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“The gap between low and middle is collapsing.”
March 16, 2011 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Public Job as Only Route to Middle Class. 'While that might not seem like much, jobs' 'with benefits and higher-than-minimum wages, are considered plum in' the town of Gallipolis a 'depressed corner of southern Ohio. Decades of industrial decline have eroded private-sector jobs here, leaving a thin crust of low-paying service work that makes public-sector jobs look great in comparison.''Now, as Ohio’s legislature moves toward final approval of a bill that would chip away at public-sector unions, those workers say they see it as the opening bell in a race to the bottom. At stake, they say, is what little they have that makes them middle class.'

'“We’re not living in any rich, high-income way,” said Ms. Taylor, 37, who, together with her husband, protested the public-sector bill in Columbus this month.

“What are they wanting?” she said of the bill. “For everyone to be making minimum wage?”'

'Wages at the bottom of the labor market have stagnated since 1970, with inflation gobbling up gains made over the years. The federal minimum wage buys a lot less today; it represented just 38 percent of the average hourly wage for private, nonsupervisory workers in 2010, down from 47 percent in 1970, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.'
posted by VikingSword (183 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
“What are they wanting?” she said of the bill. “For everyone to be making minimum wage?”'

Something something free market utopia something something.

Anything less is socialist!
posted by yeloson at 1:35 PM on March 16, 2011 [30 favorites]


Less than minimum wage. A dollar a day or bust.
posted by T.D. Strange at 1:39 PM on March 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


“What are they wanting?” she said of the bill. “For everyone to be making minimum wage?”'

Well, that would be a start. Ideally, if we weren't already in certain tax brackets, we would all be serfs, but that's some way down the road. Pesky assumptions about The American Dream, life for the middle class as it appears on TV commercials and in the movies, etc., etc.
posted by blucevalo at 1:41 PM on March 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Public sector jobs are increasingly becoming the only road to middle class in most of the country. It's not just economically depressed places like Ohio.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:43 PM on March 16, 2011 [19 favorites]


Yeah, there's nothing sacred about minimum wage. Of course, after that, things start to get hairier, because what can you use to push down wages then? Child labor? Unlimited immigration?
posted by mittens at 1:47 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, you know, the reason we outsource so many jobs to other countries is because labor is so much cheaper there.

If we reduce the wages of workers to unlivable levels, they'll have to take jobs that pay just as little as jobs overseas.

Thus, jobs will return to America because American workers will actually be getting paid the same or less as their third world counterparts.

Basically, the only way to make sure America remains a first world nation is to turn it into a third world nation.

/making Mudd's fembots' heads explode
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:49 PM on March 16, 2011 [29 favorites]


Once America opened itself up to "Free Trade" a couple decades ago, I personally assumed it would send most of our "middle class" jobs to countries where workers could do them for pennies to our dollars. I'm actually pleasantly surprised it's taken this long.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:50 PM on March 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


I hope everyone remembers this kind of thing at the ballot box and remembers what's happened in Wisconsin as well.
posted by theredpen at 1:51 PM on March 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


what can you use to push down wages then? Child labor?

worth a try
posted by Legomancer at 1:51 PM on March 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


I hope everyone remembers this kind of thing at the ballot box

They won't.
posted by aramaic at 1:52 PM on March 16, 2011 [22 favorites]


NRO points out: : If you look at Charleston, W.V. (which is close to Gallipolis), and adjust for cost of living, $63,000 is the equivalent of $147,000 in Manhattan, $123,000 in Brooklyn, and $108,000 in Queens.
posted by Jahaza at 1:55 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Basically, the only way to make sure America remains a first world nation is to turn it into a third world nation.

Nope. We could also organize and improve the standards of third world labor. For one thing, we could make US labor standards universally binding to all contracts corporations who want to do business in the US enter into. Well, we could have done that, back when we were still an invincible economic super-power. Not sure if we've still got the clout now.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:01 PM on March 16, 2011 [27 favorites]


Public sector jobs are increasingly becoming the only road to middle class in most of the country. It's not just economically depressed places like Ohio.
posted by stoneweaver at 4:43 PM on March 16 [+] [!] No other comments.


True. The hands-down largest employer in my rural county is the county government (schools in 5 of 8 incorporated communities, as well as county employees (courts, cops, etc) in the county seat), city governments, the adjacent county (Alachua County Public Schools, courts, cops) and the state, in the form of prisons or the University of Florida.

Note - UF employees in my county are overwhelmingly not faculty, but physical plant and service employees who cheerfully drive 45 minutes into Gainesville to make a minimum of $10/hr (plus bens) to cut grass or clean lavatories at the U rather than the state or fed minimum they'd make here.
posted by toodleydoodley at 2:01 PM on March 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


See, it's part of the grand strategy to bring jobs back the the US. All that has to happen is for US workforce wages to drop below those of their Chinese counterparts. It's simple, really. Yes, there will be some pain along the way, but we live in difficult times, right?

Now, where did I park the Lexus?
posted by Thorzdad at 2:02 PM on March 16, 2011 [4 favorites]



NRO points out: : If you look at Charleston, W.V. (which is close to Gallipolis), and adjust for cost of living, $63,000 is the equivalent of $147,000 in Manhattan, $123,000 in Brooklyn, and $108,000 in Queens.


I really don't understand what point the NRO blogger is trying to make, except to be a jackass and claiming that 63k a year is overpaying a dual income family.
posted by ghharr at 2:03 PM on March 16, 2011 [15 favorites]


Joey Michaels - I was having a similar argument with a friend a few months ago about something in that vein: that part of the continuing downward pressure against the American middle class is the distribution of wealth and prosperity to developing nations. This was, in many ways, a sucky thing for the average North American, but a good thing for global equity and, in the long run, we'll all be stronger for it. It was a total Thomas Friedman moment.

The problem with that analysis (as it was pointed out to me) is that it was manifesting as -everyone- in the US getting poorer, and everyone in Asia getting richer, that'd be one thing. But it's really a moderate subset of Asians seeing more prosperity, and larger number of Americans getting poorer, and a tiny fraction of both a Global Elite skimming the cream as they tilt the field ot their own advantage.

Thus, you can't expect America to go from first to third then back to first once the global tide of progress lifts all boats, as the journey from first to third will leave you with a corrupt oligarchy that is will be, at that point, fully vested in keeping everyone else in this country as dirt poor as possible.

So, yeah, this sucks for everyone.
posted by bl1nk at 2:03 PM on March 16, 2011 [24 favorites]


Yeah, so, I grew up outside Gallipolis, and every time I go back home, it only gets more depressing. There's nothing left there, barely even restaurants (the Courtside Bar & Grill is one of 2 or 3 sit-down restaurants for a town of 4,000 people). When I went back for my fifth high school reunion, every single person there who had an opportunity to leave the area had done it and hadn't looked back.

I know some of the people in the article a little bit, and, let me also say that it is an intensely weird feeling having the place you grew up used as a stunning example of rural poverty. I mean, we all knew it was shitty growing up (which is why so many of us left), but not bad enough for a NYT article.
posted by Copronymus at 2:03 PM on March 16, 2011 [18 favorites]


If you look at Charleston, W.V. (which is close to Gallipolis), and adjust for cost of living, $63,000 is the equivalent of $147,000 in Manhattan, $123,000 in Brooklyn, and $108,000 in Queens.

....and?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:04 PM on March 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've been wondering why labor doesn't turn around this public worker debate and say, "Yeah, state workers DO have great pensions. Because they have unions. Isn't the logical answer for you to join unions too, instead of killing the bastion of middle class life?"
posted by msalt at 2:04 PM on March 16, 2011 [35 favorites]


NRO points out: : If you look at Charleston, W.V. (which is close to Gallipolis), and adjust for cost of living, $63,000 is the equivalent of $147,000 in Manhattan, $123,000 in Brooklyn, and $108,000 in Queens.

Um, except that you don't live in New York City or Charleston and get none of the benefits that come from living there.
posted by Maias at 2:05 PM on March 16, 2011 [16 favorites]


NRO points out: people who make more than 250k are scare-quotes "rich", people who make 63k are overpaid.
posted by lantius at 2:05 PM on March 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


Anecdata: My mom, who is in her very early 50s and doesn't have a college degree and lives in the county seat of a very rural county, realized that she won't be able to support herself and my (disabled) dad as they get older without a public pension, so she got a job as a social worker and is planning to keep it for 20 years (until she's in her 70s).

We could also organize and improve the standards of third world labor.

Werd. It seems so obvious, but hurf durf free trade and all that.
posted by muddgirl at 2:05 PM on March 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


If you look at Charleston, W.V. (which is close to Gallipolis), and adjust for cost of living, $63,000 is the equivalent of $147,000 in Manhattan, $123,000 in Brooklyn, and $108,000 in Queens.

Which is fantastic, if you can get one of those $63,000/year jobs. In plenty of places through the country, those jobs just plain don't exist outside of the public sector. There's a vast gap between people making $20,000/year and those making $85,000/year. It's a two pole system, with a tiny public sector bridge running between the two.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:05 PM on March 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


$147k for a family of four in Manhattan is not that great. I'm guessing a 3BR is going to run you about $3-5k/month, minimum.
posted by electroboy at 2:05 PM on March 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


People actually get the pro-union argument— the most popular way to fix the budget is actually to tax the rich more. But politicians refuse to go there because it would not please their corporate masters, whom they need to get re-elected even if they may personally believe that's the right thing to do. It's disgusting.
posted by Maias at 2:07 PM on March 16, 2011 [18 favorites]


bl1nk - For what it's worth, I was being sarcastic.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:08 PM on March 16, 2011


People actually get the pro-union argument— the most popular way to fix the budget is actually to tax the rich more. But politicians refuse to go there because it would not please their corporate masters, whom they need to get re-elected even if they may personally believe that's the right thing to do. It's disgusting.

How do we fix this? I'm serious. There has got to be a way, and I don't want to keep feeling helpless. How can we get politicians to vote with the people?
posted by stoneweaver at 2:09 PM on March 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


Meanwhile, U.S. millionaires say $7 million not enough to be rich.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:10 PM on March 16, 2011


The real problem is that Gallipolis has no jobs, no tax base and no prospects. Most of these people would be better served by paying them to relocate, rather than letting them endure the slow death spiral of a failing rust belt city.
posted by electroboy at 2:14 PM on March 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


There has got to be a way, and I don't want to keep feeling helpless. How can we get politicians to vote with the people?

I don't know if we can anymore. It's why I've become so disillusioned with politics these last few years and why, I imagine, so many voters who would have prevented some of these Tea party takeovers stayed home.

I pointed this out a while back but worth repeating again: Congress, still with a Democratic majority, voted to extend the Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans. They were automatically set to expire. They had to, quite literally, do absolutely nothing, to raise taxes on the wealthy. And they failed.

I feel helpless too, because most of the people I voted for aren't choosing to help me. The rest lost to people who are bragging about how they're hurting me.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:15 PM on March 16, 2011 [66 favorites]


Joey Michaels - I got that, but was posting my response more as a pre-emption for anyway who was taking that argument seriously. It is a fairly serious topic within immigrant circles when we compare life here to life back home.
posted by bl1nk at 2:15 PM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


My public sector job was definitely my ticket to the lower middle class!
Family of four on 25k/yr.
I've finally made it, ma!
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 2:16 PM on March 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


the global tide of progress lifts all boats

I personally HATE that metaphor, even more so after the Japan tsunami. An adequately rising tide sinks more boats than it rises and engulfs coastal communities.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:16 PM on March 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


Once America opened itself up to "Free Trade" a couple decades ago, I personally assumed it would send most of our "middle class" jobs to countries where workers could do them for pennies to our dollars.

Maybe so, but the population of this particular town seems to have been in decline since the 1960s. In any case, even if a country is not open to free trade, competition from other nations is going to take a bite out of that country's exports. You can protect domestic production, but you can't really force people in other countries to buy your stuff when they can get merchandise of similar quality from elsewhere for less. That's the main reason I'm skeptical of protectionist policies; I've seen them fail to work in several European countries already. Britain's domestic automobile industry provides a particularly stark example.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:18 PM on March 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Relevant:

A public union employee, a tea party activist, and a CEO are sitting at a table with a plate of a dozen cookies in the middle of it.
The CEO takes 11 cookies, turns to the tea partier and says, ‘Watch out for that union guy. He wants a piece of your cookie.'
posted by dry white toast at 2:26 PM on March 16, 2011 [185 favorites]


From the first paragraph linked NRO article about strapped millionaires: "Liberals believe, more or less, that once someone’s income reaches the “rich” threshold, they have little right to keep any additional dollars they make. "

Have you ever noticed how when a sentence starts that way the correct answer is always "less?"
posted by escabeche at 2:28 PM on March 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


So, maybe the solution is to standardize on a common global currency and equalize pay for similar jobs worldwide, in order to better eliminate the race to the bottom in terms of wages? Once wages are normalized worldwide, competition would be based on quality or uniqueness of goods and services produced, and not on which crowd of slaves can be had for the lowest price.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:28 PM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Where did you people get the idea that jobs are natural resources, owned by the government, and sprinkled over the population like pixie dust to turn poor people into middle class consumers? Talk about trickle-down economics! Tell your elected officials to stop thinking in terms of "creating jobs", get them to talk about welcoming business, lowering taxes, busting unions, cracking down on organized crime, stoping official corruption, and making Ohio a place where an honest business person would want to set up shop. The jobs will follow.
posted by Faze at 2:30 PM on March 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


Wait which step do I feed the unicorns?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:30 PM on March 16, 2011 [21 favorites]


Huh I guess that could apply to both Thorzdad and Faze's comment now.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:31 PM on March 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


FAZE ACTUALLY BELIEVES THIS
posted by entropicamericana at 2:31 PM on March 16, 2011 [69 favorites]


just a minor thought in passing: we bitch here about working at a minimum wage. Remember who it was that insisted that there ought to be such a thing as a minimum. It is not nice. It is not good. But it was worse under Those Who Don't Give A Shit.
posted by Postroad at 2:32 PM on March 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I'm with Faze, the government in Ohio needs to stop intentionally making Ohio a bad place to do business, and also stop overpaying people who should be poor. The people in Ohio would be a lot better off if they all made less money. That's logic, you can't argue with it.
posted by facetious at 2:34 PM on March 16, 2011 [12 favorites]


Yes, and an equivalent standard of living on a private island off the cost of Dubai would cost $17billion dollars. Obviously they're the ones ruining America.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:36 PM on March 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Where did you people get the idea that jobs are natural resources, owned by the government, and sprinkled over the population like pixie dust to turn poor people into middle class consumers?

The Keebler Factory. In Malaysia.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:37 PM on March 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


get them to talk about welcoming business, lowering taxes, busting unions, cracking down on organized crime, stoping official corruption, and making Ohio a place where an honest business person would want to set up shop. The jobs will follow.

While business owners do indeed like all this stuff, none of it matters much. And, seriously, organized crime? This is not a major issue in US unemployment.

If you want to "create jobs" you need to create customers who have money to spend. And that means paying a minimum wage, having job security, a stable banking system, etc.
posted by GuyZero at 2:37 PM on March 16, 2011 [22 favorites]


Also, that NRO piece about how two-income families making $63,000 need to shut up literally gave me a stomach ache it was so wrong-headed. Can you guys at least pretend to be human already?
posted by facetious at 2:39 PM on March 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


I pointed this out a while back but worth repeating again: Congress, still with a Democratic majority, voted to extend the Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans. They were automatically set to expire. They had to, quite literally, do absolutely nothing, to raise taxes on the wealthy. And they failed.

I think if you check back, you'll find that had they done nothing taxes would have gone up on middle-income folks as well - not by a huge amount, but by enough to hurt a much larger number of people at a time when economic recovery was/is still fairly fragile. In that case, the GOP would be arguing that right after they won back the house, the outgoing Democratic majority chose to raise taxes on a majority of American families as their last legislative act. Then they would promptly have started pushing an even larger tax cut.

