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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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21 Responses

  1. Avatar Bubbaquimby
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    says:

    I think for me a big question that has to be answered in Labor 2.0 is how to change priorities of unions. Having worked in both a public union (AFSCME) and a private union (sheetmetal workers), they both left me very disillusioned with the idea of unions as the stand today.

    I just to do not buy into the theory of seniority and 100% job security. As a new member there was little incentive for me to work harder because I would only get pay raises as time went on. Also watching other workers slack because they knew they couldn’t get fired furthered the sense of lack of caring.

    A system that rewards time over everything else and keeps it’s worst members is in dire need of change. As well as the money and priorities being applied to older members and bosses first, new and younger workers last is also not good.

    I’m not saying non-union is better but for me it’s the better option, even if I have been burned by it once or twice.Report

  2. Avatar North
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    says:

    I agree with the sentiment E.D. but I have to disagree vigorously on the subject of free trade and globalization. Yes, I will readily agree that the working conditions of workers in sweatshops are horrible. By western standards they would be considered worker exploitation but in general they are, hard as it is to believe, a step up for their employees from what they were doing before. We’ve seen this again and again in the Far East; absolutely terrible manufacturing jobs replace even more horrible agricultural subsistence (or sub-subsistence) lifestyles. Those terrible manufacturing jobs are often replaced then by merely horrible jobs which are in turn replaced by bad jobs and in turn lead to jobs that are unpleasant but tolerable and onward up the sliding scale. Once upon a time we employed Japanese to make shoes for us. Then the shoe making jobs moved to Korea and the Japanese started buying shoes. Now the shoes are made in China and the Japanese and South Koreans are on the shoe buying bandwagon with the rest of us. We have a century of rising standards of living for millions of people to credit to policies of globalization and free trade. The fruits of protectionist policies have historically been world wars and horrible recessions.

    With China’s millions beginning to crawl out of their long nightmare of internecine wars, pre-industrial squalor and starvation what would we prefer? That those millions turn their collective energies and creativity towards figuring out how to make and sell us crap so they can buy the resources they need to continue their ascent or that they turn their energies and creativity towards figuring out how to militarily brain us and wrench all the resources they need out of our hands? To me the answer seems like a no brainer.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to North
      Ignored
      says:

      North:

      hose terrible manufacturing jobs are often replaced then by merely horrible jobs which are in turn replaced by bad jobs and in turn lead to jobs that are unpleasant but tolerable and onward up the sliding scale. Once upon a time we employed Japanese to make shoes for us. Then the shoe making jobs moved to Korea and the Japanese started buying shoes. Now the shoes are made in China and the Japanese and South Koreans are on the shoe buying bandwagon with the rest of us.

       
      This is not always the story of globalization. The Japanese, for one thing, did not just make other nations’ shoes. They had their own companies and an industrial policy. Ditto South Korea. What about countries that simply play host to foreign multi-nationals? A bag-making company moves into some Eastern European nation, sets up shop, and then when they figure out that they can do it cheaper in China, they close the factory and move to China. So now an American plant has closed, putting those workers out of jobs; then an Eastern European plant closes, putting those workers out of jobs; and then a plant in China opens, where labor is as cheap as it comes. Did having a factory in that Eastern European country for ten years really lift them out of poverty?
       
      I’m not arguing here for a protectionist regime. What I am saying is that government and big business work together to outsource American jobs and provide an un-level playing field that benefits capital and hurts workers. At the very least, we need to figure out how to create a counter-weight to this.

      I’m also not so sure that the pro-sweatshop argument is sound. Subsistence farming might be worse, but just because something is the lesser of two evils does not make it right.

      Also what about retail and the service sector? What’s stopping Labor 2.0 from setting up shop there?Report

      • Avatar Sam M in reply to E.D. Kain
        Ignored
        says:

        “I’m not arguing here for a protectionist regime. What I am saying is that government and big business work together to outsource American jobs and provide an un-level playing field that benefits capital and hurts workers. At the very least, we need to figure out how to create a counter-weight to this.”

        Which workers does it hurt? The ones that abandon their old jobs for the new jobs? Later, why does the job move on? One reason might be that the job lifted the folks out of poverty and gave them enough options that they eventually said, “I am not willing to do that job for that much money any more.”

        Other times, that’s not how it plays out. But either way, I can’t see how your end-game is not the same, effectively, as protectionism. How to stop the company from moving out of America in the first place and using cheaper European labor? You either resort to tariffs… or you put work rules in place that make it too expensive to outsource the jobs because the new site is not price competitive with those rules in place. How is that different than a tariff? Or maybe you tax the European company a whole bunch and use the revenue for public services.

        But by definition, if the goal is to keep the jobs in America and therefore not exploit American workers… you need to make those taxes high enough that the company doesn’t move. Which hardly seems “fair” to the workers who would have been willing to leave their old jobs for the new jobs.

        “Making sure globalization occurs alongside a rising prosperity for everyone seems key.”

        Oh. Is that all? Quick: It’s the 1840s. You are King of Pennsylvania. It’s a transport town with some agriculture and a mix of industries. Someone come in and says, “I have this plan to make steel here. And glass. And a bunch of other stuff.”

        You have a crystal ball. You can see the future. Does the ensuing 100 years amount to rising prosperity for everyone?

