Working class living standards

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Fall Back's picture
Fall Back
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Sep 28 2006 14:02
Working class living standards

Have the living standards of the working class really fallen over the past 30 years?

Is the 'average person' better or worse off than they would have been in the 70s or 80s? What about for those towards the bottom of the pile?

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madashell
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Sep 28 2006 14:08

Entirely depends on how you measure it. It's increasingly difficult to get benefits, what with the Welfare Reform Act and all. More people are working casual jobs, IIRC.

On the other hand, you have a greater availability of consumer goods, but this ties into the culture of debt, which is itself a form of social control as well as trapping people in crap jobs (can't miss a Direct Debit payment, so you can't risk being jobless even for a short period of time, got to pay credit cards, etc.)

Ishmeal Bush
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Sep 28 2006 21:12

I can only speak for the area where I live (an ex-mining village nr Doncaster that falls into the poorest 10% of communities in the UK), but it seems that living standards have definitely not improved. Whereas the council waiting list was virtually non-existent 15 years ago it now takes several years to get a house; most ex-council properties are owned by absentee land-lords - so a good deal are left rotting even though there are young families looking for suitable accommodation. Some people seem to be doing quite well for themselves, many bought their own houses during the 'right to buy' era, but, as Madashell pointed out, they're now slaves to debt. Certainly there are more baubles and trinkets to be had with regard to technology, but employment opportunities, relative wage rates, health care and public transportation have all diminished, whilst the perception that this is somehow the community's own fault and bigotry against those who are suffering the most has actually increased, this situation seems to be mirrored nationally by the introduction - and widespread tolerance - of terms like 'chav' or the overwhelming acceptance of strategies designed to criminalise poverty (ASBOs, begging laws, etc.). This leaves our communities politically weaker as well as being relatively poorer.

martinh
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Sep 28 2006 21:49

I don't think this is a simple call to make. In the 70s, my Mum started work, part time, for luxuries. By the mid 80s she was doing it for necessities (and I'd left home by then). My dad's pay was crap, and we didn't have loads of things, but it was OK.

In my situation 25 years on, i have more materially than my parents, a mortgage (they always rented and my dad still does) - but my partner has to work (in part at least to pay for the childcare roll eyes ).

So, we have more money (at least on paper) and more material things. Some of this is because of the oppression of CHinese workers to produce stuff cheaper than 20 years ago. But we also have less time and find it hard to make ends meet. And I'm conscious that I'm probably better paid than a lot here.

A lot of these factors are presented as choices, but they're not. If there's no council housing available in Doncaster now, there's been none in London all my life.

regards,

Martin

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Sep 29 2006 09:43

Yeah I suppose housing is one big difference. I think people work longer hours now than a few years ago, I don't know about 30 years ago though, should look it up...

We definitely have longer life expectancies, more foreign holidays, more consumer goods. Most of this is due to increases in technology. But things like rates of mental illness have rocketed, house prices shot up, council housing waiting lists gone ridiculously long... So it's a tough call really.

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Sep 29 2006 10:13
Jack wrote:
Have the living standards of the working class really fallen over the past 30 years?

Is the 'average person' better or worse off than they would have been in the 70s or 80s? What about for those towards the bottom of the pile?

What is the question based on and in particular what region.

I ask because I know if by 'living standards' what was meant was 'relative wealth' then in many regions, particularly the US the share of wealth going to the bottom 70% and fallen drastically in comparison with the top 1%.

The big problem is how do you compare living standards in the 1970's with today as so many goods and services didn't exist back then. I suppose you could use 'precentage of income spent of necessities' (eg food, housing etc) as a comparison.

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Sep 29 2006 10:25

Relative wealth doesn't really matter because the rich will always have more and spend their lives trying to work out how to simultaneously piss it away and extract more of it.
Living standards are always tough to judge, but I think that it has got harder over the last few years. I think it's worse outside London, while housing may be insane here at least there's work.

Convert
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Sep 29 2006 10:37

I think Martinh raises an interesting point about his mum working for luxuries and later for neccesities.

I was reading somewhere (or it might have been on 'the corporation' dvd) How when woman entered the workforce - You would think families now with two incomes you would be twice as well off but they weren't/aren't. Capitalism has swallowed all the extra value created by the workforce almost doubling when woman entered it.

So yeah i think the cost of living has increased faster than wages.