Remember the president doesn't have a line-item veto. He can't keep the part of a bill he likes and strip out the bits that he thinks provide an excessive benefit to the wealthy.

So, maybe the solution is to standardize on a common global currency and equalize pay for similar jobs worldwide

That tends to make people start screeching about one world government...but you have a point. In some ways the price of oil serves that very purpose. But it's not productive to think of completely equalizing pay for jobs; in places where there is a much larger supply of labor you'll end up creating fewer jobs - for the same reason that it's a lot cheaper to make steel near an iron mine than it is to make it 1000 miles away. There's always going to be a bit of variation because of different demographics and geography. But you do see that as China becomes more developed wages and working conditions are starting to improve, which benefits the US both in terms of making our manufacturing more competitive and providing a new market for our goods and services.

I think Faze also has a point. As long as government is seen as the creator/provider of jobs, politicians have an incentive to connive with industry and then take the credit at election time. Government can create some jobs, in infrastructure, services and so on. But it shouldn't be a source of patronage. Both parties play this game and I find it obnoxious.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:41 PM on March 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


Where did you people get the idea that jobs are natural resources, owned by the government, and sprinkled over the population like pixie dust to turn poor people into middle class consumers?

Well, you see, I'm a liberal, and I read in NRO that this is what liberals more or less think.
posted by escabeche at 2:46 PM on March 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


I've been wondering why labor doesn't turn around this public worker debate and say, "Yeah, state workers DO have great pensions. Because they have unions. Isn't the logical answer for you to join unions too, instead of killing the bastion of middle class life?"

I think that part of it is that people have been conditioned to believe that the union workers are getting benefits that they don't deserve. Further, we don't deserve them either. The obvious solution is to strip those benefits from union members. It's the "I don't need a handout" attitude (of course, the rich get handouts all the time and don't seem upset by it. Good enough for them, good enough for us).

I can't help wondering if I've been conditioned that way. I don't have a pension in my job and the concept seems wierd to me. I would feel wierd about fighting for one. Part of that, I'm sure, is that I make good money and have retirement pretty well sorted out. But is that all?
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 2:50 PM on March 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


you need to create customers who have money to spend.

Not really. Not to be a successful business anyway. That's why WalMart (which owns the lower 80%) is no longer a 'hot stock'

I do get a laugh at the wording "reluctance among less affluent Americans to join in. " Try inability.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:52 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


“What are they wanting?” she said of the bill. “For everyone to be making minimum wage?”'

Ding ding ding ding ding.

Also, everybody let up on Faze. Everybody knows this recession was caused by unions and the mob. I mean, just look at this invisible newspaper headline that I just made up "TAXES, ORGANIZED CRIME, CAUSE OF RECESSION SAYS FAZE".

I mean, shit, just look at it.
posted by Avenger at 2:53 PM on March 16, 2011 [17 favorites]


What recession? The recession officially ended in June 2009. THAT'S TWENTY MONTHS AGO. The economy is expanding. You're just no longer part of "the economy".
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:57 PM on March 16, 2011 [20 favorites]


“What are they wanting?” she said of the bill. “For everyone to be making minimum wage?”'

I have a very strong feeling that what "they" want, and by "they" I mean tea party supporters, is for people who look like them and live in their community to not have anything more than "they" do. If "they" are going to be at the mercy of corporations who regularly do not honor work agreements and raid pensions of the little guy all the time, than everyone should be in that position. Also "they" feel like government workers are looking down at them, or even laughing at them because they found a way to game the system.

It's the other side of the I got mine, fuck you coin. This side reads, if I don't get mine, I'm going to fuck you. Either way, it's your fault.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 2:57 PM on March 16, 2011 [24 favorites]


I don't have a pension in my job and the concept seems wierd to me. I would feel wierd about fighting for one. Part of that, I'm sure, is that I make good money and have retirement pretty well sorted out. But is that all?

Well, see, that's the thing. A pension isn't something extra that you get as some kind of un-earned benefit. It's basically deferred pay, a contract between the worker and the business that the worker will take less money NOW in order to receive money LATER.

Employers who view worker pensions as such plan for the future. They may not like having that huge pool of money they really can't touch, but since it's really deferred pay, it's really not the employer's to touch. Sadly, these are not really the rule.

That you have enough income to cover the need for a pension is something to applaud your employer for.
posted by hippybear at 2:59 PM on March 16, 2011 [17 favorites]


Not really. Not to be a successful business anyway. That's why WalMart (which owns the lower 80%) is no longer a 'hot stock'

I don't know, I think that kind of proves my point.

Wal-Mart is in a race to the bottom. Lowest wages, lowest costs, lowest prices.

The trouble is that they've won. They got to the bottom. And you can't go any lower.

Luxury goods, on the other hand, have no ceiling. Plus all the MBA stuff about brands being able to move downmarket, but not up, etc, etc.

Here's the thing: it is, once again, the tragedy of the commons. If everyone pays taxes, but I pay no taxes then not much changes but I have a big local advantage. But when everyone pays no taxes then all of a sudden everything goes to shit. Tea partiers all want to get a local advantage without realizing that when they all get a local advantage, no one gets an advantage and everyone is, in fact, a lot worse off than before.
posted by GuyZero at 3:00 PM on March 16, 2011 [19 favorites]


A pension isn't something extra that you get as some kind of un-earned benefit. It's basically deferred pay, a contract between the worker and the business that the worker will take less money NOW in order to receive money LATER.

And this is what pisses me off about the conservative "Greedy unions have ruined our economies with their pensions!" narrative. What ruined our economies was fiscal mismanagement - states seeing pensions as emergency funds that they could tap when their revenue streams were low.
posted by muddgirl at 3:03 PM on March 16, 2011 [21 favorites]


That you have enough income to cover the need for a pension is something to applaud your employer for.

Sort of. I'm well educated, skilled, and in a high-paying field. I don't have a pension because my industry typically doesn't offer them (my wife and sister both earn good money and have pensions).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 3:05 PM on March 16, 2011


theredpen: I hope everyone remembers this kind of thing at the ballot box and remembers what's happened still happening in Wisconsin as well.

It ain't over until Scott Walker is at home with his wife eating chili watching some woman sing on American Idol. FOREVER.
posted by desjardins at 3:07 PM on March 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


> But politicians refuse to go there because it would not please their corporate masters, whom they need to get re-elected

The elephant in the room is the structure of campaign financing.

Or, actually, I suppose the elephant's stomach is the room.
posted by darth_tedious at 3:07 PM on March 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


I don't have a pension because my industry typically doesn't offer them

Sounds like it's time for a union song singalong! Hit it boys!
posted by hippybear at 3:07 PM on March 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


The elephant in the room is the structure of campaign financing.

QFMFT.
posted by hippybear at 3:08 PM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I better see y'all out from behind your keyboards and on the streets on April 4. And there is plenty going on before that, check around.
posted by desjardins at 3:10 PM on March 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


There are many workers who have discovered that their pensions have vanished, eaten up by the very companies that put money aside for the pensions but then decided that they needed that money for some reason or another.

A very simple solution. Do not allow the company to be in charge of the pension. Thus, for example, teachers have money put into TIAA--teachers insurance and annuity. Wherever a teacher moves to for another job, that vested amount goes with her. The money is kept out of the hands of the employer, and so the pension if safe from being looted.
posted by Postroad at 3:11 PM on March 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


A Denver Post columnist, writing from the small mountain town of Salida, writes eloquently about the usefulness of public workers, who do more things than we often think about. There are a lot of us, and while we may not be able to vacation overseas, and while we may worry about how to afford college for our children, we do not have to worry about feeding, clothing and housing our families. This is a basic standard for life in the middle class.

There are two other things that we public workers have, associated with the power that union membership has certainly help solidify: job security and health care. Not having those two things is the unfortunate condition of the majority of American workers.
posted by kozad at 3:11 PM on March 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sort of. I'm well educated, skilled, and in a high-paying field.

And your employer doesn't make matching contributions to your 401k? It's not exactly the same as a pension but in my case it works out financially better.
posted by muddgirl at 3:12 PM on March 16, 2011


The elephant in the room is the structure of campaign financing.

The tyranasaurus rex in the room is the assumed fact that the campaign that spends the most wins. Which is why Meg Whitman is California's first woman governor.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:14 PM on March 16, 2011


From the first paragraph linked NRO article about strapped millionaires: "Liberals believe, more or less, that once someone’s income reaches the “rich” threshold, they have little right to keep any additional dollars they make. "

Excuse me while I wipe the bloody foam from my lips.

This article is like one of those old-school fax jokes which explains that, despite the rich having umpty-bajillion dollars in income, once you get done subtracting all the other expenses (state and local taxes, cost of living blah blah, obligatory gold-plated whatever) they're responsible for, the rich actually have *less* money available than the greedy middle class public workers to pay in taxes to shore up our teetering society.
posted by toodleydoodley at 3:14 PM on March 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


I said this in the blue about a week ago...
But it needs to be more than government workers. We cant be the only working folk who earn a decent wage and have good benefits in this country. We need the middle class to stand up and re-unionize, fight back for what they can get - I don't care if its Walmart Greeters local 502, you've got to fight for your rights, fight for a middle class.
And its got to be something other than manufacturing - that ship has sailed. If any jobs come back, it'll be incredibly highly automated with a fraction of the workforce it required before.

Government's job is to create and maintain civilization, for lack of a better word. So you don't have to worry about being invaded by foreign forces, or held up on the street corner. To make sure your kids get an education so they can be just as productive, if not more productive than the generation before.

All of this union busting, complaining about corrupt or incompetent government, they're all tiny tiny tiny distractions against the massive looting and pillaging of the middle class by the rich and powerful that occur on a daily basis, aided and abetted by government here and around the world.

The only idea I have to fight back is kind of crazy. See the idea would be to create a virtual billionaire, with the interests of the middle class at heart to go up against all the Kochs and American Crossroads and whatever else. The problem is how do you create a super-PAC with a specific mission and organizational structure to accommodate the differing viewpoints of all its members. Its easy to find a few millionaires or billionaires to come together for a cause, but finding one million people to donate $1,000 each? Or 10M people to donate $100 each? How do you corral all those people to agree on something, or how do you come up with a mission statement that isn't milquetoast that will appeal to that many people?

At some point the poor cant fight back anymore because fighting costs money, and the poor don't have any.
posted by SirOmega at 3:18 PM on March 16, 2011 [20 favorites]


The tyranasaurus rex in the room is the assumed fact that the campaign that spends the most wins. Which is why Meg Whitman is California's first woman governor.

Gosh, I never thought it about that way... Why, I hope you keep this to yourself, it could cause an incredible blow to the advertising industry! To think, all these companies and candidates throwing money away on something that has no effect whatsoever!
posted by entropicamericana at 3:21 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


>The tyranasaurus rex in the room is the assumed fact that the campaign that spends the most wins. Which is why Meg Whitman is California's first woman governor.

Actually, I think the more important assumed point is that of "all things being equal".

Sure, Meg Whitman lost.

Sure, Phil Gramm lost.

Sure, Millionaire Max-Spender #228 lost.

But those are edge cases. For the most part, they were terrible campaigners, or had very weak messages, or were beaten by more skillful campaigners.

Without the sheer power of money, they would never even have been in the race.
posted by darth_tedious at 3:21 PM on March 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


but but but wealthy people will fleeeeeeeee if we raise their taxes!!!!!!
posted by edgeways at 3:22 PM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


but finding one million people to donate $1,000 each? Or 10M people to donate $100 each?

I believe that this is what the democratic part did recently, but we all know who they are arguing for now they have the cash....
posted by lalochezia at 3:22 PM on March 16, 2011


There has got to be a way, and I don't want to keep feeling helpless.

May I point you in the direction to this thread, which -- while quite long, admittedly -- has a ton of valuable info toward the last quarter or so regarding events that are literally popping up every day around the country. In fact, desjardins made a map with events, thsmchinekillsfascists made a wiki to start centralizing resources, and there is also a nationwide day of action on April 4 (the anniversary of MLK's assassination). (on preview: curse you, desjardins!)

After about 30 years, class politics and the labor movement are actually waking up in the U.S., and you can get on board whether you're in a union or not. In fact, the more non-union working people who do get involved, the more powerful the movement can be -- politically and organizationally. (Who knows... maybe people will actually start forming unions at their workplaces again, rather than simply having to defend what few unions are left.)
posted by scody at 3:23 PM on March 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


A very simple solution. Do not allow the company to be in charge of the pension. Thus, for example, teachers have money put into TIAA--teachers insurance and annuity. Wherever a teacher moves to for another job, that vested amount goes with her. The money is kept out of the hands of the employer, and so the pension if safe from being looted.
This is sort of what happens in Australia - all employers must pay a contribution ( minimum 9% of wages) to a superannuation fund that provides a pay-out on retirement. It's not a perfect solution by any means, if only because the fund is required to invest the money in accordance with the wishes of the employee, which usually means shares, so the money in your fund is subject to variation based on the stock market - when the market nose-dived a couple of years ago, lots of people took huge hits to their retirement funds and, if you were unlucky enough to be retiring around that time, you could have been facing a very different financial future than you anticipated. This also has the (I assume) unintended consequence of artificiality inflating blue-chip shares, as most people elect 'low yield, low risk' options for their portion of the fund, requiring the superannuation fund managers to buy huge quantities of blue-chip shares without any discretion about when they buy (they must invest the money paid into the find within certain time-frames). This results in forced buying of large chunks of shares at times when no sane investor would purchase.

But, for all its flaws, pretty much every worker in Australia can look forward to some degree of financial independence in retirement. Unfortunately, this also widens the gap between those who spend their working lives fully employed and those who are on the margins of gainful employment or who spend long periods of time out of the workforce.
posted by dg at 3:24 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The only idea I have to fight back is kind of crazy. See the idea would be to create a virtual billionaire, with the interests of the middle class at heart to go up against all the Kochs and American Crossroads and whatever else. The problem is how do you create a super-PAC with a specific mission and organizational structure to accommodate the differing viewpoints of all its members.

Yeah, I think it's called a union.
posted by rkent at 3:29 PM on March 16, 2011 [44 favorites]


Unions aren't generally billionaires (in so far as political donations and fund raising goes). Plus I was going for less an elected board (union) to a benevolent dictatorship (PAC).
posted by SirOmega at 3:33 PM on March 16, 2011


Government's job is to create and maintain civilization, for lack of a better word. So you don't have to worry about being invaded by foreign forces, or held up on the street corner. To make sure your kids get an education so they can be just as productive, if not more productive than the generation before.
I couldn't agree with this more. I work in government, so I see this from the inside and I think governments need to get back to focussing on what they are there for, instead of spending billions of dollars 'creating' jobs, because there's no future in those jobs once the government funding runs out. Governments should concentrate on security and keeping the economy strong and let business take care of creating jobs, which will happen (as if by magic!) in a strong economy. Creating jobs in a weak economy contributes to the downward spiral of the economy itself. Of course, this needs to be balanced by ensuring that people are protected and things such as mandatory health care and retirement funds (by whatever name) are part of this.

The biggest problem with the idea of the 'virtual billionaire' is that pretty much any person (or group of people) who would step up to be in charge of such an animal would be indistinguishable from those who they would be fighting against. Those who are best qualified would not be interested.
posted by dg at 3:35 PM on March 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


"And, seriously, organized crime? This is not a major issue in US unemployment."

GuyZero, I respectfully disagree. Organized crime is a major issue in US unemployment-- it's called the finance sector.
posted by wuwei at 3:37 PM on March 16, 2011 [21 favorites]


"Organized crime" is dog-whistle for "mafia-controlled unions."

This is why we constantly have conservatives engage in what seems like straw man politics. They seem to be making a case for what liberals believe that is merely useful to them. But, with a lot of them, it isn't even that. They speak in code to the audience, in order to communicate the message they want to the fringe but let it fly over the heads of the middle and give them plausible deniability from the left. And so they assume we do too.

