Labor 2.0 (initial thoughts)

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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319 Responses

  1. Pat Cahalan says:

    Right now we’re a service/knowledge economy. That’s always going to recover from shock slower than a production economy, because people will crack under the need to buy stuff before they crack under the need to service it, when money is tight.

    To have an economy that is less prone to wild oscillations, we need a bigger base that is still in production. That means having a larger portion of our economy based on making stuff, rather than processing stuff or servicing stuff or providing other services or (at the highest-level of meta) servicing money.

    Right now, we’re *way* too heavy on servicing money.

    I don’t know how to solve that problem without heavy protectionism (which I grant outright is a bad idea) or hugely taxing the crap out of servicing money, and using the funds to provide baseline services that are otherwise out of reach of the production workers in the economy (why the businesses of America didn’t scream for a public option so that they could get health care costs off their books, I will *never* understand).

    I actually have very little problem with that, but I don’t think it’s politically viable.

    > Do we want a retirement crisis on our hands?
    > Do we want full-fledged class warfare?

    Right now it appears that the answers to both questions are “yes”.Report

    • Freddie in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

      There’s much to say, but for now, briefly– as you indicate, the idea that we have to either give up on labor unions or become strictly protectionist is a false dilemma. Many issues that we consider distinct problems for our economy and society are in fact epiphenomena of a central truth: partial internationalism doesn’t work. But that’s a long conversation, so you’ll have to give me a bit of time.Report

  2. North says:

    I’m certainly interested in reading more and thinking more on the subject myself. These seem to be very important questions and discussion on them can’t do any harm.Report

  3. I read your other posts on this subject late and the comment threads were miles deep by that point so forgive me if I am covering ground that has already been covered…

    IMO there are two primary questions one has to ask in order to decide if labor unions are necessary in a particular industry:

    1) Is there some perceived wrong that can only be solved with collective bargaining?

    2) If the answer to #1 is yes, is the problem symptomatic of a flaw in the employer-employee relationship or is there some outside force that is playing a role?

    In the US when we talk about unions these days it’s typically unskilled or low-skilled labor that we believe could benefit. To answer question #1 in a broad sense the most obvious problem is declining wages and these could probably only be fixed by threatening employers with unionization. The answer to #2 is that the problem does come from an outside force i.e. a cheaper international labor pool. This directly conflicts with #2 because a union can’t make Chinese workers demand higher pay. That’s when unions would have to pressure lawmakers into creating trade barriers so American workers can compete.Report

    • I would say that a labor union is always a good idea – it levels the bargaining playing field to a contest between firms, as opposed to a firm and an individual. If, after bargaining has finished, it turns out that the hiring firm can’t stay in business, well, that’s really an indicator of a bad business plan on their part, not really any problem with collective bargaining per se: the firm simply failed to accurately account for labor costs.Report

      • Ryan in reply to Roger3 says:

        I think a problem you highlight with your comment, is that when the size of the union dwarfs the size of the firm (small business) you have a problem in the other direction. This would put a pressure on firms to become larger to compensate.Report

  4. Sam M says:

    “Does a revived labor movement require protectionist policies”

    Depends on how you define terms. But if you define “revived” as “effective,” I would say the answer is yes. In fact, it seems almost … definitional. I admit that I might be short-sighted here, but I can’t imagine a revived labor movement defining sucess as anything other than “we kept them from shifting jobs overseas.” Unless the labor movement is staffed entirely by Schumpeter clones who graciously decide that shutting down the buggy whip plant wasn’t bad for workers, but rather it was the most creative sort of destruction. I just don’t see it happening.

    So you have a Sony plant like the one in Pittsburgh making big-screen TVs, and suddenly someone invents flat-screens and makes your plant obsolete. Labor costs make it a bad business proposition to build a mirror plant anywhere other than, say, China.

    So let’s assume that we have a revived labor union that is very, very good at protecting it’s workers. I can only see “very, very good” defined in a couple ways.

    1. It gets the government to pass tariffs that are sufficiently high that operating a plant in China is not economically feasible.

    2. It gets the UN to force drastically improved worker safety and environmental regulations in China, which the Chinese cannot accomodate, so the plant in China is not politically OR economically feasible.

    3. It gets the US government to tax really rich people and uses the proceeds to subsidize a plant in the US to such a large extent that the plant in China is no longer feasible.

    Again, maybe I am just not creative enough. Maybe there is a way, short of this, to make the plant stay in Pittsburgh. One way is for the union to accept drastic pay and benefit cuts, but that would seem to run counter to the idea of an effective union.

    Honetly. Short of using politics to make the plant in China more expensive, or using politics to make the plant in the US cheaper… I am not aware of any policies that would convince Sony to stay. Are you?

    And it seems to me that any policy specificaly designed to hurt a Chinese plant while helping an American plant is, by definition, protectionist.

    Or maybe… a machine that makes workers so darn efficient that 100 workers can now do the work of 1000? I have a hard time seeing THIS as all that worker friendly either.

    What, exactly, do you have in mind? A cultural program of Buy American, wherby people voluntarily pay extra for stuff made in America? Great idea. Although I might ask you to go to your dresser and see how many $4 made-in-China t-shirts you have and compare that to the number of $22 union-made American Apparel t-shirts you have.

    Here’s one for you:

    Yes. American apparel is open for business. But it’s a niche market.

    So… how does a labor union counter the facts on the ground? How does it become effective without limiting the choices that management has? I honestly don’t see a way short of protectionism.

    But let me counter your question with this: Why NOT protectionism? Why not just a tariff on good coming from China?Report

    • North in reply to Sam M says:

      Well to answer your question from my own point of view Sam it seems like there’re several reasons not to embrace protectionism:
      -The Chinese would undoubtedly retaliate which would cost even more US jobs.
      -Relations between China and the US would suffer.
      -Prices would rise for American consumers.
      -Government would be picking winners and losers even more than now since every industry in the country would enthusiastically line up to be included in the protective shield.
      -The aforementioned government action would include heightened lobbying and industry involvement in government.
      -The aforementioned heightened lobbying and involvement would increase corruption.

