And what is the profession of economics (which is not really about economics but about asset management and things of that nature) like in advanced capitalist societies (ADS)? It has its equivalent in traffic engineering...
Yesterday, the Seattle city council hosted a brown bag lunch chat to look at if—and how—we should mandate the hiring of local residents on city-funded construction sites, otherwise known as a "targeted local hire" ordinance. It's an issue I've had my eye on for a while, and it's likely to be a slow burn at city hall, as they hammer out how, exactly, to institute mandatory hiring practices without pissing off every involved constituency—labor, contractors, workers.
Not an easy task, but San Francisco and other municipalities seem to have done successfully.
Here are four points that targeted hiring proponents want to see addressed in the legislation:
• While targeted hiring focuses on hiring women and/or people of color, this local hiring would focus on residents of the city—or even residents of certain zip codes, ones with markedly higher unemployment than the rest of the city.
• A targeted hire ordinance has to include a robust apprenticeship program, said a panel of experts, and those apprentices should then be brought onto job sites.
The Pope for once sounds like the founder of his religion...
Rome: Pope Francis has attacked the ''dictatorship'' of the global financial system and warned that the ''cult of money'' is making life a misery for millions.
He said free market capitalism had created a ''tyranny'' and that people were being judged purely by their ability to consume goods.
Money should be made to ''serve'' people, not to ''rule'' them, he said on Thursday, calling for a more ethical banking system and curbs on financial speculation. Countries should impose more control over their economies and not allow ''absolute autonomy'', in order to provide ''for the common good''.
More real talk...
''The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly human goal,'' he told the ambassadors.
The tip for this post came from Lark.
As I wrote about last week, Medicare (for the first time ever) released what hospitals in the United States charged, and what they were paid, for the top 100 diagnoses in 2011.
If you're curious, I've written a simple (and ad-free) web app you can use to browse the data. (I suggest comparing the Las Vegas, NV region to Baltimore, MD.)
Be gentle, but have at it.
Last month, a nine-storey factory complex outside Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, collapsed, killing 1,127 people, in one of the world's worst industrial disasters.Which do you want? Cheap commodities or safe factories? Cheap commodities or fair wages? Which? You must chose one or the other.
The collapse prompted pressure on Western retailers that rely on cheap labour in the region, where safety standards are often substandard.
The garment industry is Cambodia's biggest export earner, with more than $4bn worth of products shipped to the US and Europe in 2012.
About 500,000 people work in more than 500 garment and shoe factories throughout the country.
A series of strikes by workers has pointed to festering discontent over low wages and tough conditions.
In February 2012, three women, employees of Puma supplier Kaoway Sports, were wounded when a gunman opened fire on protesters demanding better working conditions at factories.
The shooting prompted Puma, Gap and H&M to express their "deep concern" and urge a thorough investigation.
Our man in Asia has sent some images and observations from one of Bangkok's new malls. Malls are a big damn deal there. When I was in SE Asia this past New Year's season, a Thai newspaper wrote a story about the ten most important things that had happened that year—a mega-mall opening in Bangkok was on the list. (The enormous protests, during which thousands of people "calling for the overthrow of the Thai government" clashed with police, were not.)
As Bangkok develops more and more in to a tropical version of Tokyo—in affluence and just plain simulated weirdness—megastore owners have been branching out to make themselves not just places to buy, but to have an experience. It is not the product that is the commodity, it is the process of buying the product.
Terminal 21 is a mall in Bangkok that I would have loved to have heard the pitch for. The salesperson who put this over was a genius. The idea behind the place is that the mall looks like it is an airport terminal with eight floors.
This series celebrates the great industriousness of the American workforce. The inaugural image: A white dog (name unknown) proudly guarding construction equipment in Columbia City. The protection of property is something that's very important to the American way of life. Without property there would be communism and Hitler.
SANTA FE, Texas (AP) - A Southeast Texas woman is facing a felony charge for allegedly delaying hospital treatment of her teenage son's gunshot wound until she researched treatment options online.
And this in a nutshell is why the market cannot function on its own to provide efficient and affordable health care.
