robertogreco + wages   34

On the Tragedy of Paul Volcker
“The Volcker Rule

In 2009, when the world was falling apart, a lot of people were asking new President Barack Obama to turn to Paul Volcker, the tall and prestigious former central banker whose reputation was of near God-like stature. Obama did, asking Volcker for advice. But Larry Summers, key advisor to Obama, sabotaged the relationship. Volcker encouraged Obama to stop banks from gambling with internal hedge funds, but Summers wanted banks to keep gambling with internal hedge funds. Summers won the bureaucratic fight.

Volcker’s titanic reputation was by then decades old. But so too was Volcker pursuing honesty in finance, and getting pushed out because of it. In 1986, Ronald Reagan essentially fired Volcker from his position as the head of the Federal Reserve because Paul Volcker was trying to crack down on the junk-bond fueled mergers craze that was clearly corrupting America’s savings and loan banks. Felix Rohatyn, a Democratic fixer and Lazard investment banker, pleaded with the Republicans, “if we sacrifice Paul Volcker for the junk-bond mania, we will clearly show the world that we’ve lost any sense of financial responsibility.”

Here’s a story from 1986, at the height of the frenzy.

Volcker lost the battle at the Fed, and ultimately Alan Greenspan, who was on the payroll of one of the largest corrupt savings and loan banks, took over. Volcker, in pursuing financial rectitude, had no allies except the ‘respect’ of the financial world, which, as it turns out, isn’t worth much at all. And the reason, ironically, is because Volcker killed his greatest would-be allies.

I first ran into Volcker’s career while researching Penn Central, the train system that went bankrupt in 1970 in the greatest then-collapse in American history. It was like the Enron of its time. The Nixon administration tasked the conservative Volcker with overseeing the fiasco, and he was a fairly honest broker. He tried, not very hard, to get a bailout, but when Congressman Wright Patman said no, that was that.

In 1979 Jimmy Carter nominated Volcker to be the head of the Fed. Carter’s advisor warned him that Volcker was the “candidate of Wall Street.” In an era of red-hot inflation, Volcker’s goal was to cut the growth of prices, with the ultimate end of keeping the dollar strong globally. He had popular backing, Americans saw inflation as the most pressing economic problem. Volcker went straight at the auto sector, the unionized pace setting industry which set the informal wage growth patterns of the entire country since the 1950s.

His goal was to crush wages, straight out. To give you a sense of how strongly he felt about this goal, consider that during this period, from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, Volcker walked around with a card of union wages in his pocket to remind himself that his goal was to crush the middle class. Volcker even angered Reagan officials by keeping interest rates too high for too long. When they complained, he would pull “out his card on union wages” and note that inflation would not come down permanently until labor “got the message and surrendered.” Volcker said that the prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s was a “hall of mirrors” and that the “standard of living of the average American must decline.”

Volcker was a deeply conservative, but not corrupt, official. I think the speech that best exemplifies how he thought was one he gave in 1981 before the Economic Club of New York, lauding the bankruptcy and turnaround of the city.

Five years ago, when I last addressed the Economic Club, the preoccupation of the day was the acute financial distress of this great City and State. That big black headline in the Daily News—”Ford to New York: Drop Dead”—was not quite accurate. But in its bold and brazen way, it did carry an essential message. Any lasting solution to our economic problems would have to begin, and end at home.

A month or so ago, I was struck by another headline, this time in a Wall Street Journal editorial: “The Supply Side Saves New York.” Somehow, in five years, New York had become an example for the rest of the country to follow.”

Volcker, in other words, was an ardent fan of austerity. And in his speech, he explicitly noted that New York City had no printing press to get out of the fiscal jam it had been in. That was, as Volcker put it, “fortunate.” Instead, the city had to slash expenditures, particularly on the poor. Volcker hoped that the America would take this lesson to heart nationally, and since he ran the printing press, that’s what he made sure happened. He also believed strongly in slashing taxes, government spending, and in deregulation, as he said to businessmen in Kansas City that year.

Volcker raised interest rates radically, crushing small businesses, farms, banks, and credit unions. To many of his fans, and even his opponents, this was simply what had to be done to get inflation out of the system. But there was a brief experiment, if forgotten, experiment in trying a different path, In the spring of 1980, Jimmy Carter encouraged Volcker not to raise interest rates, but to place “credit controls” onto consumer borrowing. Credit controls are direct public rules on specific lending institutions that make it more or less expensive to lend or borrow, and were a major mechanism to keep inflation out of the system during World War Two and the Korean War. And the Fed had the authority to make it more expensive for banks and financial institutions to issue credit cards and lend money to consumers.

Volcker used these tools incredibly poor, clumsily even, with some suspecting he was intending to sabotage the use of regulatory tools he didn’t like. Inflation collapsed, as did interest rates and the economy slid rapidly. Within a few months, Volcker and the bankers got rid of credit controls. Inflation and interest rates jumped right back up, and Volcker was able to discredit credit controls. He then inflicted massive pain on the middle class instead of the banking system by using interest rates and monetary policy, instead of explicitly telling big banks to stop lending.

At the same time as Volcker was destroying unions, small banks, small farms, and small businesses, he was structuring the Too Big to Fail model of finance. In 1980, Nelson and Bunker Hunt, two oil billionaire heirs, tried to corner the silver market in league with Arab interests. Volcker organized a bailout. By 1980, Wall Street had gotten the message. Economist Albert Wojnilower explained, “It is now everywhere taken for granted that no monetary authority will allow any key financial actor to fail.”

In the middle of the 1980s, Volcker’s strategy looked like a success. Inflation was gone, the economy was growing, technology seemed to be restructuring society, and the workforce had largely been de-unionized. But there was a something of a mirage, as a bubble in financial leverage through savings and loan banks and junk bonds emerged. Volcker tried to crack down on this bubble, to block the use of junk bonds for certain kinds of seedy transactions. He knew a scumbag when he saw one, and the junk bond peddlers and M&A artists were scum. But by then, his allies against financial corruption, notably the small banks, small business, and unions, were dead or dying. So it was Paul Volcker and all his vaunted respect, versus an army on Wall Street.

There was no contest. The predatory bankers won, as they did again in 2009.

Towards the end of his life, Volcker railed against the corruption he saw everywhere. But he never connected the dots between his own actions destroying public institutions and the inability to constrain the financial corruption he despised. Many people in finance have fond memories of an incorruptible Paul Volcker standing up against financial corruption and reigning in inflation. Which is true. But Volcker really wasn’t on the side of democracy, and that’s why he oversaw nothing but decline.

I ran into Paul Volcker a few years ago at a conference when I was a Democratic Congressional staffer. He harangued me and said ‘why are you Democrats so weak?’ I wish I had responded, ‘because you killed the unions.’

And that is the tragedy of Paul Volcker.”
mattstoller  paulvolcker  2020  economics  middleclass  finance  us  policy  toobigtofail  labor  employment  unemployment  inflation  richardnixon  jimmycarter  corruption  democracy  work  banking  unions  smallbusiness  farming  albertwojnilower  austerity  creditunions  wages  responsibility  savingsandloancrisis  felixrohatyn  barackobama  larrysummers 
6 weeks ago by robertogreco
'Global Trumpism': Bailouts, Brexit and battling climate change | CBC Radio
[Also here:
https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/global-trumpism-how-rogue-code-writers-became-the-authors-of-our-politics-1.5321199
https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-23-ideas/clip/15741291-global-trumpism-bailouts-brexit-and-battling-climate-change ]

“How did the middle class end up in perpetual debt? Why is there ‘no money’ for infrastructure or social programs, but there is for waging war? And what does all this have to do with Donald Trump, or Brexit, or climate change?

If you’re mystified about any of the above, then author and Brown University professor Mark Blyth can clarify things for you. He says it’s helpful to use a computer metaphor to describe the economy.

In his lecture at McMaster University as part of their Socrates Project, Blyth compared capitalist economies to laptops: different makes, but similar in appearance. He argues these computers run just fine for a while — say, about 30 years . But all the while, there are bugs in the software that eventually causes the system to crash. Then you rebuild the hardware, fix the software, and reboot.

System breakdown
That’s what happened in the 1970s and 1980s, when labour costs and inflation became a problem. The ‘system rebuild’ included less powerful unions, more global trade, and central bankers who were put in charge of setting interest rates.

But this new system generated bugs of its own, among them, a runaway culture of lending, and a lack of wage growth among the middle classes, who did a lot more borrowing than they could afford.

Mark Blyth says this borrowing wasn’t just driven by rampant consumerism.

“How do you get by when … everybody tells you there’s no inflation, yet the cost of everything that matters is actually going up? Education, health care, all that sort of stuff,” Blyth said in his lecture.

“And the only way you can fill in the gap is to borrow more money.”

Cue the 2008 financial crisis
However this time, Blyth says there was no rebuild. Instead, the United States Federal Reserve led a bailout of the big banks, domestically and internationally. The rich got much richer, the middle class got perpetual low interest rates to keep carrying their debts, and the poor had their social programs cut in the name of austerity.

Blyth contends this dynamic is what lit the fuse of global populism: the rise of leaders who appeal to public outrage, alienation, and lack of trust toward career politicians and traditional political parties.

“Your debts are too high…you can’t pay them off, but you can roll them over. They’re not going to be eaten away by inflation, and the people who brought you here have zero credibility,” said Blyth.

[video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGuaoARJYU0 ]

Blyth compares populist leaders to ‘rogue code-writers’, hacking into the software of a system that was never properly rebuilt after the crisis of 2008. This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if it strengthens democracies.

“[Populism] is now part of the furniture … It’s already changed, so just get used to it. And let’s remember historically that 100 years ago, the people who were the populists then, the people that everyone was afraid of, became the established parties in many cases,” Blyth told IDEAS host Nahlah Ayed.

“So every now and again you have to have a little revolution, and that’s what’s happening now.”

Populism is springing up on the right and the left, said Blyth. The difficult choices that need to be made about climate change could come from a left-wing populist movement, not unlike the so-called ‘Green New Deal’ proposed by younger American Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Looking at how things may unfold in the not-too-distant future, Blyth speculates “right populism wins round one.”

“But ultimately, left populism wins round two, because left populism is the only one that takes climate change seriously,” he concludes.”
2019  markblyth  economics  inequality  brexit  donaldtrump  trumpism  fragility  greatrecession  2007  2008  policy  democracy  personaldebt  debt  taxes  wealth  income  climatechange  bailouts  finance  recessions  recession  oligarchy  popularism  berniesanders  banking  global  financialcrisis  inflation  productivity  consumerism  stockmarket  ipos  wages  middleclass  capitalism  us  uk  canada  caymanislands  delaware  arizona  isleofman  austerity  nahlahayed  latecapitalism  federalreserve  priorities  centralbanks  monetarypolicy  politics  alangreenspan  economists  loans  creditcards  spending 
october 2019 by robertogreco
These 3 Policy Failures Are Killing the American Dream
"In sum: The “middle-class crunch” is a choice. The American Dream isn’t dying of natural causes. We know what must be done to revive it. The problem is simply that a lot of powerful people would rather pull the plug than pay for the cure."
policy  inequality  economics  taxes  history  us  ericlevitz  2019  middleclass  wages  work  wealth  wealthinequality  income  housing  healthcare  highered  highereducation  socialwelfare  socialsafetynet 
october 2019 by robertogreco
The Financialization of Life | naked capitalism
“I will present to you some ideas that I have dealt with in my new book, Profiting without Producing, which has just come out, which discuss finance and the rise of finance. I can’t tell you very much about Baltimore because I don’t know about it, but I will tell you quite a few things about what I call the financialization of capitalism, which impacts on Baltimore and on many other places.