      I could go on. But honestly I don’t know if we have even a single honestly pro-tariff commenter or contributor at the League.Report

      • Sam M in reply to North says:

        No. Nobody says, “I love tariffs.” But it seems that they would be pretty effective at doing what we want them to do: give some power back to the unions. The very threat of a disabling tariff might get management back into line. So why not support it? Yes, all the reasons you mentioned. But I fail to understand how any of the other options for giving unions power amount to anything different. You want them to tax the superrich to subsidize wages, or subsidize the purchase of preferred products? How is that effectively different than a tariff?

        If, on the other hand, you reject any proposal that would give unions the power to punish native companies while punsishing foreign ones, I have a hard time seeing how they have any power at all. OK. They pal it up with management for “cooperation.” But when a living wage in Peoria is 25 times higher than a living wage in Bangledesh? There’s not a lot to discuss there.Report

  5. rj says:

    Management and labor cooperation requires management to see workers as human beings instead of production inputs that need constant surveillance, drug testing and threat of termination.

    The philosophy that has turned workplaces into Panopticons must go before management can respect the demands and desires of employees.Report

    • rj in reply to rj says:

      …and if we’re taking the Brooks post-materialist or Cowen post-growth route, you might argue that these “dignity issues” might just be how unions regain traction.Report

    • Sam M in reply to rj says:

      Drug-testing a guy who runs an 880-ton press amounts to a Panopticon? When I, as the employer, am in charge of insuring the whole operation?

      I believe we have an illustration of the problem involving workplace rules right here in the comment thread.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Sam M says:

        Where does it stop? Do you want the guy’s medical records, including his psychiatrist’s workup on him?Report

        • Sam M in reply to BlaiseP says:

          That’s a good question. Where DOES it stop? Do you want it to be OK for a guy toking a meth pipe to drive an 18-wheeler on I-80?

          I am pretty sure not. So there has to be some comon ground. But when drug-testing for workers automatically = Panopticon, it looks to me like the common ground is going to be pretty hard to find.Report

          • Pat Cahalan in reply to Sam M says:

            > Do you want it to be OK for a guy toking a
            > meth pipe to drive an 18-wheeler on I-80?

            I’m pretty sure it’s not okay for a guy toking a meth pipe to drive an 18-wheeler down I-80 regardless of workplace law.

            I’m also pretty sure it happens, and will continue to happen, regardless of workplace law.

            Finally, I’m pretty sure that employee drug testing is not the optimal way to keep guys from toking meth pipes while driving down I-80.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Sam M says:

            Perhaps if you could quit igniting all these Straw Men and Meth Pipes and various other combustibles, you might find time to answer the goddamn question, as asked. How far is too far?Report

            • Sam M in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Well, if you don’t think drug-testing has anything to do with truck driving, you might need to take it up with the feds in charge of administering the CDL program. Here you go:


              Beyond that, who ignited a straw man? You asked me if I thought it was OK for an employer to see your psych records. Did I mention that? No. Again, you did.

              How far is too far? At least I can admit that I don’t know. But what I do know is that if we are looking for common ground and cooperation among unions and management, rhetoric like drug-testing = Panopticon seems like a pretty poor start. God damn it.

              I just added that last part because swearing makes people sound more serious. I guess.

              But back to my question: Is equating drug-testing with a Panopticon too far? And seeing that drug-testing is, in fact, a requirement for a CDL, all protestations notwithstanding, should unions fight that? Is it going too far? Do you feel like you live in a Panopticon?

              Tell you what. I feel like I don’t want to hand over my psych record. But for some jobs? yeah. I thin kthat would be OK. Pilot for American Airlines? Navy SEaL? I think some psych testing is in order. So I guess the answer is complex! Sorry not to have a yes or no for you. Perhaps you will have something simpler regarding CDLs.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Sam M says:

                I see. You do not know, but in fact you do know you don’t want your own psych eval handed out to every employer. That’s as good as a No in my book.

                But when you’re responsible for Big 880, would you want to see the psych eval for everyone pushing the Big Green Button? Would that fit into the category of jobs requiring such a screening?Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Sam M says:

            Let me put it to you as a simple Yes or No. As an employer, are you entitled to view all your employees’ medical records, including their psychiatric evaluations?Report

            • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Will the employer be held liable for anything employees do on the job?

              I mean, if a worker loses a hand in the press and then sues saying “we needed a wellness program! I was allowed to use a press while high!” and gets waved away by the courts, that creates a different environment than one that says that, yes, the manager should have reported to the supervisor that he detected the faint odor of hemp on the worker’s clothing on that fateful day.

              The answer to your question depends a great deal on the parameters of upsides/downsides for doing so comparing them to the upsides/downsides for not doing so.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                Such frenetic tap-dancing I haven’t seen since a troop of mad Irishmen came to town. Where do you draw the line? That is the question you were asked.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Well, my answer to your question depends on your answer to my question.

                Let’s say that I am an employer who knows that my employees are grown ups and if they want to smoke a bone on their lunch break, hey. So long as the work gets done, right? Then one of them loses a hand in the press.

                If I know that I am liable to lose my shirt/company/freedom in the subsequent court case, I am likely to institute a wellness program that makes sure that nobody gets high at lunchtime.

                Hey! I am trying to protect my employees! I want to protect their hands, their co-workers’ hands, their spouses, THEIR CHILDREN!


                If, however, I know that the courts are likely to say “you smoked a bowl at lunch? Then you knowingly used a press? You’re lucky you didn’t die. Next case, please”, I’m likely to have a different set of incentives. At that point, I only have to worry about co-workers’ hands, spouses, and the children.

                Different answers to my question give me different answers to your question.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                When Push comes to Shove, as it does with such tiresome frequency, there is only one sum for these vectors: spread yer cheeks, pee in the bottle and let us fondle your undercarriage with our glov’d hands.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                To be perfectly honest, it does seem to me like having, oh, let’s call them “impaired”, workers on the factory floor is dangerous not just for themselves but for their co-workers.

                How much responsibility do I have toward everybody on that floor?

                I can easily see the argument that my responsibility toward my workers extends to making sure that they have safe work environments.

