The shootings Friday at Marysville Pilchuck High School caused more deaths than U.S. has seen from Ebola, and more injuries than Ebola cases. All told, USA has experienced 87 school shootings since assassinations at Sandy Hook Elementary School.However, this kind of good thinking, which is not isolated but can be found at every level of public discourse (from the underground to the mainstream), will never get us to the bottom of the irrational behavior it recognizes and denounces. Why do people fear Ebola more than the NRA, when the latter is far more dangerous to them than the former? Can we attribute this failure in logic to the success of NRA marketing, its extensive social engineering network and political power? I have said before that the economic sector that supports the NRA is actually very small. It could vanish from the main economy with the blink of a GNP eye. Yet it is still around, and guns are still available, and we are still waiting for the next mass shooting, which has to be as big as Newtown to grab the kind of headlines that Ebola and the ISIS do.
You will not get to the bottom of this irrational fear if you fail to understand the kind of society we live in: a capitalist nation-state. What is this about? Three social forms working as one: capitalism, the state, and the nation. Each of these forms has a deep history. Capitalism comes from European mercantilism; the state from the European absolutist monarchy; and the nation from European peasantry. The essential figure in each is money, the king, and the tribe. The modern European state came into formation in the 16th century by first the alliance of merchants (the city) and the king (the castle). These two were soon joined with the tribe (the village) to become what we still have today: capitalist nation-state.
To modernize, each formation challenged and defeated its past. Democracy challenged the absolutist monarchy (beheading the king); classical political economy (Adam Smith, David Ricardo) challenged the core obsession of mercantilism, which was money, bullionism; and cosmopolitanism (tolerance) challenged "rural idiocy." But when there is a crisis, the modernized forms (capitalism, the state, nationalism) revert to their original, pre-modern condition. And each formation has its essential crisis: for the state, it is war; for the market, it is an economic crash or bust; for the nation, it is the appearance of the stranger. When war happens, we get a king. When when a crash occurs, we get a run on the bank, a panic to go liquid, a primal mercantilist obsession with money (bullionism). When a stranger appears, we get the tribe.
Because Ebola is a stranger (an African stranger—the strangest of all strangers to Americans), it reverts the nation into a state of tribalism, and tribal feelings are very deep and powerful. This is why the nation only panics when a gun is fired by an Arab or some other person it perceives as a stranger. If one of its own kills a few its own, the nation cannot access those deep and powerful village feelings. As for the ISIS, we have some overlap—the state and the nation, the king and the tribe, the war and the stranger.
The thinking in this post is mostly drawn and remixed from two books by the Japanese philosopher Kojin Karatani. The books are: Transcritique: On Kant and Marx, and The Structure of World History: From Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange.
Judging from his review, Gates mostly likes the book, but he also fails to understand a crucial part of its argument: Inequality leads to the domination of inherited wealth. This failure has much to do with the fact that Gates is a Schumpeterian (those who believe that the true heroes of capitalism are entrepreneurs and that the real motor of the system is creative destruction—the idea that companies grow very big, command the market, but then collapse and lose everything when another, smaller, more agile company introduces a new way of doing things, a new technology). Gates is an entrepreneur, and he knows everything about this creative destruction business (IBM, Apple). As a consequence, he cannot understand why Piketty puts so much emphasis on inherited wealth (the consequence of inequality), when clearly (to him) massive fortunes have been decimated by the progress of creative destruction.
You can see one wealth-decaying dynamic in the history of successful industries. In the early part of the 20th century, Henry Ford and a small number of other entrepreneurs did very well in the automobile industry. They owned a huge amount of the stock of car companies that achieved a scale advantage and massive profitability. These successful entrepreneurs were the outliers. Far more people—including many rentiers who invested their family wealth in the auto industry—saw their investments go bust in the period from 1910 to 1940, when the American auto industry shrank from 224 manufacturers down to 21. So instead of a transfer of wealth toward rentiers and other passive investors, you often get the opposite. I have seen the same phenomenon at work in technology and other fields.
Finally, Gates does not like the idea of taxing incomes or wealth (he is, however, fine with estate taxes—good for him), but instead wants to tax consumption, which he sees as a very bad thing. Not only is this an unhelpful idea (as it would result in the poor paying more taxes than ever before), but it has the sad smell of moralism. Gates is here in line with Adam Smith, the 18-century philosopher/economist who saw consumption as what defined and morally bankrupted the barons and lords of pre-capitalist societies. Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations is indeed an attack on that class. What Smith favors instead is the sobriety, the resourcefulness, the industriousness of the business class, the men who make things rather than consume them. Gates sees himself in this very old and dusty light.
The Smoke Farm Symposium's trusty archivist Jason Evans has just uploaded the talk Charles gave at this summer's Symposium. Topics discussed: His father's past as a highly principled economist in Zimbabwe (he refused to use the information he learned about its stock market for investment purposes), Charles's own failure to become an economist in college, his discovery of Marx, income inequality and Thomas Piketty, slavery and the Civil War, Jane Austen and what her novels tell us about centuries-old economic conditions, and how Wall Street won't really care about climate change until New York is underwater and "bankers are swimming."