So, getting on with it, and very quickly because time is short, I think it’s fair to say and all of us would agree that finance has an extraordinary presence in contemporary mature economies. It’s very clear in the case of the U.S., but equally clear in the case of the United Kingdom, where I live, Japan, about which I know quite a bit, Germany, and so on. There’s no question at all about it. Finance is a sector of the economy in mature countries which has grown enormously in terms of size relative to the rest of the economy, in terms of penetration into everyday lives of ordinary people, but also small and medium businesses and just about everybody. And in terms of policy influence, finance clearly influences economic policy on a national level in country after country. The interests of finance are paramount in forming economic policy. So that is clear. Finance has become extraordinarily powerful. And that, in a sense, is the first immediate way in which we can understand financialization. Something has happened there, and modern mature capitalism appears to have financialized.

Now, what is this financialization? The best I can do right now is to give you the gist of this argument of mine in my book. And I will come clean immediately and tell you that I think financialization is basically a profound historical transformation of modern capitalism. This is the way I understand it. It’s a profound historical transformation that really began in the 1970s, and it’s now been running for about four decades.

How to understand, then, the profound historical transformation, how to go about it, what concepts do we need? I think we need first of all to look at some economic processes, some economic change that is taking place, fundamental economic change, and then we need to look at some changes in politics and institutions and combine the two in order to grasp the historical change.

So let me start with economic changes, the economic foundations of this transformation. I think there are three key root changes here.

The first, funnily enough, doesn’t relate to finance itself, but it relates to industry and commerce. In other words, it relates to nonfinancial economic activity. One must start there to understand the historical transformation. So what has happened to big business in particular? Well, what’s happened to big business is very interesting. Two things have happened to it. First, big business has become increasingly capable of financing investment out of retained earnings. It retains its profits, and on a net basis it finances investment pretty much out of that. Of course, it still uses banks, but it doesn’t rely on banks on a net basis to finance investment. That gives it independence, a certain degree of independence from banks.

In addition to that, big business has made so much in retained profits–currently U.S. big business is sitting on piles of cash. It has made so much in retained profits that it can use those funds to play financial games, to engage in financial transactions and financial activities on its own account. So big business has financialized. The key element that we’ve got to understand first is the financialization of big business. Large enterprises have acquired some of the character of financial institutions, have become bank-like, and they engage in these transactions, and they change the structure of their own organization as they do that. So that’s the first thing.

Second economic change, and very, very important, too, relates to banks. If big businesses is doing that, banks must do something else to make profit. Banks are profit-making institutions. So if big business becomes increasingly independent of banks, banks must do something else. What have banks done? It’s very clear what they’ve done. They lend less to businesses for investment and so on, and they play more games in the financial markets. They become transactors in financial assets, and they make profits increasingly not from lending but from fees, commissions, and trading. They become traders in financial assets.

At the same time, banks have also turn households. Households have become a very profitable activity of banks, a new activity. This is a new phenomenon in the development of capitalism. So that much about banks.

The third change has to do with households, workers, ordinary people. And what we see there in the last three to four decades is that ordinary people have been qdrawn into the former financial system like never before. Households have become financialized. Finance has become a fundamental part of household life–like I say, like never before.

Why is that? Partly because wages have been stagnant. And therefore–I mean, nowhere more stagnant than in this country. I mean, real wages have been absolutely flat in this country for decades. So partly because of that, people have turned to debt. But also people have got assets, financial assets.

So the financialization of everyday life, of households, is a bit of a complex story. What is actually happening there, I think, is not simply that you borrow in order to consume. That also happens. It’s a more complex story than that. What is actually happening is people need access to health, education, housing, and a variety of other needs. Every country has systems of provision for these things. Each country differs from the next country, but pretty much there are similarities. These modes of provision have historically, traditionally, incorporated public provision, some methods of public provision, for everything–for housing, for health, for education, and so on. What we’ve witnessed the last three to four decades is a retreat of public provision. Public provision has retreated. Private provision has taken its place. As this is happened, finance has emerged as the facilitator of that. So we turn to private provision to solve our housing needs, our health needs, our education needs, and finance makes profits out of that, basically, without having any skills in doing these things. So this to me is the financialization of households, the third major trend.

So non-financials have financialized, banks have changed, and households have been drawn into the financial system. These changes together have basically transformed the economy, transformed the foundations of the economy. This is a new type of capitalism.

At the same time, we’ve had changes in institutions and in ideology. These you would have heard about and you would be familiar with. The changes in institutions are very clear. We’ve had wave after wave of deregulation. Labor market has become more deregulated, and financial markets have become more deregulated.

And in addition to deregulation what we’ve had is the rise of the ideology of neoliberalism. Deregulation goes hand in hand with neoliberalism, the idea that the market is good, the state is bad. In this country, this is a very powerfully held idea, more powerfully here than anywhere else. Actually, it’s extraordinary how powerful this perception is and how a lot of social issues are understood in this way.

The point I want to make you is that neoliberalism is very, very powerful and sustains financialization, but neoliberalism is not really about asserting the merits of the market over the state. Actually, it’s more complex than that and it’s more crafty than that, because neoliberals are not the enemies of the state. Neoliberals want to take over the state. The actual content of neoliberal ideology is to take over the state and to use the state to protect the market, to make the market bigger, to effect market-favoring, market-conducive changes. So this has also been going on the last three to four decades. And that to me is the core of financialization.

So what have we got after four decades of this? These changes, seen very clearly in the United States, have created, firstly, a deeply unequal country, a deeply unequal society. Financialization is fundamentally about inequality. We see this inequality in terms of income, where the top 10 percent and the top 1 percent draw an extraordinary proportion of income annually. But we see it in terms of the functional distribution, the distribution of income between capital and labor, where labor has lost–and lost dramatically–during the last three to four decades in this country and in just about every other mature capitalist country that has financialized.

So this is a deeply unequal system. It generates inequality. Finance has acted as a key lever in increasing it inequality. Finance is a vital mechanism in increasing inequality. You can see it in terms of the profits it creates. Financial profit has become a huge part of total profit through these activities that I’ve just discussed by markets, households, and so on–a huge part of total profit. And the rich in this country and elsewhere typically become rich through financial methods; the way in which you acquire great wealth and you cream off the surplus is basically through financial methods, through access to financial assets, privileged ways of trading financial assets, and privileged position in of the financial system that allows you to extract vast returns, which appear as salaries and wages, in other words, remuneration for labor. Come on. What kind of remuneration for labor is this allows someone to draw tens of millions of dollars annually? For what kind of labor? This isn’t labor. This is a kind of rent, this is a kind of surplus accruing because of power and position in the financial system or access to finance. And that is typical of financialization in this country and elsewhere… [more]
finance  financialization  neoliberalism  liberalism  economics  labor  inequality  governance  power  2014  costaslapavitzas  capital  markets  policy  wages  us  banking  banks 
september 2019 by robertogreco
Better Public Schools Won’t Fix Income Inequality - The Atlantic
"Like many rich Americans, I used to think educational investment could heal the country’s ills—but I was wrong. Fighting inequality must come first."

...


"Long ago, i was captivated by a seductively intuitive idea, one many of my wealthy friends still subscribe to: that both poverty and rising inequality are largely consequences of America’s failing education system. Fix that, I believed, and we could cure much of what ails America.

This belief system, which I have come to think of as “educationism,” is grounded in a familiar story about cause and effect: Once upon a time, America created a public-education system that was the envy of the modern world. No nation produced more or better-educated high-school and college graduates, and thus the great American middle class was built. But then, sometime around the 1970s, America lost its way. We allowed our schools to crumble, and our test scores and graduation rates to fall. School systems that once churned out well-paid factory workers failed to keep pace with the rising educational demands of the new knowledge economy. As America’s public-school systems foundered, so did the earning power of the American middle class. And as inequality increased, so did political polarization, cynicism, and anger, threatening to undermine American democracy itself.

Taken with this story line, I embraced education as both a philanthropic cause and a civic mission. I co-founded the League of Education Voters, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public education. I joined Bill Gates, Alice Walton, and Paul Allen in giving more than $1 million each to an effort to pass a ballot measure that established Washington State’s first charter schools. All told, I have devoted countless hours and millions of dollars to the simple idea that if we improved our schools—if we modernized our curricula and our teaching methods, substantially increased school funding, rooted out bad teachers, and opened enough charter schools—American children, especially those in low-income and working-class communities, would start learning again. Graduation rates and wages would increase, poverty and inequality would decrease, and public commitment to democracy would be restored.

But after decades of organizing and giving, I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that I was wrong. And I hate being wrong.

What I’ve realized, decades late, is that educationism is tragically misguided. American workers are struggling in large part because they are underpaid—and they are underpaid because 40 years of trickle-down policies have rigged the economy in favor of wealthy people like me. Americans are more highly educated than ever before, but despite that, and despite nearly record-low unemployment, most American workers—at all levels of educational attainment—have seen little if any wage growth since 2000.

To be clear: We should do everything we can to improve our public schools. But our education system can’t compensate for the ways our economic system is failing Americans. Even the most thoughtful and well-intentioned school-reform program can’t improve educational outcomes if it ignores the single greatest driver of student achievement: household income.

For all the genuine flaws of the American education system, the nation still has many high-achieving public-school districts. Nearly all of them are united by a thriving community of economically secure middle-class families with sufficient political power to demand great schools, the time and resources to participate in those schools, and the tax money to amply fund them. In short, great public schools are the product of a thriving middle class, not the other way around. Pay people enough to afford dignified middle-class lives, and high-quality public schools will follow. But allow economic inequality to grow, and educational inequality will inevitably grow with it.

By distracting us from these truths, educationism is part of the problem."

...

"However justifiable their focus on curricula and innovation and institutional reform, people who see education as a cure-all have largely ignored the metric most predictive of a child’s educational success: household income.

The scientific literature on this subject is robust, and the consensus overwhelming. The lower your parents’ income, the lower your likely level of educational attainment. Period. But instead of focusing on ways to increase household income, educationists in both political parties talk about extending ladders of opportunity to poor children, most recently in the form of charter schools. For many children, though—especially those raised in the racially segregated poverty endemic to much of the United States—the opportunity to attend a good public school isn’t nearly enough to overcome the effects of limited family income.