                Now, I suppose, you could argue that the guy using the rivet machine is one thing, the marketing guy who telecommutes is another!

                And I would agree.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

                So are you actually going to answer the question or are you just trolling?

                See, sometimes in these comments you seem serious and it makes us want to engage you in actual discussion. Then you bust out stupid shit like this and we wonder why we bother.Report

              • North in reply to BlaiseP says:

                There are some people on the site like that on both the right and left. I think they’re an asset even if they sometimes drive me crazy.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I am not sure if you are referring to me, but I will answer the question anyway. Drug screening law varies by jurisdiction. I get drug screened routinely for government engagements. In others, I sign a consent to be screened. In others, no screening is required.

                But I’m involved right now in medical data transmission, privacy and security considerations controlled by the Feds, part of the HIPAA legislation, binding on health care providers and insurers. Pushing a drug screen around is not allowed by HIPAA. As you say, the issue is complex, I don’t have an opinion beyond the legality, but this is what I do, SOA architecture, and medical data is what gets pushed through the stuff I build.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                What question were you answering?

                It wasn’t the one that I posed to you here… (I’ll cut and paste it):

                How much responsibility do I have toward everybody on that floor?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Who made you liable and culpable for your fellow workers’ behaviour? Good lord, if ever there was a begged question…..Report

              • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Wait, am I a worker or an employer?

                Could you answer the question assuming both answer?

                As an employer, how much responsibility do I have toward everybody on that floor?

                As an employee, how much responsibility do I have toward everybody on that floor?

                If you feel you cannot answer that question, I’d be cool with you saying “I will not answer those questions” as well. Feel free to call me intellectually dishonest in there too, but open with that. Thanks.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Hmmm. As I said about that Panopticon, when it’s me wanting you to spread my cheeks in the interests of the communal good, that’s very baaaad. But when you’re the employer telling me to spread my cheeks, well, that’s a different story.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Dude, if you’re not going to answer the questions, could you just please say “I’m not going to answer those questions”?

                After that, I’d be cool with you making whatever assumptions about my character that you want to make.

                I’d just like you to open with “I’m not going to answer those questions”.

                I’d rather you answer them, of course…Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Heh. This little Kangaroo Court has not been convened by you, Jaybird, nor will I be led about by the nose. Come up with some statement wherein the Panopticon is differentiated from the current state of employee privacy, if you can, and it is not at all clear you can, from where I sit. I have answered your fluffy questions, you come back with more of your Humpty Dumpty responses.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                See, I can totally dig “the real reason you’re asking those questions is because you’re racist” as a response to a question like “As an employer, how much responsibility do I have toward everybody on the factory floor?”

                I mean, God knows, Upton Sinclair asked similar questions and he hung out with Sacco and Vanzetti!

                But, for the record, I answered your questions and did so in good faith.

                You did not answer mine.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                “THE CHILDREN!” Ha ha ha. That one never gets old.Report

              • Sam M in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I haven’t seen a tap dancer compalin so much about tap dancing in all my life.

                Are you OK with using drug-testing as a prerequisite for a CDL or not? For someone who seems to love yes-no questions so much, you certainly seem loathe to answer one.

                I have told you: Yes. In some circumstances, I think something as intrusive as a medical record check is in order. Yet you seem unable to even address the question when it’s taken to the other extreme. Peculiar to say the least, god damn it.

                So what say you, man? Is it OK to test the truck driver for meth in order for him to get the job? Or not?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Sam M says:

                Stuff and nonsense. Now see here: we are attempting to distinguish between the Panopticon and drug testing, a point you raised. Thus far, I have been given many a limp-wristed and feckless non-answer involving Situational Ethics and many a hypothetical Hopping Child has been raised atop a hypothetical Pitchfork. But I have yet to see any line drawn wherein a worker has any right to privacy at all.Report

              • Sam M in reply to BlaiseP says:

                And I see you spending exactly zero syllables (although only one is required) answering questions involvioong situational ethics of another sort.

                jaybird and I have both attempted answers to your question, at length. You have refused extend the same courtesy.

                I mean, you seem like a smart enough guys. Buty you ain’t Socrates, and we don;t have to treat you like you are.

                You asked a question designed to test the situational ethics on one end of the spectrum. And it’s pretty clear that you want to dictate where the conversation goes from there. Well, no. We want to explore the other side now. You don’t. Fair enough. But I think thhat says more about your position than mine.

                One syllable is all it takes. CDL testing or no CDL testing?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Blaise, I’d like to note that he answered your question to the best of his ability and then he asked you one.Report

              • Sam M in reply to BlaiseP says:

                “But I have yet to see any line drawn wherein a worker has any right to privacy at all.”

                And I have yet to see any line drawn where an employer has any righhts that go beyond the right of provacy. At all. The safety of highways? Air travel? Doctors?

                We need to know. Is there ANY situation in which the right to provacy is preempted by other concerns? If not, there is not need to carry the conversation further, as you are an extremist who’s not really interested in finding the sort of middle-ground ED is talking about here.

                That’s the situation. Those are the ethics.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                You manifestly have no right to know about my wife’s menstrual cycle. I have no right to your psych eval. Tyranny comes slowly, wheedling and conniving and its argument was ever the Promise of Safety and its threat was ever Other Concerns, to be enumerated on an as-needed basis at a Later Date.

                I do not need Safety from the likes of you. There is no Middle Ground. There is only my privacy and your wish to intrude upon it.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I’ll note, again, that I don’t know what questions you’re answering.

                It’s like you answered a question that asked “Do I have the right to know your wife’s cycle? Do I have the right to your psych eval?” when, really, he asked the following:

                Are you OK with using drug-testing as a prerequisite for a CDL or not?


                So what say you, man? Is it OK to test the truck driver for meth in order for him to get the job? Or not?

                The questions you’re answering are not the questions he’s asking.

                After, I’ll note again, he did his best to answer the question you asked him.Report

              • Sam M in reply to BlaiseP says:

                “There is no Middle Ground. There is only my privacy and your wish to intrude upon it.”

                So there you have it, ED. Drig testing for truck drivers = Panopticon and wife’s mentrual cycle.

