||D.W. Livingstone. The Education-Jobs Gap: Underemployment or Economic Democracy. Toronto: Garamond Press, 1999, 360pp., $29.95 paper.
This important book is a 'must-read' for students of the sociology of education, work and socioeconomic policy in advanced capitalism.
Livingstone's central focus is that, in the G-7 political economies: "The growing gap between the unprecedented extent of collective knowledge of the people and the diminishing number of meaningful, sustaining jobs has become the major social problem of our times" (p. 1). The central argument is that this increasing education-jobs gap occurs not primarily because of failures in the education system but because of the burgeoning of shareholder, profit-centred capitalism to the detriment both of stakeholder capitalism of the kind supported by most social democratic parties in the OECD, and of economic democracy of the kind supported by most socialists.
The author excels in the comprehensive description of the problem, combining extensive quantitative survey methods of a wide variety of educational and work settings with intensive and insightful qualitative methods of the lived situation. This book is truly an exemplar of how to mobilise serious social scientific methods to incisively describe a problem.
Further, Livingstone provides a devastating critique of human capital theories of the problem. No serious social scientist can leave a reading of The Education-Jobs Gap without being armed, in a multiplicity of ways, against the analytical errors and biases of the ideological promoters of shareholder capitalism. Indeed, the author succeeds in convincingly establishing the anti-worker one-sidedness of shareholder capitalism.
However, when it comes to examining the real possibilities of stakeholder/negotiated capitalism's amelioration of the problem, Livingstone's guarded proposals are much too optimistic. His overoptimism is, of course, not primarily ideological. It is rooted in a failure to confront the real historical trajectory of capitalism, both globally and in the G-7, over the last three decades. If these decades have, in fact, dissolved much of the political space for social democracy within given states in favour of capitalist-led, undemocratic world bodies such as the IMF and World Bank, then how can one negotiate more than a tiny measure of humane reforms? The dog days of the twentieth century have surely seen the apparent emancipation of capital from any social necessity for concern with non-capitalist stakeholders in the economy; for advanced capitalism, the only stakeholder of record is the shareholder.
Livingstone's preferred solution to the growing education-jobs gap is not stakeholder capitalism, much less shareholder capitalism, but economic democracy, "the organization of production and consumption by the majority of the people for the majority" (p. 249). This he primarily exemplifies by the kibbutzim movement in Israel and the Mondragon worker co-operatives in the Basque region of Spain. But Livingstone is mostly silent on how these important movements can ever be general, widespread movements without being aligned to a socialist strategy rooted in the self-emancipation of the working class. In my view, the author has forgotten a central tenet of Marx's critique of actually-existing capitalism; capitalism is the first system of class rule that has rigorously separated the process of accumulation of wealth by and for the few from direct political control. Widespread economic democracy in any meaningfully social sense has never occurred and cannot occur within capitalism as a whole. If we are serious about economic democracy, then we have to be serious and open about the necessity for socialist transformation.
R. James Sacouman
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