The Silent Exodus Nobody Sees: Leaving Work Forever

The Silent Exodus Nobody Sees: Leaving Work Forever by Charles Hugh Smith for Of Two Minds

The “take this job and shove it” exodus is silently gathering momentum.

The exodus out of cities is getting a lot of attention, but the exodus that will unravel our economic and social orders is getting zero attention: the exodus from work. Like the exodus from troubled urban cores, the exodus from work has long-term, complex causes that the pandemic has accelerated.

These are the core drivers of the exodus from work.

1. labor’s share of the economy has been in multi-decade decline. It’s easy to blame globalization and/or automation–and it’s true that the decline in labor’s share accelerated from 2000 on. But this trend began around 1970, long before China joined the World Trade Organization and the advent of “software eating the world.” (see chart below)

2. While it’s convenient for those reaping the big gains (see chart below) to blame globalization and/or automation, the real driver was financialization–the neoliberal move to deregulate finance so it could turn everything into an exploitable “market” that could be made to serve one master: shareholder value, the innocuous-sounding code-phrase for anything goes and winner takes most–if you’re rich.

Shareholder value was the super-wealthy’s self-serving justification for unlimited greed as corporations went from being enterprises serving communities, the national interest, employees, customers and shareholders to financialization machineswhose sole purpose was enriching insiders via loading the company with debt to pay huge bonuses to top managers, stock buybacks funded by debt, the abandonment of trustworthy accounting principles and so on.

Financialization and the deification of shareholder value sluiced all the gains into the hands of the few at the top at the expense of the many. As the chart below indicates, the top 0.1% enjoyed income gains of around 350% since 1979 while the bottom 90% barely topped 20%–a number that would be sharply negative if real-world inflation were included.

Simply put, the bottom 90%–wage-earners–lost ground over the past four decades of financialization while the wealthy winners of financializationbecame super-wealthy. The rewards of labor/work have diminished to an extraordinary degree for the bottom 90%, and even the 91% – 99% bracket has found their labor has mostly served to enrich those above them.

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