                I suspect that this is how the quest for “cooperation” will end in the real world, too.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                That’s pretty much it. The Panopticon is whatever you don’t want to tell me about yourself. Public Safety is what you want to know about me.Report

              • Pat Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP says:

                > CDL testing or no CDL testing?

                Explain to me how CDL testing solves the problem.

                I don’t think it does. If it doesn’t solve the problem, you can’t legitimately claim that the potential infringement on privacy rights has any real tradeoff value.

                I’m not a privacy rights purist. I’m perfectly willing to concede that in some cases, there is possibly practical value in intruding on someone’s individual privacy, and that the benefit of this outweighs the inherent problems with in in a particular case.Report

      • Pat Cahalan in reply to Sam M says:

        It’s perfectly reasonable for an employee who has been observed to behave erratically to submit to a drug test or be terminated.

        It is not perfectly reasonable to ask every employee to submit to blanket testing for substances that appear well beyond their effect window, particularly when the false positive rate of those tests is high enough to warrant that they not be introduced population-wide.

        I do not understand why private employers have a greater right to demand evidence (without reasonable suspicion) than the government does.Report

        • Because if you wait until the point where the employee is ‘behaving erradically’ someone might already be dead.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

            “I’m not a peace officer,” Rick said. “I’m a bounty hunter.” From his opened briefcase he fished out the Voight-Kampff apparatus, seated himself at a nearby rosewood coffee table, and began to assemble the rather simple polygraphic instruments…

            “This” – he held up the flat adhesive disk with its trailing wires – “measures capillary dilation in the facial area. We know this to be a primary autonomic response… This records fluctuations of tension within the eye muscles.

            -PK Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

            Now, if you as an employer have more rights than a peace officer, how can we distinguish you from a bounty hunter? At what point do my rights to privacy exceed your rights to prevent a workplace shooting?

            How about demanding to know when your female employees are menstruating? That might affect customer satisfaction to some degree. If they are pregnant, well, you might want to train their replacements.

            How about wanting to know if an employee’s getting divorced? Boy howdy, all those court dates, the depressions, the phone calls, the money for those attorneys, such employees might do some creative accounting.

            Your 880 ton press is awfully important to the world at large, far more important than the people who run it. Once you start a press run, it’s hard to shut it down, and very expensive. Why not just breed employees, like race horses, say, keep them out of harm’s way until they get to wipe the rollers down on Big 880?Report

            • I think a simple test for illegal drugs is pretty straight-forward. I’m not sure why that is a slippery slope.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                Because legal drugs for psychiatric conditions also appear in drug screens.Report

              • So work out something where those results are not provided to the employers. Not difficult.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                Is is difficult. The employer paid for the test. You signed the consent form. He gets the drug screen.Report

              • There’s no guarantee of remediation for false positives.

                Look, it comes down to the same conflict in preventative philosophy that determines best screening practices for common health problems.

                If you screen every woman for breast cancer too early, you have an extra round in which to catch false negatives. You also have an extra round in which to spawn a false positive. False positives have a huge cost, not only on the system as a whole but on the individual being tested.

                Same thing with drug testing. If you have 1000 employees, of which 10 use drugs, and a drug test is 95% accurate, how many people are going to be caught in the web? How many people are going to be accused when they have done nothing? And how many drug users are going to actually be caught?

                Of those drug users that are going to be caught, how many of them would have been caught anyway through normal management techniques?

                Remember, as well, that circumventing the test is in many cases trivially easy. So the false negative rate is very likely to be much higher than the actual test parameters claim it is, in practice.

                What steps do they need to take to preserve their job? Who pays all those costs?Report

              • @ Mike

                > I think a simple test for illegal drugs is
                > pretty straight-forward.


                “Drug tests generally produce false-positive results in 5 percent to 10 percent of cases and false negatives in 10 percent to 15 percent of cases, new research shows. ”

                Now, I haven’t read the original study (and as stated elsewhere, I have not a heck of a lot of faith in science reporting), but if these false positive and false negative rates are anywhere near accurate, testing your entire population of workers for drugs is going to be, at best, of very marginal utility, and at worst, of negative utility.

                1000 workers tested, with 10 drug users, you’re going to get between 5 and 10 false positives and at least one false negative with 9 actual positive test results.

                Again, remember lots of drug users will take steps to avoid actually being screened, so you may not even “catch” the 9. But leaving that aside for the moment…

                You miss one, and you “catch” between 14 and 19 possible drug users, of which somewhere between 33% and 50% aren’t actual users at all. They now have to prove that they don’t do drugs to keep their jobs. On the other hand, you have a huge liability incentive to fire them outright, as you now have actual evidence (weak or no) that can come back to bite you in the pontookas if you *don’t*.

                Now, how many of those 9 actual users actually *use* drugs/are impaired on the job? And of those people who *are* impaired on the job, how many of them would you catch by having a non-moron supervise them? I’d argue “most”, but we can quibble if you like.

                In any event, I don’t see blanket screening solving this problem.Report

              • Trumwill in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                I had an employer once that implemented “random” screening. Even setting aside the ideological questions, it was potentially a terrible business move. We knew that one of our top producers smoked pot as did one of our most reliable employees.

                It appeared at first that it was purely ideological for those people and the Mormons (almost everyone in any position of authority was Mormon) closed ranks around the idea. They had a round of tests, which miraculously involved a whole lot of problem employees, walked three out the door, and as far as I know they never tested anyone again.

                I go back and forth as to whether the whole thing was a ploy to justify firing those that were fired. But it was an EAW state and they needed no pretense (they fired the company’s lawyer for being gay and didn’t even pretend it was about anything else, as well as someone else on their first day when they realized he had a tattoo on his arm). So I think it was sincere at first, but even in the LDS environment, someone thought better of it.Report

            • Sam M in reply to BlaiseP says:

              “How about demanding to know when your female employees are menstruating?”

              So we hopped pretty quickly from drug-testing to the Panopticon to mentrual cycles.

