ignoring that there are many other people from other age groups), then what would he make of the vast array of unemployed boomers who decided to spearhead local Tea Party Organizations that blame government for everything under the sun?

    I suspect that there are just as many self-esteem based “entitlement” issues amongst Tea Party supporters as there may be amongst the precious “snowflakes” of the OCW movement. In many respects they’re just two sides of the same coin. Curiously, both seem to be yearning for a prosperous middle-class fantasy and blame nefarious forces of evil (whether it be the greedy transnational corporations and banks on the one hand or the bloated, thieving government on the other) for thwarting their aspirational dreams.

    There are many hardened people who worked crap jobs just to exit post-secondary with fewer debts.

    Well, let’s face the fact that MOST jobs are of the “crap” variety. Somehow, this inconvenient truth as gotten lost in all the talk about the overall loss of jobs in the economy. Seems these days we’ve romanticized the notion of “jobs” or at least made it kind of iconic, while forgetting that the overwhelming majority of them are just horrible and completely suck.

    It is pretty rich for somebody like Whittle who, by the consequence of his wooly thinking, grew up in a time in which there was rapid economic change to finger wag at those below him who have to contend with greater obstacles for maintaining or increasing standard of living.

    There is a generational disconnect here between those individuals who successfully embedded themselves into the establishment and those following in their tracks now encountering a different reality.

  6. harebell

    His exponential curve turning into an asymptote really freaked me out I’m trying to figure out how that may happen given that an exponential curve tends away from the direction required. The fact that both graphs had no axis labels is also usually a warning sign that something iffy is about to be pulled. It was an attempt by a talking head to sound sciency, I saw an altie do that in a presentation on how woo can help you beat cancer etc.

    But like you too, I wondered, well if we are at the asymptote then the present way of doing stuff must be finished cos the only way is down. So why is the grey haired guy insisting that nobody, let alone the young try and change things? I would have thought that on arriving at a cessation in success the last thing we should encourage folk to do is conform to the status quo.

  7. jkg

    Bill Maher on one of his last shows of the season made some scathing remarks about OCW that wouldn’t have been out of line with some what Whittle, et. al. have said about student loans and how the educational system is turning out a generation of people schooled in “film studies” and other such presumably frivolous academic endevours.

    I do not deny that there is some truth to that, but I find it is sort of case of hindsight bias. Most jobs require some level of ‘soft skills’ ability to write and communicate. I hate to paraphrase from a commencement speech from the low-life Tucker Max (if you google him you will know why), but he made a very good point about how overreaching it is to conclude immediately that getting a B.A. is completely worthless. Most entry level jobs at companies require some level of writing and creative skill, and given the vast array of different sectors in the economy, those skills are better suited in terms of flexibility. Besides, the enrollment in the sciences and technical studies have been increasing, and ironically, despite all the talk about how secure to take that route is, the greatest shortfall is that the science and technical graduates have a profound inability to write and communicate properly. Granted, their skills are valuable, but they are limited to the particular branch of sciences or technical education to which they studied. Strangely, if you have spoken to some ‘fellows’ of the Cato or Mises Institute, they have a paradoxical criticism for people wanting to pursue graduate education even if it is in the sciences or finance because specialization plus the glut of graduate educated people would hamper ones own flexibility of adapting to the market This brings me to the crux of my point:

    Apparently there are many jobs going unfilled these days because of a lack of qualified applicants which would seem to support the argument of there being a growing “skills gap”…I wonder about the veracity of this however”

    Therein lies the hindsight bias. It is easy to look back and declare that it was simply a matter of disconnect between the skills developed versus what the labor market demanded. The common mantra is to demand a worker to be flexible, respond to labor market trends, and acquire the skills necessary. The problem, I find, is that employment is a lagging indicator of the economy, and thus, as an economic actor, it is silly to think that one can accurately predict labor market trends as means of securing high value for their skills. Remember the nineties on how computer science was the way to go? Then, the dot.com bubble burst, and you had a plethora of highly trained software engineers out on the street and having been reduced to just doing entry IT work. I find the “skills gap” to be largely self-fulfilling: Employers demand a far more restricted set of skills and are unwilling to allow entry level workers the chance to develop professionally any outstanding skills, yet they will go to symposiums chanting about ‘labor fluidity’ and ‘flexibility.’ Right now, all I hear is about trades and trades. This rhetoric reminds me so much of the hype about computer science in the nineties that there will be a trades bubble coming up in the future. When that washes out, well, it will be another case of “skills gap” as some other sector will pop up crying about not having enough workers.