As Lawrence Mishel, an economist at the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute, notes, poverty creates obstacles that would trip up even the most naturally gifted student. He points to the plight of “children who frequently change schools due to poor housing; have little help with homework; have few role models of success; have more exposure to lead and asbestos; have untreated vision, ear, dental, or other health problems; … and live in a chaotic and frequently unsafe environment.”

Indeed, multiple studies have found that only about 20 percent of student outcomes can be attributed to schooling, whereas about 60 percent are explained by family circumstances—most significantly, income. Now consider that, nationwide, just over half of today’s public-school students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches, up from 38 percent in 2000. Surely if American students are lagging in the literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills our modern economy demands, household income deserves most of the blame—not teachers or their unions.

If we really want to give every American child an honest and equal opportunity to succeed, we must do much more than extend a ladder of opportunity—we must also narrow the distance between the ladder’s rungs. We must invest not only in our children, but in their families and their communities. We must provide high-quality public education, sure, but also high-quality housing, health care, child care, and all the other prerequisites of a secure middle-class life. And most important, if we want to build the sort of prosperous middle-class communities in which great public schools have always thrived, we must pay all our workers, not just software engineers and financiers, a dignified middle-class wage.

Today, after wealthy elites gobble up our outsize share of national income, the median American family is left with $76,000 a year. Had hourly compensation grown with productivity since 1973—as it did over the preceding quarter century, according to the Economic Policy Institute—that family would now be earning more than $105,000 a year. Just imagine, education reforms aside, how much larger and stronger and better educated our middle class would be if the median American family enjoyed a $29,000-a-year raise.

In fact, the most direct way to address rising economic inequality is to simply pay ordinary workers more, by increasing the minimum wage and the salary threshold for overtime exemption; by restoring bargaining power for labor; and by instating higher taxes—much higher taxes—on rich people like me and on our estates.

Educationism appeals to the wealthy and powerful because it tells us what we want to hear: that we can help restore shared prosperity without sharing our wealth or power. As Anand Giridharadas explains in his book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, narratives like this one let the wealthy feel good about ourselves. By distracting from the true causes of economic inequality, they also defend America’s grossly unequal status quo.

We have confused a symptom—educational inequality—with the underlying disease: economic inequality. Schooling may boost the prospects of individual workers, but it doesn’t change the core problem, which is that the bottom 90 percent is divvying up a shrinking share of the national wealth. Fixing that problem will require wealthy people to not merely give more, but take less."
economics  education  inequality  2019  labor  work  policy  poverty  history  nickhanauer  educationism  charitableindustrialcomplex  philanthropicindustrialcomplex  philanthropy  trickledowneconomics  ronaldreagan  billclinton  canon  edusolutionism  us  unemployment  billgates  gatesfoundation  democracy  wages  alicewalton  paulallen  anandgiridharadas  middleclass  class  housing  healthcare  publicschools  publiceducation  schools  learning  howwelearn  opportunity  lawrencemishel  curriculum  innovation 
june 2019 by robertogreco
Offering a more progressive definition of freedom
"Pete Buttigieg is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He is a progressive Democrat, Rhodes scholar, served a tour of duty in Afghanistan during his time as mayor, and is openly gay. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone [https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/pete_buttigieg-36-year-old-mayor-south-bend-indiana-2020-713662/ ], Buttigieg talked about the need for progressives to recast concepts that conservatives have traditionally “owned” — like freedom, family, and patriotism — in more progressive terms.
You’ll hear me talk all the time about freedom. Because I think there is a failure on our side if we allow conservatives to monopolize the idea of freedom — especially now that they’ve produced an authoritarian president. But what actually gives people freedom in their lives? The most profound freedoms of my everyday existence have been safeguarded by progressive policies, mostly. The freedom to marry who I choose, for one, but also the freedom that comes with paved roads and stop lights. Freedom from some obscure regulation is so much more abstract. But that’s the freedom that conservatism has now come down to.

Or think about the idea of family, in the context of everyday life. It’s one thing to talk about family values as a theme, or a wedge — but what’s it actually like to have a family? Your family does better if you get a fair wage, if there’s good public education, if there’s good health care when you need it. These things intuitively make sense, but we’re out of practice talking about them.

I also think we need to talk about a different kind of patriotism: a fidelity to American greatness in its truest sense. You think about this as a local official, of course, but a truly great country is made of great communities. What makes a country great isn’t chauvinism. It’s the kinds of lives you enable people to lead. I think about wastewater management as freedom. If a resident of our city doesn’t have to give it a second thought, she’s freer.


Clean drinking water is freedom. Good public education is freedom. Universal healthcare is freedom. Fair wages are freedom. Policing by consent is freedom. Gun control is freedom. Fighting climate change is freedom. A non-punitive criminal justice system is freedom. Affirmative action is freedom. Decriminalizing poverty is freedom. Easy & secure voting is freedom. This is an idea of freedom I can get behind."
petebuttigieg  freedom  democracy  2018  jasonkottke  everyday  life  living  progressive  progress  progressivism  education  water  healthcare  universalhealthcare  health  climatechange  politics  policy  poverty  inequality  decriminalization  voting  affirmitiveaction  guncontrol  liberation  work  labor  salaries  wages  economics  socialism  policing  police  lawenforcement  consent  patriotism  wealth  family 
september 2018 by robertogreco
[Essay] | Punching the Clock, by David Graeber | Harper's Magazine
"In 1901, the German psychologist Karl Groos discovered that infants express extraordinary happiness when they first discover their ability to cause predictable effects in the world. For example, they might scribble with a pencil by randomly moving their arms and hands. When they realize that they can achieve the same result by retracing the same pattern, they respond with expressions of utter joy. Groos called this “the pleasure at being the cause,” and suggested that it was the basis for play.

Before Groos, most Western political philosophers, economists, and social scientists assumed that humans seek power out of either a desire for conquest and domination or a practical need to guarantee physical gratification and reproductive success. Groos’s insight had powerful implications for our understanding of the formation of the self, and of human motivation more generally. Children come to see that they exist as distinct individuals who are separate from the world around them by observing that they can cause something to happen, and happen again. Crucially, the realization brings a delight, the pleasure at being the cause, that is the very foundation of our being.

Experiments have shown that if a child is allowed to experience this delight but then is suddenly denied it, he will become enraged, refuse to engage, or even withdraw from the world entirely. The psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Francis Broucek suspected that such traumatic experiences can cause many mental health issues later in life.

Groos’s research led him to devise a theory of play as make-believe: Adults invent games and diversions for the same reason that an infant delights in his ability to move a pencil. We wish to exercise our powers as an end in themselves. This, Groos suggested, is what freedom is—the ability to make things up for the sake of being able to do so.

The make-believe aspect of the work is precisely what performers of bullshit jobs find the most infuriating. Just about anyone in a supervised wage-labor job finds it maddening to pretend to be busy. Working is meant to serve a purpose—if make-believe play is an expression of human freedom, then make-believe work imposed by others represents a total lack of freedom. It’s unsurprising, then, that the first historical occurrence of the notion that some people ought to be working at all times, or that work should be made up to fill their time even in the absence of things that need
doing, concerns workers who are
not free: prisoners and slaves."



"The idea that workers have a moral obligation to allow their working time to be dictated has become so normalized that members of the public feel indignant if they see, say, transit workers lounging on the job. Thus busywork was invented: to ameliorate the supposed problem of workers not having enough to do to fill an eight-hour day. Take the experience of a woman named Wendy, who sent me a long history of pointless jobs she had worked:

“As a receptionist for a small trade magazine, I was often given tasks to perform while waiting for the phone to ring. Once, one of the ad- sales people dumped thousands of paper clips on my desk and asked me to sort them by color. She then used them interchangeably.

“Another example: my grandmother lived independently in an apartment in New York City into her early nineties, but she did need some help. We hired a very nice woman to live with her, help her do shopping and laundry, and keep an eye out in case she fell or needed help. So, if all went well, there was nothing for this woman to do. This drove my grandmother crazy. ‘She’s just sitting there!’ she would complain. Ultimately, the woman quit.”

This sense of obligation is common across the world. Ramadan, for example, is a young Egyptian engineer working for a public enterprise in Cairo.

The company needed a team of engineers to come in every morning and check whether the air conditioners were working, then hang around in case something broke. Of course, management couldn’t admit that; instead, the firm invented forms, drills, and box-­ticking rituals calculated to keep the team busy for eight hours a day. “I discovered immediately that I hadn’t been hired as an engineer at all but really as some kind of technical bureaucrat,” Ramadan explained. “All we do here is paperwork, filling out checklists and forms.” Fortunately, Ramadan gradually figured out which ones nobody would notice if he ignored and used the time to indulge a growing interest in film and literature. Still, the process left him feeling hollow. “Going every workday to a job that I considered pointless was psychologically exhausting and left me depressed.”

The end result, however exasperating, doesn’t seem all that bad, especially since Ramadan had figured out how to game the system. Why couldn’t he see it, then, as stealing back time that he’d sold to the corporation? Why did the pretense and lack of purpose grind him down?

A bullshit job—where one is treated as if one were usefully employed and forced to play along with the pretense—is inherently demoralizing because it is a game of make-­believe not of one’s own making. Of course the soul cries out. It is an assault on the very foundations of self. A human being unable to have a meaningful impact on the world ceases to exist."
davidgraeber  2018  work  bullshitjobs  capitalism  karlgroos  purpose  well-being  life  living  labor  play  pleasure  delight  employment  depression  slave  wageslavery  wages  freedom  humans  psychology  obligation  morality  care  caring  despair  consumerism 
may 2018 by robertogreco
The Hourly Wage Required to Rent a 2-Bedroom Apartment, 2017 - CityLab
"America’s mismatch between wages and rental prices is more perverse than ever."



"[map: "How many hourly wages workers make enough to afford modest rents?"]

For millions of Americans, housing costs are perversely mismatched to hourly wages. In 2017, the average U.S. worker would need to bring in a whopping $21.21 per hour to reasonably afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. That’s nearly three times the federal minimum wage of $7.25, and roughly 30 percent more than the $16.38 hourly wage that the average U.S. renter brings home.

These stark numbers come from the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s latest Out of Reach report, which maps the minimum hourly wage required to afford a modest rental based on federal Fair Market Rent (FMR) estimates. The report defines “affordable” as housing and utilities that cost no more than 30 percent of a person’s annual income—also the basic standard used by the feds. NLIHC has run these reports since 2005, and this minimum “housing wage” is rising year over year.

[chart: "Remote Hawaii is an outlier for its extreme housing unaffordability, but some of the nation’s most populous states have huge shortfalls between average renter wages and “housing” wages."]

Even with a handful of states and cities celebrating recent “livable wage” victories (or defeats, if you ask a certain Georgia congressional candidate), there’s not a single state, county, or metro area in which a simple two-bedroom rental is affordable to a person working 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year, at the local statutory minimum wage. And in states with particularly in-demand urban housing markets, the shortfall between rent and housing costs is particularly staggering.

For example, a FMR two-bedroom apartment in Hawaii, with the highest statewide housing costs in the nation, is $1,830. That would require earning $35.20 per hour, close to four times the state minimum wage of $9.25, and $19.56 per hour less than what the average renter there earns. In Maryland, a simple two-bedroom costs considerably less on average—$1,470 per month—but renters would still need to draw in $28.27 per hour to afford it.