        Can you envision ANY scenario which envisions rising propserity for everyone? Did the Internet provide that? Did small, fuel efficient cars?Report

      • Avatar North in reply to E.D. Kain
        Ignored
        says:

        E.D. I understand and heavens knows I don’t want to try and preach globalization or international corporations as some kind of unvarnished good but I think you’re missing a lot of steps. Relocating plants is somewhat pricey and rerouting supply chains similar so it’s not like corporations move the factories at the drop of a hat. What typically prompts the relocation, as Sam observes above, is that the original locations workers start asking for higher pay. But having a manufacturing factory in the neighborhood does have advantages. It teaches workers things like punctuality and some modicums of skills. The increase in living standard (even if it’s a small one from subsistence farming to manufacturing) generally results in children who are more capable of opening businesses and learning more than their parents. From our Asian history as a general rule having a factory in the neighborhood for a decade –does- lift them out of poverty, a lot. And when the original factory left a lot of other things moved in.
        I’m not even touching on questions of efficiency. There are many products where skilled and well paid efficient workers remain more cost effective than droves of exploited third world workers being paid a penny an hour. Those factories stay in Sweden and Germany and America (we’re still a global manufacturing giant remember, we just employ legions of robots and handfuls of lavishly paid robot techs instead of legions of poorly paid manufacturing laborers).

        I am not sure how one would go about replicating Sweden or Germany. They’re much smaller countries; they have very different cultures and very very different histories of the relationship between labor and management. I suppose the pertinent question to ask is do you think that the difference between the US and German industries is due to laws or legal systems? If it is them maybe we could imitate them by changing laws. But if it isn’t then changing laws likely wouldn’t help and might well hurt.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to North
          Ignored
          says:

          Also, I want to say it again: I’m not against globalization in theory. I understand all the benefits both Sam and North are arguing for here. But process is important. The default answer seems to be “Well, the end-result is the same so who cares about the process?” But I’m not sure that’s a satisfying answer. It’s fine in theory, but in practice I think a lot of damage is done along the way. Why should we ignore the damage simply because in the long run those Chinese workers will be better off than they were before? We leave a lot of ugly facts out of the picture when we simply look at this through a sterile, detached, theoretical lens. So my critique is not one of end-goals, nor am I unaware of the many benefits of globalization. I’m saying that perhaps we should rethink the process of globalization, not necessarily the point of globalization.Report

      • Avatar Trumwill in reply to E.D. Kain
        Ignored
        says:

        At least as far as China is concerned, they’re not going to want to be our errand boys forever. I think it’s likely that, once they have the capital and infrastructure in place, they’re going to want to start building stuff designed by their own engineers for their own companies. What we’re seeing now is, I think, more likely a means to an end.Report

      • Avatar Trumwill in reply to E.D. Kain
        Ignored
        says:

        Also what about retail and the service sector? What’s stopping Labor 2.0 from setting up shop there?

        Lower capital costs, among other things. A strike at a manufacturing plant is a big deal because large capital costs are invested in a plan that is not doing something. A department store… less so.

        Further, with less employee training required for large parts of the service sector, the threat of everyone walking out and having to be replaced is not as serious as it would be if a bunch of machinists do the same.

        The leverage simply isn’t there. Or at least is not present to nearly the same degree as with the blue collar work of old.Report

  3. Avatar North
    Ignored
    says:

    Err.. All that said I am still sympathetic to your more overarching goals. Do you feel that unions have declined due to some sort of legal effect? The laws make it too hard to unionize or somehow penalize unionizing? Or do you think that the unions are being crippled by economic/systematic changes?Report

  4. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist
    Ignored
    says:

    We also need to change union mentality regarding the employers. Yes, some employers attempt to screw the workers, but most get the idea that a happy workforce is a productive workforce. The combative ‘us v. them’ mentality of many unions, who use the power of a strike to wring out minuscule changes to what is usually a pretty decent contract, has to change.

    The last time a union struck at my employer was over a 1-2% raise & the fact that the company wanted to start phasing out old-style pensions by giving new employees a choice of 401K vs old-style.

    A strike should be thought of as going to war, not a handy way for union leadership to try & leverage a company (on the backs of the employees, since both the company & the union leadership can usually weather a strike reasonably well).

    Unions should be a way to have a conversation between employees & management, not a hammer to beat management with.Report

  5. Avatar greginak
    Ignored
    says:

    I think Kowal’s assertion that conservatives and libertarians just want to leave things to nature and markets is solidly wrong. It assumes markets and whatever he means my nature exist outside of society and government. Even if there was some truth that markets and “nature” don’t relay on Gov laws and rules they certainly can favor one particular party or side. But why is favoring the one party he prefers better then then favoring some other party. Left unchecked any powerful group will gather more and more power putting , calling it nature and markets doesn’t make it any better.Report

  6. Avatar Will H.
    Ignored
    says:

    A few notes.
    Free trade is opposed to fair trade.
    Fair trade used protectionist measures to ensure a level playing field.
    But we (ie, the US) don’t want that, because then certain subsidies would have to come to an end.
    From my view, fair trade appears to be sustainable, whereas free trade is in direct opposition to sustainability.

    Elevator mechanics make the most out of all the trades.
    Think about it.

    When you got married, did you go out and look for the cheapest whore you could find?
    For some reason, people like to believe that employers think like that.Report

  7. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto
    Ignored
    says:

    You might enjoy this interview with Erik Nicholson: http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6485

    On the whole I think voluntary associations of civil society led organizations might be the way forward. For example the rapid growth of certification regimes and the response of corporations to NGO and industry-regulatory pressure might symbolize a way forward.

    Eventually I think intrinsic CSR based systems might allow a way forward. Do we have the institutions to handle that yet and avoid rent-seeking? No.

    But in some industries we ARE moving forward.

    The question is, how can we emphasize that point?Report

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