His conclusions were deeply pessimistic but (in true Charles style) he delivered them in a tone that one attendee described as "volcanic joy."
If you want a crash course in Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century—or if you're looking for something brainy while you do some repetitive task—this is the talk for you.
Anne Focke has recently become interested in the question of work. But first who is Focke? And why is she interested in work? The answer to the first question: Focke is, to use her own words, “an intentional generalist, a matchmaker, writer, and creator.” More specifically, Focke is an artist and arts administrator who over the past 30 years has had a considerable impact on Seattle’s art community.
She and Thatcher Bailey founded Artist Trust in 1986. In the '90s, she participated in Arts Wire, a “national online network for the arts.” And for much of the previous decade, she was the executive director of Grantmakers of the Arts. Currently, she is conducting a curious community experiment with the help of Town Hall called Penny University. This experiment is addressing the question that has been on her mind lately: work in the 21st century.
"I have been thinking about work a lot, how it is defined, how it is organized. Much of my life, I have had a job in the conventional sense—with an employer and benefits—only once or twice. And so all of this time, I have been working in a way that is more and more common. As someone said, 43 percent of Americans working are doing part-time, freelance, starting something up. Not because they want to, but because that's all there is out there. And so it's interesting to think about the structure of current work and how it became that way. There have been speakers and experts in economics coming through Town Hall whose thoughts and ideas (Robert Reich, Naomi Klein, Andy Stern) have really helped me and others think about the state of work."
As for Penny University? “The name comes from 18th-century coffee houses. For the price of a penny, you'd got the latest pamphlets, your coffee, and debates about current politics and the state of religion. Because it was just a penny, these places became known for creating a mix of people from different income levels. This is the inspiration, but I want to call it the Penny U, to update it. What makes Penny U different from other communities? Edward Wolcher [who is Curator of Community Programs at Town Hall and a collaborator] brought this up in a conversation we had: Our plan is to leave a meeting with questions rather than answers. We take a quote from, say, one of the speakers and break it down with the goal of coming up with questions.”
The next Penny U happens on November 5th at 5:30 p.m. at Town Hall.
After Forbes listed the wealthiest 400 humans in the United States last week, it turned its guns on the French economist/pest Thomas Piketty, who in the book Capital in the 21st Century claims that advanced capitalist societies are returning to levels of inequality and social/economic conditions that prevailed in Europe and the United States before World War I. At that time, the top 10 percent of society commanded almost 50 percent of its income, and inheritance was the dominant/surest source of wealth. There is a lot of evidence for Piketty's theory, and in the face of this growing evidence and the success of his book, Forbes' celebration of the richest of the rich looked downright obscene and untimely. Indeed, in one year, the wealthiest Americans collectively increased their wealth by an ugly $270 billion.
How to justify this madness? Claim that most of the billionaires on the list are self-made and not born with a "silver spoon."
More than two-thirds of the listed billionaires, Forbes declared, made their money the hard and honest way. But how did it determine if a billionaire is self-made or not? Well, if you did not inherit a ridiculously big chunk of money, you qualified as self-made. This means, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey are the same: self-made. Bill Gates came from a place that is just like rural Mississippi. He went to schools that are similar in every way to the ones Winfrey attended. No kidding, this is how Forbes makes its measurements. But in reality, Bill Gates began in the 10 percent, as did Rupert Murdoch (self-made), and Mark Zuckerberg (self-made). Forbes has no idea of the difference between being at the bottom of the 10 percent and being even at the top of the bottom 25 percent.
Something you may not have heard, and with good reason, is that the government's budget deficit fell sharply in 2013 (from $700 billion to just below $500 billion). If the deficit continues to fall at the current rate or pace, Obama may leave his presidency with a budget surplus (something not seen since the Clinton years).Rolling Stone also posted other impressive economic achievements: the unemployment rate is down to 5.9 percent (it was 10 percent when Obama entered office), 55 consecutive months of job growth, 10 million private sector jobs created, and so on. But Obama is so unpopular at the moment that he is keeping some distance from the mid-term elections.
The big question: Why hasn't (relatively) good economic news translated into some kind of popularity for the president and his party? And why, in the light of these positive reports about falling deficits and so on, are US citizens still going to vote for the GOP? My best answer (THEORY ALERT): The Right is not about economics. Its main concern is the business of politics. The Right understands something Big Left totally misses: we live in a post-economic society. (This is something I addressed in depth in my Life Without Economics series.) The noise the Right makes about jobs and deficits is just that: noise. One only has to look at the economic performance of neoliberal policies to see that even neoliberalism is not about economics. Its policies produce poor results almost everywhere. (This point is also made by the anthropologist David Graeber in his essay "Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit.")
Obama and his party actually believes in economics; the GOP does not. And the GOP is right: the US does not need economics. Our moment is no longer about production (economics) but distribution (politics). But we do not have a leftist politics for a post-economic society, and the Right does. For them it's all about what the economist Dean Baker calls The Conservative Nanny State. And what it comes down to is: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer (distribution). In short, Obama is playing a game that the GOP does not play. What most matters in a post-economic society is the control and management of state welfare (who gets it, who doesn't).