So they're not creating a straw man; at least, they think they aren't. They think they're translating for us. So when we say "A fair day's pay for a fair day's work," they hear "socialist class war leading to Sharia law." And they honestly think that's what we want, and what we're dog whistling to each other.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:42 PM on March 16, 2011 [36 favorites]


Organized crime is a major issue in US unemployment-- it's called the finance sector.

So I have no particular love for these guys in finance, but there are two things:

one, there is a legitimate need for financial markets and brokers.

two, when you're dealing with trillions of dollars of cash flow, it's pretty easy to keep a few billion as your fee without really upsetting anyone.

These guys aren't criminals because they haven't broken any laws. "Write more laws!" you say? That's the problem with these guys. Their whole existence is based on finding rents and arbitrage opportunities. In a strange way, they actually make the world more efficient. Except when they get greedy and/or get eaten by a black swan.
posted by GuyZero at 3:44 PM on March 16, 2011


How Wall Street and Wisconsin Officials Blew Up the State’s Pension Fund.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:47 PM on March 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


>Their whole existence is based on finding rents and arbitrage opportunities.

Technological progress, pretty much by definition, is the pursuit of radical advantage-- the more advanced or arcane the technology, the more you get winner-take-all merry-go-rounds and booms-and-busts.

Hence the importance of regulation.
posted by darth_tedious at 3:48 PM on March 16, 2011


Hence the importance of regulation.

The real trouble-makers will always be a step ahead of detailed regulation and the costs of regulatory compliance will be borne by the players who aren't trouble-makers.

IMO generic regulations like minimum capital requirements for deposit banks are the best because they're very simple to obey, they're simple to verify and they tend to produce the correct result. Plus everyone hates them, so they must be good.

As for credit default swaps against the state pension(s), it seems like clear malfeasance on the part of pension fund managers. I mean, cripes, how did you assholes think that was going to turn out?
posted by GuyZero at 3:55 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


We must briing back manufacturing and core industries back to the US. We can all work in retail or food services or just services in general. We need to utilize our Nation's natural resources and PRODUCE something that we can consume ourselves and sell to other nations. Sadly, not everyone is cut out to be an engineer, computer programmer, doctor, etc... We need basic production industries back in the USA to provide careers for everyone. Hopefully, after we hit the bottom we can start to swim back to the top! Until then, it's Back to Basics. And the basics are good :-)
posted by no1nose at 3:55 PM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


And the basics are good :-)

Adam Smith, who is about as basic as you can get, would disagree. Counter-intuitively, most service jobs are actually more economically productive than primary or secondary industry work.
posted by GuyZero at 3:57 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


desjardins: It ain't over until Scott Walker is at home with his wife eating chili watching some woman sing on American Idol. FOREVER
That's not fair; Lauren Alaina is somewhat curvy but I wouldn't call her "fat"; she looks normal and healthy and she's only 16 for christ's sake!
posted by hincandenza at 4:00 PM on March 16, 2011


GuyZero,
Nope. They did commit crimes. See William K. Black: Still Banking on Fraud.

"Economists George Akerlof and Paul Romer explained in 1993 that accounting fraud is a “sure thing” and explained why it caused bubbles to hyper-inflate, then burst. Note that the same recipe that produces record fictional income in the short-term eventually produces catastrophic real losses. The lender will fail (unless it is bailed out or able to sell to the “greater fool”), but with their compensation largely based on reported income, the senior officers can walk away wealthy. This paradox—the CEO prospers by causing the firm’s collapse—explains Akerlof and Romer’s title, Looting: The Economic Underworld of Bankruptcy for Profit."

If you talk to people who worked as operations officers at banks during the bubble, they will tell you that senior executives had them wave off prior standards for loans. This was because the senior executives knew they could book the loans as profits, reap profit-related bonuses/stock options, and then get out before the company blew up. Those who spoke out against it were marginalized and sidelined. It was fraud all the way.
posted by wuwei at 4:07 PM on March 16, 2011 [15 favorites]


>Counter-intuitively, most service jobs are actually more economically productive than primary or secondary industry work.

But you do hit a ceiling for the number of service, information, or executive workers needed faster than you do for primary workers-- that's the nature of the pyramid.

And when the number of people not so much at the base of the pyramid, but not connected to the pyramid at all, is too great... then it's important to take a look at the kinds of pyramids being built, and the question of how relevant they still are.

It's a good way to keep vines and jungle from overrunning those pyramids.
posted by darth_tedious at 4:13 PM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I hope everyone remembers this kind of thing at the ballot box

aramaic: They won't.


I know they won't, aramaic! But I keep hoping they will.
posted by theredpen at 4:17 PM on March 16, 2011


nothing makes a rich man cringe more than a middle class man dying with money in the bank
posted by any major dude at 4:18 PM on March 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


Some of the comments in this thread are downright ridiculous. You know, not everyone who makes $RICH/year is some evil asshole that hates poor people. I mean, if I start a business that when I'm poor that eventually becomes very successful, at what point does that fact that I am wealthy outweigh the benefits my company has provided to the community, and the wages I have paid employees and skills they have learned.

I wonder how the attitude towards wealth of many of the rich=bad people in this thread would change if tomorrow they won the lottery. Or how many, if they became wealthy through, say, the sale of an invention, would not vote in favor of lowering the top marginal income tax rates.

Note: My comment does not mean I don't think income inequality in the US is approaching dangerously high levels.
posted by gagglezoomer at 4:38 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Creating jobs in a weak economy contributes to the downward spiral of the economy itself."

The experience of the Great Depression disagrees with you.
posted by klangklangston at 4:40 PM on March 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


I mean, if I start a business that when I'm poor that eventually becomes very successful, at what point does that fact that I am wealthy outweigh the benefits my company has provided to the community, and the wages I have paid employees and skills they have learned.

First of all, you would be delusional because statistically nobody does this. The way to get rich starting a business is to be rich in the first place.

Secondly, the benefits your company has provided to the community and the wages you paid your employees and the skills they learned are all because of the taxes the people in your community paid in the last generation. They paid you more than you paid them.

But ideas like yours persist because we have this Horatio Alger myth that all you need to do to become rich is be virtuous and work hard. Well, that and a couple hundred thousand dollar stake would be a pretty good start.
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:41 PM on March 16, 2011 [18 favorites]


The real trouble-makers will always be a step ahead of detailed regulation and the costs of regulatory compliance will be borne by the players who aren't trouble-makers.
This is why, as a fundamental of effective regulation, the cost of non-compliance must be higher than the cost of compliance. The top end of penalties for non-compliance must be pitched at a level that makes trouble-makers decide that the risk is not worth the reward. Otherwise, the cost of being penalised if and when you get caught simply becomes another cost of doing business that gets factored into financial projections and then shrugged off.

"Creating jobs in a weak economy contributes to the downward spiral of the economy itself."
The experience of the Great Depression disagrees with you.

That's a valid point, although there will always be extremes that invalidate otherwise sound principles. The Great Depression would be one of those extremes. My observation, which may only apply to where I live, is that 'job creation' schemes are a short-term, expensive and ultimately unsustainable solution to a long-term problem.
posted by dg at 4:50 PM on March 16, 2011


I like the analogy of crabs in a tank waiting to be cooked. Crabs, being crabs with pinchy limbs and such, can make a go at trying to pull themselves out of the tank. But their worst enemy is the other crabs that pull the escaping crab back down.

Maybe crabs are natural Teabaggers. When sociologists and historians of the future examine our time, I think they'll be struck not so much by the mindboggling stupidity of how we treated our environment or even the rampant criminality of our ruling classes as by how thoroughly huge segments of the soon-to-be peasantry so completely internalized the desires of that same criminal ruling class. Think of it: millions of (almost entirely) middle- to lower-class whites, most just a few paychecks or Social Security checks or Medicare payments away from utter destitution, screamed at the top of their lungs for the Republicans to come along - not to help raise their own living standards, but to lower the living standards of those who they feel are the "undeserving". It's quite remarkable: the old saying "misery loves company" as politics. People happy to see yet more jobs shipped to Asia under the cover of "free trade", yet more politicians transparently fall all over themselves to fellate Wall Street, yet more of their children die in places they can't pronounce so they can power their vehicles, just as long as schoolteachers - SCHOOLTEACHERS! - policemen, firemen, nurses, utility workers, and all the rest who are a thousand times more essential to a working society than a hedge-fund manager or a radio talk-show host suffer like they deserve to.

I keep thinking that the Teabaggers are the sign of something much more ominous, the cockroaches and rats driven before some natural catastrophe. The Teabaggers themselves will soon die off - a movement of older whites in a demographically changing country has a built-in expiration date, and it will be ironic to see so many birthers and not-very-closeted racists cared for in their last days by immigrants from Africa, Asia and Latin America. But I wonder if they don't signify something much bigger, a kind of corrosion of societal bonds that's inherent in global capitalism or something like that. Who knows.

I do know that my wife's family is from the Toledo area, and while Gallipolis is pretty shitty, it's not that much worse off than large parts of northwestern Ohio. And a lot of these same victims of forces far beyond their control in northwestern Ohio closely identify with their oppressors. Hopefully Wisconsin is waking people up. I think it is. I hope it is. I just wonder if it's too late for some places.
posted by jhandey at 4:56 PM on March 16, 2011 [37 favorites]


Some of the comments in this thread are downright ridiculous. You know, not everyone who makes $RICH/year is some evil asshole that hates poor people.

Can you maybe point to one comment that suggests they are? Because otherwise I'm gonna assume someone's feeling a leeeeeeetle sen-si-tive.

And the reason no one is saying the rich are all coiled-mustachio villains is that they don't have to be. The economic system takes care of it for them. Regardless of how kind and loving you are as a person, once the cash you're pulling in goes above a certain level, a whole lot of people were fucked over to make it possible. No exceptions. It's inevitable regardless of how you may or may not feel about it, or how much you give to UNICEF.

If there are truly wealthy people who are truly bothered by this, I imagine it would be pretty easy for them to get involved in the struggle to change things. Certainly much easier than it is for the people who generally do. Funny, though, that we don't tend to see it happen.

And if I won the lottery tonight, they could tax half of it away tomorrow and I'd still have more money than I'd ever planned on having in my life. Though they'd probably just spend it on guns, which is the part that would bother me.
posted by regicide is good for you at 4:57 PM on March 16, 2011 [12 favorites]


First of all, you would be delusional because statistically nobody does this. The way to get rich starting a business is to be rich in the first place.

This is a defeatist crock of shit. First of all, wouldn't this argument mean that nobody could be rich unless, of course, you are a creationist and you believe that God created rich people in 6 days and nights? Do you really want me to do a google search for all the extremely wealthy people who were basically worth jack shit before starting their own company? I'm pretty sure Oprah isn't a long lost Vanderbilt.

Well, that and a couple hundred thousand dollar stake would be a pretty good start.

Loan


a whole lot of people were fucked over to make it possible. No exceptions.


So, the net effect of capitalists to all non-capitalist is negative? Cause I have a hard time believe we'd all be better off under a communist regime. I could be wrong.

Can you maybe point to one comment that suggests they are?

See the comment right above mine.
posted by gagglezoomer at 5:09 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


... as a fundamental of effective regulation, the cost of non-compliance must be higher than the cost of compliance.
I forgot to add that the cost of compliance action also needs to be borne by those who fail to comply, rather than by all those that are subject to the regulatory regime.
posted by dg at 5:11 PM on March 16, 2011


In 12 States, GOP Plans To Slash Corporate Taxes While Increasing Burden on Working Families
posted by homunculus at 5:13 PM on March 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


This seems like about what you'd expect for a region where there was a lot of industrial activity that then disappeared. Basically, the reason that region of Ohio was developed in the first place was because of steel and other industries that needed workers. Once those industries declined, the demand for workers went down and wages fell.

I think the right choice for these people is just to move somewhere that they *can* find work. No one is forcing them to move, but it seems reasonable to me for the fact that the region they're in no longer has high demand for workers to be reflected in their salaries.
posted by astrofinch at 5:19 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately the large number of homes for sale and the huge disparity in housing prices in different parts of the country effectively traps people in their homes unless they're willing to basically write off years of equity, which is probably much of their savings. One of the biggest impacts of the housing bust has been lower labour mobility. Also, there aren't any jobs for those people anywhere else either. That Google and Apple need several thousand employees between them isn't much help to the average American worker from Ohio.
posted by GuyZero at 5:23 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


One big union!

Sign up here.
posted by sneebler at 5:24 PM on March 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm pretty sure Oprah isn't a long lost Vanderbilt.

exception, obviously. she's one in many, many more than a million.

Loan

good luck getting one without established resources.

I'm sorry you think my argument is a defeatist crock of shit. I wish it were so. But it's statistically (that means sure it happens, but not on the scale of one in 100) impossible in this system for people to go from poverty to objective (means everybody acknowledges you're rich, not just properly appreciative of what you have) wealth in one generation. You can't learn the habits in one generation, can't learn the occult knowledge, can't get the connections, can't put together the redundant resources. Not in one generation.

My parents tried, coming from the farm and the coal mine. They spiked into the upper middle class for about 10 years, but were undermined by the stuff they didn't know. My sister and I are trying to go a little farther, based on the things we learned from the mistakes they made. And they left us a little money - about enough for a year at college. That's the kind of redundant resource that won't start you a multinational, but will get you, well, a year at college, which is more than most poor people can even manage to figure out how to do.

Look, my point is not that no poor person ever makes it. My point is that the narrative of "poor people routinely make it through this combination of good habits and hard work" is a fatally misleading crock of shit.
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:24 PM on March 16, 2011 [32 favorites]


And yet again, even here on the Blue, the debate is about some mythical Manhattan financial services dude not paying enough in taxes.

In the same way people don't understand that the securities market dwarfs the equities market, people do not understand that potential (and now lost for good) corporate taxes dwarf personal taxes.

This is not an accident. This framing has been in the works since the original neoliberal think tanks of the late 60s and early 70s.
posted by digitalprimate at 5:29 PM on March 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


In the same way people don't understand that the securities market dwarfs the equities market, people do not understand that potential (and now lost for good) corporate taxes dwarf personal taxes.

Yeah, you're right - not in the "don't get it intellectually," but can't get it personally, because corporations aren't people. We think about people, because they have faces in our heads. Whereas corporations are just out there - not people. Well, until Citizens United, obv.

Yeah, if we just closed the loophole on corporate taxes we could seriously all just sit down together and have a beer.
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:32 PM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


people do not understand that potential (and now lost for good) corporate taxes dwarf personal taxes.

In fairness, there's plenty of people who do understand that, but believe it is a better economic strategy overall to tax at higher rates the income and consumption habits of those who are the net winners economically, rather than at an earlier point (the corporate point).

There's plenty to disagree about with that statement (and I don't agree with it myself, despite this post), but that's the basis for reasonable disagreement over policy choices. It's not accurate to suggest that anyone who favours that the balance be struck more towards personal rather than corporate income taxes simply "doesn't get it".
posted by modernnomad at 5:36 PM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


no one in this country EVER got rich by NOT standing on the backs of the poor and middle class. It's a fucking bullshit argument to EVER say someone did it alone without help from anybody. If a percentage of that created wealth is not redistributed then what is the fucking incentive for the poor and middle class to continue working to enrich the few?
posted by any major dude at 5:53 PM on March 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


I wonder how the attitude towards wealth of many of the rich=bad people in this thread would change if tomorrow they won the lottery.

Statistically, nobody wins the lottery.
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:54 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can't learn the habits in one generation, can't learn the occult knowledge, can't get the connections, can't put together the redundant resources. Not in one generation.

Unfortunately, equal footing among entrants to the system is a bit tied together with the fact that we allow some to have more than others.


Yeah, you're right - not in the "don't get it intellectually," but can't get it personally, because corporations aren't people. We think about people, because they have faces in our heads. Whereas corporations are just out there - not people. Well, until Citizens United, obv.


