The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age
    cmaukonen's picture

    This may seem like an odd blog for the current economic situation.....

    But I think it may have some baring on it. Came across this article
    in the Guardian and began to think about it some.

    The truth is that you're probably right to hate being back
    in harness. It's not just that, from here, the days get
    wetter and shorter, that there are no more bank holidays
    till Christmas or that sacrificing the surplus value of your
    labour to The Man is really no fun (although that last point
    alone surely justifies more than one sharp kick to the
    office LaserJet). Those are all-important, but something
    more specific is going on. Our jobs are getting worse.

    It used to be easy to divvy up the labour market: there were
    the McJobs, and the rest. The task of politicians was to
    keep the number of tedious, routine occupations down, and to
    enable as many good jobs to be created as possible. Except
    that the reverse appears to be happening. More and more
    prized careers are becoming McDonaldised - more routine,
    less skilled, and with the workers subject to greater
    control from above.

    Take supermarkets. Jobs there could traditionally be split
    between the unskilled, low-paid drudgery of stacking shelves
    and sitting on tills - and the trained butchers and
    fishmongers and store managers. But when the sociologist
    Irena Grugulis and a team of researchers recently studied
    two of Britain's largest supermarket chains, even the
    managers reported that they had little room for manoeuvre.

    A trained butcher revealed that most meats were now sliced
    and packaged before they arrived in store; bakers in smaller
    shops now just reheated frozen loaves. In their paper,
    published this summer, Grugulis and her colleagues note that
    "almost every aspect of work for every kind of employee,
    from shopfloor worker . . . to the general store manager,
    was set out, standardised and occasionally scripted by the
    experts at head office". Or, as one senior manager put it:
    "Every little thing is monitored so there is no place to

    And all this was enabled by technology. The modern
    supermarket - with its electronic scanning and inventory
    controls and price reductions decided by a software program
    run out of head office - is probably more hi-tech than any
    web-design firm. The result is that the man or woman in
    charge of your typical supermarket (or other chain shop) now
    has little to do with the selling or arrangement of goods:
    nowadays they concentrate on driving their staff to meet the
    targets set by head office. Their job is not so much
    retail-management as rowing cox.


    And this is not just happening to the traditional skilled jobs but to
    a lot of high tech works as well. I posted a while ago how engineers
    had to not only know how to design but also had to be able to
    build the prototypes of what they designed. They had to be
    craftsmen as well. Now most (if not all) of this is done on computer.
    In fact even engineers have less leeway in what they design and
    how the design it as most of this work is not finding the chips
    and appropriate packaging. The computer even dose the electronics
    necessary and spits out a board design which is then shipped
    to a board house that makes the board by computer and sends it back.

    I was a systems programmer for may years on IBM mainframe computers.
    I had to be able to program in IBM machine language as well as a number
    of higher level languages. These days I do little of this and am probably
    one of the few left at my place of employment that can still program in C.
    Nearly everything else is done on packaged applications where you simply
    adjust the configuration to suite your needs.

    And most of the jobs in the future will consist of even less skilled occupations
    than the ones mentioned in the above article. And I do not see this as a good



    Thanks for the post, cmaukonen. Dumbing down programming has long been the dream of the software industry. Remember the ill-fated case tools of the 90s? To an extent, I suppose that they have finally succeeded, but I think that the result has just been an expansion of the industry. There are plenty of McCoders out there, but there are still plenty of difficult tasks that resist automation. Some Google guys are even trying to reinvent C with the new Go language.

    As to the bigger picture, I agree with article's point, but this is hardly a new phenomon. Crafts have been gradually transforming into mechanized labor for two centuries. Such changes inspired Marx's theory of the alienation of labor, for example. The change comes with costs and benefits, but short of a Marxist revolution, I think it's largely unavoidable.

    Well I do not see a Maxist type revolution any time soon Genghis. Such things generally only ocure after generations of social and econmoic oppression. A blog on another site suggested class warfare and that generally does not happen until generaions of social and economic oppression.

    In other words not unitl after we are long dead and buried.

    Power to the people.Wink



    Welcome, Mr. maukonen. You'll want to edit your headline to read "AN odd blog."

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