Daily Archives: March 10, 2004

The Truth About the "Jobless Recovery"

Over at The American Street, Mark Kleiman asks “Is the jobless recovery a product of management ideology?” It’s a remarkably stupid question for a smart man to ask. He writes as if there’s something new in this.

Of course managers always want to control costs; it’s part of their job. But companies used to boast about how many jobs they created and how well those jobs paid. Now that seems to have changed.

Michael Parenti predicted a decade ago when the Soviet Union fell that with the competing system gone, corporations were no longer going to see any reason to support a higher standard of living. So it has proved. But that’s the only real change; the owner class has despised workers since the time of Ancient Rome. If the existence of the Communist system goosed them toward the creation of a middle class to brag about, that pressure has been aleviated and they’ve simply reverted to type.

A Commenter named “paul” who’s had some experience of high-level economics courses wrote to clue Kleiman in to the realities of what prospective managers are taught:

Of course it’s ideological, not least because of the implicit lesson in many introductory economics curricula that doing something heartless is justified by the cold, cruel, yet rational laws of the marketplace, whereas doing something compassionate or equitable is at least prima facie a suboptimal economic choice.

Duh. Mr Kleiman notes, naively and inaccurately, that

If managing like Ebeneezer Scrooge was something to be embarrassed about twenty years ago, and something to boast about today, then one would expect somewhat more Scrooge-like behavior now than then: perhaps enough more to show up in aggregate wage and employment data.

I also wrote an answer, specific to that statement but also to his general point. Here it is.

It boils down to this: Owners don’t like having employees. Owners see us as pains-in-the-butt: we want days off to take care of sick kids, we rebel against 80-hr work-weeks, we want health care, some vacation time, managers that don’t abuse us, etc etc etc–and this all costs them money. They don’t give a damn about creating a middle class because, like most people who only accept reality when it hits them upside the head, they don’t see the connection between a healthy middle class and their profits.This is a psychological reality and has been for well over a century, Henry Ford notwithstanding. 20 years ago I worked for a company that spent more than $150,000 developing a machine that would replace 2 workers making less than half that much. The machine worked but had to be repaired constantly and replaced every year or so. Even tho in this particular case real people would have been more cost-efficient, the company continued to throw between $70 + 80,000/yr at this machine rather than give the job back to actual people.

I’m not denying paul’s point, or Mark’s,only saying that there’s nothing new here. Owners will grab any excuse–economic theory, automation, competition–any excuse to cut their workforce and/or pay it as little as they can get away with. Since industrialization clued owners in to the utopian dream that employees could be done away with entirely, owners have been chasing that rainbow and rewarding anyone who came up with a new tactic. This is just the latest round.

Managing “like Ebeneezer Scrooge” has never been “embarrassing”. I’m sorry, Mark, but I’ve been working-class all my life, I’ve spent over 40 years in factories of various kinds, and to me that’s the statement of someone who’s never actually been there. Not once in the last 40 years have I seen a manager “embarrassed” by Scrooging his employees unless it was a good man ordered to do so by his bosses. Not once in 40 years have I so much as heard rumors of a manager who’d been disciplined, let alone fired, for treating his workers like shit unless there was a lawsuit involved. I have, otoh, known a number of instances when managers deliberately treated their employees badly in order to get a promotion–and got it.

They look at us the way Cicero looked at the tenants in his slums–we’re a mob, unruly, stupid, and contradictory. We’re lazy, we steal, no matter how little they’re paying us we’re not worth it, we’re little better than animals and we need somebody with a whip and a gun present at all times to keep us from reverting to the jungle. The vast majority of owners feel that way; that’s what drove them to be “owners” in the first place: they needed to set themselves apart from “the herd.”

That attitude was held in check for a short period (the end of WWII to the mid-70’s) by the power of unions and pro-labor govt policies. When Reagan proved the unions could be busted and changed pro-labor policies to pro-corporate policies, the era was over. Welch was one of the first to figure it out, that’s all, and he took advantage of it. Since then they have been chipping away at established pro-worker institutions like the 40-hr week, overtime pay, the living wage, pension plans, health insurance, and vacation pay. We have now reached the point predicted in the sci-fi of 50 years ago when automation and globalization can eradicate both us and the middle class and still make a profit. They pile onto each of us the workload of 3 people and call it “productivity”; they make us compete for the lowest possible wage and call it “efficiency”; they cut our health care and steal our pensions and call it “fiscal responsibility.” But really it’s the same old crap in a new dress. They’d just like us all to go away and stop pestering them. We’re rabble, a drain on their pocketbooks and stock portfolios. If we can’t afford their outrageous rents, let us live on the streets. If we don’t make enough to feed our families, let us starve and decrease the surplus population.

Scrooge works as a character because he represents an attitude that’s been prevalent among the owner-class since the time of Ancient Rome, not because he’s an exception. And if we allow the plutocrats to control our society as they did, we will suffer the same fate.