You do realize that ultimately people own corporations through equity ownership, right? Therefore, when the corporations have reduced income due to larger taxes, ultimately a group of people makes less money. I'll leave it to the theorists to figure out whether the government draws the blood out of the bottom line of your balance sheet or your paycheck. (Also, some of the largest stockholders of major corporations are pension and retirement funds, so no need to get all "only rich people own stock")
posted by gagglezoomer at 5:55 PM on March 16, 2011


Btw, there are several billionaires who are "liberal"— George Soros, Bill Gates and William Buffett to name a few. All of them have volunteered to pay more taxes and all of them recognize that growing income inequality is a serious problem. Without a middle class, you don't have a livable country: there's no one to buy your products and ultimately you wind up with 3 billionaires in locked houses surrounded by large trash pits filled with poor people.

We don't have a shortage of work—look at our crumbling infrastructure and our lack of decently staffed daycare for one. Look at the number of science PHd's who have to leave the field because they can't get academic jobs or even jobs in industry. It's not like there's a shortage of unanswered scientific questions or a shortage of good research topics or a shortage of medical needs for new treatments. We have an insane idea that suddenly the people at the top of corporations should make 100's of times more than ordinary workers when they used to make only dozens of times more.

We also have the insane idea that people who push money around and don't create jobs or products or even ideas (other than ideas about better financial scams/tax dodges) are "worth" more than doctors, lawyers, programmers, teachers, scientists and others whose jobs *do* create massive value for other people.

We further have this insane idea that if we don't have insane levels of inequality, the rich people will go on strike. This didn't happen in the postwar years (I think max income taxes was over 50%) and the finance guys will not suddenly become unproductive if you tax their capital gains. And if they did, it might actually be a good thing—maybe they'd do something useful to make money.

This idea that rich people deserve more or are worth more because they work harder or create more value simply doesn't add up — they didn't suddenly become worth 100's of times more than everyone else over the last 50 years or so because of some intrinsic law of nature. So the idea that we would be "taking something away" from them that they naturally have a divine right to and the public has no right to have is sheer nonsense.
posted by Maias at 6:00 PM on March 16, 2011 [61 favorites]


George Soros, Bill Gates and William Buffett to name a few. All of them have volunteered to pay more taxes and all of them recognize that growing income inequality is a serious problem.

While I'm no libertarian, this is where libertarians chime in to say there's nothing stopping them from giving all their money to the IRS right now.
posted by GuyZero at 6:05 PM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


First of all, you would be delusional because statistically nobody does this. The way to get rich starting a business is to be rich in the first place.

This is absolutely not true. I know a bunch of people who have successfully started a business from very tiny beginnings. A couple have made it big, most have ended up or are currently in that grey area between comfortable and financially secure (ie they could stop working tomorrow if they chose and be fine for money). A few have gone bust or just get by without being any better off than in a regular job (except insofar as they may be happier to be their own boss).

You won't get rich just by being virtuous and working hard. You also need to be a bit opportunist, a bit competitive, and quite a bit lucky. But with some smarts, some luck, and a lot of persistence a person or a couple can most definitely start a business and do nicely for themselves. Not billionaire level unless they're exceptionally brilliant or lucky, but being worth a few million bucks is nothing to sneeze at either.

I've also known a number of people with inherited money in varying amounts. Two of them are extremely rich, and I found them very likeable - unpretentious, appreciative of their wealth but not cocky about it, and both very hard workers, perhaps from a desire to prove something to themselves, perhaps because they picked up good habits as kids, or some other combination of factors. Others that I knew who had inherited more modest amounts did not seem to fare so well - they had enough money not to worry, but not really enough to impress other people, and struck me as extremely difficult to work with in many cases (and less likely to successfully multiply their good fortune as a result).

Some people figure it's a tough world and set about trying to get rich (or richer) by being meaner or more of an asshole than anyone else - bullies, essentially. Some people make a bunch of money that way but not as many as I would have expected (although this is a very unscientific sample, of course). Also, they tended to be really stressed and unhappy most of the time, and the most likely to try spending themselves into a better mood.

Secondly, the benefits your company has provided to the community and the wages you paid your employees and the skills they learned are all because of the taxes the people in your community paid in the last generation. They paid you more than you paid them.

Eh, somewhat. Yeah, education and health and infrastructure are all important, both for someone who starts a business and in order to hire, trade and sell whatever the business provides to the market. But that doesn't mean that anything anyone ever did was the result of someone else's work - people can bring their own insights and effort to the task as well and often that can amount to a great deal. I know you're not claiming to define all of society here, but you do speak as if everyone who ends up in clover only did so because they were lucky enough to get born into the right family or some other fortunate circumstance, and have sort of sailed through life without appreciating how much of their good fortune is the result of others' hard work. That doesn't seem very respectful of the many many people who do work their butts off, provide something useful that the public wants to buy, and eventually reaps the benefits by becoming wealthy or otherwise successful (money only being one measure of success, although a common one).

I don't see how this any more useful than some conservative mindset that assumes everyone in public service is on some sort of power trip or that union members are all thugs. there are good and bad people in business just like there are in any line of work.
posted by anigbrowl at 6:16 PM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


On preview:
no one in this country EVER got rich by NOT standing on the backs of the poor and middle class.

Oh rubbish. You might as well say nobody in public office ever got there except by standing on the backs of long-suffering taxpayers.
posted by anigbrowl at 6:24 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


in the postwar years (I think max income taxes was over 50%)

more like 90
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 6:24 PM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


One reason we need jobs back is that people generally need to perceive that they play a productive role in society.

The local challenged-adults workshops are perhaps not the most efficient means of production, but they nonetheless play an important role in structuring ourselves as a civil society.

We need a richly diverse range of employment options if we wish to continue our western traditions of the past few centuries. By which I mean, most every able-bodied man is expected to work.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:36 PM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


"You know what they're trying to tell you when they pay you minimum wage? They're saying 'Hey! If I could pay you less, I would, but it's against the law'".

- Chris Rock
posted by dr_dank at 6:45 PM on March 16, 2011 [27 favorites]


you do speak as if everyone who ends up in clover only did so because they were lucky enough to get born into the right family or some other fortunate circumstance, and have sort of sailed through life without appreciating how much of their good fortune is the result of others' hard work.

No, I don't. What I did say was that being lucky enough to be born in the right family/fortunate circumstance is a much bigger contributor to eventual wealth that A) almost any other single component and B) significantly underestimated by anyone believing or propagation the american myth of acquiring wealth in one generation.

Anybody can get money. All you have to do is get a job or whatever. It takes a person educated in money to keep it.
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:48 PM on March 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


wow that was bad typing. time for movie and bed.

Complex sentence should say:

Inherited wealth (also known as redundant resources) is one of the most important components in eventual wealth and is fantastically underrated as to its importance.
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:50 PM on March 16, 2011


ghharr : I really don't understand what point the NRO blogger is trying to make, except to be a jackass and claiming that 63k a year is overpaying a dual income family.

Do you understand why we can pay someone in Bangalore one-third the wage of an American to do tech support, and have the Indian thrilled about the arrangement?

Hint - Cost of living matters. $65k might not get you a cardboard box beneath an underpass in NYC, but in my area, it lets you live pretty damned well.


battleshipkropotkin : My public sector job was definitely my ticket to the lower middle class! Family of four on 25k/yr.

To what kind of crappy public sector jobs do you refer here? Around here, toll booth attendants make 50-70k (vs 30-40 median), police can break six figures after OT and plum side jobs, crossing guards get a frickin' pension... Granted, actual skilled government jobs tend to "only" pay a bit below the regional average (key word, "regional", meaning if you live anywhere outside the nearest major city, you make out like a bandit), but that still includes the aforementioned pension, as well as healthcare over which the bastards riot whenever anyone proposes they pay more than 6% toward... (*ahem*... Takes a deep breath...)


Overall, I have some bad news for the residents of Gallipolis - A snake can only eat its own tail so far before it digests something important and dies. If a large portion of a population depends on non-production income derived from providing minor services to that same population, they've already gone from "middle class" to "just putting in time on the treadmill until the food pellets run out". Whether or not their neighbors drive the final nail in the coffin doesn't much matter.
posted by pla at 7:05 PM on March 16, 2011


I wonder how the attitude towards wealth of many of the rich=bad people in this thread would change if tomorrow they won the lottery. Or how many, if they became wealthy through, say, the sale of an invention, would not vote in favor of lowering the top marginal income tax rates.

Ha, my thought experiment went in the opposite direction: what if you could show everyone their future income level/ class? Since the vast majority of people will not see any increase in income level or class (or win the lottery or get rich from an invention), how would they then vote on "top marginal income tax rates"?
posted by queseyo at 7:06 PM on March 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


This is absolutely not true. I know a bunch of people who have successfully started a business from very tiny beginnings.

Sure, no one is saying it is impossible but even Dickensian England had some sort of social mobility. Right now our level of social mobility, as defined by earning more than your parents, is somewhere around 1850s Germany. The same 1850s Germany that saw such things as the birth of communism and Europe kicking monarchies (for democracies and dictatorships).

Read the wonderful "Farewell to Alms" that really discusses, throughout history, who ends up making money. What defines whether a person will make money or not? The primary driver, overwhelmingly is coming from money. After that it is luck. What about inventors, the entrepreneurs? Even during the Industrial Revolution, the big inventions garnered very little money, and that's even in countries with very strict patent protection. Luck is the overwhelming factor.

I think, philosophically, you need to look at luck as being the only factor, because otherwise if you fail, you've done something wrong ... which is not always the case. You can do something wrong, you can have silly Facebook privacy controls, or the million of failed Microsoft initiatives, and still seem to win year after year. Conversely you can make nothing but good decisions and lose.
posted by geoff. at 7:07 PM on March 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


Ha, my thought experiment went in the opposite direction: what if you could show everyone their future income level/ class? Since the vast majority of people will not see any increase in income level or class (or win the lottery or get rich from an invention), how would they then vote on "top marginal income tax rates"?
posted by queseyo at 10:06 PM on March 16 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!] No other comments.


That's one of those unpublished Dickens stories, right? The one with the Ghost of Christmas Never?
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:14 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


five fresh fish : We need a richly diverse range of employment options if we wish to continue our western traditions of the past few centuries. By which I mean, most every able-bodied man is expected to work.

I consider the whole "noblility"of work myth as the single most offensive of the puritanical values ever imparted on our culture.

Need to feel productive? I work because I need to feel fed, clothed, and sheltered. Meaningful work? Currently I help line the pockets of the children of a now-dead robber-baron; In a past life, I did the same for waste-of-flesh CEO after waste-of-flesh CEO who believed in "growth through attrition" and gladly took their golden parachutes when eventually forced out by shareholders.

Not to say I wouldn't like to do something meaningful; but only the silver-spoon crowd have the luxury of "needing" to feel productive. The rest of us just have no alternative.
posted by pla at 7:15 PM on March 16, 2011 [14 favorites]


I wonder how the attitude towards wealth of many of the rich=bad people in this thread would change if tomorrow they won the lottery.

See, this is a disingenuous strawman if I ever saw one. First on it's face, but also because if a laid off ironworker in Ohio won the lottery, he would've become rich basically as an act of God, and not by actively fucking over a million ironworkers in Ohio in a leveraged buyout.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:11 PM on March 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


edgeways: "but but but wealthy people will fleeeeeeeee if we raise their taxes!!!!!!"

Good. Fuck 'em. More for the rest of us.
posted by notsnot at 8:12 PM on March 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Inherited wealth (also known as redundant resources) is one of the most important components in eventual wealth and is fantastically underrated as to its importance.

Sure, this I agree with. But I can't go with the suggestion that no other factors matter, because one can learn the skills required. And I don't mean by going to business school or other variation on privilege. And yes, many attempts to get a business off the ground end in failure. Actually, the business people I know tend to have the attitude that if they don't experience failure fairly regularly (not total failure, just trying things that don't work) then it's an indicator that they're not doing anything innovative.

I don't want to sound like one of those motivational coaches. I'm not wealthy, and pursuing a public-interest career I'm unlikely to earn big in monetary terms. But I think success comes from plugging away at something because of the satisfaction of doing a good job. Of course money is a necessary aspect of that, but doing something out of necessity is not incompatible with deriving enjoyment from it.

This doesn't seem puritanical to me: puritanical is hating the work situation you are in but doing it anyway in order to fulfill your moral duties. Some years ago I realized that there was as much or maybe more pleasure to be had from the process as from the result, an insight which continues to be useful. Some argue that this is the result of a false consciousness or a kind of brainwashing; I was a conference lately where one of the speakers quoted Marx on 'the dull compulsion of economic necessity,' ie the need to buy food, pay rent etc. On the other hand, I hit upon my love of process while I was washing dishes in my own kitchen, and the dull compulsion to stop doing something interesting and fix myself something to eat is no better or worse than life's ordinary economic necessities. If one's outlook can make the difference between enduring and enjoying personal and domestic chores, with no labor-capital relationships in sight, then maybe labor-capital relationships are not the whole story of work after all.
posted by anigbrowl at 8:29 PM on March 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


See, this is a disingenuous strawman if I ever saw one.

First of all, talk about your disingenuous straw men, as if there's no middle ground between Gordon-Gecko corporate raiders and windfall profits.

Second, the point I was trying to make is that everyone here seems to pile on the rich for attempting to create a self-serving system that allows them to perpetuate their wealth. The only reason people have a problem with this is because the rich control the levers of power. Most everyone would never actually willingly pay more taxes, or give up their power. Sure, there are the Buffets' and the Gateses who have unbelieveable fortunes and for who it truly doesn't matter--so noble are they. Face facts: Just like you, your average millionaire still has a lot more shit he wants to buy. Think about it, the average USian has untold amounts of wealth compared to most third world citizens, but here they are on MetaFilter, in droves, bitching about how they don't have enough. Complaining about making $50000/year would seem like a joke in 90% of the world. So would complaining about a reduction in pension. But that's the human condition. We're all greedy (as a general rule). Sure, there will always be scoundrels, rich and poor, but the have-mores, as a class, shouldn't criticized just for the sake of their fortunes. And unless you believe evil is genetic, they're just you and me. Try to reign in the grip of power, if you'd like, and pass some new laws. There's no reason CEO's need to make $20 million/year. But comments about the sadistic excesses of the anyone with a dollar to his name seem a little silly to me.
posted by gagglezoomer at 8:36 PM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't know if we can anymore. It's why I've become so disillusioned with politics these last few years and why, I imagine, so many voters who would have prevented some of these Tea party takeovers stayed home.

This is the problem with democracy: greater numbers equal greater generalization of opinion. A hundred people can compromise, a hundred people have less extreme outliers. A hundred million people and the trend is towards the middle. Now all-of-a-sudden you find it impossible to gain enough of a majority on anything to effect any meaningful change for the better.

The gains of the middle class over the past century have been siphoned-off, but not to the third world (as xenophobic fear-mongers might suggest). Oh sure, some of it has gone to build the shiny new Asian megalopolises, but even in those countries you'll find the same patterns of extreme income inequality being created. No, most of the money didn't go into modernizing the third world… most of it—the vast majority of it—went into the pockets of a very small number of already extremely wealthy people. Those very same people are the ones pointing to the glass towers being erected in former rice paddies and telling us what a great deal society as a whole is getting. Just look at all this shiny progress!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:44 PM on March 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's always easy to spot the ones who are doing really well for themselves and probably always have in these kinds of threads. It doesn't hurt that they're still recycling the same basic arguments they used at the turn of the century.

No, most of the money didn't go into modernizing the third world… most of it—the vast majority of it—went into the pockets of a very small number of already extremely wealthy people.

This is absolutely true, and if you want to be on the side that defends that, go ahead. Pick a side.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:49 PM on March 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Seems to me you have two choices-- you can try to start a business and be licensed, regulated, inspected, permitted, taxed and legislated or you can work for the government and issue licenses, carry out inspections, regulate, hand out permits, collect taxes and legislate.