[maps: "The twelves counties in Oregon, Arizona, and Washington where a one-bedroom apartment is affordable to minimum wage workers (shown in yellow) are largely rural, far from job centers. (NLIHC)"]

In only 12 counties in Washington, Arizona, and Oregon (all states with minimum wages above the federal standard) can that worker afford a modest one-bedroom unit. Almost all of these are in sparsely populated rural areas, far from job centers. More than 76 percent of renter households reside in a county or metro area where it takes more than 60 hours per week of full-time, minimum-wage work to reasonably afford even a one-bedroom unit. In California, the nation’s most populous state, it would take 92 hours. In Virginia, it would take 109.

More than 2 million U.S. workers are paid wages at or below the federal minimum, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That represents nearly 3 percent of all workers paid hourly. For these workers, the affordable housing pinch is most acute. The struggle is real for the rest, too. Americans earning median wages in many of the country’s fastest-growing occupations—customer service agents, nursing assistants, health aides, retail workers—aren’t making enough to manage even a one-bedroom without dumping more than 30 percent of their income.

[chart: "Of the seven fastest-growing jobs, only nurses make enough to reasonably afford rent."]

What gives? Rents are declining in some of the priciest American cities; it seems the luxury rental bubble has finally sprung a leak. But a persistent shortage of affordable units is still pinching renters in lower income brackets. Fewer families are buying homes, often due to a lack of access to mortgage credit or insufficient savings for a downpayment. Demand for rentals continues to surge, and households across the income spectrum are competing for the same scarce units. Low-wage workers have seen pay increases over the past two years, but those haven’t kept up with the cost of living through an affordable housing crisis with no end in sight."
labor  housing  rent  2017  minimumwage  affordability  california  hawaii  jobs  wages  income 
june 2017 by robertogreco
Deliveroo and its ilk are serving up low wages, insecurity and social division | Stefan Stern | Opinion | The Guardian
"And so it has come to this: swerving in and out of traffic to reach the customer in time to be free for the next call, should it come in"
gigeconomy  sharingeconomy  economics  deliveroo  stefanstern  insecurity  2015  wages  employment  uber  taskrabbit  livingwage  labor  work  inequality 
december 2015 by robertogreco
Bloom and Bust by Phillip Longman | The Washington Monthly
"Yet starting in the early 1980s, the long trend toward regional equality abruptly switched. Since then, geography has come roaring back as a determinant of economic fortune, as a few elite cities have surged ahead of the rest of the country in their wealth and income. In 1980, the per capita income of Washington, D.C., was 29 percent above the average for Americans as a whole; by 2013 it had risen to 68 percent above. In the San Francisco Bay area, the rise was from 50 percent above to 88 percent. Meanwhile, per capita income in New York City soared from 80 percent above the national average in 1980 to 172 percent above in 2013.

Adding to the anomaly is a historic reversal in the patterns of migration within the United States. Throughout almost all of the nation’s history, Americans tended to move from places where wages were lower to places where wages were higher. Horace Greeley’s advice to “Go West, young man” finds validation, for example, in historical data showing that per capita income was higher in America’s emerging frontier cities, such as Chicago in the 1850s or Denver in 1880s, than back east.

But over the last generation this trend, too, has reversed. Since 1980, the states and metro areas with the highest and fastest-growing per capita incomes have generally seen hardly, if any, net domestic in-migration, and in many notable examples have seen more people move away to other parts of the country than move in. Today, the preponderance of domestic migration is from areas with high and rapidly growing incomes to relatively poorer areas where incomes are growing at a slower pace, if at all."



"Since 1980, mergers have reduced the number of major railroads from twenty-six to seven, with just four of these mega systems controlling 90 percent of the country’s rail infrastructure. Meanwhile, many cities and towns have lost access to rail transportation altogether as railroads have abandoned secondary lines and consolidated rail service in order to maximize profits.

In this era, government spending on new roads and highways also plummeted, even as the number of people and cars continued to grow strongly. One result of this, and of the continuing failure to adequately fund mass transit and high-speed rail, has been mounting traffic congestion that reduces geographic mobility, including the ability of people to move to or remain in the areas offering the highest-paying jobs.

The New York metro area is a case in point. Between 2000 and 2009, the region’s per capita income rose from 25 percent above the average for all U.S. metro areas to 29 percent above. Yet over the same period, approximately two million more people moved away from the area to other parts of the country than moved in, according to the Census Bureau. Today, the commuter rail system that once made it comparatively easy to live in suburban New Jersey and work in Manhattan is falling apart, and commutes from other New York suburbs, whether by road or rail, are also becoming unworkable. Increasingly, this means that only the very rich can still afford to work in Manhattan, much less live there, while increasing numbers of working- and middle-class families are moving to places like Texas or Florida, hoping to break free of the gridlock, even though wages in Texas and Florida are much lower.

The next big policy change affecting regional equality was a vast retreat from antitrust enforcement of all kinds. The first turning point in this realm came in 1976 when Congress repealed the Miller-Tydings Act. This, combined with the repeal or rollback of other “fair trade” laws that had been in place since the 1920s and ’30s, created an opening for the emergence of super-chains like Walmart and, later, vertically integrated retail “platforms” like Amazon. The dominance of these retail goliaths has, in turn, devastated (to some, the preferred term is “disrupted”) locally owned retailers and led to large flows of money out of local economies and into the hands of distant owners.

Another turning point came in 1982, when President Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department adopted new guidelines for antitrust prosecutions. Largely informed by the work of Robert Bork, then a Yale law professor who had served as solicitor general under Richard Nixon, these guidelines explicitly ruled out any consideration of social cost, regional equity, or local control in deciding whether to block mergers or prosecute monopolies. Instead, the only criteria that could trigger antitrust enforcement would be either proven instances of collusion or combinations that would immediately bring higher prices to consumers.

This has led to the effective colonization of many once-great American cities, as the financial institutions and industrial companies that once were headquartered there have come under the control of distant corporations. Empirical studies have shown that when a city loses a major corporate headquarters in a merger, the replacement of locally based managers by “absentee” managers usually leads to lower levels of local corporate giving, civic engagement, employment, and investment, often setting in motion further regional decline. A Harvard Business School study that analyzed the community involvement of 180 companies in Boston, Cleveland, and Miami found that “[l]ocally headquartered companies do most for the community on every measure,” including having “the most active involvement by their leaders in prominent local civic and cultural organizations.”

According to another survey of the literature on how corporate consolidation affects the health of local communities, “local owners and managers … are more invested in the community personally and financially than ‘distant’ owners and managers.” In contrast, the literature survey finds, “branch firms are managed either by ‘outsiders’ with no local ties who are brought in for short-term assignments or by locals who have less ability to benefit the community because they lack sufficient autonomy or prestige or have less incentive because their professional advancement will require them to move.” The loss of social capital in many Heartland communities documented by Robert Putnam, George Packer, and many other observers is at least in part a consequence of the wave of corporate consolidations that occurred after the federal government largely abandoned traditional antitrust enforcement thirty-some years ago.

Financial deregulation also contributed mightily to the growth of regional inequality. Prohibitions against interstate branching disappeared entirely by the 1990s. The first-order effect was that most midsize and even major cities saw most of their major banks bought up by larger banks headquartered somewhere else. Initially, the trend strengthened some regional banking centers, such as Charlotte, North Carolina, even as it hollowed out local control of banking nearly everywhere else across America. But eventually, further financial deregulation, combined with enormous subsidies and bailouts for banks that had become “too big to fail,” led to the eclipse of even once strong regional money centers like Philadelphia and St. Louis by a handful of elite cities such as New York and London, bringing the geography of modern finance full circle back to the patterns prevailing in the Gilded Age.

Meanwhile, dramatic changes in the treatment of what, in the 1980s, came to be known as “intellectual property,” combined with the general retreat from antitrust enforcement, had the effect of vastly concentrating the geographical distribution of power in the technology sector. At the start of the 1980s, federal policy remained so hostile to patent monopolies that it refused even to grant patents for software. But then came a series of Supreme Court decisions and acts of Congress that vastly expanded the scope of patents and the monopoly power granted to patent holders. In 1991, Bill Gates reflected on the change and noted in a memo to his executives at Microsoft that “[i]f people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today.”

These changes caused the tech industry to become much more geographically concentrated than it otherwise would have been. They did so primarily by making the tech industry much less about engineering and much more about lawyering and deal making. In 2011, spending by Apple and Google on patent lawsuits and patent purchases exceeded their spending on research and development for the first time. Meanwhile, faced with growing barriers to entry created by patent monopolies and the consolidated power of giants like Apple and Google, the business model for most new start-ups became to sell themselves as quickly as possible to one of the tech industry’s entrenched incumbents.

For both of these reasons, success in this sector now increasingly requires being physically located where large concentrations of incumbents are seeking “innovation through acquisition,” and where there are supporting phalanxes of highly specialized legal and financial wheeler-dealers. Back in the 1970s, a young entrepreneur like Bill Gates was able to grow a new high-tech firm into a Fortune 500 company in his hometown of Seattle, which at the time was little better off than Detroit and Cleveland are today—a depopulating, worn-out manufacturing city, labeled by the Economist as “the city of despair.” Today, a young entrepreneur as smart and ambitious as the young Gates is most likely aiming to sell his company to a high-tech goliath—or will have to settle for doing so. Sure, high-tech entrepreneurs still emerge in the hinterland, and often start promising companies there. But to succeed they need to cash out, which means that they typically need to go where they’ll be in the deal flow of patent trading and mergers and acquisition, which means an already-established hub of high-tech “innovation” … [more]
us  inequality  urban  urbanism  coasts  economics  policy  politics  1980s  ronaldreagan  ip  intellectualproperty  wages  salaries  states  socialcapital  robertputnam  georgepacker  trusts  law  legal  regulation  business  finance  philliplongman 
november 2015 by robertogreco
Broad-Based Wage Growth Is a Key Tool in the Fight Against Poverty | Economic Policy Institute
"Over the last three-and-a-half decades, progress in reducing poverty has been painfully slow despite significant gains in economic productivity and average incomes. During the same time period, the inflation-adjusted wages of most low- and middle-income households have been essentially stagnant, which is the root cause of rising income inequality.

A primary objective of the Economic Policy Institute’s Raising America’s Pay initiative is to expose the roots of growing inequality and demonstrate inequality’s real, adverse effects on low- and middle-income households (Bivens et al. 2014). In this paper, we explore how wage stagnation and growing inequality have undermined progress in reducing poverty.

Between 1979 and 2013, hourly wage growth stagnated for the vast majority—even while those at the bottom relied increasingly heavily on their wages to make ends meet. At the same time, the vast majority of annual earnings increases for the bottom fifth were due to increasing work hours, not rising hourly wages. Income inequality over this period also increased—largely due to stagnant wages for low- and middle-income households—and became the single most important factor in the increase in poverty.