    That is the ironic thing about the “skills gap”: Variation will always disrupt directional moves towards specialization and wash out any hyper-specialists. This is true in ecology as it is in labor market dynamics. The silliness of wanting a frivolous degree like some of those Film Studies people is matched only by the contradictory nature of employers demanding specialization while demanding that workers in the labor market respond to variation. The response to variation isn’t specialization, it is developing transferable and generalized set of skills. One cannot have their cake and eat it too, then complain they were not fed dessert.

    I think the difference between Whittle and Maher is that Maher takes a mixed view in that it is both an individual and systemic issue of post-secondary education in which after being informed since birth-I will note that this was invoked across ideological spectra- that the only way to succeed is to get a post-secondary education and get a ‘degree’ for some skills. Post-secondary institutions have catered to this mindset by claiming they offer skills but also laughably convincing them that such education is more than that. While I agree education should be more than vocational or technical indoctrination, post-secondary institutions have largely failed on both those counts. It is only in recent history that they are actually setting up co-op programs and adjusting their curricula to provide a valuable education while ensuring some benchmark skills are met. One only has to take a look at the predatory nature of those lower tier, privately run colleges who would pull almost every trick in the book just to get more bodies in the lecture halls rather than caring about whether or not their students are employable.

    Whittle on the other hand, who ironically values messy, individual creativity as a cornerstone of free enterprise, just paints them with a broad brush and assumes they are failures because they disagree with his politics.

    In many respects they’re just two sides of the same coin

    That points to your generational disconnect comment following that statement, Red. Whittle’s generation have been setting the rules and supposed wisdom for how to participate in society. He may be on the Neoconservative or libertarian side of it, but the social prescription is still there, and all the way through, these social prescriptions always demand better in hopes of freeing oneself from whatever shackles by the ‘other.’ The difference is focus. For people like Whittle or Adbusters for that matter; they do not want to lose the privilege of setting the parameters. The only thing that separates OWS and The Tea Party at this point is that The Tea Party was more about entryism than about acting as a moral pressure. The demand for OWS to narrow their focus and message will ultimately mean any new alternatives outside of usual Progressive paradigms be cut out. In a strange way, Whittle’s condemnation and the tightening of OWS’ message accomplish the same end: Quashing any potential for the lower generations to demand a new paradigm, especially in the face of changing soci-economic climate; those new ideas will ultimately be lost.

    Seems these days we’ve romanticized the notion of “jobs” or at least made it kind of iconic, while forgetting that the overwhelming majority of them are just horrible and completely suck.

    That romanticizing is more a trick in discourse than anything. Making the assumption that the OWS protestors ”never had a job” or to “get a job” is a cop out. By overly romanticizing the “jobs” that are out there, it hyper inflates the judgement of one’s social worth by using nothing more than the measure of just simply being employed. It works both ways though: Appealing to the terrible state of the economy as a way of telling someone to be happy they have a job romanticizes the possession of a job regardless of how terrible it is. Of course, it serves also as way of resolving cognitive dissonances as well: The results of this terrible and exhausting work are principally ‘good’ otherwise I would not be doing all this for nothing. It is related closely to the “Sunken Cost Fallacy.” In either scenario, it now becomes the quarter of the undeserving selfish to demand better, but hey, weren’t ego-centrism and selfishness the cornerstones of the free market economy? I sometimes get dizzy on these wide oscillations.

    Sorry for the length, Red. I was not so much ranting as wanting to flesh out some of the ideas you put forward. Hope you don’t mind.

  8. jkg

    Oops, messed up the italics tag there, as well. My apologies.

  9. JKG: While it is funny to laugh at some of the absurd academic endevours people pursue in the name of “higher education” it’s somewhat beside the point. The most important skills in the workplace aren’t necessarily those related to proficiency in a particular field of highly specified knowledge, but rather, the ability to exercise critical thinking in practice, articulate their thoughts and communicate them effectively. Often, the most brilliant technical people are completely hopeless in this regard. Funnily enough, in my own experience, I always found that hires with qualifications completely unrelated to business studies were the most amenable and intellectually flexible individuals that adapted best to our requirements.

    It must be a confounding situation for kids these days when determining what field of study to pursue given the changing nature of the labour market. And you’re absolutely right about the drive to hyper-specialization often being a fool’s errand. Medicine seems to be the field where the smart money should go… at least for the next 20 years or so.

    As for talk of a “new paradigm” of some sort emerging… Well, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that. Actually, I find it kind of funny that many of the OCW and Tea Party protesters share a nostalgic “Back to the Future” sentiment of wanting to turn the clock back to a time of middle-class prosperity circa 1950-60s that many of the baby-boomers despised when they were growing up in it and a lot of today’s youth would have regarded with ironic contempt were it not for the fact that the alternative reality ahead of them is scary and unpredictable.

  10. Craig Chamberlain

    Still have to say it’s a contradiction to financially support a multi-national corp that pays crummy wages (while charging inflated prices to its consumers), while camping in the cold in protest of the same.

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