236,000 jobs were added in February. Now, while this sounds like “good news,” let’s not get too excited too quickly. Even if these numbers hold up and even if this rate of job growth continued every month for the foreseeable future, it would still be many years before unemployment is at levels sufficient to return the majority of discouraged workers back to the labor market. Beyond that improbable outcome, still many many more additional jobs would be necessary to provide full time employment to all the part-time workers who would like it. Reaching such a goal would take nothing less than an act of God (which is to say a completely new set of political priorities, if not political parties). And even assuming that such a goal is reached thanks to divine intervention, it would take yet another series of acts of intelligent and sustained political will before more or less all workers were employed at the highest level for which they are qualified.
I know I probably sound like a curmudgeonly curmudgeon in the face of the rather rare occurrence of hearing what can be construed as “good news” with respect to the economy but sorry… I gotsta keep it real. More than raining on anyone’s parade, I want to ask the deeper question concerning why it is that now, of all moments, when our politicians of both persuasions have at long last led us to austerity (which, we know, unquestionably, will decelerate the economy) is the private sector finally hiring? If they haven’t been hiring until this point, it is most certainly NOT because they haven’t had the capital on hand. If you’re a bank, as opposed to a citizen or a business, the FED spigot of near zero-interest loans has been wide open for years. So why might it be that banks are finally starting to invest some of their (for all intents and purposes infinite) capital in places where it actually leads to hiring workers? Who the hell wants to spend money on hiring workers when you can make a lot more money (at least in the short run, which for capital is the only consideration there is) simply making a bunch of debt bets? Indeed, that has been the banks’ heavily preferred strategy for the past 4 years. Why change now (if indeed they are in fact changing–i.e., if this month’s numbers aren’t simply a fluke)?
This is highly, highly speculative, to the point that I can only even offer such a thought in the form of a What If question (as, at this point, there is not yet sufficient data to attempt to falsify such a speculation). These warnings aside, here it goes: What if capital itself is attempting to offset the effects of government imposed austerity (in the immediate form of the spending cuts and tax raises from sequestration and in who knows what form to follow)? Such a possibility suggests that a significant amount of the total supply of private capital is now concentrated in such a few number of hands that, apart from the actions of the state (upon which, of course, these actors parasitically depend), private actors themselves can attempt to regulate not just how they adapt to the business cycle, but the business cycle itself. If the corporations (at the dispensation of the banks) institute countercyclical spending when the state can no longer do so (above all because of the influence of corporations in making continued govt spending politically infeasible) is there any longer a meaningful distinction between corporations and the government? It would seem that, if capital attempts, albeit in its own niggardly way, to bail us out because it knows that unless it does so we will not have any money to pay its bills down the road, then for all intents and purposes capital is the state. Regardless of the intentions of such a course of action, whether the private investments that created job growth are a conscious attempt to head off the otherwise impending downturn brought on by austerity or, more simply, if our corporate masters are rewarding us for swallowing the bitter pill of austerity that they thrust upon us so that we may pay still more for their sins, it does indeed suggest that not only do corporations run our government but they are also prepared to act in a coordinated fashion as if they are the government.