But let's step back and look at the big picture: In our post-crash Piketty (growing inequality, stagnant wages) moment, poor people are moving out to suburbs like Ferguson, and wealthy people are moving back into the city. This goes against a trend that went into full swing after the Second World War: the rich and businesses moved out of the city, and the poor and unemployed were abandoned in the dying core. But if you look at an even bigger picture, one sees that this mid-century transition was actually an anomaly. This is not the normal arrangement for cities around the world and in history. As Kenneth T. Jackson points out in his masterpiece Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United State, what we find in big cities like Paris, Cairo, Pretoria, Rome, and so on is instead this class/spatial arrangement: The poor are in the suburbs (outside), and the rich are in the core. This is the normal order of things; this is the way it has been for almost always.
With this in mind, we can see the current transition (cheap Kent/expensive Capitol Hill) as something of a correction. What we are witnessing in Seattle and other metropolises is a return to the older order of the city.
While we worry about ISIS, the real danger to world peace continues to grow and tighten its hold on the resources of humankind...
A new survey shows that 155 billionaires were minted this year, pushing the total population to a record 2,325 – a 7 percent increase from 2013. Credit goes to the United States – home to the most billionaires globally – where 57 new billionaires were recorded this year, according to the Wealth-X and UBS Billionaire Census 2014 released on Wednesday.The reason to be deeply pessimistic about the future is that there seems to be no way to reverse this process. Wealth is effortlessly moving up and up. And once most of it is up there (possibly 80 to 90 percent), it will likely remain there until hit by a catastrophe of a scale our worst nightmares can never match. This is Thomas Piketty's point in Capital in the 21st Century. He sees the steep increase in the upward movement of wealth as a law of capitalism (r > g, which means the normal state of things is that the return on wealth surpasses economic growth). The only time this law snapped was in the middle of the 20th century. And this snap has its cause in two massive wars that killed a total of 30 million people (before the WW2, the human population was a third of what it is today).
Piketty believes the solution to this dangerous situation is a form of global tax. But what is not to be found no matter where or how hard one looks is the political power or form that can implement such a policy. The ISIS is nothing but a walk in the park when placed in the wider context of a future that's looking more and more like Europe before the outbreak of the WW1.
The net worth of the average black household in the United States is $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, according to 2011 census data. The gap has worsened in the last decade, and the United States now has a greater wealth gap by race than South Africa did during apartheid. (Whites in America on average own almost 18 times as much as blacks; in South Africa in 1970, the ratio was about 15 times.)This inequality was almost nowhere mentioned during the Occupy moment. Indeed, the "black-white income gap" today is wider than it was in 1967. That bad check the March on Washington was all about worth even less in 2014. The Golden Age of Capitalism missed excluded black Americans. The Golden Age of Capitalism missed a large part of black America. Thomas Piketty:
Inequality reached its lowest ebb in the United States between 1950 and 1980: the top decile of the income hierarchy claimed 30 to 35 percent of US national income, or roughly the same level as in France today. This is what Paul Krugman nostalgically refers to as “the America we love”—the America of his childhood. In the 1960s, the period of the TV series Mad Men and General deGaulle, the United States was in fact a more egalitarian society than France (where the upper decile’s share had increased dramatically to well above 35 percent), at least for those US citizens whose skin was white.During this Golden Age, white Americans relocated to the suburbs and abandoned black Americans in the inner city. The government also ended its pre-World War Two commitments to urban public housing and redirected its resources to the suburbs: roads, generous tax breaks, and long-term home loans (the 30-year mortgage was not devised by the market but by the government).
Some turn to the 90s (the Clinton-era) as evidence of economic progress (low unemployment) for black Americans—but this was all an illusion. The prison population in 1970 was below 300,000; in the 1990s it approached 2 million (the population of the US in 1970 was 200 million; by 1990, it was 300 million). Black males make up half of the prison population (1 million), and the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not include those who are sitting in cells doing nothing in its unemployment figures (Read Punishment and Inequality by the Harvard sociologist Bruce Western). But the story is not over yet.
Things are only going to get worse because since the 90s, black Americans have, in greater and greater numbers, been forced out to suburbs like Ferguson at the very moment the market and white Americans are returning to the core of the city, and the core is where the jobs are...
MANY white Americans say they are fed up with the coverage of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. A plurality of whites in a recent Pew survey said that the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.
As many have noted, the city of St. Louis has long been plagued by racism. The police killing of Michael Brown and the subsequent protests, however, took place in Ferguson, a once affluent suburb of 21,000. The town, and the situation it’s currently embroiled in, is emblematic of the shifting demographics of American suburbs, and it should be seen as a cautionary tale.
According to a report from the Brookings Institute, the number of our nation's suburban neighborhoods in which 20 percent of residents live below the federal poverty level ($23,492 for a family of four in 2012) "more than doubled between 2000 and 2008-2012." Unsurprisingly, there are often also racial and class components. "Like Ferguson, many of these changing suburban communities are home to out-of-step power structures, where the leadership class, including the police force, does not reflect the rapid demographic changes that have reshaped these places," the report says.
