Sisyphus Had it Easy

sisyphus Except in boom phases, the economic terms of capitalism always get worse for commoners.  (We won’t think about ecology for now.)

This is most true in recessions, when capitalists redouble their efforts to expand their gross profit margins.

And, voilá — today’s New York Times reports as follows:

The broadest measure of the overall economy grew at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.2 percent in the first quarter of 2010, after gains of 5.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 and 2.2 percent in the third quarter.

While the expansion in output was welcome, it still has not brought the level of hiring growth needed to recover ground lost during the recession.

But as the unemployment rate has hovered around 10 percent for the last eight months — most recently it was 9.7 percent in March — concern about the job situation has persisted.

Even though any pickup in business is welcome, modest improvement may not be enough to ease the lasting pain caused by the so-called Great Recession, many economists say.

Consumer spending grew at an annual rate of 3.6 percent in the first part of the year.

Hiring only recently began to materialize, with the economy adding 162,000 jobs on net in March, of which 48,000 were temporary Census-related positions. The economy had destroyed about eight million jobs since the recession began in December 2007.

In standard NYT procedure, the overall tone of the story is one of mystified concern, with lead and conclusion both conveying muddled non-interpretations.  As usual, the actual explanation is there, but buried in a single, hurried mid-story paragraph:

Businesses have found ways to make more with fewer resources, meaning that they have been able so far to meet additional demand for their products without bringing on many new workers. Companies are also sitting on a tremendous amount of cash, economists say, and appear unwilling to spend it.

In economic terms, what’s happened is that, in these lean times, our “entrepreneurial” overclass has indeed “found ways” to boost productivity, which is the amount of GDP produced per hour by the U.S. workforce.

In fact, according a recent estimate published by The Conference Board, in 2009, U.S. productivity grew by 2.5 percent in 2009, while overall GDP fell by 2.5 percent.  Hence, the overclass was able to produce 2.5 percent less wealth while paying for 5.1 percent fewer hours of labor.

What this means is that there is not going to be any serious job growth unless the economy grows faster than 5 percent (the point these days at which labor demand would start overtaking capitalists’ ability to produce more with fewer employees) for a sustained period.

From a working class perspective, this means that, every year, as capital become more labor-efficient, the size of the boom it would take to bring back decent times for workers gets bigger, and hence, less likely.

(What all that means for the planet’s ecospheres is an equally important and damning topic.)

That’s the facts, Jack.