              Mr. Kain, how are you feeling now about the prospects for labor/management cooperation?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Sam M says:

                We have Hopped nowhere. We are in the process of mapping the line beyond which the employee has some right to privacy. Let us see if you will Hop o’er that line.Report

              • Sam M in reply to BlaiseP says:

                We can’t seem to draw the line, however, because I answered some questions at the one extreme but you refuse to answer them at the other. Do you, in fact, believe that there is NO circumstance in which drug testing (even pre-employment drug testing) would be warranted?

                We don’t know. Because you won’t answer. So it almost seems like you aren’t interested in having a conversation at all.

                Labor relations writ large.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Sam M says:

                The law is what it is: my opinion of drug screening is irrelevant. You, by way of contrast, are attempting to distinguish between the Panopticon and drug testing using a series of rhetorical questions, as if the answer to that question was apparent. It is not apparent, and the onus is upon you to do the subtraction and give us the difference.Report

              • Sam M in reply to BlaiseP says:

                You don’t want to answer the question. Fine, dude. Don’t. We’ll draw our own conclusions. And I doubt very seriously that any of us will ever worry about the menstual cycle of anyone you know, so relax.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                You just go on doubting. Meanwhile, I’ll go on doubting employers are going to stop pushing for every scrap of data they can collect on their employees.Report

              • Pat Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Companies don’t care if you’re doing drugs. They really don’t.

                They care about two things: one, are you doing something that is going to screw their bottom line, and two are you not doing something that, by not being done, is going to screw their bottom line.

                I think Jaybird’s question about the burden of liability, from the standpoint of the business, is a fair point. However, in practice I don’t think the company really cares about the actual liability. They care about being able to disclaim liability.

                “I test all my employees and he came back clean” == “The company is not liable for his actions while stoned, it’s the tester’s fault”.

                Having the legal ability to test their employees is a big CYA. Not much else.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                @Pat Cahalan. Imputing motive to the employer one way or the other makes no difference. The larger question remains, where’s the line between permissible and impermissible searches? If the Fourth Amendment protects us against the government, should society erect any barriers against employers doing the same?

                When I point out certain seemingly outrageous examples of data collection, I’m told we should doubt very seriously that anyone will worry about menstrual cycles. China’s government does track women’s menstrual cycles as part of the One Child Policy.

                Famous last words: “It can’t happen here.” It does happen. Employers read your email, track the websites you visit, there’s no end to what they will do to suss out troublemakers. Unless and until there’s some limit in law to this sort of thing, aw-shucks-ing the obviously outrageous hypotheticals is just whistling past the graveyard.Report

        • North in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

          Because employers generally employ people at will. If an employer demands you undergo a drug test you can always refuse. That refusal could result in you losing your job but you can always seek another and they still can’t force you to take a drug test. If government demands evidence (without reasonable suspicion) you generally can’t quit the country and look for another one (and even if you do, there’re extradition treaties).Report

          • rj in reply to North says:

            1. What about the nicotine tests they’re giving to people now? Smoking isn’t even illegal!

            2. What about pot, especially in situations where it’s either decriminalized for possession at low volumes, allowed for medical use, or can’t be shown to hurt workplace productivity/safety?Report

            • North in reply to rj says:

              RJ I’m not an expert on the subject but why on earth would they test for nicotine? What benefit is yielded by doing so?

              Argument #2 is really just an argument that pot should be treated like nicotine which is something I’d happily sign onto. That said pot is capable of impairing performance on jobs so an employer could make a pretty rational claim for trying to prevent its use on the job.Report

            • Sam M in reply to rj says:

              I pretty much agree with Jacob Sullum on this issue. I think smoking bans are ridicuous. And I think it’s stupid not to hire someone based on whether they smoke. But if the law is going to require me to purchase health insurance for employees, and the insurance company is offering me a discount on people who don’t smoke… this seems like a material question.

              As for whether it impacts workplace safety or productivity, that’s pretty hard to define. Am I allowed to prefer a really well-dressed young woman to work the floor at a store that sells clothes to similarly clad young women? If I am running a medical practice, am I allowed to prefer a woman with kids as an OB/GYN?

              Generally, I am inclined to let companies make their own hire/fire decisions. Although, again, this is hardly ever a yes/no decision. So sussing it out would require a lot of compromise and good faith on the part of the people talking about it. And it’s my opinion that the Panopticon is probably not a useful place to start. Nor is automatically starting at an inflammatory point such as, “So do you want to see my psych records?” Nor is resorting to profanity when the person on the other end of the conversation responds by pushing back.Report

          • rj in reply to North says:

            That refusal could result in you losing your job but you can always seek another and they still can’t force you to take a drug test. If government demands evidence (without reasonable suspicion) you generally can’t quit the country and look for another one (and even if you do, there’re extradition treaties).

            It’s an attitude like this that makes it impossible for labor and management to work cooperatively. While an employer feels like they can replace most employees fairly easily, an employee has a much harder time and suffers much more displacement changing jobs. That goes double in a slack labor market and triple if they lose a job for refusing a drug test because they enjoy the occasional joint on the weekends.

            Workers get more from work than a paycheck, even if the work is mundane. When they lose a job, they lose more than a paycheck.Report

            • “Workers get more from work than a paycheck, even if the work is mundane. When they lose a job, they lose more than a paycheck.”

              Then maybe lay off the pot? Look, I used to smoke a LOT of weed because none of my employers tested. I miss it and would have no problem with starting back up IF my employer didn’t test. Since they do I haven’t smoked pot in over 10 years. That is my choice because I value my job more than getting high. Life is all about choices.Report

              • rj in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                If you’re willing to accept it, then fine. However, I don’t think that what you do off the clock* should be something an employer cares about unless they want to pay me for all those hours I’m not smoking.

                Would you just shrug your shoulders if employers mandated you went to bed at a certain time so you weren’t sleepy at work? Would it be OK if they told you that you would be fired if your wife had a kid because it hurts productivity?

                It’s a slippery slope argument to be sure, and some of it is precluded by statute. However, whereas political slippery slope arguments about the nanny state and such are usually moot because voters would never stand for the parade of horribles at the bottom of the slope, workers have no say in the matter. The fact that they can quit and choose between a bunch of other jobs with the same rules or start their own business is cold comfort.