Since the 1980s, many once-strong black communities in the areas surrounding St. Louis were systematically debased and in some cases residents were forced out. Kinloch, once a "vibrant, self-sustaining, middle-class community of thousands in north St. Louis County" was essentially razed in the 1980s under the auspices of an airport runway extension. The extension never happened, but the residents of Kinloch had largely been displaced to municipalities where "historic laws had long forbidden black citizens from owning land." Many were displaced to Ferguson.
On July 21, Mayor Ed Murray sat down with anti-foreclosure activists, committed to ending veteran homelessness in Seattle by 2015, and instructed Seattle police not to remove Byron Barton, a disabled Vietnam veteran, and his wife Jean Barton from their home in West Seattle.
That made Triangle Properties, which Council Member Sawant has called a "developer that specializes in buying up foreclosed homes," really pissed off. Triangle bought the house at auction on April 11 after the Bartons were foreclosed upon by Chase Bank. After the mayor's intervention, the company filed a legal complaint to compel the city to enforce trespassing laws and evict the Bartons.
According to the mayor's office, a judge ruled yesterday that the city is within its rights to use discretion in applying the law. The judge said now it's up to the King County Sheriff to enforce the eviction order.
"The Bartons don’t belong there. They’re not the legal owners of the property," Sergeant DB Gates, a spokesperson for the sheriff, told me today. "It’s in the hands of the courts. And we will always follow a court order." She wouldn't say any more than that about the prospects for an eviction.
Meanwhile, the Bartons are challenging the legality of their foreclosure in court. Chase Bank and Quality Loan Services haven't responded to the suit yet, and it could be months before it gets resolved. But foreclosures have been overturned before because of malpractice by behemoth banks.
"The Bartons should not be removed from their home until the court can rule on these legal claims since these issues are currently in dispute and are the subject of litigation in King County Superior Court," Jill Smith, their lawyer, says in a letter citing several previous cases of overturned foreclosures sent today to Murray, the City Council, and City Attorney.
So far so good. The mayor wants to help vulnerable veterans (if he didn't, that would alarming). And he took action—after anti-foreclosure activists put their bodies on the line and created a damning spectacle as King County Sheriff Deputies attempted to evict the Bartons last month.
Here's where Murray's messaging gets weird and unseemly, however. His statement on the court ruling included this passage:
Uber employees have ordered and canceled more than 5,000 rides from rival Lyft since last October, according to new data provided by Lyft. The data was obtained at CNNMoney's request when reporting another story on the companies' competition.CNN also reports that Uber basically claims it's just a "platform" for "entrepreneurs" and is really pleased to give these "entrepreneurs" an opportunity to generate business for themselves...
It's the latest in a pattern of aggressive and questionable tactics by Uber to control the car-on-demand market, according to rivals.
In a statement Monday, Uber said, "We recruit hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs to build their own small businesses on the Uber platform, where the economic opportunity for drivers is unmatched in the industry."
The company went on to imply that some of the people identified by Lyft could have been average passengers looking to make money, as opposed to professional Uber recruiters: "We even recently ran a program where thousands of riders recruited drivers from many platforms, earning hundreds of dollars in Uber credits for each driver who tries Uber."
The GOP is basically the party of white existential fear...
Writing in the Brookings Institution's FixGov blog last week, political scientist Christopher Parker pondered House Republicans' stubborn refusal to back immigration reform, despite support in the Senate and across wide swaths of the conservative commentariat. He surmises that House Republicans are balking because they "represent constituencies haunted by anxiety associated with the perception that they’re 'losing their country' to immigrants from south of the border."And what is the source of this fear? That color may actually be meaningless, and that white, middle-class wealth is nothing more than an accident of historical factors, an anomaly rather than a given. Whiteness is more and more being exposed to them as cultural rather than natural. There is also the growing understanding among many whites that those at the very top of this society are abandoning them.
Recent polling backs this up. Significant numbers of conservatives, and white Americans in general, admit to feeling discomfort at the prospect of a non-majority white America. These views are even stronger among Tea Party-aligned conservatives. According to Parker's polling, nearly two-thirds of Tea Party conservatives want to eliminate birthright citizenship, and 82 percent of Tea Partiers say they feel "anxious or fearful" about undocumented immigrants.
There was once a need for a white buffer between the few at the top and the rest at the bottom. But that system worked well under the Fordist/industrial/labor union mode of capital. Under the current neoliberal mode, this buffer that formed America's predominantly white middle class (a class that holds about 25 percent of the nation's wealth) is now actually under attack. The median income for whites is in decline. Incarceration rates for whites are increasing. When the anthropologist David Graeber wrote his book The Democracy Project in 2012, it was understood that 1 in 7 Americans were being dogged by a collection agency; in 2014, it is reported to be 1 in 3. So what do the majority of whites do for protection? They run to the very wolves that want to devour them...
Seattle is not there, but it's certainly getting there...
Worst place in America for renters? San Francisco, of course, and by a lot. http://t.co/bcsptRQVUY pic.twitter.com/vbOzihuJGa
— Mark Follman (@markfollman) August 8, 2014
The nation's largest drugstore chain is acquiring Alliance Boots, a Switzerland-based drugstore chain with stores in England. But it won't attempt to relocate its headquarters overseas to take advantage of lower tax rates—a move known as a tax inversion.