Not everone works for a multi-national giganto corporation or a huge state/federal bureacracy. Or wants to.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:24 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Face facts: Just like you, your average millionaire still has a lot more shit he wants to buy.

Fact is, many people are satisfied with just one house and maybe a couple cars that work. And that's their dream life that they don't mind putting in an honest day's labor to earn. So when they see people who can't accept that their second yacht isn't this year's model blaming their "misfortune" on school teachers living in a one room apartment, it's understandable when then start wondering about the finer points of guillotine design.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:26 PM on March 16, 2011 [18 favorites]


This FPP absolutely does hit it on the head, IMO. Growing up in the rural south myself, public sector jobs definitely served as a sort of bridge into the middle class for a lot of folks I knew. Sometimes the effect worked in subtle ways: For example, we had a relative who worked in the public sector in Tallahassee at one time. And it was a fairly regular occurrence for others in the family (and believe me when I say my family in the US is as working class as they come) to seek out that relative's help whenever they needed advice on applying for any kind of public service or otherwise negotiating any kind of bureaucracy because they were the only ones in the family who really understood how such processes work in any meaningful sense. You'd be amazed how much of a disadvantage working class people are often at simply due to the fear and anxiety they feel due to their relative inexperience with life outside their relatively narrow family and social circles.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:43 PM on March 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


The experience of India looks to me like a clear example of why a big public sector and strong state control of the economy leads to poverty in the end: Economic liberalisation in India. Oh, also this excellent PDF linked from a recent post by anotherpanacea: Krueger's “The Political Economy of the Rent-Seeking Society.”
posted by alasdair at 1:14 AM on March 17, 2011


Hmmm, you know what? I don't think my arguments that "strong state control is bad" and "if public jobs are the best ones, that's bad for your economy" are relevant here. I think they're right, but that's not the problem here.

The problem is that the US is continuing to progress from a period of mass employment from manufacturing, which provided lots of middle-class incomes, to the kind of post-industrial state we see in places like the UK. And this hits particularly in places like Ohio. The jobs have gone to better automation and efficiency, and to poor countries overseas, which might be Great For Humanity but sucks for the people concerned living there.

I don't have a real answer to this, though. When our British jobs up and left for places like, um, Ohio, we didn't really come up with one apart from North Sea oil production and the City of London, which hasn't helped our post-industrial cities. Europe has also tried protectionism, but that didn't work out so well in the 1930s, and hasn't resulted in globally-competitive industries - see Italy's shoe industry for an example. The Germans do very well, of course, but they occupy specialised niches and suppress consumption, so they're relying on other countries' consumption, so I don't think we can all do it.

Oh, I don't know. Other posters above have better insights. Just ignore me today.
posted by alasdair at 2:48 AM on March 17, 2011


alasdair : I don't have a real answer to this, though.

Two words: Hedonic engineering.

Those whacked-out hippies of 40-50 years ago had the right idea, even if they missed the target. I touched on my distaste for the myth of the puritanical work-ethic above, but take that to its logical extreme - Why should anyone work?

We can currently run huge factories producing goods for millions of people with just a skeleton crew of repairmen. Modern industrial ag all but runs by remote control, with humans merely deciding when to kick off huge chains of processing that lead from seeds to food. Why not take the next step, and literally make ourselves obsolete?

We have one major mental barrier to this, however (and I'll admit I have as much guilt as anyone here) - The belief that everyone should earn their own living. We desperately look for ways to split an ever-shrinking workload around an ever-growing population. We need to stop looking for busy-work that robots can do better, and get on with enjoying life.
posted by pla at 4:04 AM on March 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


I wonder how the attitude towards wealth of many of the rich=bad people in this thread would change if tomorrow they won the lottery.

The only person you might confidently know what they'd suddenly do with excessive wealth is yourself, so I imagine such a comment is a projection of your own potential for greed far more than an observation of anyone else's.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:27 AM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's no reason CEO's need to make $20 million/year. But comments about the sadistic excesses of the anyone with a dollar to his name seem a little silly to me.

The reality is that the richer you get, the more distant you get from people who aren't rich and the less empathetic you get towards them unless you make deliberate attempts to counteract this tendency. The rich and poor live increasingly separate lives and its hard to empathize with someone when you fear him, think he's likely to be a dirty criminal and feel vaguely guilty about his plight at the same time. So, you come up with ideas like "Anyone could get where I am by working hard," and "I deserve this, he doesn't work as hard as I did."

It used to be the case that America had more class mobility than Europe. That is no longer true: it is easier to move up from poverty in boring, dull socialist Europe than in supposedly vital capitalist America. So even that justification for our lack of safety net is no longer true.

Regarding the problem of having everyone work for the government, I don't see anyone even suggesting that as a way out of this economic mess. What people are suggesting is taxing the rich and stimulating the economy so that people can get back on their feet.

And yes, it would also be a good idea to go to a four day work week and do other things to increase leisure time so more people can have jobs.

Work is actually hugely important to psychological health—this is not a Puritanical myth but an empirical reality. Even lousy jobs—though not those with low control/high stress—are mostly better than no work. People need to feel useful. This is part of why people who retire earlier tend to die earlier.
posted by Maias at 5:33 AM on March 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


pla Hedonic engineering... Why should anyone work?

Well, we still need people to do stuff that machines can't do yet, like "teaching" and "delivering the post" and "tending animals". But that's not what you mean, is it? Assume we can develop robots to do that. Two main objections:

  • We'll always have scarcities, even if it's just land or positional goods. Who gets to live in Manhattan? Who gets in to see this Lady Gaga concert? Who gets to drink the wine produced from this particular vineyard this year? Who gets to go to this exclusive public school? If you don't have a price mechanism, you have to use either (1) rationing by getting in line or (2) being connected to the right person. Not sure that's better. What if the right person doesn't like your face?


  • We still need to compete with each other for mates or status or love or whatever, or more to the point, I suppose, compete with ourselves and our perceptions of other people. I mean, in the UK (for example) you can live without working, and live pretty well for a 19th-century working class person. House, food, television, medical care, library, all free. Yeah, you can have more stuff if you work, but that's largely positional goods. Do you need more than one pair of trousers? But people are still going to work, and we regard this standard of living - an excellent one for a 19th-century Briton - as appalling poverty.

  • posted by alasdair at 6:08 AM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


    So when they see people who can't accept that their second yacht isn't this year's model blaming their "misfortune" on school teachers living in a one room apartment

    Yeah, but that's just pure greed. There's plenty of wealthy people who don't sit around disparaging working class folks. Some do, sure, but last time I checked you didn't need a seven figure bank account to fleece the sick or elderly or be a piece of shit person. In my opinion, individual motivation is highly relative, and so are perceptions of wealth. When I was a student, the idea of taking an out-of-state vacation and having my own car seemed like an decadent luxury, now it's what I've come to feel entitled to. And as I get older, and accumulate more shit, my own personal experience is that I keep setting my targets higher. I'll grant you that there are people who can be completely satisfied with their status quo, but most aren't. So I can understand how people end up with a McMansion and two SUV's in their garage, and they've worked hard so they feel they deserve it. I don't fault that view point any more than I fault any US citizen for things like buying a bottle of water (a wasteful luxury, from a global perspective) or driving to and from work (a wasteful luxury, from a global perspective) or buying the newest electronics (etc...). People may act as a class, but everyone is an individual just trying to maximize their reality. Sure, quite a few have risen above that materialistic vector -- but it's not always possible, or even the best strategy.
    posted by gagglezoomer at 6:35 AM on March 17, 2011


    There's no reason CEO's need to make $20 million/year. But comments about the sadistic excesses of the anyone with a dollar to his name seem a little silly to me.

    Okay, but isn't the CEO making $20 million/year the one who decided his time was worth $20 million? And that his employees' time was worth, oh, 364 times less than his? (2007 CNN Money article) Isn't it a little sadistic, just a little, to award oneself a bonus for driving one's company into the ground and letting taxpayers pay for it? I mean, the people vilifying the rich have some pretty good reasons for doing so.

    This might have been touched on upthread but there's also the fact that anyone with money/power/authority isn't going to give it up willingly (there are exceptions, obviously) . Once you have money, you're going to work for a political and economic structure which ensures you not only keep the money you have, but that you make even more. And where does that money come from? Well, it's not coming from the people who make as much or more than you do...So while you're working to ensure you don't lose money, you're also working to ensure that everyone below you does.
    posted by shesdeadimalive at 6:35 AM on March 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


    Now, as Ohio’s legislature moves toward final approval of a bill that would chip away at public-sector unions, those workers say they see it as the opening bell in a race to the bottom. At stake, they say, is what little they have that makes them middle class.'

    Close.

    It's actually the bell signalling the final lap.
    posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:10 AM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


    but but but wealthy people will fleeeeeeeee if we raise their taxes!!!!!!

    Great, then revoke their citizenship and prevent them from donating to any US political campaign or PAC.
    posted by desjardins at 7:10 AM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


    Comment from the NRO piece: "What, the NYT reporter doesn't understand how someone without a college degree can actually be in the middle class? News alert! I'm one of those illiterate college dropouts who has been blessed with a 6-figure income in the private sector. Amazing, I know. The true path to success is hard work, smart decisions, and taking advantage of every opportunity that comes along. It's not the little piece of paper that hangs on the wall."

    Amazing how the Horatio Alger myth still lives, breathes, walks, and talks despite most people not knowing who he was.

    NRO piece again: "Despite their lack of college, the Taylors make an above-average living by some metrics, and if they can’t afford a washer or (with the help of loans) college for their kids, it’s a budgeting problem, not the result of trying financial circumstances."

    Wrong. Upthread, as well, there's the ongoing insistence that if you have financial problems, the only reason that you do is because it's your fault, not because there's something systemically wrong. That's part and parcel of the idea that $63,000/year "in most parts of the country" will do you just fine if you're managing your finances correctly and not making any mistakes or, as the implication so often lurks, wasting your money on frivolities. What the NRO piece glides over and dismisses ("the Times makes sure to depict an ongoing struggle") is the fact the that the Ohio legislature just made it far more difficult for the high-on-the-hog Gallipolis Taylors to live on the $63,000 they bring in every year -- by gutting their retirement plans and, probably still to come, their benefits.

    pla: We need to stop looking for busy-work that robots can do better, and get on with enjoying life.

    You mean with the stagnant and/or vanishing wages that you seem to think everybody who's got their shit together is able to live on virtually anywhere in the country other than Manhattan?

    gagglezoomer: Most everyone would never actually willingly pay more taxes, or give up their power.

    Gee, I don't know. I can think of more than a handful of countries in Europe where tons of people are willing to do just that for the common good, a value that you seem either to be unware of or have contempt for. But -- oh my God, the USA must at all costs not be like Europe!

    Complaining about making $50000/year would seem like a joke in 90% of the world.

    Tell that to someone in Gallipolis (or many other places in the US) trying to pay the mortgage or rent or medical bills, forget about buying gas and groceries, on it. Complaining about most of the things that "USians" complain about would seem like a joke in 90% of the world. Appealing to the comparative poverty of the rest of the world is a fallacy.
    posted by blucevalo at 7:13 AM on March 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


    The problem is that the US is continuing to progress from a period of mass employment from manufacturing, which provided lots of middle-class incomes, to the kind of post-industrial state we see in places like the UK. And this hits particularly in places like Ohio. The jobs have gone to better automation and efficiency, and to poor countries overseas, which might be Great For Humanity but sucks for the people concerned living there.

    Really, this is so much economic-theory-horseshit.

    China, and Japan, and Vietnam, and wherever didn't just spring up whole-cloth, ready and capable to assume the manafacturing industries. They were financed and groomed by corporations who craved only more tractable workers and larger profits. None, and I repeat, none of this was inevitable.
    posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:16 AM on March 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


    They were financed and groomed by corporations who craved only more tractable workers and larger profits.

    I have a feeling the starving rural farmers of those countries were more than happy to be "groomed" by the corporations for profit. As if, before corporations came along, everyone in Asia was all Pocahontas-in-the-woods, eating Kung Pao Chicken and lighting off fireworks. The reason a company can convince people to work for $.50/hour is cause their life is fucking terrible, and is marginally improved by a shitty factory job. I'll admit, sometimes the line between exploitation and providing economic opportunity through the international trade of labor becomes blurred. But industrialization and globalization didn't create all the problems of the world.


    I can think of more than a handful of countries in Europe where tons of people are willing to do just that for the common good, a value that you seem either to be unware of or have contempt for.


    What are you talking about, exactly? Europe's more comprehensive welfare system? It's not like that came about by all the rich people getting together and saying, "let's give away all our shit." So now Europe is both a magical social utopia AND a place with unlimited class mobility? I thought THEY were the one's with literal nobility.
    posted by gagglezoomer at 7:42 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


    I'll admit, sometimes the line between exploitation and providing economic opportunity through the international trade of labor becomes blurred. But industrialization and globalization didn't create all the problems of the world.

    I agree with you, but I'm not arguing here against the exploitation of the poor - I'm arguing against the decimation of American jobs. Those jobs did not leave, at least initially, because someone, somewhere else, was doing the same jobs better.
    posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:59 AM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


    It must be nice to be one of the ennobled souls in the position to weigh the relative merits of gutting the American middle class, instead of just being one of the selfishly complaining pawns in that game, worrying to the point of stomach-ache over whether or not his father-in-law's social security check might stop in three weeks (if the politics of this debate leads to a government shutdown) just in time for him to begin his treatment for lung cancer. Maybe if I only knew how to budget better, I'd be on a level-playing field with the guy I know who's dad was a crony of Jeb Bush's and rolled straight from a DUI arrest into a cushy project management gig because of his family connections. I just need to learn to budget like he does, then I'll be all set, I guess.
    posted by saulgoodman at 8:30 AM on March 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


    Oneswellflop: Actually there is a very strong correlation of campaign spending and winning an election, but spending doesn't matter if you are an unelectable person, particularly one who spends primarily ones own funds. I would know, I studied this in depth.

    What I wonder is when Americans will demand a living wage as opposed to a 'minimal' wage and provide dignity to our workers as other developed countries do.
    posted by handbanana at 8:39 AM on March 17, 2011


    Totally. Stop using credit cards saulgoodman, save more, and stop wasting all of your money on soft drinks and fastfood. BAM! Fortune and comfort! It's really your own moral laxity holding you back, jeeze.
    posted by Stagger Lee at 8:40 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


    There's something desperately wrong when we're nitpicking at the morality of poor people. The next time someone says "well I saw some woman buying filet mignon with food stamps" I'm going to tell them not to worry, it might be tainted.
    posted by desjardins at 8:50 AM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


    I forgot my sarcasm tags on that one. I hope we're on the same page.
    posted by Stagger Lee at 8:52 AM on March 17, 2011


    So now Europe is both a magical social utopia AND a place with unlimited class mobility?

    Ironically, it is. (Minus your hyperbolic language.)

    Not sure it's been explained fully, but my theory is a combination of (1) less actual distance between the lower and upper classes, and (2) a strong safety net makes it easier for people who aren't already rich to take the risks that might make them rich.

    This second point was one that was entirely lost in the recent health care debate -- how many potential entrepreneurs (you know, the people who create the small businesses that actually employ the vast majority of Americans) are held back by the fact that starting a new business means leaving their current employer-provided health plan, not to mention being responsible for one for anyone they hire?
    posted by bjrubble at 9:02 AM on March 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


    Brjrubble, your hypothesis is well supported by academic papers within political science peer reviewed journals.
    posted by handbanana at 9:07 AM on March 17, 2011


    Totally. Stop using credit cards saulgoodman

    Ironically, until we started having emergency expenses that we had no choice but to put on credit card fairly recently, we had a strict policy against using credit cards in our household--except that, we were forced to keep at least one card that we had to use every so often for no good reason at all other than because it's mandatory to maintain an acceptable credit rating. That's "the free market" for you, I guess.
    posted by saulgoodman at 9:23 AM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


    I forgot my sarcasm tags on that one. I hope we're on the same page.