Markets only function properly when consumers have the ability and opportunity to make informed comparisons of products, services, and prices. It's not the wisdom of the capitalist that drives innovation but the wisdom of the market—the mass of consumers for whom's dollars the capitalists compete. Without the ability for consumers to make informed purchasing decisions there is no rational competition for products and services, and thus no rational market. And without a rational market to allocate resources, there is no inherent efficiency.
But who is going to shop around for the best health care product at the best price when oneself or one's child is suffering from a high fever, or a kidney stone attack or, say, a gunshot wound? Not only does one not have the luxury of taking the time to shop around for the right deal in the midst of a health care crisis, one might even be prosecuted for behaving like market theories dictate an informed health care consumer should behave. Instead, when faced with unbearable pain or impending death, most of us head to the nearest emergency room, and then deal with the hospital bill as best we can after the fact.
Under those circumstances, there is no market at all. And in that context—with little or no consumer feedback—it is a fantasy to insist that a private health care market can efficiently allocate health care resources.
Posted by news intern Ansel Herz
A small group calling themselves Women In Black held a silent vigil on Wednesday across from City Hall. For more than a decade, they've been holding vigils to bring attention to the deaths of homeless people in King County.
"We stand out here to acknowledge the fact that... their value as human beings is important to us," Elizabeth Iverson, who lives at Tent City 3 in North Seattle, told me. She said she's been homeless since losing her nursing job in 2010.
Homelessness is a big and complex issue, obviously, but the group says the most important thing right now is that winter shelters stay open throughout the entire summer. Normally they'd have closed by March 31, but last month, the city council designated $150,000 to keep them open through June 15.
"For [the city], that was a big concession—and it isn't nearly enough," Tim Harris, director of Real Change, told me. He said the shelter system is "radically under-resourced."
The shelters are "near capacity," David Takami, a spokesman for Seattle Human Services, confirmed. "There's definitely a need, and it's a question of whether we have the funding."
But as of now, the funding's not available. And winter conditions or not, the chronically homeless are four to nine times more likely to die than the general population.
So I called the Committee to End Homelessness in King County, expecting to hear about their efforts to keep the shelters open. Instead, what I got were a lot of long, awkward pauses, as Gretchen Bruce, the interim director who's been on the job about six months, struggled to say as little as possible.
How much a plate of spaghetti is going to cost you isn't usually a mystery. Sure, the price can vary quite a bit—from a few cents if you're making the plate yourself from groceries, to dozens of dollars at a fancy restaurant. You shouldn't be too surprised by the bill at the end; the price is right there on the menu, or on the box—same for you as anyone else.
The American healthcare system remains remarkably opaque—particularly if you are among the uninsured. The cost of a hospitalization for a heart attack varies tremendously depending upon the hospital giving the treatment. And, unlike a restaurant, hospitals generally refuse to state the price up front.
To reduce healthcare costs, the plan for the past few decades has been to pass on costs to the consumer. The idea here is to use the market (in the Adam Smith sense of the word) to force down prices—expecting patients to find the most efficient, cheapest, hospital for a given problem. (Spoiler: It hasn't worked.)
But, how can you decide which hospital is most efficient, if you have no idea what they're charging? The net result is underinsured or uninsured Americans understand that getting sick is a good way to end up bankrupt, without any real sense of how to pick a more efficient provider.
Something exciting has happened this week, possibly changing this dynamic: The Center for Medicare Services, for the first time, has published the list prices charged by hospitals around the country (to Medicare) for the top one hundred reasons patients end up in the hospital.
Let's look at what hospitals are charging, and receiving, in the Seattle area. In each of these charts, the blue bars is the bill charged to Medicare by the hospital, the red the payment the hospital actually received (from Medicare and all copayments or deductibles paid by the patient). You'll note, like almost all insurers in the US, Medicare pays a significant discount from the billed cost. A patient without insurance can expect the full, undiscounted rate.
First up, the charge for a pneumonia admission:
For a COPD (rotten lungs, usually after a lifetime of smoking) flare:
Coronary artery disease, requiring a stent (either a heart attack or a heart-attack-to-be):
The overbilling is (in part) a negotiation tactic between the hospitals and the insurers—a way of amplifying the percentage discount to a prospective insurer while maintaining revenues. The side effect is to leave the uninsured or underinsured as road-kill—charged two or three times the total bill payed from an insured person.