Sources on both sides of the Atlantic said that Walgreens is likely to disclose as part of its announcement that it intends to remain a US-domiciled company rather than pursuing a so-called tax inversion which would involve moving its corporate headquarters to the UK or Switzerland.Wall Street is not happy. One of the factors in the company's decision? The risk of "consumer backlash." Damn straight.
The news will represent a significant victory for President Obama, who said recently that US companies which moved their headquarters overseas to save tax were damaging the country’s economy.
"My attitude is I don't care if it's legal, it's wrong," he said in July.
What with all the war and all the airplanes falling from the sky, this snuck under the radar, but Tuesday Obama signed the sexily titled Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Here's the real shocker, though: The bill enjoyed widespread bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House.
The Act is in essence a reauthorization of President Clinton's Workforce Investment Act of 1998; it targets the long-term unemployed by providing Federal money to state and city retraining programs with updated, data-driven supervision and accountability. The aim is to measure success not by how many workers sign up for training, but how many workers actually find jobs after that training, as well as what they get paid.
"[T]raining programs that use federal money will be required to make public how many of its graduates find jobs and how much they earn," the President said at the signing. "And that means workers, as they’re shopping around for what’s available, they’ll know in advance if they can expect a good return on their investment." The bill is a result of a six-month review headed by Vice President Joe Biden, who visited different parts of the country reviewing state and city plans:
Back in March, he visited New Hampshire, where an innovative on-the-job training program has helped nearly 700 people get new jobs since 2010. There he stopped at XMA Corp., a small manufacturer that has hired about a half-dozen people so far using the program.
And Biden was clearly impressed. "We're trying to replicate what you're doing all over the country," he told XMA workers.
The program targets the long-term unemployed and pays up to 90 percent of the employee's salary while a company trains him or her to fill an opening.
Here again we see the government stepping in to fill a role that businesses used to supply but often no longer feel responsible for. Still it's maybe a promising sign for Congress, and this rare emergence from stasis deserves a slow clap. Good job doing your job, elected representatives. “Let’s do this more often," Obama said. "It’s so much fun!” As we all know, it's still the economy, stupid, and Americans at large aren't going to give much of a shit about the environment, foreign policy, or social issues until the middle class—the pistons of our economic engine—stops hemorrhaging its insides.
Via New York Times
From Dani Roderik's book The Globalization Paradox:
The creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995, after nearly eight years of negotiations and as the culmination of the so-called “Uruguay Round” (the last under the GATT), ushered quite a different understanding [of international trade]. Along with the onset of financial globalization around 1990, the WTO marks the pursuit of a new kind of globalization that reversed the Bretton Woods priorities [country first/international trade second]: hypergobalization. Domestic economic management was to become subservient to international trade and finance rather than the other way around. Economic globalization, the international integration of markets for goods and capital (but not labor),became an end in itself, overshadowing domestic agendas.
The thrust of policy discussions increasingly reflected this change. From the 1980s on, if you wanted to argue for or against something, you couldn't do better than adorn your case with the words "our countrv's international competitiveness requires it." Globalization became an imperative, apparently requiring all nations to pursue a common strategy of low corporate taxation, tight fiscal policy, deregulation, and reduction of the power of unions.
"[Boeing's] survival depends on being competitive—and the state of Washington has a lot at stake... By taking steps to remain competitive, much like we did earlier this year... we will ensure that Washington continues to benefit from the jobs, revenue, and technological skills we contribute to this region. I've never seen such a fierce marketplace."
Deepa Bhandura in "One Indian Writer’s Perspective on Two of Seattle’s Prominent Indian-Born Americans":
Nadella strikes the corporate world as a kind of Gandhi figure. Tall and trim with buzzed hair and dark-rimmed glasses, he exudes a corporate brand of asceticism. His lean runner’s body harbors no extra fat. His speech is measured and Spartan. His disciplined form matches his disciplined attitude. In his first public interview as CEO, he stated: “The first thing I want to do and focus on is ruthlessly remove any obstacles that allow us to innovate.”
His self-proclaimed “competitive zeal” came through last week, when he announced by e-mail that Microsoft would shave off 18,000 jobs as a way to “become more agile and move faster” in the new economy.
Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval in The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society:
But while neo-liberals accept the need for state intervention and reject pure governmental passivity, they are opposed to any action that might frustrate the operation of competition between private interests. State intervention even has the converse sense. It does not involve limiting the market through corrective or compensatory action, but developing and purifying the competitive market through a carefully tailored legal framework. It is no longer a question of postulating a spontaneous agreement between individual interests, but of creating the optimal conditions for the interplay of their rivalry to satisfy the collective interest. In this respect, rejecting the second of the two propositions mentioned above, neo-liberalism combines a rehabilitation of public intervention with a conception of the market centred on competition, It [makes] competition the cardinal principle of social and individual existence.