                *Obviously, if you’re high at work, that is something an employer should have a say about.Report

              • I think a company has a right to expect whatever they want of their employees and the employees can refuse to work there if they find it cumbersome. As others pointed out, they may include a dress code or some other form of appearance guidelines. They have a right to refuse to hire individuals with certain kinds of criminal records. Not employing illegal drug users might be another choice.Report

              • > I think a company has a right to expect
                > whatever they want of their employees
                > and the employees can refuse to work
                > there if they find it cumbersome.

                That’s a fairly straightforward position, defensible on its face (I don’t happen to like it much, but see elsewhere on this thread for what “I like” means).

                Does this extend to all cases? How about company towns? What if you work somewhere for quite some time and a new boss changes your conditions on you? Not that these are prevalent nowadays, but I’m curious as to the extent you’d support this position.Report

              • A relationship between employer and employee is subject to constant revision. The employer could change conditions, such as phasing out a certain position and forcing the employee into another one, moving the factory another 50 miles down the road, or start requiring drug tests. Employees can leave at any point.

                On the flip side, an employee can negotiate for a higher salary at any point or demand other concessions. They can threaten to take their talent elsewhere. It’s a reciprocal relationship.Report

              • So you don’t see any power imbalances inherent in this relationship?

                Through the mechanism of incorporation, we make it easy for capital to aggregate by limiting liability, and we have created a very large superstructure to facilitate capital lending, particularly for large institutions.

                This is a major boon for organizations. Also for everyone else who feeds off of economic growth, but the direct and significant advantage goes to the established player who has assets.

                We’ve also (unfortunately, IMO, but that doesn’t change the situation on the ground) ceded virtually all of the collective bargaining power regarding our health care to our employers. This is one of several major barriers to leaving employment. For immigrant workers on a visa, their residency can be tied to their employment, etc. There are other examples.

                Given that we (a) massively subsidize corporate behavior over private labor contracts, and (b) have added additional barriers to exit for employment, isn’t it equitable to extract some sort of concession regarding the labor pool to offset?

                You can disagree with the givens, of course.Report

              • Trumwill in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                We’ve also (unfortunately, IMO, but that doesn’t change the situation on the ground) ceded virtually all of the collective bargaining power regarding our health care to our employers. This is one of several major barriers to leaving employment.

                That’s one of the reasons I am really big on severing the employer/insurance relationship. There are others, but the result is that it leaves even more than one’s paycheck riding on employment, as often as not. Added to that the reluctance that insurers seem to have to in meeting their COBRA obligations and the hoops you sometimes have to jump through, it creates a situation that makes me uneasy.

                On the other hand, most households are dual-income and so it’s often the case that if you leave your job, you can get on your spouse’s insurance.

                Anyway, this isn’t the only reason that I think employment/insurance is a bad idea, but it’s one of them.Report

              • @ Trumwill

                I agree with your assessment on the severance of the employer-provided health insurance. I’m just curious, given that it is the current state of affairs, if that affects Mike’s stance on reasonable baselines for employer-employee relationships.Report

              • Trumwill in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                Pat, I think the counterarguments (should Mike’s view not change) would be two-fold: COBRA plus working spouses.

                Now, COBRA costs a lot of money, but that’s part of the “difficulty paying bills” that would come with being unemployed in any event. The main point would be that you don’t have to lose your insurance if you’ve got some money saved up and find a job within the specified number of months. My counter to this would be that COBRA is a dicey thing to lean on since the providers seem to go out of their way to deny you service and it’s never wise to depend on the reasonableness of companies that don’t want your business.

                Working spouses is generally a good point. If you lose your job, you can get on with your spouse’s plan (it qualifies as a “change in circumstances” so you wouldn’t need to wait for an open enrollment period). This assumes, of course, that you’re married and that your wife isn’t working.

                If you’re not married, it’s more likely that you’re at a time in your life when you can go with catastrophic insurance or even go uninsured altogether. Less stability is required without a family. But some people have PECs that would make this difficult. And some people have families without a spouse.

                None of this is to say that I don’t agree with you. I generally do. But these are the counterpoints and they are not completely without merit.Report

              • Oh, I agree they’re counterpoints and they’re not without merit. I’m just interested to see where Mr. Stick goes, on account of I’m laying insidious traps! Traps, I say! For him to fall into later on in the future.

                Actually, I’m just curious.Report

            • North in reply to rj says:

              RJ, replacing an employee is more expensive for an employer than many may think. Impacts on moral, labor/management relationships and especially the cost in lost experience and training up a replacement are real and significant. When you get into lower skill jobs where it’s somewhat easier to replace and up train a replacement you’re often talking about jobs involving risky activities and employers really do have standing to demand that their employees not be impaired.

              When it comes to pot specifically this is mostly just bleeding over contagion from the War on Drugs which most businesses not involved in said war would likely eagerly agree should be ended. If we rolled back the WoD I imagine we’d see a similar receding of drug testing on the job.

              As for the rest of it, the fact of the matter is that employers are allowed to demand that their employees not use drugs. They’re allowed to make all kinds of demands on employees that the government is generally not allowed to do without strict limitations: they can demand the employee show up at a certain time, do certain things, behave a certain way and wear certain things while using certain items. In exchange they pay for the employee’s time and skill. That’s how it works in the workplace, it’s not like prospective workers don’t have alternatives if they don’t like it.Report

              • rj in reply to North says:

                That’s how it works in the workplace, it’s not like prospective workers don’t have alternatives if they don’t like it.

                That’s the attitude I’m getting at. Nicotine tests are just a symptom of the disease. Believe it or not, employers have a market power that workers don’t. This is doubly true in small communities. All but a small percentage of workers (most of whom wouldn’t be in a position to unionize anyway) are price-takers, pure and simple.

                It took decades of work by organized labor and their allies, but we no longer say “if you think this chemical you work with is poisoning you, go get another job.” We also no longer say, “if you think the equipment is unsafe, you are free to go elsewhere.”