If nothing else, the Affordable Care Act (i.g. Obamacare) will make this better by shifting a majority of people from the uninsured into the insured group—paying the discounted rate, with insurance picking up most of the total tab.
The question in this post: How do the rich in rich countries make such huge sums of money? The answer to this question can be found at this point (17:00), of a lecture delivered at LSE by Richard B. Freeman, a labor economist who teaches at Harvard...
The big way they make money is through options, and now that the share market is [doing well], actual stocks received. People are making large sums money through ownership of shares and option of shares.In short, they make money from capital income. To understand this is to understand the nature, function, and importance of the Washington-Wall Street Revolving Door...
Jack Lew is President Obama's new chief of staff — arguably the most powerful office in the White House that isn't shaped like an oval. He used to work for the giant banking conglomerate Citigroup. His predecessor as chief of staff is Bill Daley, who used to work at the giant banking conglomerate JPMorgan Chase, where he was maestro of the bank's global lobbying and chief liaison to the White House. Daley replaced Obama's first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who once worked as a rainmaker for the investment bank now known as Wasserstein & Company, where in less than three years he was paid a reported eighteen and a half million dollars.Jack Lew, who is not an economists (he is a financial manager—he ran "hedge funds and private equity at Citigroup"), now runs the United States Secretary of the Treasury (a job for an economist). With all this in mind we can now understand why the economy has not recovered from the crash of 2008 but the stock market is just booming:
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 15000 for the first time Tuesday as stocks continue a historic four-year run that investors are finding increasingly irresistible.Meaning, there is no other way to make obscene amounts of money in a post-economy society but the stock market. When there is no real scarcity in the present, then there is nothing left to exploit but the future. This is why American political discourse is so focused on government debt and not the real monster, private debt. In the past, when a market was completely saturated, the rich turned to markets in other lands; for the past 30 years or so, however, by mechanisms facilitated by private debt and derivatives, it is future-time that's more and more colonized to sustain present profit rates.
Dow closes above 15000 in another landmark on the market's record run. Matt Jarzemsky joins The News Hub with a look back at the day in the markets.
The Dow is off to its fastest start to any year since the dot-com-fueled bull market of 1999. But this time around the surge isn't driven by blind optimism—many investors simply see few alternatives to stocks
Freeman also makes this point:
The total pay going to security commodities brokers is nearly equal to total pay for everyone working for the federal government.
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Rampant fraud in the mortgage industry has increased so sharply that the FBI warned Friday of an "epidemic" of financial crimes which, if not curtailed, could become "the next S&L crisis."Enough said for now. My final post in this series will present a boy who appears in the early pages of Adam Smith's long but great book The Wealth of Nations. Wealth of Nations.
Assistant FBI Director Chris Swecker said the booming mortgage market, fueled by low interest rates and soaring home values, has attracted unscrupulous professionals and criminal groups whose fraudulent activities could cause multibillion-dollar losses to financial institutions.
"It has the potential to be an epidemic," said Swecker, who heads the Criminal Division at FBI headquarters in Washington. "We think we can prevent a problem that could have as much impact as the S&L crisis," he said.
For all the bitching from Republicans and their corporate patrons about the allegedly crushing burden of our state's workers compensation system and workplace safety regulations, at least it's not the workers themselves who are being crushed. In fact, a new AFL-CIO report finds that Washington state has the third lowest workplace death toll in the nation: 1.9 fatalities a year per 100,000 workers, compared to a national average of 3.5.
So congratulations to Washington businesses and workers for making our state a relatively safe place to work. But also—and here's something I'm guessing they don't hear too often—three cheers to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries for a regulatory job well done!
Evidence of the death of market ideology? Two weeks ago, there was this...
A paper by two economists (Carmen Reinhart, now a professor at Harvard Kennedy School, and Kenneth Rogoff, an economist at Harvard University) who came up with some number (90%) that showed such and such a thing was true (government debt at this point slows growth) has been debunked only two years after it was published.
And now there is this...
Harvard professor and famous historian Niall Ferguson reportedly made some bizarre and offensive remarks about economist John Maynard Keynes at an investment conference yesterday.Back in the day, pro-market types used mathematics to prove Keynesian economics was wrong. But now that this mathematics has been shown to be riddled with holes, pro-market types are switching to the next best thing: argumentum ad hominem.