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Sep 29 2006 10:46
jef costello wrote:
Relative wealth doesn't really matter because the rich will always have more and spend their lives trying to work out how to simultaneously piss it away and extract more of it.

Actually it is a useful measure. For most of the century up to the 1970's the precentage of profits that went to wages increased. Since the 1970's in most countries it has decreased - in the US it has falled sharply. Likewise in the first period the ratio of CEO pay to workers pay decreased, in the second period it massivly increase (in the US CEO pay increase from 27 times that of an average worker to over 300 times).

In terms of the arguments we are typically confronted with when we look for a pay rise (eg company can't afford it) knowing this is quite significant.

Yes the rich will always want to maximise there share but in some periods they have lost ground while more recently they have gained.

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Sep 29 2006 10:49
martinh wrote:
So, we have more money (at least on paper) and more material things. Some of this is because of the oppression of CHinese workers to produce stuff cheaper than 20 years ago. But we also have less time and find it hard to make ends meet. And I'm conscious that I'm probably better paid than a lot here.

There was a very interesting supplement to the Economist last week or the week before that looked at the massive growth in the developing world. It was pretty open that wages for both 'working class' and 'middle class' workers in the west were stagnant or in decline but the impact of this was reduced because consumer items were dropping in price due to low wages in China etc. If I can keep myself out of silly squabbles I might try and write up a summary of it.

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Sep 29 2006 10:59
JoeBlack2 wrote:
If I can keep myself out of silly squabbles I might try and write up a summary of it.

yeah that'd be great, you closet nationalist wink

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Sep 29 2006 11:13

actually this is a very interesting topic, because the standard capitalist line is that countries move along a linear line from victorian england to the present day, so the world's sweatshop state will in time level themselves up.

but thats bollocks, cos as negri/hardt point out, the other countries are not analogous to victorian england (little things like not being the head of a global empire for example).

from a lib com point of view it seems that the post-68 settlement has been based mainly on the exploitation of 'third world' labour, and as working class demands for living standards there rise too, at some point there is nowhere else left to shift the production of cheap commodities, since its in-built to capitalism that the workers of a given plant/economy can't afford its output.

but does this add weight to the maoist 'aristocracy of labour' idea?

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Sep 29 2006 11:16

Hi

Answering Jack’s question is a key discussion in understanding the character of modern capitalism in the UK, the material economics that determine our present condition and in shaping viable forward strategies for improving the situation. I concur with the anecdotal evidence presented so far, and I’m inclined to believe that the total resources available to the working class have largely remained unchanged over the last thirty years or so, although there are wider disparities between the top and bottom end of the scale. That is to say, the average household income vs prices is more or less the same but there is more comfort at the top, and more poverty at the bottom.

The issue is muddied further by changes in the demographics of employment. In the early 70’s, a male-of-a-certain-age could expect to earn an income in one of the nationalised industries that could keep a family of four in a certain degree of comfort. Nowadays, even without mobiles and multi-channel TV, such security and spending power couldn’t be achieved without two full time wage earners. The rolling back of the Nanny State has certainly punished sections of the working class that don’t “sell themselves” effectively.

An indication of the nature and source of the downward pressure on living standards that we’ve suffered since the mid-70’s is given by the Conservative manifesto of October 1974...

http://www.psr.keele.ac.uk/area/uk/man/con74oct.htm

Quote:
Inflation has dogged Britain since the war because as a country we have too often paid ourselves more than we earn. Lately this chronic inflation has been made acute by the explosion in the world price of food and raw materials.

The consequence of restricting the money supplied to the working class in order to “conquer inflation” speaks for itself.

Love

LR

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Sep 29 2006 23:37

Jack, your question is hard to answer based on the Australian example because currently the working class is really disparate. I would say that for a good proportion, maybe a third or so, material conditions have improved over the last decades. More family's own two cars and are taking overseas holidays, etc. (But in saying this, this is predicated on a two income family, whereas earlier on there was just one bread winner.) On the other hand, there's a big proportion of people on casual conditions who can't get enough hours. Nowadays sociologists talk of an impoverished "underclass", membership being defined as basically a lack of fulltime employment. Overall though, I'd say Australia has recently experienced a period of relative affluence, and that the only way for the proletariat under capitalism is actually backwards, which is what we're seeing now. (In other words capitalism is decadent in the 1st world :red: wink )

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from a lib com point of view it seems that the post-68 settlement has been based mainly on the exploitation of 'third world' labour, and as working class demands for living standards there rise too, at some point there is nowhere else left to shift the production of cheap commodities, since its in-built to capitalism that the workers of a given plant/economy can't afford its output.