    Yeah, no, we are. I was referring to the amorphous blob of self-righteous pricks out there who complain about poor people stealing their hard-earned money, while ignoring the rich bankers looting their accounts.
    posted by desjardins at 9:28 AM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


    Now that I think about it, I guess in contemporary parlance "free markets" really do encompass basically any arbitrary systems of economic rules that capital holders deem fit to impose on labor and the rest of society. And apparently, so long as any of these arbitrary economic rules are created and imposed through non-publicly accountable mechanisms, the right-wing libertarians and neo-liberal economists are just fine with them. So it's really not so much about freedom, as it is about who gets the power to determine the rules.
    posted by saulgoodman at 9:28 AM on March 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


    Now that I think about it, I guess in contemporary parlance "free markets" really do encompass basically any arbitrary systems of economic rules that capital holders deem fit to impose on labor and the rest of society. And apparently, so long as any of these arbitrary economic rules are created and imposed through non-publicly accountable mechanisms, the right-wing libertarians and neo-liberal economists are just fine with them. So it's really not so much about freedom, as it is about who gets the power to determine the rules.

    Yes. The "free" in "free markets" has nothing to do with the opportunities afforded the working class. It only has to do with the opportunities afforded the businesses and corporations.

    Somehow I suspect there's a bit of mutual exclusion between those two types of freedom.
    posted by hippybear at 9:35 AM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


    "China, and Japan, and Vietnam, and wherever didn't just spring up whole-cloth, ready and capable to assume the manafacturing industries. They were financed and groomed by corporations who craved only more tractable workers and larger profits. None, and I repeat, none of this was inevitable."

    It wasn't? From what little of economic history I recall, economist historians consider this era the 2nd era of Globalization. The first era ran around the 18th century to the beginning of World War I. It's more commonly known as the era of Imperialism, where much of the 3rd world deindustrialized (like the Indian cotton industry due to competition of British textiles), and the world economy configured itself around the Western powers.

    And the 2nd Era of Globalization is looking like a reconfiguration of the first: The Allies won World War II, and both colonies and colonial powers decided it would be best to decolonize. We've only had 60 years as a world to digest this, meaning huge structural changes where the balance of industry tries to come to a new equilibrium. Add various other events including rapid technological progress, the opening of China, and the end of the Cold War, and it does seem this sequence of events was inevitable.

    Really, the only way I could see that it wasn't inevitable is one of those cliche alternate history twists where Hitler wins World War II.

    And with that I've invoked Godwin's Law.
    posted by FJT at 10:19 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


    Resorting to the historical and economic inevitability defense is the modern-day, secular equivalent of 19th century claims of Manifest Destiny.
    posted by saulgoodman at 10:32 AM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


    Well, if we're going to roll back globalisation, can we roll it back to 1850, please? We British can make everything, you Americans can grow our basic crops, our Merchant Navy will swap it for manufactured goods and sell that to the Indians and Chinese, destroying their nascent industries in the process.

    Oh, you want to go to 1950, when you Americans made everything and sold it to everyone else in exchange for, um, works of art and oil? We were pretty broke then, but you made it very clear that any kind of Imperial Preference - oh, look, the kind of protectionism you're arguing for now - was unacceptable, and we were broke, so we didn't have any choice, and we went along with it in return for the Marshall Plan. That let us buy more American goods, after all.

    I'm glad you enjoyed that period of your history. The 19th Century was fun for us too. Full employment, global power, the most advanced civilisation in the world. We talked about taking back the old American colonies then!

    Well, tough shit, 2050 is coming up, and it's the turn of the Chinese to make everything and run the world. I don't see that you have any special claim to being the richest people in the world any more than we did. I'd strongly advise you not accelerate your fall by throwing vast amounts of money into foreign wars, it'll only accelerate your relative decline - oh, wait! Sorry.
    posted by alasdair at 10:46 AM on March 17, 2011 [10 favorites]


    "Resorting to the historical and economic inevitability defense is the modern-day, secular equivalent of 19th century claims of Manifest Destiny."

    If I am the Manifest Destiny would that make you, saul, the equivalent to the Ghost Dance or perhaps the Chinese Boxers, believing that the heavens was on their side and that certain articles of clothing could protect them from bullets? :)

    I can see why you would read this as a defense, but my primary reason was not to defend anything, except to explain what has come to pass. I've made no predictions of the future, I would be even a bigger fool if I were to.

    This will probably sound like a platitude, but all I've proven is that stuff changes. And it would be folly to see something only affect a certain country or people; or only influence the political, economic, or social spheres; or only have effect in its immediate aftermath and have no influence on generations down the line. At the same time it would be a folly to say that nothing world changing will occur or is already occurring.
    posted by FJT at 11:04 AM on March 17, 2011


    You know, I'm sorry, I don't think my last comment will "help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion" - it was too intemperate.

    But really, I get frustrated: do we really think that changes in employment and international trade and balance of payments and inflation are all the product of a secret capitalist conspiracy? Do we really not believe in long-term shifts in economics, population, development? Can we really believe that if not for some cigar-chomping rich people in Manhattan everyone would be living in the 1950s boom still? Come on. That's not going to get us anywhere. Recognise that these changes are happening. Then look at lessons from Germany, or Japan, or China - both good and bad. Don't just blame the Big Conspiracy.

    I'm sorry again about the "decline" crack.
    posted by alasdair at 11:07 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


    ...do we really think that changes in employment and international trade and balance of payments and inflation are all the product of a secret capitalist conspiracy?


    Well. Sort of. But it's not that secret.

    There are plenty of organizations for the ultra-rich to sit around and chat about where to put their economic clout, and they don't try very hard to hide it.

    Obviously that's not all that's at work here, but don't pretend it's not a factor.
    posted by Stagger Lee at 11:11 AM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


    desjardins: " It ain't over until Scott Walker is at home with his wife eating chili watching some woman sing on American Idol. FOREVER."

    Sorry, desjardins—I know you guys are fighting the good fight there still and am with you in spirit.
    posted by theredpen at 11:28 AM on March 17, 2011


    ...do we really think that changes in employment and international trade and balance of payments and inflation are all the product of a secret capitalist conspiracy?

    Does pouring billions of dollars into right-wing "policy think tanks" like the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation count as a secret conspiracy? I mean, such organization do often go to great lengths to present themselves as disinterested, independent information brokers when in fact they have explicitly partisan and ideologically motivated aims of which many in the media and the public in general aren't aware. Then there's also K Street and Grover Norquist's American's for Tax Reform with its widely reported regularly scheduled Wednesday strategy meetings of the US business elite. There are definitely a lot of elites in the US right now openly working together to influence policy in their preferred directions; that's not really debatable.
    posted by saulgoodman at 11:31 AM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


    "This is part of why people who retire earlier tend to die earlier."

    Cite, please? This may be due to the fact the workers in high-risk fields (ie. firefighters) are allowed an earlier retirement age. It would make sense that firefighters and others in high-risk occupations would die at a younger age, but I believe that if two people, from the same profession, retire at different ages, the one who retires younger generally lives longer. See the actuarial table at this link for a comparison of life expectancy vs. retirement age:

    http://www.jaredfalconer.com/?p=59
    posted by vansly at 1:40 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


    Oops, posted to early. I meant to add that every retirement course I've been on has stressed that the earlier you retire, the longer you live. Also, I am currently on a one year sabbatical from my cushy government job, and I can honestly say that a lack of working has not negatively affected my enjoyment of life one bit!
    posted by vansly at 1:42 PM on March 17, 2011


    good point vansly, but there's a lot of social to unpack in that study. first of all, the kind of people who are retiring at 49 and then dying at 90-whatever (top of the table) are not doing the kind of work, and probably didn't have the same education, family/parental educational attainment, social life etc etc that they guys who retired at 65 and died at 66 (bottom of the table) had.

    what you *can* do after you retire has a lot to do with how much longer you live. if you have advanced degrees, or at least various specialties or expertise, and you retire from your "making a living" job so you can do your dream job, of course you're going to live forever. but if all you know how to do is screw widgets together, the day you retire from the widget factory is the day you realize that nobody actually needs you, now that your widget-tightening days are done. why wouldn't you die, with those kind of prospects?
    posted by toodleydoodley at 1:48 PM on March 17, 2011


    I think even people who work in widget factories can have interests outside of making widgets. What if they make widgets and are interested in running a bed and breakfast or model trains or... I think hobbies and outside interests can provide a full life after "work". I think there can be financial specialists who have the means to have greater interests after work who are still too focused on their work to retire early and enjoy life.
    posted by vansly at 5:36 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


    saulgoodman: Does pouring billions of dollars into right-wing "policy think tanks" like the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation count as a secret conspiracy?

    Well, no, to be honest. I think that's part of a healthy civic society, just like churches and unions and charities, and for that matter left-wing policy think tanks. Although I understand that campaign finance is a bigger issue in the US than the UK.

    And more to the point: yes, there exist lobby groups. Yes, people in certain industries talk to each other. But it seems like when they're workers, we call this a union, and when they're professional, we call this an association, and when they're capitalists, we call this an evil international conspiracy. They're all arguing just their interests.

    That's different from managing to shape the world into a particular pattern. I think - and forgive me if I misrepresent your position - you believe that the shifts of mass employment in manufacturing from the United States to China (mainly) are the result of deliberate policy by US capitalists to increase profits, and that the benefits of this shift have accrued primarily to the US capitalists (you ignore previous shifts, which presumably were the result of UK capitalists). I believe that the shifts of mass employment from the United States to China (mainly) are the result of individual choices by businesses and consumers because China has lots of cheap, good labor, and because of policy and technical changes like containerization, the freeing of the Chinese economy by the Communist Party, and the status of the US Dollar as the world reserve currency, and, yes, free trade policies (at least on the part of the US).

    Now I understand that it's bad for US workers that Chinese workers are willing to work for less money and maybe have better skills (your public education system isn't very good, is it?) but that's not an international conspiracy, is it? K Street doesn't make Mr. Wu take a job making electronic components in Shanghai for less than Mr. Washington would be paid in Ohio. Just like when Mr. Washington got paid less than Mr. Bull in Manchester, and the jobs went from the UK to the US.

    So I guess you're picking out the free trade policies as the key thing? That's what's amenable to the evil international conspiracy (unless you think they also run the Communist Party). OK, so you think we should stop imports of cheap manufactured goods from China, via legislation, so the widgets are made instead by American workers?

    Sure, you can do that. Let's ignore what happened last time (the Great Depression, World War Two). Let's instead look at where we already do this: agriculture, cars, and cocaine. In agriculture you get what every state would do if you started clamping down on manufacturing imports: regulations, restrictions on trade, dumping of the output on other markets leading to their destruction, and massive government subsidy (most of which goes to well-connected businesses!). Sure, you can afford that with one or two industries, but for all of them? In cars every state wants to have a car industry fundamentally for the same reasons you articulate - jobs. So you get overproduction globally coupled with subsidy through tax breaks. Again, it's expensive and silly and only prolonging the inevitable - lousy companies eventually stop making lousy cars when the government money runs out. And in cocaine you've got a trade that's completely illegal, a perfect example of an attempt to regulate the market, and what happens? The trade flows away happily.

    So you can implement the policies I think you want, and in some sectors we do. I'm arguing that they don't work very well, and given some examples. But I fundamentally think that there are shifts in the economy and technology and demographics that lead to changes in employment. You can try and get in the way of the trade and sometimes we do (agriculture, cars, cocaine) and it doesn't work very well, but sometimes it's worth it (slaves, nuclear weapons).

    Ah! So is that the difference between us? I think trade is the aggregate result of lots of individual decisions and policies and technology and climate and birth rate and lots of other things, and you think trade is something run from Manhattan by evil bankers. I see trade as being a natural river, and state policy being dams and channels trying to direct it, usually unsuccessfully. You see trade as water driven by a big pumping machine, and whoever runs the machine can determine whose fields the river of trade waters.

    Is that it? I see jobs going to China as a "natural" event, so I'm not particularly concerned when people lobby to make this easier. They're just arguing the timing of the inevitable. You see jobs going to China as something controlled deliberately by humans, so you see it (quite naturally) as an evil conspiracy.

    No? Yes? It would certainly explain your general vitriol.
    posted by alasdair at 1:04 AM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


    "Well, no, to be honest. I think that's part of a healthy civic society, just like churches and unions and charities, and for that matter left-wing policy think tanks. Although I understand that campaign finance is a bigger issue in the US than the UK."

    First off, it's disingenuous to keep harping on the idea of a "secret conspiracy" when, as people have mentioned, it's fairly open.

    Second off, it's also disingenuous to pretend that special interests are all equal and equally healthy for a democracy. I realize that you're not likely to have read the Federalist Papers, but the instructive one with regard to this question in American democracy is the paper on factionalism, which is basically the idea of special interests distorting both the process and the function of democracy in order to better their position.

    "And more to the point: yes, there exist lobby groups. Yes, people in certain industries talk to each other. But it seems like when they're workers, we call this a union, and when they're professional, we call this an association, and when they're capitalists, we call this an evil international conspiracy. They're all arguing just their interests. "

    This is a false equivalency, both in aims and methods. The danger of capital influence in electoral politics is that it's essentially a distorting signal to the system, where the long-term interests of the country are ignored, or in many instances openly thwarted, by the influence of capital. And you may wave your hands and pretend that unions are equivalent there, however, the amount of money that can be marshaled on the side of, well, money, is disproportionately huge. You can understand how having a group whose influence is disproportionate with regard to the interests they represent does undermine the idea of a representative democracy.

    "That's different from managing to shape the world into a particular pattern. I think - and forgive me if I misrepresent your position - you believe that the shifts of mass employment in manufacturing from the United States to China (mainly) are the result of deliberate policy by US capitalists to increase profits, and that the benefits of this shift have accrued primarily to the US capitalists (you ignore previous shifts, which presumably were the result of UK capitalists). I believe that the shifts of mass employment from the United States to China (mainly) are the result of individual choices by businesses and consumers because China has lots of cheap, good labor, and because of policy and technical changes like containerization, the freeing of the Chinese economy by the Communist Party, and the status of the US Dollar as the world reserve currency, and, yes, free trade policies (at least on the part of the US). "

    This is inane, and it reads like a signal that you're either not interested in or not equipped for an honest debate. First, you make the classic liberal overestimation of individual agency, second, you disconnect that individual agency from the idea of coordinated policy and lobbying, third, you ignore that those choices — whether individual or aggregate — have some markedly negative and self-reinforcing consequences, and are thus worth critiquing even if you support things like globalization broadly.

    "Now I understand that it's bad for US workers that Chinese workers are willing to work for less money and maybe have better skills (your public education system isn't very good, is it?) but that's not an international conspiracy, is it? K Street doesn't make Mr. Wu take a job making electronic components in Shanghai for less than Mr. Washington would be paid in Ohio. Just like when Mr. Washington got paid less than Mr. Bull in Manchester, and the jobs went from the UK to the US."

    Aside from your condescending mien — did you actually read that in your pompous toff voice, or just type it that way? Public school indeed. — you seem remarkably blithe about the underpinnings of the shift in labor. Maybe British education didn't spell out that institutional slavery was the reason American labor was cheaper, though, frankly, international manufacturing labor prices had far less to do with why England lost jobs to America than local consumer base and huge access to natural resources here — if you really want to get into a discussion about why the US and Australia developed differently from the common colonial experience, we can do that.

    Your framing this around Mr. Wu's agency is a canard in discussing policy shifts, and yes, K Street very much does make it their goal to influence policy in a direction that is bad for both America and the world, but maybe good for you (which does help explain your smirking tone).