To show the significance of wage growth in reducing poverty, we simulate what would have happened to poverty rates had we experienced broad-based wage growth from 1979 to 2013. We first examine the effects on poverty had wage inequality not increased since 1979 (i.e., had everyone’s wages grown at the same rate as average wages). Next we examine how the poverty rate would have been lower had economic gains been broadly shared (i.e., had all wages grown at the same rate as economy-wide productivity). Both simulations show that we could achieve real gains in poverty reduction by ensuring that lower-income workers are able to share in our country’s economic growth. And even these projected gains likely understate the extent to which a full-employment economy could alleviate poverty, as it would disproportionately benefit low-wage workers. Had wages grown in tandem with productivity over 1979–2013 and if the economy were at full employment, the non-elderly market-based poverty rate (i.e., the poverty rate for Americans under age 65 before safety-net supports are taken into account) would be 4.2 percentage points lower. This means that 11.2 million fewer people would be in poverty.

These simulations show that increasing inequality, stagnant wages, and chronic shortfalls in labor demand have come at a serious cost to poverty-reduction efforts. Indeed, the economy’s failure to deliver gains to low-wage workers in recent decades means that the tax-and-transfer system is responsible for all of the progress made in poverty reduction since 1967. To boost the pace of poverty reduction going forward, fiscal transfers that help low-income families almost surely need to be accompanied by policies to foster widely shared wage growth. In fact, the simulated 4.2 percentage-point poverty-rate decline from using full employment and broad-based wage growth to reduce poverty is more than half as large as the poverty reduction from our entire range of anti-poverty programs.

Without wage gains, the tax-and-transfer system needs to work harder every year simply to keep poverty rates from increasing. We argue that a policy agenda to fight poverty must include an agenda to raise wages. This agenda should include raising the minimum wage, setting a new overtime threshold, eliminating wage theft, strengthening workers’ collective bargaining rights, and targeting full employment.

The paper’s key findings include: [continues]"
poverty  inequality  us  economics  2015  productivity  policy  wages  income  taxes  taxation  wealthtransfer  labor  work  elisegould  alyssadavis  willkimball 
may 2015 by robertogreco
The Machines Are Coming - NYTimes.com
"But computers do not just replace humans in the workplace. They shift the balance of power even more in favor of employers. Our normal response to technological innovation that threatens jobs is to encourage workers to acquire more skills, or to trust that the nuances of the human mind or human attention will always be superior in crucial ways. But when machines of this capacity enter the equation, employers have even more leverage, and our standard response is not sufficient for the looming crisis.

Machines aren’t used because they perform some tasks that much better than humans, but because, in many cases, they do a “good enough” job while also being cheaper, more predictable and easier to control than quirky, pesky humans. Technology in the workplace is as much about power and control as it is about productivity and efficiency.

This used to be spoken about more openly. An ad in 1967 for an automated accounting system urged companies to replace humans with automated systems that “can’t quit, forget or get pregnant.” Featuring a visibly pregnant, smiling woman leaving the office with baby shower gifts, the ads, which were published in leading business magazines, warned of employees who “know too much for your own good” — “your good” meaning that of the employer. Why be dependent on humans? “When Alice leaves, will she take your billing system with her?” the ad pointedly asked, emphasizing that this couldn’t be fixed by simply replacing “Alice” with another person.

The solution? Replace humans with machines. To pregnancy as a “danger” to the workplace, the company could have added “get sick, ask for higher wages, have a bad day, aging parent, sick child or a cold.” In other words, be human."



"This is the way technology is being used in many workplaces: to reduce the power of humans, and employers’ dependency on them, whether by replacing, displacing or surveilling them. Many technological developments contribute to this shift in power: advanced diagnostic systems that can do medical or legal analysis; the ability to outsource labor to the lowest-paid workers, measure employee tasks to the minute and “optimize” worker schedules in a way that devastates ordinary lives. Indeed, regardless of whether unemployment has gone up or down, real wages have been stagnant or declining in the United States for decades. Most people no longer have the leverage to bargain.

In the 1980s, the Harvard social scientist Shoshana Zuboff examined how some workplaces used technology to “automate” — take power away from the employee — while others used technology differently, to “informate” — to empower people.

For academics, software developers and corporate and policy leaders who are lucky enough to live in this “informate” model, technology has been good. So far. To those for whom it’s been less of a blessing, we keep doling out the advice to upgrade skills. Unfortunately, for most workers, technology is used to “automate” the job and to take power away.

And workers already feel like they are powerless as it is. Last week, low-wage workers around the country demonstrated for a $15-an-hour wage, calling it economic justice. Those with college degrees may not think that they share a problem with these workers, who are fighting to reclaim some power with employers, but they do. The fight is poised to move up the skilled-labor chain.

Optimists insist that we’ve been here before, during the Industrial Revolution, when machinery replaced manual labor, and all we need is a little more education and better skills. But that is not a sufficient answer. One historical example is no guarantee of future events, and we won’t be able to compete by trying to stay one step ahead in a losing battle.

This cannot just be about machines’ capabilities or human skills, since the true solution lies in neither. Confronting the threat posed by machines, and the way in which the great data harvest has made them ever more able to compete with human workers, must be about our priorities.

It’s easy to imagine an alternate future where advanced machine capabilities are used to empower more of us, rather than control most of us. There will potentially be more time, resources and freedom to share, but only if we change how we do things. We don’t need to reject or blame technology. This problem is not us versus the machines, but between us, as humans, and how we value one another."
zeyneptufekci  future  automation  robots  labor  work  machiens  humans  2015  empowerment  control  surveillance  economics  history  technology  wages  shoshanazuboff 
april 2015 by robertogreco
Chris Hedges: Boycott, Divest and Sanction Corporations That Feed on Prisons - Chris Hedges - Truthdig
"Former prisoners and prisoners’ relatives—suffering along with the incarcerated under the weight of one of the most exploitative, physically abusive and largest prison systems in the world, frustrated and enraged by the walls that corporations have set in place to stymie rational judicial reform—joined human rights advocates at the church to organize state and nationwide boycotts inside and outside prisons. These boycotts, they said, will be directed against the private phone, money transfer and commissary companies, and against the dozens of corporations that exploit prison labor. The boycotts will target food and merchandise vendors, construction companies, laundry services, uniforms companies, prison equipment vendors, cafeteria services, manufacturers of pepper spray, body armor and the array of medieval instruments used for the physical control of prisoners, and a host of other contractors that profit from mass incarceration. The movement will also call on institutions, especially churches and universities, to divest from corporations that use prison labor.

The campaign, led by the Interfaith Prison Coalition, will include a call to pay all prisoners at least the prevailing minimum wage of the state in which they are held. (New Jersey’s minimum wage is $8.38 an hour.) Wages inside prisons have remained stagnant and in real terms have declined over the past three decades. A prisoner in New Jersey makes, on average, $1.20 for eight hours of work, or about $28 a month. Those incarcerated in for-profit prisons earn as little as 17 cents an hour. Over a similar period, phone and commissary corporations have increased fees and charges often by more than 100 percent.

There are nearly 40 states that allow private corporations to exploit prison labor. And prison administrators throughout the country are lobbying corporations that have sweatshops overseas, trying to lure them into the prisons with guarantees of even cheaper labor and a total absence of organizing or coordinated protest."



"The corporate state seeks to reduce all workers at home and abroad to the status of prison labor. Workers are to be so heavily controlled that organizing unions or resistance will become impossible. Benefits, pensions, overtime are to be abolished. Workers who are not slavishly submissive to the will of corporate power will be dismissed. There will be no sick days or paid vacations. No one will be able to challenge unsafe and physically difficult working conditions. And wages will be suppressed to keep workers in poverty. This is the goal of corporate power. The 1 million prisoners employed at substandard wages by corporations inside prisons are, in the eyes of our corporate masters, the ideal workers. And those Americans who ignore the plight of prison labor and refuse to organize against it will increasingly find prison working conditions replicated outside prison walls."

[vi: http://scudmissile.tumblr.com/post/116029913728/the-corporate-state-seeks-to-reduce-all-workers-at ]
chrishedges  2015  corporatization  work  labor  costco  microsoft  mcdonalds  kochindustries  verizon  exxonmobil  jimcrow  blackpanthers  aramark  elililly  at&t  kmart  prisons  control  poverty  wages  prisonindustrialcomplex  incarceration  slavery  prisonlabor  submission  power  blackpantherparty 
april 2015 by robertogreco
The story of college — Medium
[Wayback: https://web.archive.org/web/20150406173924/https://medium.com/@freddiedeboer/the-story-of-college-48d3603e58c6 ]

"We are left with a situation in which institutions that were originally created to perpetuate the reign of an inherited, moneyed elite, and to train that elite to be civic leaders, are now facing the burden of incredible expectations. We expect our colleges, at this point, to essentially create a healthy labor market. With the demise of the middle class uneducated lifestyle, thanks to deliberate policy choices to crush unions and globalize labor markets, colleges are now expected to train an ever-growing population of students adequately to ensure them good jobs. Meanwhile, the madcap race to compete in the Resort-Hotel-Plus-Classes vision of higher education has resulted in an increasing reliance on exploited adjunct labor, the demise of the professoriate, the rise of sky-high tuitions and attendant debt loads, and more and more deserved public scrutiny.

In other words, America’s conservative, corporatist turn has led to declining per-capita state funding for universities thanks to austerity politics, the demise of unions as upwards pressure on wages, a shredded social safety net for those who struggle, and spiraling inequality that sees more and more of the economic pie eaten by a tiny elite. College still makes sense for graduates, as they continue to enjoy significant premiums in wages and unemployment over those without college educations. But the race to credentialize puts enormous pressure on high school students to attend the most selective institutions, erodes the value of the bachelor’s degree itself and compels many to pursue graduate degrees in law or business or medicine, and perhaps even perpetuates inequality rather than reducing it. After all, even with all of the expansion, only about 40% of working Americans has a college degree. It is unclear if the economic advantage they enjoy will survive with further expansion, given that skilled labor is subject to basic forces of supply and demand.

We’re left in a situation where everyone agrees that something has gone badly wrong, but no one is quite sure what alternatives to pursue. Many, such as myself, believe that too many people are being pushed into colleges where they are unlikely to succeed, but there is little in the way of alternative plans for mass prosperity. Arguments to increase the number of students attending trade schools are intuitively satisfying but lack evidentiary support. Arguments for sending more and more students into STEM fields are directly contradicted by available evidence. Arguments for mass online education cannot provide evidence that such systems can actually provide a quality education, particularly for the most at-risk students, and omit the social and networking functions that are an important aspect of college success. Average people can’t afford the rising cost of college thanks to enormous income inequality and stagnant wages, but neither can they afford not to go to school.