According to financial writer Tom Kostigen, the editor at large of Private Wealth and Financial Advisor magazines, Ferguson made two startling suggestions about Keynes at the Tenth Annual Altegris Conference in Carlsbad, California:
Keynes' economic philosophy, Ferguson reportedly suggested, was the result of Keynes not caring about future generations.
Keynes didn't care about future generations, Ferguson reportedly suggested, because Keynes was gay and did not have children.
But know that the only mainstream economist to seriously think about the future of Western society is Keynes. Indeed, if you live in the West, the only piece of economic writing you need to bother with is his short paper "Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren." All other economic works are useless to you and your condition.
When you have a socialist in power, like Obama, the "job creators" are handcuffed. So today, the rich suffered to learn that the Dow Jones crossed into the unknown...
U.S. stocks rose after government data showed the economy added more jobs than expected last month, offsetting a report that nonmanufacturing growth slowed and offering some relief to investors who had grown concerned that employment growth was stalling.The US economy added 165,000 jobs last month. At this point, Obama has the wind in his sails. This job report is a big deal. But let's see if can (and I doubt he will) make anything meaningful for the left out of it.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed in on the 15000 level, up 150 points, or 1%, at 14982.
Before I go into how the rich really make their money in our post-economy society, and how this explains the amount of political energy that our society spends on maintaining the illusion of the stock market's economic centrality, and why this political expenditure results in the public's inability to recognize the difference between economics and financial management, between real scarcity and culturally imposed scarcity, I want to return to the subject of my first post in this series, working hours. The Star Tribune calls this progress:
Minnesota lawmakers are looking to make 40 hours of work standard for all Minnesota workers, give them more family leave and increase their wages.This is not progress. Real progress would mean that the hours we work a day actually matched the scale of socially produced wealth that our society has achieved (that would be somewhere between three to four hours a day). But what would we (the working classes) do with the free time, if suddenly the rich gave up their sad game and got real about the impossibility of compound growth? The British economist Maynard Keynes actually saw more trouble in that question than this more element one: How do we make a poor society rich? But free time is not such a big problem. The more free time we have, the more our society will be open to other and unexpected possibilities.
The current Minnesota law sets all three measures below the federal standards, which results in a patchwork of rules for state employers.
Under current law, about 80,000 to 115,000 Minnesota employees get overtime only after working 48 hours and workers at about 8,500 small businesses only have a right to six weeks of family leave. If the measure, approved in committee on Monday becomes law, all of those workers would get overtime after 40 hours and would have a right to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
The measure approved Monday would also raise the Minnesota minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2015 for employees at large businesses...
You are already calling me a dreamer. But think about this point, which I first read about in Richard Wrangham's excellent book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Humans but is reported here on Livescience.
The researchers measured the tooth sizes and body masses of four extinct hominids, modern humans, chimpanzees and other modern apes, using this information from modern animals to estimate time spent chewing in the extinct species. Chimpanzees, they found, spend 10 times longer chewing and eating than humans do, 48 percent versus 4.7 percent of their days.
Humans are definite outliers in primate chew time, because we eat cooked and processed food.
But there are people who already have lots of time on their hands (the unemployed); why aren't they doing amazing things? And besides, what else can we really do with the free time? I will have answers to these questions in later posts, but know for now that the production of knowledge is to the human what the production of honey is to the bee.
The number of people who are actively disengaged with their job has dropped by two whole percent...
[T]he percent of workers who are “actively disengaged” has been dropping ever so slightly—from 20 percent in 2006 to 18 percent in 2012.Altogether, 52 percent of Americans are not engaged and 30 percent are engaged. The reason why the one percent are worried about this sad state of things? Because they want to us to be more productive...
If the widespread emotional detachment isn’t enough to worry leaders, then perhaps it’s also worth noting that Gallup has found that an organization’s productivity and profitability are directly tied to employee engagement. So when only 30 percent of the U.S. workforce is motivated, that’s an economic problem as well as a morale problem.But what if we just want to work less? Let's be realistic and admit there will always be jobs we do not want to do; but why should these bad jobs consume so much of our time? What if we were paid a decent wage and also had more time to ourselves, more time to do other things? To think about these questions, I refer you to my post Life After Economics: Part One.