This trend is key. As wages rise in the Third World (and now manufacturers are leaving China for India. And I'd suggest that "Democratising" Africa will be on the agenda within the next decade), there is also downward pressure on first world wages. Essentially what I am saying is that we're gonna see a trend, however subtle, towards the equalisation of working conditions on a global scale - manifested as attacks on rights and conditions here and the proleterization of the Third World ...

Longsight
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Sep 30 2006 15:14

overpopulation is going to cause a great deal of suffering for this world I have done some research on a website on population and it does not look very good there are to many people been born in the world and it is going to effect all of us if we dont take action and in other countries it will be hell to live and in the west we are going to suffer a great deal from the effect of overpopulation I would say to people do a websearch on the subject of overpopulation it will open your mind our leaders have not spoken about this issue for years we are burying our heads in the sand if we dont think it is a problem and we run away from it thinking we can just go on having more people in the world and food and water will be there

Jack Common
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Sep 30 2006 16:24

There is ceratinly going to be a problem with water and population levels as global warming sets in, but at present we produce three times more food than is needed to feed the present population (granted this will change due to loss of useable water and the probable turning over of land presently used for food production to fuel production - just so Chelsea farmers can continue to drive their 'wanker wagons'). However it is worth remembering that a lot of what is written about overpopulation is presented by people who like to blame the victims for their own suffering, those who face famine do so because of pressure from overweight Westerners who want to keep their parasitic lifestyle and power hungry warlords, not because the planet is physically unable to sustain them.
Overpopulation is a concern, but it is a symptom of capital induced poverty - with the average American using 11 x the resources of the average Indian we must decide whether we'd rather have less people or less wealth.

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Oct 1 2006 03:33

Population growth dosn't worry me for a second. To show that it is a problem you'd need to establish a global economy geared for people rather than the one we have geared for profit; and then we could decide if there's too many people or not. To take the current economic order as a priori and then deduce there's too many people is not what I would call a controled experiment. Further, once women get a real choice as to how many kids they will have fertility rates inevitably decline to around just less than 2.0, i.e. populations decline as in Australia, Scandinavia, even Russia, and probably more that I couldn't be bothered looking up. And in countries not experiencing actual population decline, most are seeing a reduction in fertility rates that should continue, eg. Bangladesh, South India.

I guess what I am saying is that I see over population as a bit of a red herring as far as political issues go.

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Oct 1 2006 10:43

Hi

Quote:
establish a global economy geared for people rather than the one we have geared for profit

People is not the opposite of profit, loss is. An economy is either geared for profit or everyone starves.

The economy is already geared towards people, it’s just geared towards some people over others. Attempts to implement social justice by decree just make matters worse.

If the objective is to elevate living standards then the first port of call is reducing the cost of living, which, in applying a systems-model of civilisation building, is really a question of ramping up industrial capacity and productivity.

The Argentineans have gone someway towards rebuilding their economy via a process of import replacement.

Love

LR

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Oct 1 2006 13:13
Lazy Riser wrote:
People is not the opposite of profit, loss is. An economy is either geared for profit or everyone starves.

Any particular reason you conflate profit in the sense of gain and profit in the sense of the extraction of surplus value?

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Oct 1 2006 17:07

Hi

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Any particular reason you conflate profit in the sense of gain and profit in the sense of the extraction of surplus value?

Obviously, because they are the same (assuming one accepts that there is such a thing as "the extraction of surplus value" in the first place).

Love

LR

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Oct 2 2006 00:28
Quote:
Quote:
Quote:
establish a global economy geared for people rather than the one we have geared for profit

People is not the opposite of profit, loss is. An economy is either geared for profit or everyone starves.

I've been on this forum long enough to know that you'd come back with your individual take on profit. I even thought for a second or two to change my language but decided it wasn't worth it. By profit of course, as most people realise, I am referring to surplus value and its appropriation by the bourgiosie. If I understand correctly you are conflating profit with production. This confuses the issue. Under socialist didtribution it is impossible not to "profit" in your sense of the term so the term is meaningless, and it is better kept as a critique of capitalism.