Citizen Editorials

One of the reasons I like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is its practice of giving ordinary citizens space on its editorial page. It allows voices to be heard in full that would otherwise be relegated to the truncations of the Letters box.Today’s AJC has two Citizen Editorials worth reading, one poignant and one rather angry.1. A bankruptcy of caring amid America’s riches

Ralph Parker, an operations manager at a financial services company, is wondering what happened to our compassion and generosity.

We dwell on the so-called moral issues to the point that we ignore the moral values taught by all religions and for which all people are accountable. The lack of acceptance of those who are different flies in the face of morality and pure decency.We condemn loving individuals who contribute to building families and society because they are gay. How does looking at the Ten Commandments or praying in school really help one become a better person?


We destroyed the welfare system because a minority of recipients were abusing it, and we created a new monster, the perpetually underemployed, barely eking by.

Why should people not earn a living wage?

What is so wrong with slightly higher taxes for those who have resources, so as to provide a living wage, health insurance and retraining? Where has compassion gone?

Good questions, Ralph.

2. Seniors must pay plenty for free care

James Coomer, a professor of Political science at Norcross College, is about to retire. He just found out what Medicare is going to cost him on his fixed income thanks to the Republican distaste for “socialized medicine.” He adds up what this “free care” is going to cost him in payments before he even gets sick.

Therefore, upon retirement, when I am on a fixed income, I will be required to pay $262.72 per month for health care for myself. This is more than I ever paid during my working career to cover my entire family. This is not exactly what I expected from Medicare. I suspect it is not what most retirees expect. Is it any wonder that nearly 40 million Americans cannot afford even the basic health care options? Tax credits are useless to people who cannot seek medical attention because they cannot afford to pay up front.

A simple observation that seems to have escaped the Republicans who insisted on that provision. I’m sorry it took Mr Coomer’s own retirement to wake him up to what’s been happening to Medicare in the name of “fiscal responsibility” while he was busy elsewhere, but that’s a normal occurrence, isn’t it? We ignore the alligators as long as they’re in somebody else’s yard. Only when they wander into ours and snap at our legs does it dawn on us that we should have been paying more attention to what was going on with our neighbors.

Mr Parker is right–we should have noticed before. We should have cared. We should care now. Do we? Or are we going to continue the Republican presciption of “looking out for #1” and wind up like Mr Coomer, over a barrel because we couldn’t be bothered? It’s up to us, you know.

Aussie Blogs vs Junior

Tim Dunlop, the Aussie brain behind The Road to Surfdom, has just started a new column in the Sydney Morning Herald called Blogjam. It’s meant to be a flying weekly tour through the blogosphere grabbing highlights here and there, rounding up what everybody’s talking about, introducing blogs to people who’ve never heard of them and suggesting new sites to old hands who can’t after all, keep up with everything. Tim featured Aussie blogs on his initial voyage–go figure–and my Pick-of-the-Litter this week is Alan at Southerly Buster for two quite scathing Bush take-downs–one on the phony Iraq constitution and the other on a Kerry attack. Let’s take the last first.1. Bush hounds Kerry over free trade

Alan links to a BBC report on Junior’s speech in Virginia which was a veiled attack on Kerry’s trade stance–or rather what Junior imagines Kerry’s trade stance to be since one doubts the description you’re about to read is any more accurate than anything else he’s ever said about Kerry.

Mr Bush’s attack on Mr Kerry came during a Commerce Department awards ceremony in Arlington.”As our economy moves forward and new jobs are added, some are questioning whether American companies and American workers are up to the challenge of foreign competition,” he said.

“There are economic isolationists in our country who believe we should separate ourselves from the rest of the world by raising up barriers and closing off markets. They’re wrong.”

Here’s Alan’s delicious reply in toto:

Except on Australian sugar, beef, dairy, 33 horticultural products subject to snapback measures, PBS drugs, Canadian drugs, Central American sugar, European and Chinese steel and anything else competing with anything produced in a state Bush might carry in November.

Alan’s got your number, George. You can run but you can’t hide.

2. The Iraqi Constitution

On a much more serious note, Alan takes a look at the new Iraqi Constitution, and his analysis is devastating but hardly surprising: the new Consitution enshrines the Occupation as the legitimate govt.

Article 59 continues the powers of the military occupation, really the rest of the instrument then becomes a system of camouflage for the continuing occupation. Article 59 means the Iraqi armed forces must take orders from the unified command – the US and not the Iraqi Transitional Government. That is less than sovereignty and less than legitimacy. It is a law that binds the future elected government on the authority of the unelected Iraqi Governing Council. That has been already been denounced in the Sistani fatwa and there are serious questions of whether any future elected government will regard them as binding.

One can hardly see how they could. He links to the document itself, reproducing Article 59, and he’s right: legally, Article 59 supercedes all the other articles by placing the power to enforce them into the hands of a provisional govt which does not exist and which the Constitution does not explain how to create. This whopping great hole effectively turns all power over to the 25 members of the puppet Governing Council, which means, of course, that Bremer will continue to call the shots on behalf of Junior.

This thing gives new meaning to the phrase “not worth the paper it’s printed on.” Alan’s post is somewhat long but detailed and informative. Go read it.