And here's a nice story from last May Day about a Seattle EMT who was cleared of charges of assaulting an officer—a favorite charge against demonstrators—after video testimony showed the officers' accounts of events to be simply untrue. (For example: "The detective went on to assert that Morales kicked a second officer. Video of the incident shows Morales' feet were secured by officers immediately after she hit the ground.")
Economic pundits are bemoaning the fact that first quarter GDP numbers released last Friday were weaker than expected – growth was 2.5% rather than the 3% that everyone had been expecting.
I actually took it as positive news. For starters, was it really possible that we’d suddenly gone back to our normal, historic 3% trend growth? The optimism in the economic forecasts always seemed to have more to do with the fact that we didn’t fall completely off the fiscal cliff a few months back.
In fact, the economists and investors letting out a collective exhale a few months back made us forget about the coming effects of the sequester. But there was no denying them in the first quarter numbers – the slower than expected growth was all about the public sector slamming on the brakes. “The decline in government expenditure over the past two quarters is the biggest six month contraction since the Korean War ended,” notes Capital Economics’ chief US economist Paul Ashworth.
Woman, talking to man: "See, that's the good thing about being married—you two can share a one-bedroom apartment."
If that's "the good thing" about marriage, our bank accounts are collectively busted.
I want to make a connection between a book, The Making of Global Capitalism, I reviewed in this week's books section...
Here is the connection: In The Making of Global Capitalism, the Canadian authors (Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin—the first is a professor of political science and the second is an economist), convincingly argue that globalization is essentially Americanization. To understand their reasoning, you have to first understand this: There is no such thing as a pure capitalism, a capitalism as a kind of Platonic form. There are instead multiple capitalisms, each marked by the culture through which it is expressed—Singaporean capitalism, German capitalism, Brazilian capitalism, and so on. The kind of capitalism that went global during the second half of the 20th century was US capitalism. Not only that, this capitalism was made global not by capitalists or multinational corporations but by the US government. Only a powerful state has the kind of muscle needed to build, support, and reproduce an economic order on a global scale.
And how does this connect with the Wonder Coffee and Sports Bar? A passage from my review:
A part of the menu offers Ethiopian dishes. The other part offers plain American meals... Now here is where things get wonderfully weird: The Ethiopian dishes are in the Wonder Special Ethiopian section of the menu, and the American meals are in the Wonder Special International section. When you eat a hamburger down the street, it is not international—but when you eat it in Wonder, it is. America, not Ethiopia, is international in Wonder.Wonder, however, is correct to categorize American plates (even in America) as international—it is the food/language/culture of global capitalism. A cheeseburger, no matter where it is served, is international; injera bread, no matter where it is served, is local.
How can we tell that Duvvuri Subbarao, the current Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, is an actual economist and, someone like Henry Paulson, "an American banker who served as... Secretary of the Treasury" under Bush, is not? Go to the question period of a lecture, "India - Macroeconomic Challenges, Some Reserve Bank Perspectives," Subbarao delivered at the London School of Economics and listen to the exchange that happens around the 65:00 mark. A member of the audience asks Subbarao to explain why macroeconomic indicators are not positive and yet the stock market is booming; Subbarao answers: "As the reserve bank governor, I'm expected not to take notice of the stock market. I have no comment on that... I have no informed or educated view on that."
Now, go to the middle of the lecture (47:00), and I do recommend you listen to the whole lecture, and you will hear Subbarao discussing the argument that advanced capitalist societies (ACS) make to justify what is essentially unjustifiable—their continued economic compound growth. ACSs say that their growth is good because it translates into growth for the developing world. In short, they are growing not to benefit the West but the rest. No one in the world really believes this nonsense. Rich countries are growing not even for their own economies but for their stock markets. This gets us to a very important point in this series. In my first post, I explained why those who run the US Treasury of Federal Reserve are not economists. In my next, but not final post, I will explain exactly why they cannot ignore the stock market in the way that Subbarao can.