By now, most of us have heard about the 2010 study by software technology company Intuit, which holds that 40 percent of our workforce will be contingent, i.e. freelance, contract, self-employed, temp, etc., by 2020, and that traditional, full-time, full-benefit jobs will be harder to find. It's not hard to see that trend developing, whether it's Lyft and Uber offering tacos and bonuses in lieu of actual benefits; the rise of services like Elance, Fiver, Leapforce, and Taskrabbit (among many, many others); or the current contractor changes at Microsoft.
From the letter a contractor wrote to Brendan after last week's shakeup:
What's fascinating to me, in a very macabre way, is that many of my young co-workers don't know that there are actually jobs that provide good benefits. They have never experienced that so far and that says a great deal about what it's like to work in the US now.
People will say "why don't you get another job?" If only it were that easy. I'm in my mid-50s, MBA, 30+ years of international business experience and I can't find a decent job anywhere. I attribute this in part to very real ageism but I'll leave that for another day. The bottom line is that good-paying jobs are not plentiful any longer. The trend in business (especially in the tech world) is toward the use of contractors and paying them significantly less than they would a full-time employee. And they get away with it. It's truly a race to the bottom.
The trend raises several questions when we take just the briefest look under the hood. What happens when a significant percentage of our workforce becomes a demographic of independent agents who don't have legal backing from the companies they contract with, access to quality healthcare, no equity, and no safety net beyond the tatters of what was once available to them? What is the role of government regulation here? Will we see the return of collective bargaining, which business and globalization have spent the last few decades stamping out? Rand Paul blithely thinks technology will solve all of our problems, at least when he's standing in front of young and eager technology workers. What do you think?
A group of activists from Standing Against Foreclosure and Eviction (SAFE) sat outside Mayor Ed Murray's office for four hours today, asking that he intervene to prevent the eviction of veteran and his wife from their West Seattle home, until the mayor and his chief of staff came out and met with them this afternoon.
According to SAFE organizer Josh Farris, Murray told them "the SPD is not coming" to evict Byron and Jean Barton, and that he'd let the activists know if anything changes.
As I reported on Friday, SAFE—joined by members of Socialist Alternative, including state house candidate Jess Spear—surrounded the Bartons' West Seattle bungalow when King County Sheriff deputies arrived that morning to enforce an eviction order, following the foreclosure and sale of their house. The deputies attempted to evict the couple by loading Byron, who uses a wheelchair to get around, into an ambulance.
Supporters of the Bartons lay down in the way of the ambulance, preventing it from leaving, and the authorities eventually gave up. It's now fallen to Seattle police to enforce trespassing laws.
But activists demanded that they hold off, and the mayor has agreed. "He's has asked SPD not to act until we’ve explored all options," confirms mayoral spokesperson Megan Coppersmith. "That means essentially standing by while the latest court proceedings unwind." (The Bartons are currently challenging the legality of their foreclosure in court.)
"This is a small victory," Farris says. "We punched capitalism in the nuts and we won a battle."
Yesterday, a leaked memo from a Microsoft contract employee revealed that the company is not only cutting 14,000 full-time jobs, but is squeezing its tens of thousands of vendor employees by forcing them all to end their jobs in 18 months, then come back 6 months afterwards. That 18-month on, 6-month off rotation will be the new schedule for all of them.
What is a Microsoft contractor/vendor? The company has two kind of contracts (a- and v-, the former on a 365-day on, 100-day off rotation, the latter continuous) for work it wants done but ostensibly doesn't want to pay benefits for. (Though Microsoft has repeatedly said it developed this system for other reasons.) So it contracts labor agencies to supply them with workers, pays these agencies a lump sum, and lets them figure out how and what to pay the workers. The reason for the a- and v- distinction has to do with labor disputes from years ago. This new policy will fold the two streams into one.
One of these "external" Microsoft employees, who describes himself as a "permatemp," said many people in his situation work full time without benefits for years (at $17 to $22 per hour at the bottom rungs of the system) and have no idea what kind of cut the labor agencies are taking—but he suspects it's "hefty."
The situation, he said, is "just a bomb waiting to explode."
Another "external" Microsoft employee who works for one of those agencies wrote this morning to describe what it's like at his company. "I have never seen more beaten and broken down people in my entire working life," he said. "What's fascinating to me, in a very macabre way, is that many of my young co-workers don't know that there are actually jobs that provide good benefits. They have never experienced that so far and that says a great deal about what it's like to work in the US now."
The full text of his letter is below the jump.
"I've worked all my life and I've served my country for four years," said Vietnam veteran Byron Barton this morning, as police officers and paramedics attempted to carry him into ambulance, while protesters blocked their way. "I want to stay in my home," he told KIRO 7.
Barton is disabled, but wasn't sick or immediately in need of an ambulance. King County Sheriff Sergeant DB Gates says the sheriffs wanted to enforce an eviction order and get Barton out of the house, and the idea was to transport him to the Veterans Affairs hospital on Beacon Hill "just to help him out...we really wanted to get him hooked up to some medical services."
Sergeant Gates said the Sheriff's office does evictions "every day," but that this is the first time they encountered protesters since last year's eviction blockade—also by the group Standing Against Foreclosure and Eviction (SAFE)—at the home of South Park construction worker Jeremy Griffin, who was at today's eviction blockade.