Colleges and universities deserve harsh criticism and badly need reform. The rise in administrative and amenity spending is suicidal; the use of exploited labor, unconscionable. Tuition rates must continue to slow, as they recently have. But ultimately, the problem is with our economy writ large. The pressures that colleges are under stem from the demise of broadly-shared prosperity. Without returning a substantial portion of the income growth for the top 10%, 5%, and 1% to the median American, there is likely no alternative to mass debt and economic stagnation. Proposals for free tuition and broad student loan forgiveness are a good start. But ultimately, our problems with higher education can only be solved through redistributive economic reform."
freddiedeboer  highered  highereducation  2015  history  policy  administrativebloat  economics  gender  race  colleges  universities  politics  inequality  labor  costs  education  stagnation  ronaldreagan  anationatrisk  wages  employment  unemployment  tuition  unions  us 
april 2015 by robertogreco
To Count for Nothing: Poverty Beyond the Statistics by Professor Ruth Lister - YouTube
"The lecture, chaired by Professor Sir John Hills CBE FBA, London School of Economics, was held at the British Academy in Carlton House Terrace in London on February 5th 2015.

Beyond the statistics that tend to dominate much public debate, a focus on the experience of poverty reveals its relational as well as material nature. The lecture explored this understanding of poverty with reference to the impact of the discourses that shame 'the poor' as 'the other' who 'count for nothing'. It argued that acknowledgement of the agency of people in poverty and the structural constraints and insecurity within which it is exercised together with a focus on human rights can frame counter discourses. The lecture ended with some brief reflections on political and policy implications.

About the speaker:
Ruth Lister is a Member of the House of Lords and Emeritus Professor of Social Policy, Loughborough University. She is also Honorary President and former Director of the Child Poverty Action Group, and Member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Baroness Lister has served on various independent Commissions, and she has published widely on poverty, social security, citizenship and gender."

[via somewhere I have forgotten a while ago and now via: https://twitter.com/josiefraser/status/581437348082249729 ]
ruthlister  poverty  resilience  policy  economics  agency  dignity  humanrights  2015  constraints  shame  benefits  dehumanization  humanism  sanctioning  statistics  welfare  wages 
march 2015 by robertogreco
Why Are Liberals Resigned to Low Wages? | The Nation [“Focusing on unsolvable problems excuses them from dealing with tough political problems.”]
"Liberals need to own the wage problem. Wages remain lower than they were before the Great Recession, following a generation of virtually no growth. Identifying why this is, and understanding the way out, will be essential as the economy gains steam yet still leaves many people behind. And this, in turn, will require overthrowing the reigning attitude that liberals have brought to our economic crisis. Let’s call it liberal nihilism.

Liberal nihilists try to explain why the economy isn’t serving workers, but they do so in ways that render us powerless to fix the problem. There’s a version where workers simply don’t have the education or skills necessary to handle new high-tech jobs. There’s another, similar story in which robots and globalization are taking all the jobs, leaving workers behind in the process.

These stories blame an impersonal market and individual failures for the stagnation of wages, but they don’t fully explain the thirty-five-year decline. For example, we don’t see the gains that would be expected if robots were really replacing workers. (Indeed, low pay for workers is a likely reason many businesses don’t even bother trying to upgrade their equipment.) The economy isn’t even working anymore for highly skilled workers, with many well-educated people seeing stagnant pay or being forced to take low-skill jobs.

But while these explanations are incorrect, that isn’t what makes them nihilistic. The nihilism rests in the fact that these stories are palliatives meant to relieve the anxiety of facing a massive political problem. They describe the collapse in wage growth not as a site of collective political struggle but instead as a story where no one—especially policy-makers—is responsible.

To address the issue of stagnant wages, we’ll have to leave that attitude behind, because the three major institutions that will determine wage growth are political ones.

The Federal Reserve is the first culprit. Contrary to popular belief, the Fed has been overly cautious during the Great Recession, refusing to announce bolder targets or set long-term interest rates directly. This caution will come to a head this year, when the Fed’s chair, Janet Yellen, will have to decide when to begin raising interest rates. If she acts too soon, she will slow down the economy, meaning labor will never regain the bargaining power it needs.

But wage growth is also a matter of how our productive enterprises are organized. Over the past thirty-five years, a “shareholder revolution” has re-engineered our companies in order to channel wealth toward the top, especially corporate executives and shareholders, rather than toward innovation, investments and workers’ wages. As the economist J.W. Mason recently noted, companies used to borrow to invest before the 1980s; now they borrow to give money to stockholders. Meanwhile, innovations in corporate structures, including contingent contracts and franchise models, have shifted the risk down, toward precarious workers, even as profits rise. As a result, the basic productive building blocks of our economy are now inequality-generating machines.

The third driver of wage stagnation is government policy. As anthropologist David Graeber puts it, “Whenever someone starts talking about the ‘free market,’ it’s a good idea to look around for the man with the gun.” Despite the endless talk of a “free market,” our economy is shaped by myriad government policies—and no matter where we look, we see government policies working against everyday workers. Whether it’s letting the real value of the minimum wage decline, making it harder to unionize, or creating bankruptcy laws and intellectual-property regimes that primarily benefit capital and the 1 percent, the way the government structures markets is responsible for weakening labor and causing wages to stay stuck.

This is not how Democratic politicians and liberal thinkers usually talk about the economy. There is a comfort—perhaps even a glee—in waving away these difficult political problems and replacing them with a story in which no one is at fault, save the workers themselves. But if liberals want to ensure a broadly shared prosperity, let alone present a compelling narrative about how their policies will work for voters, they’ll need to recover these stories."
mikekonczal  economics  wages  income  employment  salaries  2015  government  corporations  federalreserve  markets  davidgraeber 
march 2015 by robertogreco
Wouldn’t Unconditional Basic Income Just Cause Massive Inflation? — Basic income — Medium
"The money for a basic income guarantee would be already existing money circulated through the economic system. It would not be new money, just money shifted from one location to another. This means that the value of each dollar has not changed. The dollar itself has only changed hands.

It is also important to note the observation that even when money supply is vastly expanded, the effects on prices need not be extreme. For example, the Fed’s quantitative easing added over four trillion new dollars to the U.S. money supply, and the results were not enough inflation, as defined by the Fed."



"So even though basic income would not be printing new money for everyone, even if it were, inflation would not be a guaranteed result.

With that understood, to then understand how much we should actually fear rising prices as a result of redistributing existing money from one place to another instead of printing new money requires some studying, but the short answer is that capitalism not only still exists with basic income, it is enhanced.

By enhanced, I mean there is growing evidence from where basic incomes have been actually tried that it increases entrepreneurship. We also have actual examples of partial basic incomes, that we can examine for inflationary evidence.

Aside from this evidence, we also need to understand how increased demand leading to higher prices isn’t as simple as we might think is is, and how when it comes to housing prices, in a future where everyone has basic incomes, we are likely to see some very interesting market adjustments. Meanwhile, fears involving unearned income and increased velocity require a closer examination."



"The Inflation Bogeyman

Inflation is not the unmanageable danger it is made out to be. It is a complex equation involving multiple variables, and in the context of evaluating the idea of a universal basic income guarantee, because a basic income will be set at a basic level, there is even less to fear.

Because we have actual evidence, there is less to fear.

Because capitalism will be enhanced, there is less to fear.

Because technology will continue to advance and make goods like housing cheaper, there is less to fear.

Because our economic capacity is underutilized and underconsumption is systemic, there is less to fear.

There is however one real thing to fear…

Increased Wages and Salaries

Basic income could provide an upward force on wages through increased individual bargaining power and slightly decreased labor force participation rates, and businesses as a result of new higher labor costs could raise their prices so as to keep their profits unchanged.

This would mean that if you are currently earning $20,000 per year, you’d not only get an extra $12,000 per year in basic income, but also $10,000 in higher wages. Your new yearly income would be $42,000 and groceries might end up costing you an extra 1.4 percent per month.

Would you personally have a problem with earning an extra $22,000 and paying an extra $50 on groceries? Let’s assume you would, and that you also think it’s wrong the cost of food would go up for everyone else as well, including those with only $12,000 per year basic incomes, and therefore with tighter fixed budgets. There is one last final detail to understand.

Any basic income can and should be indexed to match or beat inflation.

Indexing Basic Income

Just as the minimum wage has eroded over time because of inflation and the political fight over ever raising it, a basic income should automatically rise each year to match inflation so that it doesn’t erode in the same way.

Better yet, instead of just indexing a basic income to CPI, it could even be indexed to something like productivity, so that the gains of society continue to accrue more widely for everyone, instead of only the few.

(Because wages and salaries certainly aren’t rising with productivity and haven’t for decades.)

The result of this would be a basic income that always increases faster than inflation, so that each and every year, we would be able to buy a greater amount of goods and services than the year before.

It cannot be stressed enough that this ability is especially important to enable in advance of the decades ahead of us as software and hardware continue to decrease the need for human labor, and as a result, decreases availability of ever decreasing incomes derived from human labor."
universalbasicincome  2014  scottsantens  inflation  economics  hyperinflation  wages  income  compensation  salaries  labor  work  ubi 
february 2015 by robertogreco
Robert Reich: Why Work Is Turning Into a Nightmare | Alternet
"How would you like to live in an economy where robots do everything that can be predictably programmed in advance, and almost all profits go to the robots' owners?

Meanwhile, human beings do the work that's unpredictable - odd jobs, on-call projects, fetching and fixing, driving and delivering, tiny tasks needed at any and all hours - and patch together barely enough to live on.

Brace yourself. This is the economy we're now barreling toward.

They're Uber drivers, Instacart shoppers, and Airbnb hosts. They include Taskrabbit jobbers, Upcounsel's on-demand attorneys, and Healthtap's on-line doctors.

They're Mechanical Turks.

The euphemism is the "share" economy. A more accurate term would be the "share-the-scraps" economy.

New software technologies are allowing almost any job to be divided up into discrete tasks that can be parceled out to workers when they're needed, with pay determined by demand for that particular job at that particular moment.

Customers and workers are matched online. Workers are rated on quality and reliability.

The big money goes to the corporations that own the software. The scraps go to the on-demand workers.

Consider Amazon's "Mechanical Turk." Amazon calls it "a marketplace for work that requires human intelligence."

In reality, it's an Internet job board offering minimal pay for mindlessly-boring bite-sized chores. Computers can't do them because they require some minimal judgment, so human beings do them for peanuts -- say, writing a product description, for $3; or choosing the best of several photographs, for 30 cents; or deciphering handwriting, for 50 cents.

Amazon takes a healthy cut of every transaction.

This is the logical culmination of a process that began thirty years ago when corporations began turning over full-time jobs to temporary workers, independent contractors, free-lancers, and consultants.

It was a way to shift risks and uncertainties onto the workers - work that might entail more hours than planned for, or was more stressful than expected.

And a way to circumvent labor laws that set minimal standards for wages, hours, and working conditions. And that enabled employees to join together to bargain for better pay and benefits.

The new on-demand work shifts risks entirely onto workers, and eliminates minimal standards completely.

In effect, on-demand work is a reversion to the piece work of the nineteenth century - when workers had no power and no legal rights, took all the risks, and worked all hours for almost nothing.

Uber drivers use their own cars, take out their own insurance, work as many hours as they want or can - and pay Uber a fat percent. Worker safety? Social Security? Uber says it's not the employer so it's not responsible.

