What is Tertiarization? Perspectives on social change

By Robert Kurz:

(Read it at Exit-Online)

In the 1970s social decline in the form of mass unemployment had already begun, but this negative development was to be taken up by social problem-solving: one almost believed that a social worker could be dispatched to every unemployed person. The “support industry” for the fallen appeared to be an area of economic growth. The system of medical care expanded parallel to social pedagogy, while at the same time leisure centers, social clubs, reform universities and new systems of trade qualification were brought into being. Educational offensive, leisure society and life-long learning were catchwords of western Zeitgeist well into the 1980s. To a markedly smaller degree there were similar phenomena in the third world, but there only as a sort of luxury-tertiarization for a minority, which stood opposite the poverty-tertiarization of the majority. By contrast, in the west this process seemed to be characterized as a structural shift “for everyone.”

But this type of tertiarization had a decisive flaw. It was, in capitalist terms, “unproductive” and produced no commercial growth spurt, rather it had to be financed by the state and was generally organized in the form of public services. This was not in line with the economic contraction of industrial production. This wonderful society based on leisure, education and supervision could only be kept afloat by dramatic deficit-spending until the illusion shattered and cutbacks were made in the supposedly central support sectors of the service society.

In the 1990s capitalism presented two options for dealing with the crisis of teriarization. The term “privatization” suggested the transference of not yet affordable tertiary state agencies to private enterprises. At the same time the “New Economy,” as a commercially high-tech version of the service sector (internet capitalism), was to bring growth and employment. Both options have been failures, as is well-known to all. The “New Economy” turned out to be nothing more than a financial bubble, while employment and real growth was limited to a microscopic degree. The privatized former public services proved to be similarly unsuitable for producing capitalist growth. Market-oriented medicine or education quickly reduces its focus to private clientel capable of paying, while the majority of the structures in this area were shut down. In many regions of the third world the entire social infrastructure is collapsing, while a diluted form of the same is to be seen in the west.

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