Breaking up the U.S.

Robin’s Book Report #59
A reading list by Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein

-reading list: trolls, mobile retirees, and the meritocracy

Trolling and Taboo

A coup d’état in the collective unconscious

Nausicaa Renner (n+1)

An essay about the author’s Trump-loving father, an internet troll.

Her conclusion seems like the rightest thing written about the alt-right, which is that, “the trolls couldn’t face the fact that power was on their side

Merit Schmerit

No child grows up wanting to be a management consultant

by Malcolm Harris (Bookforum)


The Fall of the Meritocracy

Ultra-educated, highly paid, overworked elites are not partners in the struggle to reform an unequal system.

By Sarah Leonard (The New Republic)

Two good critical reviews of a book that speciously argues that the wealthy super-achievers are just as oppressed by the requirement of modern-day work. They have to work 80-hour weeks! Unfortunately, while hedge-funders, lawyers, and financiers work a ton, they are over-compensated for their work, and therein lies the problem.

Meet the CamperForce, Amazon’s Nomadic Retiree Army

Inside the grueling, rootless lives of the RV dwellers who are spending their golden years working in the e-tail behemoth’s warehouses.

By Jessica Bruder (Wired)

Retirees are roaming the country in RVs, which seems like a contemporary manifestation of what Marx called the “industrial reserve army.” Maybe we’d call this the retiree reserve army, highly mobile and economically precarious enough to dilute local workforces:

Since it began, Camper­Force has enabled Amazon to fill thousands of seasonal warehouse positions. The company is notoriously tight-lipped, but when I asked a Camper­Force recruiter in Arizona about the size of the program, she estimated that it encompassed some 2,000 workers. That was back in 2014. And newer anecdotal reports suggest the demand for Camper­Force jobs has continued to grow. “We can really look back at the last couple years and see how applications have come in earlier and more often,” said Calmes, the Camper­Force representative, during a recruiting seminar in May. “Response this year has been just really overwhelming.””
Hurrah for the Time Man!

The labor historians of the 1960s were born into the culture of unity forged in the working-class movement’s classical phase, between 1890 and 1945. In one form or another, they told the story of this era, not realizing how radically it might come undone.

by Gabriel Winant (Dissent)

Could labor history be making a comeback? It may have waned in the last handful of decades––possibly because many thought class politics was over––but recent history suggests it is once again relevant:

If the end of industrial employment [in the 1970s] and the collapse of the social democratic state mean that the hour of the proletariat has passed, then we should expect labor history to be exhausted as a field of inquiry—and we might also have to give up looking for points around which exploited people might build power collectively. If, on the other hand, the working class is constantly undergoing recomposition and taking new and heterogeneous forms, then it makes little sense to equate the defeat of the New Deal with the end of class politics.

Important to consider how labor history could be improved in its resurgence:

While many figures in labor history had also played important roles within African-American history, even slavery had not fallen within the field’s self-assigned historical territory—a quite astonishing fact given that slavery was, of course, a labor regime.

Crash Course

How Boeing’s Managerial Revolution Created the 737 Max Disaster

By Maureen Tkacik (The New Republic)

One of the best articles I have read this year. From the intro:

A long and proud “safety culture” was rapidly being replaced, he argued, with “a culture of financial bullshit, a culture of groupthink.

Examining the media fall-out after the pair of 737 MAX crashes:

What had been a tidy fable about good and greed, up there with OxyContin and the Ford Pinto, one of the simplest ever told about the perils of following orders from investor-managers, was gradually dissolving into incoherence and uncertainty.

Neoliberalism is often victim blaming––for debt, drug use, unemployment, failure to launch, wages, sexism, racism, lost opportunities––this is really just an extreme case. Who could be more easily blamed other than the individual pilots in the cockpit? But it was systematic moves by private equity to cut costs at the expense of safety, to extract as money cash out of Boeing as theoretically possible.

So Boeing skimped on the design for the 737 MAX and came up with a faulty fix to compensate. Its like designing a child’s toy that easily catches fire and instead of scrapping the toy, producers just loaded it with a highly carcinogenic fire retardants.

The Wealth Detective Who Finds the Hidden Money of the Super Rich

Thirty-two-year-old French economist Gabriel Zucman scours spreadsheets to find secret offshore accounts.

By Ben Steverman (Bloomberg)

Profile of Zucman, who has a book coming out that I am excited to read:

The actual effect of lower taxes on the rich, he argues, isn’t to stimulate the economy but to further enrich the rich and further incentivize greed. In his analysis, when the wealthy get tax breaks, they focus less on reinvesting in businesses and more on hiring lobbyists, making campaign donations, and pursuing acquisitions that eliminate competitors.
In order to understand the brutality of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation.

By Matthew Desmond    (The New York Times)

I used to think that slavery in the United States was a remnant of fuedal times. But this isn’t accurate. Plantations kept rigorous financial records, tracked output carefully, and traded assets like any contemporary business would. Brutality wasn’t just the result of racial animus, but the urgent need to quickly create commodity markets in a fledgling economy. Brutality was the shortest most cost efficient path. Same goes, to a less physically violent degree, for Uber. Only the exploitation of struggling workers could have made their business possible. It’s hard to imagine tremendous growth without some kind of violence.
Political Confessional: The Man Who Thinks The U.S. Is Better Off As A Bunch Of Separate Countries

By Clare Malone (538)

I kind of agree?
A Shared Place

Wendell Berry’s lifelong dissent.

By Jedediah Britton-Purdy

Great review of Wendell Berry’s work. Important time to reflect on Berry’s radical politics, politics that don’t totally square with any particular movement, except maybe agrarian populism of the late 19th century.

I loved the line where Britton-Purdy observes that “a contrarian is least essential when his dogged dissent becomes an era’s lazy common sense.”

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