                My initial point was that there are other concerns workers have about privacy and dignity that can only be addressed by collective action in the workplace or in the political sphere.Report

              • North in reply to rj says:

                RJ I’ll grant you that the banning of the kind of behavior like forcing employees to work with substances that poison them or equipment that kills them was a good thing. I also approve of forty hour work weeks, paid overtime and the weekend.

                But surely you can agree that there is a point where businesses do have rights to make demands on their employees? Do you agree that at some point businesses need to be able to say “if you can’t handle this requirement this job isn’t going to be a good fit for you”? Is a woman who’s deadly allergic to peanuts allowed to work in a peanut butter factory and demand that her employer provide a peanut free work environment? Can Kocher Jews insist that they’re fully entitled to be employed at a hog butchery and insist that they not handle any pork? Do Muslim bus drivers get to leave blind women freezing on the curb at the airport because they consider their Seeing Eye dogs unclean?

                Demanding that their employees not be using substances that could impact their work performance does not strike me as an unfair demand for businesses to make, particularly; as Jaybird notes; when our current legal and insurance environment will most likely hold employers responsible for or penalize them for any incidents that can arise from such drug use.Report

              • rj in reply to North says:

                I certainly agree that employers can make reasonable requests that their employees be able to do their jobs. I don’t think any transit union has fought for Muslim bus drivers’ right to keep service dogs off of a bus.

                I also believe that there should be limits to what an employer can demand. Some of those limits are already in statute. Some should be. Others should be worked out between employers and employees.

                Under the current system of mostly price-taking atomized suppliers of labor, that balance is not being struck.

                Dismissing legitimate requests by workers by saying it’s all at-will employment is unsatisfactory, as history has shown with the examples of workplace safety and hours.Report

              • North in reply to rj says:

                I agree; just as dismissing legitimate requests by employers that their employees not be impaired on the job or using illegal substances by saying that governments don’t get to do unreasonable searches and equating employment to citizenship is also unsatisfactory. Yes?Report

              • rj in reply to rj says:

                I never expressly dismissed “requests by employers that their employees not be impaired on the job.” In some cases, employers may have to drug test employees by law.

                I also never equated employer rules with violations of the 4th amendment. That was someone else. I use “privacy” in the common sense, not as a legal term of art.

                I do, however, challenge the idea that employers have an unlimited right to test for the presence of any substance at any time. If you want a smoke-free workplace, fine. If you don’t want me smoking at home, not fine. Same goes for pot.

                I also challenge the idea that an entity can either be coercive (the state) or completely non-coercive and not a little bit of both. Price-taking workers may be theoretically able to go find another workplace with different rules, but that just isn’t the way things go. Workplaces full of miserable people laboring under bosses they hate and the existence (and necessity) of workplace safety and hours regs are a testament to that.Report

              • Murali in reply to rj says:

                examples of workplace safety and hours

                I know that the issue of workplace safety regs is complicated by much of dangerous work being done by guestworkers who have no choice but to leave the country if they lose their job.

                But I have serious trouble wrapping my head around the idea that having a more than 40 hour work week is actually something that is objectionable. I’m not really sure I can grok the point of having an xx-hour work week anyway. I mean if an employer did offer that, it would be way cool and everything, but why the hell should it be mandated?Report

          • Pat Cahalan in reply to North says:

            > That refusal could result in you losing your job
            > but you can always seek another and they still
            > can’t force you to take a drug test.

            Practically speaking, I can imagine in many cases, “Submit to a drug test or we will let you go (or not hire you in the first place)” is isomorphic to “We are forcing you to take a drug test.”

            I know people who can’t reasonably give up their job, as they’ll lose their health insurance, and if they lose their health insurance, they’re corpsicles. That’s close enough to “force” in my book that the legal definition isn’t compelling.Report

            • DensityDuck in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

              This is an interesting reversal for you, given your arguments regarding the “mandate” in Obamacare.Report

              • I don’t like the mandate. I don’t think mandated things work well.

                I don’t know that it’s un-Constitutional, but that doesn’t mean that I like it 🙂Report

              • P.S. -> I don’t generally regard whether or not I like something as a substantive argument.

                I can hate the mandate, but it might still be Constitutional. If someone is arguing that it isn’t, I might be arguing with them because I don’t like their argument (or, in many cases, because I don’t like the implications of their assumptions that they use as the framework for their argument).Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to DensityDuck says:

                In case you’ve forgotten, your argument was that the power to punish was not “isomorphic” to the power to compel.Report

              • Not in general, no. My point on that thread was that it was being applied as a general principle.

                That’s why I began the sentence on *this* thread with “Practically speaking, I can imagine in many cases…”

                Otherwise I would have just said, “‘Submit to a drug test or we will let you go (or not hire you in the first place)’ is isomorphic to ‘We are forcing you to take a drug test.'”Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                And no true Scot would force someone to submit to a drug test, right?Report

  6. Sam M says:

    Re immigration:

    “That’s the real problem here, and no amount of savings on a 42” plasma screen TV are going to change that.”

    You appear to have answered your own question here. If you don’t believe that lower prices stemming from cheaper goods will have a stimulative impact on workers that is greater or equal to the loss in high-paying jobs… then yes, you need to have stricter immigration rules. Or enforce the ones in place.

    The standard reposne, after all, is that we will ahve more people working to sell and service 42-inch plasma TVs. People who buy them will have more money to send junior to college to developthe next generation of that TV. Or that all the extra money will be spent on the arts. Or something.

    But again, if you don’t believe that… and if you believe that the high-dollar manufacturing jobs at that Pittsburgh Sony plant will not be offset by such stimulus… then it follows that you need rules to keep the factories and jobs here, and you need rules limiting the number of people who are around to apply for such jobs.

    Protectionism plus immigration.

    I am not sure that some vague sense of “cooperation” between managers and floor workers will be able to overcome the basic rules of supply and demand here.

    They might be in a tiny economy like Denmark or Sweden. But I can’t see it happening here. Unless you have some suggestions.Report

  7. Jaybird says:

    All this talk of cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and so forth seem wrong-headed. Do we want a retirement crisis on our hands?

    There are a *LOT* of things going on here.