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If the objective is to elevate living standards then the first port of call is reducing the cost of living, which, in applying a systems-model of civilisation building, is really a question of ramping up industrial capacity and productivity.

No. The first port of call is more equitable distribution then a decision as to how much productivity needs to be increased or, more importantly, qualitatively changed. That is, diverting resources to stuff we really want, not stuff that produces financial profit for some.

Quote:
The Argentineans have gone someway towards rebuilding their economy via a process of import replacement.

So what? Its just another fluctuation in the cycle. I'm sure within a decade we'll all be hearing how inefficent Argentina's domestic import substition industry is. Then yhere'll be closures, job losses.....

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Oct 2 2006 00:32
Lazy Riser wrote:
Obviously, because they are the same

Except that clearly they are not.

I don't know why I'm bothering to reply, since, as usual, you are just quibbling over semantics to get a reaction.

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Oct 2 2006 10:06

Hi

Quote:
The first port of call is more equitable distribution then a decision as to how much productivity needs to be increased or, more importantly, qualitatively changed. That is, diverting resources to stuff we really want, not stuff that produces financial profit for some.

Maybe. However, if there are any decisions to be made at all about how capital is deployed then that capital has to exist within the legislative framework under consideration. Put another way, without a measure of autonomous civilisation building there will be no resources to divert.

Quote:
The Argentineans have gone someway towards rebuilding their economy via a process of import replacement.

Quote:
Its just another fluctuation in the cycle.

One way of looking at it I suppose. The collapse of the Argentine economy was a pretty big fluctuation though, not wholly dissimilar to what happened in the UK in the mid 70’s. The IMF intervened on both occasions, the specific resources available to each country shaping the strategy applied to paying off the loan.

Quote:
I'm sure within a decade we'll all be hearing how inefficent Argentina's domestic import substition industry is. Then yhere'll be closures, job losses.....

No doubt.

Quote:
So what?

There is a connection between a systems theory of civilisation building, economic autonomy and improving working class living standards.

Quote:
you are just quibbling over semantics to get a reaction.

The postulation that another is quibbling over semantics merely restates their disagreement over axioms. This line of discussion draws focus away from the technicalities of standards of living and into the realm of personal criticism.

Love

LR

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Oct 2 2006 14:13

One easy way of establishing whether living standards for the working class has improved or not is to compare real wages from e.g. 1970 and today. Now I tried to find some quick stats on this, but since I don't have enough time at the moment I could not find any.

As far as I can remember about real wages, though, is that in North America they have fallen quite drastically; workers in the 70s were better off then than they are now.

Another way of examining it would be to look at how much of a day the average worker has to spend working (often several jobs).

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pingtiao
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Oct 2 2006 15:13

What determines "real wages"? Are the stats manipulable?

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Nemo
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Oct 2 2006 15:29

It means they have been adjusted for inflation. Defining inflation is where all the wiggle room is. AFAICT, calculation of inflation omit things like utility bills, but includes things like consumer electronics (which tends to keep the numbers down). I seem to remember reading recently that the "real" level of inflation is not what the government says, but something like five times that.

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Oct 2 2006 15:32

when you think utility bills, fuel prices, house prices, rent etc are all excluded from the 'typical shopping basket' used to calculate inflation it's obvious the fix is in

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pingtiao
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Oct 2 2006 15:57

Are you sure rent is excluded? That would be pretty insane since it is obviously a major expenditure for most people (or mortgage repayments).

Does anyone know if any of the left-leaning economics thinktanks or the TUC economics department have made a stab at doing an estimate that includes these factors?

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Oct 2 2006 16:14

Rent + mortgages are excluded yes - it's fucking ridiculous. As are utilities bills I believe, which average over £1,000 per household annually don't they (and have gone up about 50% in the past year or two). Public transport's not either, and that's rocketed too.

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Oct 2 2006 17:11

Hi

Quote:
Does anyone know if any of the left-leaning economics thinktanks or the TUC economics department have made a stab at doing an estimate that includes these factors?

Certainly not. In fact the personnel of these august bodies consciously collude with the big lie to help maintain their privileged social status. The left are as much responsible for our continued impoverishment as the right.

Love

LR

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pingtiao
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Oct 2 2006 17:13

Neither of those are as bad as rent though- in terms of increases as a proportion of total expenditure since the 70s it must be incredibly important!