Activists accuse the Seattle City Council of abandoning thousands of Seattle residents facing foreclosures by banks, which often refuse to negotiate loan modifications with struggling homeowners or mislead them.
The slideshow below, courtesy of freelance photographer Alex Garland, shows what happened. Ultimately, Gates acknowledges, the sheriffs gave up trying to get the protesters out of the way of the ambulance and put Barton back on the street outside the home.
The economist and NYT columnist Paul Krugman thinks that transportation network companies (TNCs) might make "life without cars" a reality for those who live in American cities that lack great public transportation systems:
the big benefit from new IT-mediated car services [Lyft, Sidecar, UberX] will come if they make it possible for lots of people — and not just people in Manhattan — to live without owning their own cars. And if you think about it, you can see how that might work.The cost of car ownership (the insurance, the gas, the parking, the speeding tickets, the sitting around doing nothing almost all of the time) can no longer be justified in an age where wages are not rising at all or fast enough, debts keep mounting, and jobs are precarious. The decline of the automobile is inevitable not because Americans are becoming greener but poorer. As this century progresses—a century that's witnessing levels of inequality that have not existed since the 19th century—car ownership will gradually return to its older status as a luxury for the rich rather than a necessity for plebeians.
Right now, if you live in places without exceptionally good public transportation, it’s very difficult to manage without a car. Yet when you think about it, for most people owning a car is quite wasteful. It’s an expensive item of equipment that sits idle most of the time; it requires parking (and often a parking structure) both at origin and at destination; it requires maintenance and is a big hassle all around.
So reliable, quick-response chauffeur services could free many people from the need to tie up all those resources in a consumer durable that they only use now and then.
Microsoft has been posting record revenues this year, but CEO Satya Nadella says the organization needs to "evolve" to "to bring our ambitions to life." I wonder what he means by "our."
First, we will simplify the way we work to drive greater accountability, become more agile and move faster. As part of modernizing our engineering processes the expectations we have from each of our disciplines will change. In addition, we plan to have fewer layers of management, both top down and sideways, to accelerate the flow of information and decision making. This includes flattening organizations and increasing the span of control of people managers. In addition, our business processes and support models will be more lean and efficient with greater trust between teams. The overall result of these changes will be more productive, impactful teams across Microsoft. These changes will affect both the Microsoft workforce and our vendor staff. Each organization is starting at different points and moving at different paces.
In 2012, median pay at Microsoft was estimated to be around $91,500. (Its employees were also ranked among the "least loyal.") With with 18,000 jobs gone, that's over $1.6 billion in savings for the company. Nadella is talking about pulling factory and office jobs—but based on his remarks about streamlining management, there seem to be a lot of white-collar jobs on the chopping block.
Microsoft supposedly expects to shell out between $750 million to $800 million for severance pay and benefits.
The Puget Sound Business Journal, quoting venture capitalists, argues that the job cuts will actually be good for the Puget Sound economy in the long run—in part because "talent being released" will goose the startup world, but more generically because "a strong Microsoft is vital" for our economy.
Again, one wonders who counts as "our."
Donna Mercer works in the tech support department at one of Seattle's best-known companies—she prefers not to say which one—near downtown. Among her immediate coworkers, she's the only one who lives in Seattle, she says. Some commute each day from as far as Federal Way.
Mercer, on the other hand, is able to live in Seattle due to some precious units of affordable housing in the Central District, and she loves it. For two years, she's rented a small apartment at Squire Park Plaza on Jackson and 18th. On the rooftop, there's a gorgeous view of Puget Sound and on her small patio, she's growing fuschias and setting up feeders for hummingbirds and goldfinches. She's currently paying $1100 in monthly rent for a one bedroom, not including utilities.
But the nonprofit Central Area Development Association (CADA), the owner of Squire Park Plaza, recently signed a purchase and sale agreement with one of the largest for-profit developers in the country. The 60-unit complex was built in 2007 on government-owned land with $9.7 million in public financing, according to the Tenants Union.
The return on taxpayer investment, everyone agrees, was supposed to be the long-term provision of affordable workforce housing to people like Mercer, designed to combat the interlocking trends of skyrocketing rents and gentrification. There's a baseline affordability covenant that even a private developer must legally abide by, which lasts another thirteen years. It mandates that 51 percent of the building's units remain affordable to those who make 80 percent area median income (AMI) or below. (That's $44,750 a year for a single person.)
But it won't cover people like Mercer. CADA has gone above and beyond the minimum requirements, so that rent in an additional handful of units like hers isn't crazy expensive for those at the 60 percent AMI level. (That's $37,080 a year for a single person, which is about how much Mercer makes. According to the Seattle Office of Housing, for her monthly rent to be truly affordable, it ought to be $993, utilities included.)
Now, Mercer expects that if the sale goes through, the developer will hike rents for all of the units not covered by the covenant to market rates or higher. She'd have to look for housing elsewhere. "I'll probably be further out."
