Populism, the Future of Jobs and the UBI

An automated bartender pours your beer at Narita airport, Japan

Here is how populism works, in Ian Buruma’s crisp description: “Resentment feeds off a sense of humiliation, a loss of pride. In a society where human worth is measured by individual success, symbolized by celebrity and money, it is easy to feel humiliated by a relative lack of it, of being just another face in the crowd. In extreme cases, desperate individuals will assassinate a president or a rock star just to get into the news. Populists find support among those resentful faces in the crowd, people who feel that elites have betrayed them, by taking away their sense of pride in their class, their culture, or their race.”

“This has not happened in Japan yet,” he says, where “self-worth is defined less by individual fame or wealth than by having a place in a collective enterprise, and doing the job one is assigned as well as one can.”

For example, “People in department stores seem to take genuine pride in wrapping merchandise beautifully. Some jobs – think of those uniformed middle-aged men who smile and bow at customers entering a bank – appear to be entirely superfluous. It would be naive to assume that these tasks give huge satisfaction, but they offer people a sense of place, a role in society, however humble.”

This is one reason Japan has skirted some of the problems of neo-liberalism, he thinks, along with some other less savory reasons like “corporate interests, bureaucratic privileges, and pork-barrel politics….”

Removing any sense of community in the name of efficiency, Buruma believes, has been the road to neo-lib perdition. (His example: “Thatcherism has probably made the British economy more efficient … by crushing trade unions and other established institutions of working-class culture.”)

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Buruma ties populism (in Japan, at least) to job satisfaction, and while debate over populism rages everywhere on the internet these days, talk about jobs seems to come (as it ever was) mostly from the left. What once was a debate centered narrowly on the loss of jobs due to automation has now opened up to include the very future of work. It’s a subject that has caught my imagination. I’ve compiled a list of relevant articles and websites below the fold, in case you’re interested.

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January Weekend Reading

A review of my Instapaper saves this week turns up these worthwhile articles from the web, best enjoyed inside and cozy, as in this photo of Grindelwald and Mt. Eiger at night. Enjoy these, and have a lovely weekend.

How to Remember a King by Antonia Colibasanu at Real Clear World
The Rhyme of History by Margaret Macmillan at Brookings.edu
Why humans need to rethink their place in the animal kingdom by Simon Barnes at the New Statesman
What really happened to Joshua Boyle and his family by Adnan R. Khan in Macleans
Why did New York’s JFK Struggle to Cope With its Flight Backlog? by Jason Rabinowitz at thepointsguy.com

Quotes: At the New Year

Swedish author Henning Mankell’s settling of accounts, a book called Quicksand, was his written reckoning with a cancer diagnosis. He ranged widely, and lamented that not many of us are remembered for long. His example:

Construction of the Great Wall lasted 1800 years.

“If you think of the work being handed down from father to son that means there were over sixty generations who never saw the end of the work they and their forefathers had been engaged on.”

This makes me less apt to stand in an overnight queue for iPhone version x.xxx.

Cheers, and may 2018 treat us all well.

Turkey, History, Clarity

In front of the fire and across the valley from a wall of snow (previous post), it’s a natural time to do some reading. It’s harder than ever to keep up with everything that needs to be read. The other day I put up a list of recommended reading including  The Dawn Watch, but just now I’m still working through last week’s recommendation of Suzy Hansen’s Notes on a Foreign Country, a memoir of her time in Istanbul.

Ataturk’s trick, she proposes (I think without sarcasm), is to have been “the man who had saved (the Turks) from Western rapaciousness, Islamic torpor, even death itself.” And so, she implies, the Kemalists had the legitimacy to rule the country for the next decades. 

This single sentence has the clarity, all in one go, to explain the breadth of Ataturk’s appeal to a nascent Turkey. Pure, concise, commendable writing. Cheers, Ms. Hansen.