Amazon's Mechanical Turks work for pennies, literally. Minimum wage? Time-and-a half for overtime? Amazon says it just connects buyers and sellers so it's not responsible.

Defenders of on-demand work emphasize its flexibility. Workers can put in whatever time they want, work around their schedules, fill in the downtime in their calendars.

"People are monetizing their own downtime," says Arun Sundararajan, a professor at New York University's business school.

But this argument confuses "downtime" with the time people normally reserve for the rest of their lives.

There are still only twenty-four hours in a day. When "downtime" is turned into work time, and that work time is unpredictable and low-paid, what happens to personal relationships? Family? One's own health?

Other proponents of on-demand work point to studies, such as one recently commissioned by Uber, showing Uber's on-demand workers to be "happy."

But how many of them would be happier with a good-paying job offering regular hours?

An opportunity to make some extra bucks can seem mighty attractive in an economy whose median wage has been stagnant for thirty years and almost all of whose economic gains have been going to the top.

That doesn't make the opportunity a great deal. It only shows how bad a deal most working people have otherwise been getting.

Defenders also point out that as on-demand work continues to grow, on-demand workers are joining together in guild-like groups to buy insurance and other benefits.

But, notably, they aren't using their bargaining power to get a larger share of the income they pull in, or steadier hours. That would be a union - something that Uber, Amazon, and other on-demand companies don't want.

Some economists laud on-demand work as a means of utilizing people moreefficiently.

But the biggest economic challenge we face isn't using people more efficiently. It's allocating work and the gains from work more decently.

On this measure, the share-the-scraps economy is hurtling us backwards."
robertreich  2015  economics  sharingeconomy  society  work  labor  ondemand  uber  efficiency  unions  insurance  benefits  downtime  responsibility  wages  employment  freelance  regulation 
february 2015 by robertogreco
Transcendent dandyism – The art of dolce far niente – Albert Cossery and escape artistry | Lebenskünstler
"Extreme Indolence: On the Fiction of Albert Cossery [http://www.thenation.com/article/168020/extreme-indolence-fiction-albert-cossery ]

"…A novelist who made a cult of laziness, he had no qualms about taking it easy when it came to literary invention—“The same idea is in all my books; I shape it differently,” he once said…



Cossery’s heroes are usually dandies and thieves, unfettered by possessions or obligations; impoverished but aristocratic idlers who can suck the marrow of joy from the meager bones life tosses their way. They are the descendants of Baudelaire’s flâneur, of the Surrealists with their rejection of the sacrosanct work ethic, of the Situationists and their street-theater shenanigans, not to mention the peripatetic Beats or the countercultural “dropouts” of the 1960s. Henry Miller, who raised dolce far niente to an art form, praised Cossery’s writing as “rare, exotic, haunting, unique.” Whether Cossery’s merry pranksters wish merely to have a good time or, as in The Jokers, to wage an all-out campaign of raillery against the powers that be, there is one belief they all share: the only true recourse against a world governed by “scoundrels” is an utter disregard for convention, including the convention of taking anything seriously.



…The proud beggars in this story are Gohar, who has abandoned a professorship to live on the fringe as a street philosopher and bookkeeper in a brothel; Gohar’s protégé, the poet and drug dealer Yeghen, who tries to live his life as if it were itself a poem; and El Kordi, a revolutionary sympathizer chafing against his dead-end job as a government clerk.

…"

Albert Cossery and the Political Subversion of the Transcendent Dandy [http://www.deathandtaxesmag.com/114238/albert-cossery-and-the-political-subversion-of-the-transcendent-dandy/ ]

"The Egyptian-French novelist Albert Cossery was a philosophical and aesthetic dandy who loathed the idea of work, celebrated underground movements and ideas, and absolutely detested power. He was the dandy as a political subversive—an idea that must be resurrected.



Cossery, in a sense, is something of the offspring of the Surrealist Jacques Vache, a self-described “umourist” who revelled in doing nothing at all. An artist who decided not to create art, a poet who decided not to write poetry, all in an effort to prove that creation of works is counter-intuitive to the true artist, who must live the art and not leave evidence or relics as proof of genius.



Governments are, in fact, quite terrified of this sort of philosophical dandyism—of the aggregate of individuals who subvert by gleefully doing nothing.



And so it is the politically subversive dandy—the transcendent dandy—who is best-equipped to lead a new politically-subversive movement, where a panoply of ideas merge like a kaleidoscope. The dandy understands the absurdity of power and the various ways to subvert, ignore and transcend it, without resorting to violent means.

Dandyism, at its core, is political subversion, and Albert Cossery was nothing if not a dandy. And it was the dandies, the forgotten and ignored whom Cossery celebrated in his novels.



…Characters opt to withdraw from any idea of a career. To recognize the absurdity of joining power in its game (government) and staying as far away from it as possible. To know that love—for friends, fuck buddies, boyfriends, girlfriends—was all and that it was untouchable, transcendent.

We need a new era of dandyism, of subversives. We need a new counter-culture.

The dandy as imagined by Cossery has time to think and enjoy life. Idleness is not only a virtue for Cossery and his characters, it is elevated to the natural state of being—a rejection of the unnatural tethers which are fixed to our bodies as soon as we escape the womb: the classroom, the cubicle, the wage, the dollar, rent, and so forth."

[See also: http://randallszott.org/2014/09/29/loving-those-that-god-forgets-albert-cossery-idleness-is-more-than-a-way-of-life/
http://randallszott.org/2014/09/29/how-to-stop-time-toward-a-politics-of-the-unprolific-eternal-life-for-the-lazy/ ]
albertcossery  randallszott  2014  dandies  dandyism  idleness  counterculture  subversion  subversives  power  art  poetry  writing  wageslaevery  wages  oppression  classrooms  education  schools  unschooling  deschooling  cv  rent  careers  governement  love  friendship  transcendence  politics  nonviolence  philosophy  nothing  trickster  laziness  classroom 
october 2014 by robertogreco
Against Sharing | Jacobin
"“Sharing economy” companies like Uber shift risk from corporations to workers, weaken labor protections, and drive down wages."
uber  labor  sharing  economy  wages  capitalism  economics  2014  aviasher-schapiro  risk  siliconvalley  unions  sharingeconomy 
september 2014 by robertogreco
Robert Reich (Work and Worth)
"What someone is paid has little or no relationship to what their work is worth to society.

Does anyone seriously believe hedge-fund mogul Steven A. Cohen is worth the $2.3 billion he raked in last year, despite being slapped with a $1.8 billion fine after his firm pleaded guilty to insider trading?

On the other hand, what’s the worth to society of social workers who put in long and difficult hours dealing with patients suffering from mental illness or substance abuse? Probably higher than their average pay of $18.14 an hour, which translates into less than $38,000 a year.

How much does society gain from personal-care aides who assist the elderly, convalescents, and persons with disabilities? Likely more than their average pay of $9.67 an hour, or just over $20,000 a year.

What’s the social worth of hospital orderlies who feed, bathe, dress, and move patients, and empty their ben pans? Surely higher than their median wage of $11.63 an hour, or $24,190 a year.

Or of child care workers, who get $10.33 an hour, $21.490 a year? And preschool teachers, who earn $13.26 an hour, $27,570 a year?

Yet what would the rest of us do without these dedicated people?

Or consider kindergarten teachers, who make an average of $53,590 a year.

Before you conclude that’s generous, consider that a good kindergarten teacher is worth his or her weight in gold, almost.

One study found that children with outstanding kindergarten teachers are more likely to go to college and less likely to become single parents than a random set of children similar to them in every way other than being assigned a superb teacher.

And what of writers, actors, painters, and poets? Only a tiny fraction ever become rich and famous. Most barely make enough to live on (many don’t, and are forced to take paying jobs to pursue their art). But society is surely all the richer for their efforts.

At the other extreme are hedge-fund and private-equity managers, investment bankers, corporate lawyers, management consultants, high-frequency traders, and top Washington lobbyists.

They’re getting paid vast sums for their labors. Yet it seems doubtful that society is really that much better off because of what they do.

I don’t mean to sound unduly harsh, but I’ve never heard of a hedge-fund manager whose jobs entails attending to basic human needs (unless you consider having more money as basic human need) or enriching our culture (except through the myriad novels, exposes, and movies made about greedy hedge-fund managers and investment bankers).

They don’t even build the economy.

Most financiers, corporate lawyers, lobbyists, and management consultants are competing with other financiers, lawyers, lobbyists, and management consultants in zero-sum games that take money out of one set of pockets and put it into another.

They’re paid gigantic amounts because winning these games can generate far bigger sums, while losing them can be extremely costly.

It’s said that by moving money to where it can make more money, these games make the economy more efficient.

In fact, the games amount to a mammoth waste of societal resources.

They demand ever more cunning innovations but they create no social value. High-frequency traders who win by a thousandth of a second can reap a fortune, but society as a whole is no better off.

Meanwhile, the games consume the energies of loads of talented people who might otherwise be making real contributions to society — if not by tending to human needs or enriching our culture then by curing diseases or devising new technological breakthroughs, or helping solve some of our most intractable social problems.

Graduates of Ivy League universities are more likely to enter finance and consulting than any other career.

For example, in 2010 (the most recent date for which we have data) close to 36 percent of Princeton graduates went into finance (down from the pre-financial crisis high of 46 percent in 2006). Add in management consulting, and it was close to 60 percent.

The hefty endowments of such elite institutions are swollen with tax-subsidized donations from wealthy alumni, many of whom are seeking to guarantee their own kids’ admissions so they too can become enormously rich financiers and management consultants.

But I can think of a better way for taxpayers to subsidize occupations with more social merit: Forgive the student debts of graduates who choose social work, child care, elder care, nursing, and teaching."
2014  robertreich  worlk  labor  inequality  incomeinequality  income  pay  economics  productivity  wages  capitalism  purpose  value  money 
august 2014 by robertogreco
Our Work Here Is Done: Visions of a Robot Economy [.pdf]
"The essays in this volume address a number of possibilities for how the proceeds of a robot revolution might be redistributed. Notably, Noah Smith’s piece argues for a universal basic income for everyone, paid for from the proceeds of robot–enhanced productivity.

What is clear is that if automation necessitates a big shift in how we tax, it offers an opportunity to start taxing more sensible things. Economists have long argued for taxing land, carbon emissions and other bads, rather than taxing work. If there is less work about in the future, this may be the chance to make a change.

There is also the question of how we share out the rewards of a robot economy. We may not yet be ready for a universal basic income, since at least for the time being so many people’s conception of (their own and others’) value to society is bound up in work. But it is surely worth making policies to encourage ownership of robots is widely dispersed. The simplest way to make sure everyone has a stake in robots is to encourage widespread pension ownership – so that people own shares in the companies that own the robots.