We need more Maureen Taylors to call TV reporters on their sensational bullshit. Check the MSNBC anchor's eyebrows at the 3:36 mark:
I cannot find any evidence, including from reporter Hank Winchester or his station WDIV, to back up his assertion that some people "simply don't want to pay the water bill and would rather spend the money on cable." I do find a lot of right-wing asshole Internet commenters on articles about Detroit, however, saying the same thing.
The United Nations seems more concerned that Detroit's water shutoff is racist:
"The households which suffered unjustified disconnections must be immediately reconnected,” said UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston, and UN Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation Catarina de Albuquerque, in a joint statement issued Wednesday.The question remains: why do we bail out banks but not Detroit?
“If these water disconnections disproportionately affect African Americans they may be discriminatory, in violation of treaties the U.S. has ratified,” said Farha.
If the US does not want to end up old like Italy or Japan, it needs this fresh blood arriving from Central America. As I wrote in my review of Jose Antonio Vargas's documentary Documented, the one of the biggest problems rich countries are facing is the aging of their populations. In Italy, for example, the median age is 43.5, and it's expected that by 2033, one-third of its citizens will be older than 65. That time is not that far away, and, as the economist Mark Blyth points out in his book Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, those who are holding Italy's long-term sovereign debt must be worried about who is going to pay the interest on their 30-year bonds when the country will also be working to pay the pensions for all of these old people.
The simple solution would be to open the doors to immigrants, but Italy's citizens want nothing to do with that option. The United States is also heading in this direction. A recent Census Bureau report predicts that by 2050, as much as a fifth of the US population will be older than 65. The reason the US is not as old as Italy or other European countries is most likely its large immigrant population.
The surge of undocumented youths from Central America has overwhelmed federal facilities and revived the debate over an immigration policy overhaul, one of the most partisan issues in the already overheated political climate of an election year.
U.S. authorities estimate that 60,000 to 80,000 undocumented children will cross the border without their parents this year. While many have been released to family pending deportation hearings, others have been detained by authorities amid a growing backlog of pending cases.
Detaining and deporting these young people is the last thing this country needs if its economic system hopes to survive. And survival only means one thing for capitalism, growth; and old people do not grow and have no future. As Danny Dorling, a Professor of Human Geography at the University of Sheffield, points out in his book Population 10 Billion, the connection between capitalist growth and the state or nature of a nation's population is real. Japan is exactly facing the reality of this connection. Its economic system desperately needs young blood from places like the Philippines, but its political system is crippled by xenophobia:
Indeed, one of Japan's most profound economic burdens is the aging of its population. While immigration may not be the only policy that can help transform an "old" population from a burden to a driver of growth, it is self-defeating to refuse immigration to be part of the solution. America should take note as we go into our own 2014 fall election cycle, where immigration is now more likely to be on the agenda.
But it's doubtful that the US will be able to avoid the path that Japan has taken. We can expect more of the same crippling hysteria....
Today's anti-immigration protests bear a terrifying resemblance to the anti-integration protests of the 20th century. pic.twitter.com/0KzLTlTFfR
— Deepa Bhandaru (@deepabhandaru) July 4, 2014
In this week's paper, Anna and Eli review the allegedly deceitful attempts by a coalition of businesses to overturn Seattle's $15 minimum wage at the ballot box this fall. Today, the group turned in thousands of (not yet verified) signatures—they needed 16,510—according to the City Clerk's office.
But the labor-backed activists at Working Washington are already challenging the validity of the signatures with a complaint submitted today to King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. Thus began a game of bureaucratic musical chairs: Satterberg referred the complaint to Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, who referred it to the Seattle Police Department. SPD spokesman Drew Fowler says he'll have to get back to me on if and who at the department would carry out such an investigation.
"Elections officials must closely scrutinize every signature submitted today in light of the corrupt practices by Forward Seattle's paid signature gatherers," says Working Washington in a statement, citing reports submitted to their website and a recording where a signature-gatherer allegedly claims that his petition is actually to raise the minimum wage. "Some of the paperwork they submitted today may not even include valid signatures from real people," the group says.
The charge raises a troubling question, if true: what kind of fake humans signed those petitions? We've asked Forward Seattle for their response to the allegations and will update if we hear back.
It's a double sprout, all the way. It's so bright and vivid. What does it mean?
See the previous edition of Jade Plant, with Grant here.
Last Thursday morning at the Seattle City Council chambers, 73 year old Dixie Mitchell sat in one of the front rows and patiently watched the proceedings. She had asked her grandson to stay with her husband, Luster Mitchell, who suffered a stroke in 2008. The stroke confined him to a wheelchair, rendering the family unable to keep up with payments on what she said was a predatory home loan. They survive on income from social security and meals drawn from food banks.
The word predatory is used deliberately by Dixie because, she says, she and Luster had long since paid off their mortgage, but then a bank offered them an adjustable-rate loan for home improvements anyway. Their initial low interest rate on the loan skyrocketed the same year as Luster's stroke, Mitchell says. You can watch her explaining all of this to MSNBC's Chris Hayes here.
Banks have routinely denied, misled, and otherwise toyed with the lives of lots of people like Mitchell. You can read about Phyllis Walsh, who committed suicide on her front lawn last year because of what she said, in her suicide note, were "foreclosure vultures" from US Bank.
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