    "So I guess you're picking out the free trade policies as the key thing? That's what's amenable to the evil international conspiracy (unless you think they also run the Communist Party). OK, so you think we should stop imports of cheap manufactured goods from China, via legislation, so the widgets are made instead by American workers? "

    This is idiotic, with the straw man presentation ("evil international conspiracy" is your term, not Saul's), and you're positing a solution that Saul hasn't endorsed. I'm not going to bother with your glib treatment of trade barriers, except to note that it's pretty laughable to argue that because something hasn't been stopped, it hasn't been affected by regulation. Cocaine's trade is actually incredibly risky, hence the tremendous mark-up. Likewise, protectionism has been shown again and again to be effective in allowing the consolidation and maturation of local capacity.

    "So you can implement the policies I think you want, and in some sectors we do. I'm arguing that they don't work very well, and given some examples. But I fundamentally think that there are shifts in the economy and technology and demographics that lead to changes in employment. You can try and get in the way of the trade and sometimes we do (agriculture, cars, cocaine) and it doesn't work very well, but sometimes it's worth it (slaves, nuclear weapons)."

    Except that your examples are glib and wrong — first off, it was World War One that was sparked by protectionism, and second, the Great Depression preceded the classic example of the Smoot-Hawly Act. Finally, the dogmatic adherence to open market philosophy as epitomized by the Breton Woods organizations has had incredibly mixed results, especially with regard to developing countries. As it is in the fundamental interest of any business to privatize profits while socializing risk, welcoming trade isn't something that's without costs, and business and capital organizations most certainly do work to undermine the ability of states to make policy decisions in the interest of their citizens, in part through international trade treaties and IMF restructuring programs.

    "Ah! So is that the difference between us? I think trade is the aggregate result of lots of individual decisions and policies and technology and climate and birth rate and lots of other things, and you think trade is something run from Manhattan by evil bankers. I see trade as being a natural river, and state policy being dams and channels trying to direct it, usually unsuccessfully. You see trade as water driven by a big pumping machine, and whoever runs the machine can determine whose fields the river of trade waters. "

    If you're done huffing your own farts and establishing a fantastic straw man vision of Saul's position, you'd see that he's not saying that trade is run by bankers from Manhattan, but that the rules of the game are important, especially if you want to have a fair game. Whereas you seem to be rapt in capitalist vinegar strokes, imagining that everyone who is critical of free trade as a mantra just hasn't had your Thomas Friedman satori moment yet.

    Unregulated capitalism is a fantasy; the river is more an arroyo where sometimes it floods and wipes out a town, other times it's dry and worthless, and good civil engineering helps mitigate the risk of both.

    "No? Yes? It would certainly explain your general vitriol."

    What vitriol? Don't mistake your guilty bad feelings over posting yet another rah-rah glibertarian neo-liberal fantasy with any real ire on the part of your interlocutors.
    posted by klangklangston at 2:36 AM on March 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


    klangklangston I'm sorry my writing style offends you. No offence is intended.

    You're right, I probably shouldn't have added "secret" to "conspiracy". But I infer that there is an idea that global trade changes - the movement of manufacturing jobs from the US to China in this case - are deliberate policy on the part of a rich elite. Do I need to go through the thread and quote things? And I think that these global changes are not deliberate policy on the part of the elite.

    Forgive me, my idea that people who thought that these changes were a deliberate policy would (rightly) lead to them getting angry was an interesting one to me, and makes me better understand why they're angry (ah, is this why I'm coming across as condescending? Let me put that another way) better understand why I as a person am not inclined to get angry about globalisation - I don't think anything can be done, and I don't think it's anyone's fault. I get very sad but not angry.

    On your specific points:

    First, you make the classic liberal overestimation of individual agency, second, you disconnect that individual agency from the idea of coordinated policy and lobbying...

    Sorry, I don't understand you here. When you mean "individual agency" do you mean individuals as people, or as states? If you mean "people" then I've completely failed to communicate. I think mass changes in trade flows occur irrespective of agency (if I'm getting your language right). I think that you couldn't stop China getting more manufacturing jobs at the expense of the United States even if you wanted to (well, long term, and excepting war.)

    The danger of capital influence in electoral politics is that it's essentially a distorting signal to the system, where the long-term interests of the country are ignored, or in many instances openly thwarted, by the influence of capital.

    I think you're identifying the interests of labour/professions/charities with the long-term interests of the country, and you're implying that the interests of capital are against the long-term interests of the country. I don't think you've substantiated that at all. Some of their interests will coincide, some will not. Assuming, of course, we agree on what the long-term interests of the country are!

    Maybe British education didn't spell out that institutional slavery was the reason American labor was cheaper, though, frankly, international manufacturing labor prices had far less to do with why England lost jobs to America than local consumer base and huge access to natural resources here

    But institutional slavery ended in the 1860s, right? And the main shift in manufacturing was after that. So I'm not quite with you there. Do you mean that racism helped prevent unions organising and striking effectively, preventing labor from being able to drive up wages as effectively as in the UK? That seems a reasonable argument.

    Yes, of course, there are lots of factors in relative industrial performance. But cost and quality of workforce is surely a key one in large-scale, high-employment manufacturing - the subject we're focussed on, no?

    Your framing this around Mr. Wu's agency is a canard in discussing policy shifts, and yes, K Street very much does make it their goal to influence policy in a direction that is bad for both America and the world, but maybe good for you

    I can only infer from this that, again, you think the world economy is governed by a controlling elite, and you think I'm part of it. That's why you'd think a British guy would be supporting lobbying groups in the United States dedicated to US corporate profits. But I don't think this is the case. I'm not sure what you're driving at with the Mr. Wu stuff. Perhaps you could explain?

    it's pretty laughable to argue that because something hasn't been stopped, it hasn't been affected by regulation

    That wasn't my intention. I only meant to observe that the "natural" (as I see it) flows in trade can be altered by policy, but only to a degree. I conclude from this that try to arrest so great a change in the trade flow as "manufacturing moving to China" would be vastly expensive and difficult. I don't think this is a controversial view.

    Likewise, protectionism has been shown again and again to be effective in allowing the consolidation and maturation of local capacity.

    There's certainly a lively debate around this, yes. I don't think it's as clear-cut as you make out. For every Japan (it works) there's an India (it doesn't) (if I remember correctly) And I'm not sure in any case that these arguments are applicable to the United States - you're not a developing country.

    first off, it was World War One that was sparked by protectionism, and second, the Great Depression preceded the classic example of the Smoot-Hawly Act. Finally, the dogmatic adherence to open market philosophy as epitomized by the Breton Woods organizations has had incredibly mixed results, especially with regard to developing countries.

    Hmmm, well, I guess you could argue that WWI was also sparked by protectionism, if you like. I think there's general agreement that the autarkic and totalitarian attitudes of states in the 1930s contributed to the outbreak of WWII.

    The Smoot-Hawly Act came in 1930, the Stock Market crash came in 1929. There were various other tariffs throughout the 1920s and 1930s. The Great Depression went from 1929 to, what, the early 1940s? So the Smoot-Hawly Act certainly couldn't have caused the great 1929 crash, but it was certainly perfectly timed to be a causitive factor in the Great Depression continuing and/or worsening.

    The open market philosophy has worked really very well in many places, notably China, which is now getting lots of manufacturing jobs from the United States and lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Which is why we're arguing this. That would seem to be an argument in my favor.

    business and capital organizations most certainly do work to undermine the ability of states to make policy decisions in the interest of their citizens, in part through international trade treaties and IMF restructuring programs

    Well, I disagree, but I think we have fundamental differences in our beliefs about trade, business and capitalism, so that's unsurprising.

    the rules of the game are important, especially if you want to have a fair game.

    OK. My position is that the rules should allow people in China to work and make widgits for less money than people in America, so they should get the jobs. My belief is that the subsequent development of the Chinese economy (1) will benefit lots of very poor Chinese people and (2) lead to a rich export market for lots of American goods which will be good in the long run. However, it does mean the loss of mass-employment industries, which is why Ohio is in trouble. I further argue that it is natural for these mass-employment industries to move around the world seeking cheap labour, and that the cycle of economic growth thus obtained is generally positive. I recognize this is a problem for the place where the jobs were - like the UK, before they went to the US.

    I think that's a good-faith and reasonable position.

    Whereas you seem to be rapt in capitalist vinegar strokes, imagining that everyone who is critical of free trade as a mantra just hasn't had your Thomas Friedman satori moment yet.

    This is awesome, and I will spend the day rapt in capitalist vinegar strokes.
    posted by alasdair at 5:04 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


    "You're right, I probably shouldn't have added "secret" to "conspiracy". But I infer that there is an idea that global trade changes - the movement of manufacturing jobs from the US to China in this case - are deliberate policy on the part of a rich elite. Do I need to go through the thread and quote things? And I think that these global changes are not deliberate policy on the part of the elite. "

    I'm sorry, that's pretty clearly a counterfactual argument. The rich elite and their political interest groups have been explicit in advocating a deliberate policy of neo-liberal economics. You're mistaking your argument regarding motivations that you see as impersonal and abstract with the actions of the rich elite.

    But you're the one who introduced both the terms "secret" and "conspiracy," and have distorted the positions of those you've argued with. If you'd like to go through this thread and find instances of "conspiracy," you'll find that they're all responding to you. Positing, through "inference" or not, this position is the stuffing of a straw man.

    "Sorry, I don't understand you here. When you mean "individual agency" do you mean individuals as people, or as states? If you mean "people" then I've completely failed to communicate. I think mass changes in trade flows occur irrespective of agency (if I'm getting your language right). I think that you couldn't stop China getting more manufacturing jobs at the expense of the United States even if you wanted to (well, long term, and excepting war.)"

    When you say "individual choices," that's "individual agency." The assumption of classic liberal economics (and to some extent, classic liberal political theory) is that these choices are essentially free, informed and rational. You're arguing that trade moves because of billions of small, individual choices, and that's the reason that it can't be stopped. However, this overestimates the ability of those choices to be made in a free, informed and rational manner, as well as the ability of large actors to influence disproportionately the choices that are made by individuals in an artificial manner.

    "Forgive me, my idea that people who thought that these changes were a deliberate policy would (rightly) lead to them getting angry was an interesting one to me, and makes me better understand why they're angry (ah, is this why I'm coming across as condescending? Let me put that another way) better understand why I as a person am not inclined to get angry about globalisation - I don't think anything can be done, and I don't think it's anyone's fault. I get very sad but not angry. "

    All due respect, but the far simpler explanation is that you're not likely to get upset because it benefits you and you're in an incredibly privileged position. Not only that, but while globalization may broadly be inevitable, the shape of that globalization is not. It is perfectly justifiable to oppose globalization if the method of implementation puts the costs broadly on a population while conserving the rewards for a narrow minority, which is pretty clearly true here.

    And to say that it's "not anyone's fault" is either naive or disingenuous — the modes of globalization are intentionally crafted, both as political and economic policy. The G8 member nations very much do command an outsized and disproportionate influence on global trade laws, for example, and the elites within the G8 member nations command an outsized and disproportionate influence on those trade policies. As the primary countervailing influence on policy is suasion, it is reasonable for critics to employ it and use forceful rhetoric.

    "I think you're identifying the interests of labour/professions/charities with the long-term interests of the country, and you're implying that the interests of capital are against the long-term interests of the country. I don't think you've substantiated that at all. Some of their interests will coincide, some will not. Assuming, of course, we agree on what the long-term interests of the country are!"

    I thought that how disproportionate business lobbying can be detrimental to a balanced society and the long-term interests thereof would have been readily apparent in the wake of the global financial melt-down. Forgive me for assuming that you were up to date on the events of the last three years or so, but it seems that deregulation of the banking industry — tied to globalization — destabilized the global economy and cost millions of people their jobs and billions of people their assets. Perhaps this wasn't covered in the Daily Mail?

    Other examples would be: the current health care fight, in which a majority of Americans supported broader policy goals, yet were led by rhetoric and money to oppose the health care bill itself; likewise the recurring polling that finds Americans supporting progressive policies yet electing representatives that vote against those policies. Likewise, you seem to have an amazingly unsophisticated view of electoral politics: please see Astroturfing for many more examples of interest groups — primarily those of capital — acting in a duplicitous manner in order to subvert the democratic process.

    "But institutional slavery ended in the 1860s, right? And the main shift in manufacturing was after that. So I'm not quite with you there. Do you mean that racism helped prevent unions organising and striking effectively, preventing labor from being able to drive up wages as effectively as in the UK? That seems a reasonable argument. "

    Which main shift? The second industrial revolution? Are you talking about the second industrial revolution specifically, as opposed to the industrial revolution more broadly?

    Yes, of course, there are lots of factors in relative industrial performance. But cost and quality of workforce is surely a key one in large-scale, high-employment manufacturing - the subject we're focussed on, no?"

    But it's not determinative, and it seems that you are either ignoring or ignorant of the struggles of labor regarding the boom in manufacturing globally, as well as the role that protectionism played in fostering that economic progress. Further, you're either ignoring or are ignorant of the conditions of the largest boom in American economic history, that of post-world war II manufacturing, which came after a hugely subsidized investment in manufacturing technology and an explicitly well-paid, high quality labor force. It's a pretty direct counterargument to the idea that development alone, especially development built on low labor costs, is the best path to stable, rewarding development.

    "I can only infer from this that, again, you think the world economy is governed by a controlling elite, and you think I'm part of it. That's why you'd think a British guy would be supporting lobbying groups in the United States dedicated to US corporate profits. But I don't think this is the case. I'm not sure what you're driving at with the Mr. Wu stuff. Perhaps you could explain?"

    You brought up Mr. Wu. I pointed out that Mr. Wu doesn't exist atomically; he isn't a perfect individual, and his choices are constrained by policy decisions made the world over.

    A large problem in this discussion is that you are continually trying not to infer honestly, but to use the statements of your interlocutors to tie them back to a narrative bias that you disagree with, in order to dismiss their comments. There is no support for your inference, though you have made it clear in the past that you are part of a very privileged class, and globally that privilege only multiplies. It is very much in your interest economically to support globalization irrespective of the costs born by other people, and it is in your personal moral interest to come up with a justification for that. But this does not imply that you are setting policy or have ultimately very much efficacy in the system of global economics. Likewise, I believe that however true this assessment is, you have a very good reason to deny it, but I won't argue from that premise because impugning you like that is unfair. It is a simple explanation for a lot of your silly statements, however.

    "That wasn't my intention. I only meant to observe that the "natural" (as I see it) flows in trade can be altered by policy, but only to a degree. I conclude from this that try to arrest so great a change in the trade flow as "manufacturing moving to China" would be vastly expensive and difficult. I don't think this is a controversial view. "

    No, it's not. However, it's not inevitable that manufacturing moves to China, and manufacturing jobs based on cheap labor are not sustainable developments (see the ever shifting manufacturing bases of SE Asia and Central America — it's always possible to move somewhere cheaper). As those flows in trade can be altered by policy — the degree is debatable, and your fatalistic take seems blithe at best — it makes sense to make sure that those flows are altered in a way that serves the public.

    Further, appeals to nature are fallacious. Rape and murder are natural, but we restrain them for good reason.

    "Hmmm, well, I guess you could argue that WWI was also sparked by protectionism, if you like. I think there's general agreement that the autarkic and totalitarian attitudes of states in the 1930s contributed to the outbreak of WWII."

    Grouping totalitarianism with autarky is disingenuous — totalitarianism was much more a cause of WW II; autarky is a canard. Further, the economic development of the United States came in large part due to protectionism; likewise the Mexican boom of the '20s was protectionist based. Protectionism is important for emerging economies.

    But yes, protectionism was a large factor in WW I, thus tangentially WWII. And protectionist reactions to the beginning of the Great Depression did exacerbate the Great Depression. However, this is not — as you have ostensibly asserted — an argument purely against protectionism, but rather an argument against protectionism in those circumstances. This is further borne out by the global trade circumstances in which we find ourselves — both China and Japan's booms were largely predicated on protecting the domestic manufacturing sector until they were robust enough to compete.