From a post on Souciant:
If this car were merely festooned with the “Commander in Thief” sticker, then, it wouldn’t be worthy of commentary. In states like Arizona, so many cars bear this sort of message that it no longer makes much of an impression. What sets this vehicle apart is the dialogue it creates between that anti-Obama sentiment and the sticker featuring a smiling Ronald Reagan that reads “Avenge me.” The implication is that the President has managed to undo the so-called “Reagan Revolution”, which, like the one Margaret Thatcher presided over in Great Britain, is credited with ushering in an era of leaner and, yes, meaner national government.
Wealthy Americans took a hit when the global financial crisis sent the economy into a nosedive, yet new research shows they alone — specifically, the richest 7% — benefited as households rebuilt their wealth in the first two years of the recovery. From 2009 to 2011, the average wealth of America’s richest 7% — the 8 million households with a net worth north of about $800,000 — rose nearly 30% to $3.2 million from $2.5 million, according to a Pew Research Center report that analyzed recent Census data. By contrast, the average wealth of America’s remaining 93%, some 111 million households, actually dropped by 4% to $134,000 from $140,000. Wealth is the value of what a household owns minus what it owes.
First New York, now Chicago. Will Seattle be next?
Demanding a hefty raise and a fair chance to form a union, workers in Chicago’s growing fast food and retail sectors plan to walk off the job Wednesday morning. The one-day walkout begins at 5:30 a.m. Central Time, and organizers expect 500 workers from a dozen chains to participate. The work stoppage follows similar strikes by New York City fast food workers and by Wal-Mart retail employees across the country, and marks the latest escalation in the struggle between an embattled labor movement and two industries that increasingly dominate and define the new economy.
“At the end of the day,” Macy’s employee Krystal Maxie-Collins told Salon, “it feels like I’ve done all of this to help everyone else, to help the store, help the managers, help the customers, but it doesn’t feel like anyone is looking out for me.”
In this day and age, with the law and the media stacked against them, the idea that low-wage fast food and retail workers might actually organize a union is so ambitious it borders on the realm of science fiction. Given labor's trajectory this past half century, I'm just having trouble imagining this sort of alternative future. But it's uplifting to try.
This is sad indeed...
The NDP voted Sunday to take references to socialism out of the party's constitution, a controversial move to modernize that the party had to set aside two years ago.
Delegates voted 960 to 188 in favour of the change. The result was met with cheers of "NDP! NDP!"
The move was supported by popular former leader Jack Layton, who died shortly after leading the party to its best-ever federal election result in 2011. Layton felt the party needed to modernize the preamble in order to appeal to more Canadians.
Without socialism, Canadians would not be better off than us. Bloomberg: "Hardheaded Socialism Makes Canada Richer Than U.S."...
On July 1, Canada Day, Canadians awoke to a startling, if pleasant, piece of news: For the first time in recent history, the average Canadian is richer than the average American.
According to data from Environics Analytics WealthScapes published in the Globe and Mail, the net worth of the average Canadian household in 2011 was $363,202, while the average American household’s net worth was $319,970.
A few days later, Canada and the U.S. both released the latest job figures. Canada’s unemployment rate fell, again, to 7.2 percent, and America’s was a stagnant 8.2 percent. Canada continues to thrive while the U.S. struggles to find its way out of an intractable economic crisis and a political sine curve of hope and despair.
The difference grows starker by the month: The Canadian system is working; the American system is not.
The situation for American neoliberalism is so bad, that you can even find long and generally favorable pieces about Karl Marx in mainstream outlets like Time.
A growing dossier of evidence suggests that [Marx] may have been right. It is sadly all too easy to find statistics that show the rich are getting richer while the middle class and poor are not. A September study from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) in Washington noted that the median annual earnings of a full-time, male worker in the U.S. in 2011, at $48,202, were smaller than in 1973. Between 1983 and 2010, 74% of the gains in wealth in the U.S. went to the richest 5%, while the bottom 60% suffered a decline, the EPI calculated. No wonder some have given the 19th century German philosopher a second look. In China, the Marxist country that turned its back on Marx, Yu Rongjun was inspired by world events to pen a musical based on Marx’s classic Das Kapital. “You can find reality matches what is described in the book,” says the playwright.