But if the riches of automation are really as abundant as some people think they are, we could go further, and learn a lesson from the few countries that have dealt well with natural resource riches, like Norway and Alaska, by establishing a national endowment to hold wealth on behalf of citizens. The proceeds of this could be used to pay an annual dividend to citizens (as in Alaska) or to invest in future productivity (as has been proposed in Norway)."
universalbasicincome  labor  robot  income  taxation  taxes  economics  2014  nesta  change  jsutice  future  competition  cooperation  ryanavent  noahsmith  francescoppola  alanwinfield  nickhawes  ertruitt  jonturney  izabellakaminska  georginavoss  machines  slavery  edwardskidelsky  frederickguy  tessreidy  steverandywaldman  machineage  power  wages  ubi 
june 2014 by robertogreco
Black Friday and the Race to the Bottom : The New Yorker
"Around the country, there are the beginnings of a wage movement. A minimum-wage hike has passed the State Senate in Massachusetts, and similar efforts are under way in New York and numerous other towns and counties. (In this week’s issue of the magazine, Steve Coll writes about one in Washington State.) President Obama announced his support for a Senate bill that would increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 over two years. Fast-food workers have been protesting low pay for months, and they plan to walk off the job in a hundred cities this coming Thursday, demanding fifteen dollars an hour. On Black Friday, more than a hundred people were arrested outside Walmart stores from coast to coast. This movement is the great social-justice cause of our time.

But who is paying attention? A YouTube clip of the arrests had a hundred and twenty-nine views by midafternoon on Monday. A video of a woman being arrested inside a Walmart during a Black Friday scuffle over heavily discounted twenty-three-inch TVs had more than six million views, along with more than fifteen thousand comments, many of them along the lines of “fighting over piece of shit tv’s ….Only in America.”

You would think that the major American retailers, keenly aware of the problem of “slow wage growth” and still smarting from their lousy Black Friday numbers, would be leading the protests in favor of higher wages. But one place where the new wage movement has made no inroads is Bentonville, Arkansas, where Walmart has its headquarters. Apparently, slow wage growth has nothing to do with Walmart, which is bitterly opposed to any legislation that would require it to pay its workers more. The other major American retailers feel the same way. They argue that higher wages would mean higher prices and fewer employees. Though there is very little evidence to support the notion that minimum-wage increases lead to layoffs and unemployment, and a great deal of evidence to refute it, the retailers are sticking to their story, which is the story of the American economy of the past generation: lower prices and lower wages—a race to the bottom.

During the civil-rights era, some moderate Southern businessmen spoke up in favor of equal opportunity on economic grounds: if department stores and other businesses were desegregated, they would have more customers, and, with expanded access to employment, those customers would have more spending power. This bottom-line thinking allowed the businessmen to land on the right side of history without explicitly identifying with the demands and aspirations of black Southerners.

Similarly, while no big-box executive can risk being seen by shareholders to be openly taking the side of the lowest-paid employees, there is a hardheaded argument to be made for doing so: the company’s revenues depend on higher hourly wages. While no one imagines that Republicans would allow the minimum-wage bill to pass the House of Representatives, corporate executives are paid to be ruthlessly practical. America is still waiting for the first retail C.E.O. to see what’s in front of his nose."
2013  georgepacker  minimumwage  walmart  wages  salaries  work  labor  economics  incomeinequality  inequality 
december 2013 by robertogreco
Filthy Lucre | VICE United States
Until you see it, you never realize how separate the sphere of the rich is from that of everyone else.



Meritocracy is America's foundational myth. If you work hard, society tells us, you'll earn your place in the middle class. But any strawberry picker knows hard work alone is a fast road to nowhere. Similarly, we place our faith in education. Study, and the upper-middle class will be yours. Except the average student graduates $35,000 in debt.

Artists too have their myths. The lies told to artists mirror the lies told to women. Be good enough, be pretty enough, and that guy or gallery will sweep you off your feet, to the picket-fenced land of generous collectors and two and a half kids. But, make the first move, seize your destiny, and you're a whore.

But neither hard work nor talent nor education are passports to success. At best, they're small bits of the puzzle.

A fine artist, (successful, credential-festooned, with inherited money), told me that I was too focused on commerce to be an artist. A real artist endured poverty. Being poor was edifying, filled with moral uplift. I spent weeks in a murderous rage.



Those with money usually think they deserve it. But most people who make the world run—who care for kids, who grow food, who would rebuild after natural disasters and societal collapse—will never be rich, no matter how hard or well they work, because society is constructed with only so much room on top.



If you have money, you can pay to live in a bubble of politesse. Excellent wine choice, sir. Here's your gift bag, madam. Often, you don't have to pay for it. The mere promise that you might will keep you sipping prosecco and deserving of servile attentions. Soon, you think this treatment is earned.



A decade of practice honed my talent. But cash let me express it. To pretend otherwise is to spit in the face of every broke genius who can't afford materials or time. It's to say I got here because I'm better than them.

I am good. But it's never just about that.



It's easy to ignore luck, privilege, and bloody social climbing when you stand onstage in a pair of combat boots. It’s easy to say that if people are just good enough, work hard enough, ask enough, believe enough, they will be like us.

But it’s a lie. Winning does not scale. We may be free beings, but we are constrained by an economic system rigged against us. What ladders we have are being yanked away. Some of us will succeed. The possibility of success is used to call the majority of people failures.

Celebrate beating a treacherous system. But remember, there is no god handing out rewards to the most deserving. Don't pretend that everyone can win."
mollcrabapple  us  money  economics  wages  employment  salaries  luck  success  art  privilege  class  meritocracy  wealth  winning  scale 
june 2013 by robertogreco
The Decline of the Professional – Implications for the Future of Money | OnTheSpiral
"”Professional” in one word says:<br />
<br />
• I do this for money, not for personal gratification.<br />
• There is no grey area between my personal and professional roles.<br />
• When operating in my professional role I get paid.<br />
• When operating in my personal role I don’t talk about work.<br />
• To do so would undermine my ability to get paid.<br />
• I have obligation to my firm and family to bring home the bacon.<br />
• Anyone who doesn’t maintain the same distinction is unprofessional.<br />
<br />
Of course, every one of the assertions above is now losing relevance.  Most importantly we now expect more from our work than money…we now seek to develop careers around our passions, or at least to structure our work environments in order to encourage engagement. As the amount of intrinsically motivated economic activity grows the justifications for commercial payment becomes less clear…"
professionalism  change  careers  passion  pay  wages  economics  motivation  obligation  meaning  purpose  2011  from delicious
august 2011 by robertogreco
Overworked America: 12 Charts that Will Make Your Blood Boil | Mother Jones
"In the past 20 years, the US economy has grown nearly 60 percent. This huge increase in productivity is partly due to automation, the internet, and other improvements in efficiency. But it's also the result of Americans working harder—often without a big boost to their bottom lines. Oh, and meanwhile, corporate profits are up 20 percent."
culture  politics  economics  business  work  labor  us  world  comparison  productivity  2011  overwork  wages  growth  employment  unemployment  disparity  inequality  vacation  maternityleave  childcare 
june 2011 by robertogreco
Germany holds onto high-wage manufacturing
"This growing appreciation of the German model is a welcome change from the laissez-faire approach to globalization that has dominated US policy & discourse for decades, dooming many Rust Belt denizens to lives of crystal meth & quiet desperation. But some of these analyses still understate the crucial distinctions btwn Germany's stakeholder capitalism, which benefits the many, & our shareholder capitalism, which increasingly benefits only the few.<br />
<br />
First, German manufacturers, particularly midsize & small-scale ones that often dominate global markets in specialized products, don't seek funding from capital markets (there's a local banking sector that handles their needs) & don't answer to shareholders. They make things, while we make deals, or trades, or swaps.<br />
<br />
Second, the key to both retention & continual upscaling of manufacturing in Germany is the composition of corporate boards, which are required by law to have an equal number of management and employee representatives."
us  germany  business  policy  making  manufacturing  capitalism  shareholders  finance  unions  labor  wages  profits  2011  from delicious
june 2011 by robertogreco
Income Inequality and the 'Superstar Effect' - NYTimes.com
"CAPITALISM relies on inequality…pay disparities steer resources [people] to where they would be most productively employed.

In poor economies, fast economic growth increases inequality…Inequality spurs economic growth by providing incentives …pulls best & brightest into most lucrative lines of work, where most profitable companies hire…

Yet increasingly outsize rewards accruing to nation’s elite…threaten to gum up incentive mechanism. If only a very lucky few can aspire to a big reward, most workers are likely to conclude it's not worth effort to try…odds aren’t on their side.

Inequality has been found to turn people off…measurably less satisfied w/ jobs…more likely to look for another…winner-take-all games tend to elicit much less player effort & more cheating…

…How much inequality is necessary?…economy grew even faster 1951-80, when inequality declined…

US is rich country w/ most skewed income distribution…Americans are less economically mobile…"
economics  disparity  wages  labor  growth  us  capitalism  incentives  motivation  wealth  elite  elitism  winnertakeall  work  inequality  mobility  finance  sports  wealthdistribution  from delicious
december 2010 by robertogreco
YouTube - RSA Animate - Crises of Capitalism
"In this RSA Animate, radical sociologist David Harvey asks if it is time to look beyond capitalism towards a new social order that would allow us to live within a system that really could be responsible, just, and humane?"
davidharvey  capitalism  economics  politics  rsaanimate  homeownership  us  culture  germany  greece  policy  banks  finance  banking  canon  housing  worldbank  imf  neoliberalism  liberalism  alangreenspan  marxism  instability  systemicrisk  capitalaccumulation  crisis  labor  capital  1970s  1980s  unions  offshoring  power  wagerepression  wages  credit  creditcards  debt  personaldebt  2010  limits  greed  profits  industry  london  uk  latinamerica  wealth  india  china  inequality  incomeinequality  wealthinequality  hedgefunds 
june 2010 by robertogreco
Marginal Revolution: Was recent productivity growth an illusion?
"Median wages were stagnant, the stock market was down, and health care costs were rising, without necessarily translating into better outcomes. Mandel argues that the current collapse in part stems from the revelation that productivity growth (and no, he doesn't trust the reported numbers) was low all those years. On top of all that perhaps productivity growth in finance was overstated as well."
economics  productivity  growth  tylercowen  michaelmandel  us  2009  crisis  recession  wages  markets  healthcare 
march 2009 by robertogreco
Baumol's cost disease (aka Baumol Effect) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"involves a rise of salaries in jobs that have experienced no increase of labor productivity in response to rising salaries in other jobs which did ...goes against theory in classical economics that wages are always closely tied to labor productivity changes...rise of wages in jobs w/out productivity gains is caused by necessity to compete for employees w/ jobs that did...& hence can naturally pay higher salaries...In range of businesses...car manufacturing & retail, workers are continually more productive due to tech innovations to tools & equipment. In contrast, in some labor-intensive sectors that rely heavily on human interaction or activities...nursing, education, performing arts there is little/no growth in productivity over time...total factor productivity treatment is not available to performing arts sector, because consumable good is labor itself...increases in price of performing arts has been offset by increases in standard of living & entertainment spending by consumers."
productivity  performingarts  work  economics  wages  pay  labor  entertainment  services  manufacturing  via:migurski 
november 2008 by robertogreco

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