    "The open market philosophy has worked really very well in many places, notably China, which is now getting lots of manufacturing jobs from the United States and lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Which is why we're arguing this. That would seem to be an argument in my favor. "

    As I mentioned, this is a counterfactual argument, so you might not want to be stroking yourself so enthusiastically for it. China's philosophy is very much not Open Market (and to describe it as such blinkers the imagination — it's like describing their political climate as Open Democracy), but rather managed market with a strong central core and partitioned access.

    The relaxation of central controls on China's market has been good for both China and the global economy, but when you start from a position of extreme central control, simply allowing some foreign investment is not Open Market. And notably, in China's lesser-developed areas, central control is still the primary mode of economic interaction. While China is relatively more open now than it has been since, well, the Opium Wars (another victory for British free trade policy), it is not an open market and asserting it as such is daft in the extreme.

    This does not mean that more protectionism would be good for the US as a whole, nor the US manufacturing sector (which you seem to underestimate, like many). It is entirely possible that the circumstances of the US mean that further protectionism in the manufacturing sector will only serve to weaken the quality of our competitiveness, for example. But there's a huge, huge, huge difference between the US and China relative to levels of development and trade.

    "Well, I disagree, but I think we have fundamental differences in our beliefs about trade, business and capitalism, so that's unsurprising. "

    It's fine to disagree on beliefs about trade, but to disagree that the Breton Woods organizations have worked to undermine the ability of countries to set their own domestic policy is flatly wrong. You can argue that things like IMF structural adjustment plans end up having a net positive effect on developing economies (though the evidence is far from conclusive there, and negative outcomes are well documented, but even the IMF has recognized the validity of criticisms of its austerity and short-term debt servicing plans, and has moved in recent years to reform their process for structural adjustment assessment.

    Frankly, the statement that I made is far less controversial than arguing that it was autarky that caused WWII.

    "OK. My position is that the rules should allow people in China to work and make widgits for less money than people in America, so they should get the jobs."

    Fair enough. Your position is simplistic and includes two normative statements presented without qualification. It's easy to take that position and extend it to the absurd: China should allow slavery to minimize its labor costs, thus ensuring more jobs. Developed nations should support this because it will lead to more profits, and it is in their interest to make more profits.

    As soon as you rebel against that statement, you have to realize that the rest of the conversation is arguing over where to put the barriers. As untrammeled free trade doesn't exist, and should not be held as an ideal given the real risks of bad actors and imperfect information, it makes sense to mitigate the risks.

    We've also gotten away from the fundamental point that business interests acting selfishly are rather by definition not good proxies for public interest, yet their resources allow them to have a disproportionate effect on the discussion.

    I do note that you, like most business apologists, ignore the incredibly obvious point regarding moving jobs around the globe — while, say, manufacturing (or almost any job save service) is not constrained geographically, the flow of labor is artificially constrained. If workers were able to freely change their location to go to where the best jobs were, we would see countries compete for workers by offering the best social benefits. As labor can't move, we see countries compete on price to attract businesses. As competing on price leads to a race to the bottom, this has a negative aggregate effect.
    posted by klangklangston at 10:03 AM on March 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


    Palm Trees Come To Cleveland: FreedomWorks Uses Discredited Footage In New Ohio Anti-Union Ad
    posted by homunculus at 10:19 AM on March 18, 2011


    Well said, klang.
    posted by saulgoodman at 10:47 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


    I think this is what I wrote that started this tangent:

    But really, I get frustrated: do we really think that changes in employment and international trade and balance of payments and inflation are all the product of a secret capitalist conspiracy? Do we really not believe in long-term shifts in economics, population, development? Can we really believe that if not for some cigar-chomping rich people in Manhattan everyone would be living in the 1950s boom still? Come on. That's not going to get us anywhere. Recognise that these changes are happening. Then look at lessons from Germany, or Japan, or China - both good and bad. Don't just blame the Big Conspiracy.

    And in your recent post:

    The rich elite and their political interest groups have been explicit in advocating a deliberate policy of neo-liberal economics.

    I don't think it's straw-manning to infer that there is a belief that the rich elite - your words - are managing the process of globalisation to (in this case) drive down wages in the USA and ship manufacturing jobs overseas. Here are some more quotations from this thread:

    But politicians refuse to go there because it would not please their corporate masters

    So while you're working to ensure you don't lose money, you're also working to ensure that everyone below you does.

    arbitrary systems of economic rules that capital holders deem fit to impose on labor and the rest of society.

    No, most of the money didn't go into modernizing the third world… most of it—the vast majority of it—went into the pockets of a very small number of already extremely wealthy people. Those very same people are the ones pointing to the glass towers being erected in former rice paddies and telling us what a great deal society as a whole is getting.

    But you also wrote these statements:

    Not only that, but while globalization may broadly be inevitable, the shape of that globalization is not. It is perfectly justifiable to oppose globalization if the method of implementation puts the costs broadly on a population while conserving the rewards for a narrow minority, which is pretty clearly true here.

    The relaxation of central controls on China's market has been good for both China and the global economy,

    This does not mean that more protectionism would be good for the US as a whole, nor the US manufacturing sector (which you seem to underestimate, like many). It is entirely possible that the circumstances of the US mean that further protectionism in the manufacturing sector will only serve to weaken the quality of our competitiveness, for example.

    This suggests that you broadly agree with me, that there is a process of globalization and free trade, and there are strong benefits - but also losers. So we could maybe have a discussion about how we support re-training and education for people losing jobs in affected industries, how you need free healthcare so the children of laid-off steelworkers can get medicine, or how we need to build housing in areas or support population movement to areas with strong demand for labor.

    But no, it's all "the rich elite doing it to do down the poor!" Hence my frustration. I want to talk about the stuff you've got on to, but we (MetaFilter) just keep banging on about oh the evil rich people running everything.





    On the healthcare debate: yeah, what a mess. I completely agree with you. Of course, I'd have to, since I'm generally pro-free trade, and one of the chief arguments is that government restrictions on trade will be captured by rent-seeking businesses - exactly what happened in your healthcare reforms. So for particular industries or markets or situations, then yes, I completely believe there are secret evil conspiracies - or to use less emotive language, private or public self-serving informal agreements to benefit businesses and influence policy and regulation, sometimes extending to illegal price-fixing and bribery. I just think "manufacturing jobs moving from Ohio to China" is bigger than that.

    On historical US slavery and manufacturing: My understanding/narrative is roughly that in 1850 Britain had all the manufacturing jobs, and by 1950 the USA had them. Slavery was abolished in 1865. So I don't get what slavery has to do with it. Ford and the factory system, yes, slavery no. I know that black workers were used as strike-breakers, so I understand there is an additional racial element to labor relations in the USA. But I don't otherwise get what you meant.

    On the position of the US in the 1950s: largest boom in American economic history, that of post-world war II manufacturing, I think you're arguing that this is a benchmark for normality in terms of the position of workers and labor, and that the low level of wage inequality is not just indicative but part of the success of the American economy at this time. I'm arguing that this was a historically unique time: UK industry was tired and worn out (you refused to sell us machine tools to repair our machinery, just finished goods - good stuff, it's what we did to India!), Germany and Japan were bombed flat, the USSR was dedicated to making tanks, nowhere else was industrialised. US GDP was about 60% of world GDP. Sure, you were humming along. The Marshall Plan was needed to recycle some of your US dollars back to the rest of the broken world - the equivalent of China buying US Treasuries now. That was not a position that could be sustained. It was a high water mark. You should not base economic/employment policy on that time period.

    On upset-ness: All due respect, but the far simpler explanation is that you're not likely to get upset because it benefits you and you're in an incredibly privileged position. That's a fair comment. I've been honest about my privileged status because I can't stand rich people who don't recognise how incredibly lucky they are. This was perhaps a mistake in this forum...

    On trade flows: However, it's not inevitable that manufacturing moves to China, and manufacturing jobs based on cheap labor are not sustainable developments (see the ever shifting manufacturing bases of SE Asia and Central America — it's always possible to move somewhere cheaper). As those flows in trade can be altered by policy — the degree is debatable, and your fatalistic take seems blithe at best — it makes sense to make sure that those flows are altered in a way that serves the public. Well, of course, at some level I agree with you. If China had stayed in autarkic Communism, it wouldn't be manufacturing all those widgets. At another level, I think you agree with me: you also think globalization is an ongoing process, but think it should be shaped. We may disagree on the level of shaping that is desirable or possible - my fatalism stems from my belief that there isn't much we can do, and my blitheness we've already covered.

    On totalitarianism: yes, bad habit of mine, never use one correct word when you can throw in another incorrect word to make yourself sound clever. Totalitarianism isn't germane to this argument as you observe.

    On protectionism: I think we're in agreement, then, that protectionism in the 1930s contributed to the Great Depression. As you write, this doesn't mean that protectionism is necessarily wrong in different situations, although I'd note that it's got to count as a bit of a black mark! There's have a separate discussion about protectionism for developing economies. I think there's a good case for protectionism for large enough economic areas, like "China" or "the United States", where it is coupled with other aspects of effective government and the areas are catching up with the developed world. It has worked out very badly for smaller economic areas with poor governance, like individual African nation-states. And I believe it's generally bad for developed states, like in agriculture and cars and aeroplanes or cocaine: you don't seem to be offering any arguments against that?

    On manufacturing: I imagine you'll end up with the same kind of manufacturing we have in the UK: high-value, low-employment, advanced technology, capital-intensive. World-beating, I'm sure, but not mass-employment. Those industries shift around the world, as you observe - I'd argue that as they shift they leave each country richer behind them, so I see that as a good thing. The challenges are what to do after they go.

    On the Bretton Woods institutions: I understand that they themselves have done a lot of soul-searching over the last decade, and concluded that they really don't know what works, except that corrupt regimes are bad. Have you read Paul Collier's THE BOTTOM BILLION? He touches on the challenges of IMF interventions and the like, and largely argues that the grand IMF policies aren't usually implemented. For example, they may demand huge cuts in the education budget, but first, this doesn't usually happen when the state gets its next gob of cash from the IMF, and second, the education budget is all in a Swiss bank account anyway. He's a standard pro-free-trade economist that reluctantly comes round to protectionism on the grounds that the Chinese are so bloody good at manufacturing that the normal routes to prosperity - mass manufacturing jobs! - are never going to leave China.

    On the openness of the Chinese economy: I'm not a libertarian. Markets need regulation, that doesn't make them fundamentally un-free. Chinese control of major parts of their economy does not take away from the fundamental point that free-market reforms have lead to huge economic growth, and I think you agree with me.

    On slavery and trade: well, I specifically mentioned "slavery" as a justification for restricting trade, but anyway: I'm perfectly reasonable in supporting free trade as a principle and a good thing without having to say that any trade in any good must somehow be permitted, as you well know.

    On the movement of people as opposed to capital and goods: that's a fascinating one, isn't it? If you're one of the people who will be competed with by immigrants you'll generally object ("over here taking our jobs!") - I'm sure this touches on your "race and labor relations" point earlier. Generally the people have won out, and immigrants have been barred, but that means that instead of people moving to where work can be found, capitalists have moved factories to where there is cheaper labor, as you observe. The rich elite is generally up for the free movement of people, interestingly, (insamuch as I think there is a single rich elite, of course, grin!)

    Finally, this is our key disagreement, isn't it?

    We've also gotten away from the fundamental point that business interests acting selfishly are rather by definition not good proxies for public interest, yet their resources allow them to have a disproportionate effect on the discussion.

    I think business interests can be the same as the public interest, but it depends on the interest and the business. But then, I'm not smarting from the health care disaster and donations to political parties are strictly circumscribed here, so my perceptions are different.

    Oh, and it is reasonable for critics to employ [suasion] and use forceful rhetoric. - yes, but the rules here say Help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion by focusing comments on the issues, topics, and facts at hand—not at other members of the site. You pinko commie, you.
    posted by alasdair at 9:10 AM on March 19, 2011



    Generally the people have won out, and immigrants have been barred, but that means that instead of people moving to where work can be found, capitalists have moved factories to where there is cheaper labor, as you observe. The rich elite is generally up for the free movement of people, interestingly, (insamuch as I think there is a single rich elite, of course, grin!)
    ...
    I think business interests can be the same as the public interest, but it depends on the interest and the business. But then, I'm not smarting from the health care disaster and donations to political parties are strictly circumscribed here, so my perceptions are different.


    I think the situation in the US is very unusual right now. We're seeing a major realignment in our political and economic power structure and people are starting to feel it. I don't think arguing theory is very helpful right now; the situation in the US is unique, and our "elites" aren't necessarily on the same page as yours. There's also a lot of really nasty identity politics being played by our political leaders. I would avoid generalizing or abstracting too much from our situation.
    posted by saulgoodman at 2:37 PM on March 20, 2011


    Also alasdair: The fact that people seem to be largely on-board with restricting the flow of international labor is only due to a failure of organized labor to maintain its relevance and to educate the US workforce about the wage suppressing effects of restricting the free movement of labor. In the US, employers want international workers all right--but they only want them if they can have them over a barrel, free to be dismissed on a whim and without the benefits of labor rights or fair wages.
    posted by saulgoodman at 7:52 PM on March 21, 2011


    Ah Saul, I have to disagree with you here. Until fairly recently, US unions' attitudes towards immigration were lukewarm at best or outright hostile at worst. If you go by Democratic Underground or some other solidly left forum and bring up the topic of H1-Bs or guestworker programs, you'll almost certainly get negative reactions from union advocates or even some stewards. Now they're expressing personal opinions rather than those of the organization they support, but it's not long since the two diverged.

    Most objections are of the 'stealing our jobs' kind, which is what's called a 'lump of labor fallacy' - as if there were only so many jobs in an economy, and one taken by someone from abroad meant one less for an American worker. This overlooks the fact that immigrants consume as well as produce, and thus increase the domestic demand for goods and services.

    You are quite wrong to say that US employers only want international workers if they can have them over a barrel. Of course there are some employers like that - as there are everywhere. But you have no basis for generalizing from that to US employers as a whole. Employees who get a green card or visa through employment are saddled with those restrictive conditions on job mobility etc. because of the way the law is written, and the law is written that way largely because of a powerful anti-immigration faction within the Republican party, the members of which strongly tend to be the farthest to the right, the most opposed to taxes and regulation, and the most socially conservative as well.

    Most business people and the more moderate Republicans would far rather see a simplified immigration system because the existing regime is expensive, time-consuming, and involves a substantial risk of legal liability. Except for the most unskilled labor or businesses small enough to fly under the radar, hiring a foreign employee does not provide huge cost savings. Business managers and their legal departments would much prefer to deal with a single set of labor regulations. They're in business to make money for themselves and their shareholders, not to screw the American worker or to act as components in the US immigration enforcement policy. The current laws are an expensive headache.
    posted by anigbrowl at 2:22 PM on March 22, 2011


    saulgoodman There's also a lot of really nasty identity politics being played by our political leaders. I would avoid generalizing or abstracting too much from our situation.

    Fair enough. The abortion threads are a good indication of that, aren't they?
    posted by alasdair at 4:45 PM on March 22, 2011


    anigbrowl: But if you look at the early history of the labor movement in the US (when Woody Guthrie was actively promoting the union movement in song and the IWW had more influence) you'll find that concerns about the common cause of all international workers were much more prominent, and the attitude was that all workers were in a common struggle for better conditions and greater freedom of mobility. Those more cosmopolitan attitudes that defined the early labor movement definitely seem to have given way to a more protective and provincial strain of labor activism in the US, but that's part of what I meant to characterize as a failure of the labor movement in the US. I still think much of what we're seeing is uniquely a contemporary US political and cultural situation. At the very least, the focused contempt for organized labor and unqualified support for business interests among a certain radical faction of Republican politicians who actually have power now is unique to this particular cultural and historical moment here.

    For example--and I've seen this kind of thing all over my own state--even the missions of state entities like labor departments are now being redefined in terms of serving the interests of the business community:

    Maine Governor Orders Mural Depicting Labor History Removed From Labor Department
    posted by saulgoodman at 12:23 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


    alasdair: oh yes.
    posted by saulgoodman at 12:23 PM on March 23, 2011


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