On March 21, 2013, the sociologist Andrew Abbott delivered a lecture at the London School of Economics called "Scarcity, Abundance, Excess: Towards a Social Theory of Too Much." The heart of that lecture:
It argues that since excess and overabundance are a central phenomena of modern life, we should refound social theory on the concept of "too much of" rather than "too little of." I trace the origin of the scarcity theories that dominate our reasoning, and sketch the outlines of a social theory based on excess.
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) has fined Alaska Airlines-contractor Bags, Inc. for failing to protect workers from exposure to blood borne pathogens and body fluids including vomit, urine, feces and blood. In issuing more than $12,000 in fines, L&I cited the Alaska contractor for four serious violations of state health and safety laws, and two general violations. Under state law, “serious violations” are issued when “there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result” if the problem is not fixed.
You can find the full text of the L&I enforcement action here.
Baggage handler, wheelchair agent, and cabin cleaner can be shitty jobs—sometimes quite literally—yet their wages at Sea-Tac Airport have declined 40 percent in real dollars since Alaska Airlines contracted these jobs out in 2005. Workers have repeatedly complained about both wages and working conditions, yet Alaska and its Sea-Tac contractors have consistently turned a deaf ear. That's why over a thousand Sea-Tac workers, most of them earning less than $10 an hour, recently voted to unionize.
There was a time when the models and mathematics of neoliberal economists (who are not really economists in the first place) could not be contested. When they said such and such a number or curve was telling us the truth, it was accepted as nothing but the truth. But because we are now stuck in the post-neoliberal world (a world we entered in 2008), we can finally challenge the findings of neoclassical economists without fear of losing our jobs. An example: A paper by two economists (Carmen Reinhart, now a professor at Harvard Kennedy School, and Kenneth Rogoff, an economist at Harvard University) who came up with some number (90%) that showed such and such a thing was true (government debt at this point slows growth) has been debunked only two years after it was published. The Economist:
The new paper, by Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash and Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, sought to replicate the Reinhart-Rogoff result for the post-war period. They reckon that mistakes in the analysis led Ms Reinhart and Mr Rogoff to understate average growth at high debt levels...Taken together, the authors of the new paper reckon that average post-war growth above the 90% threshold ought to have been reported at 2.2% rather than -0.1%.
The big scandal in economics this week (and yes, there are big scandals in economics) is the news that the most widely cited academic study driving austerity programs worldwide came to an erroneous conclusion due to... wait for it... an error in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet! (Apparently a simple mistake that "all spreadsheet jockeys fear." Not Microsoft's error, a user error.)
The highly influential paper authored by economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff warned that countries with debt-to-GDP ratios above 90 percent experience dramatically lower economic growth than countries with lower debt-to-GDP ratios. It is this alarming (but, now we know, nonexistent) 90-percent cutoff that has largely been cited as grounds for budget-slashing economic austerity in the US and abroad.
But... well... oops:
It turns out that the initial results were driven by simple computational and transcription errors. The most important of these errors was excluding four years of growth data from New Zealand in which it was above the 90 percent debt-to-GDP threshold. When these four years are added in, the average growth rate in New Zealand for its high debt years was 2.6 percent, compared to the -7.6 percent that R&R had entered in their calculation.
Since R&R country weight their data (each country's growth rate has the same weight), and there are only seven countries that cross into the high debt region, correcting this one mistake alone adds 1.5 percentage points to the average growth rate for the high debt countries. This eliminates most of the falloff in growth that R&R find from high debt levels. (HAP find several other important errors in the R&R paper, however the missing New Zealand years are the biggest part of the story.)
This is a big deal because politicians around the world have used this finding from R&R to justify austerity measures that have slowed growth and raised unemployment. In the United States many politicians have pointed to R&R's work as justification for deficit reduction even though the economy is far below full employment by any reasonable measure. In Europe, R&R's work and its derivatives have been used to justify austerity policies that have pushed the unemployment rate over 10 percent for the euro zone as a whole and above 20 percent in Greece and Spain. In other words, this is a mistake that has had enormous consequences.
... If facts mattered in economic policy debates, this should be the cause for a major reassessment of the deficit reduction policies being pursued in the United States and elsewhere.
But of course, facts don't matter.
This post has been updated since it was first published.