    1) Pensions work best when the industry is growing. If you have 10 workers paying into the pension fund for every 1 worker drawing a pension, it’s sustainable. 8 less so. Start getting less than that and you have to acknowledge that something that cannot go on forever will eventually stop… and, given that these pensions must! Must! be paid!, they will need to be bailed out by tax payers.

    2) Social Security, Medicare, and so forth work best when the tax base is growing. From what I understand, there were double-digit numbers of tax payers paying in to these programs at their creation for each recipient. Now there are, I understand, single-digit numbers paying into these programs for each recipient.

    3) Speaking of things that cannot go on forever sustainably, people are living longer than they used to. At the creation of Social Security, the average lifespan was, you guessed it, 65. The average lifespan is no longer 65 but, according to wikipedia, 77.9 years. Retirement used to be something you did for a few years before dying. Now it’s something you do for a decade before dying.

    4) You know who uses the most medical care out of anybody in the country? People with chronic issues. Medical advances in the last X years have done spectacular jobs with acute problems and have, sadly, made less progress with chronic problems. Once upon a time, when an acute problem hit… the patient would die. As many downsides as death has, the upside is that medical care costs decrease dramatically. With the advancement of acute care (a heart attack, stroke, etc, no longer a death sentence), the need for chronic care has skyrocketed.

    None of this strikes me as particularly sustainable without massive growth in the strength of corporations in the case of pensions and massive growth in the tax base in the case of Social Security and Medicare.Report

    • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

      Social Security is not a problem long term, although it does need a few tweaks. The curve flattens out after 2040 or so, it is not growing uncontrollably. Medicare is where the huge growth is and where we need to focus on. Of course doing some HCR should not be a problem. Cuts will not be demagogued and we can work out a solution. No problem at all.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

        I don’t know. There are a number of things that could ruin Social Security in a *VERY* short period of time.

        1) A medical advance that lengthens lifespans by another dozen years, for example.

        2) Immigration cratering.

        3) An unofficial one-child policy establishing itself culturally.

        Any one of these things shakes foundations. Two of them? Fuggitabowdit.Report

        • I was thinking the same thing Jaybird. Lifespans are increasing quickly. I’ve heard some scientist speculate that the first person to live to be 150 is alive right now. That’s going to wreck SS.Report

        • North in reply to Jaybird says:

          Jay, if #2 happens the country would presumably be facing some sort of massive problem so big than concerns about social security would be quite moot.

          As long as #2 doesn’t happen #3 is pretty much irrelevant (and ironically enough quite helpful from a global humanitarian perspective).

          #1 would present an interesting challenge but assuming that the expanded lifespan includes quality of life society would presumably adapt by lengthening the working life.Report

        • dexter in reply to Jaybird says:

          As a person who is compteting against those illegal immigrants I would like to know why you think they are such a benefit to America. Another thing I would like to know is at what point would there be too many people living in America.Report

          • E.C. Gach in reply to dexter says:

            If you have to compete against them, they must be just as beneficial economically.Report

            • dexter in reply to E.C. Gach says:

              That may or may not be true. Many of them don’t pay taxes, but do get welfare. They also lower the wages for Americans. JK was talking about packs the other day and I believe in packs, but my pack takes care of Americans before it takes care of illegals. I don’t know what you do for money, but how would you like it if tomorrow, 15 million illegals appeared and were willing to do your job for 5 dollars an hour less?Report

              • E.C. Gach in reply to dexter says:

                I’d want an increase in the staff at the department of labor to investigate all of the people breaking the minimum wage law.

                As for taxes vs. benefits, you’d have to find me an estimate on the total payout illegals get from the federal government.


              • dexter in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                What does that article prove? I read where the IRS does not know how many illegals pay their taxes. All I know about the situation is antecdotal. I know that most of the illegals I have worked with do not have taxes taken out of their paycheck. In construction, many people work as contract labor, which to shorten a long story means that taxes or FICA is not taken out of their paycheck. It also means the employer does not pay FICA, or unemployment insurance. I do know one that was so happy that he had an anchor baby. He was divorcing his wife and she had all her medical bills paid by welfare and she was living in a government subsidised housing. I have read articles proclaiming the pros and cons of illegals, but I know they cost me money. I am a blue collar guy and have had to deal with off shoring and illegals. My wages, adjusted for inflation are a lot less than they were thirty years ago. I believe that the only people who benefit from illegal aliens are the illegal aliens and the people who hire them.Report

              • E.C. Gach in reply to dexter says:

                So if they paid taxes and the minimum wage were enforced, how would you frame your argument against them?Report

              • dexter in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                If they are here legally, then I have no argument against them. I do believe that there are too many people, but that is an entirely different subject. Also, I would raise the minimum several dollars per hour.Report

              • E.C. Gach in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                I agree about raising the minimum, and it’d be great if there weren’t tons of surplus labor flooding the market. As a practical matter, I’m not sure how to get them to stop coming and/or leave without spending excessive amounts in border security and policing.

                Though maybe a genuine crackdown on employers would do it.Report

              • Trumwill in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                The Trumwill Immigration Enforcement Plan: Offer anyone here illegally (who has not engaged in outright identity theft) a green card if they immediately turn in their employer. Those with fake documentation can get a pass by pointing the finger at whomever supplied the documentation. Getting a pass includes bus fare out of town. First-comers only, more or less. If you hesitate, at best you lose your job anyway and at worse you’re headed back to your country of origin (I’m pretty flexible on this part).

                The biggest problem with illegal immigrant employment enforcement is that it is an arrangement that benefits all parties involved. You need to break the alliance between them.

                (I say all of this, but I also firmly believe that if we were to seriously enforce immigration law, it would demonstrate that their presence here is not the disaster that a lot of people make it out to be. Then, maybe we can have a more legal way of letting people in.)Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to greginak says:

        “Medicare is where the huge growth is and where we need to focus on.”

        It is worth noting that models that predict Medicare spending amounting to 15% of GDP also predict total health care spending of 45% of GDP, or more. If we are going to be rich enough that we can spend 45% of GDP on health care, we will be rich enough to afford to spend 15% on health care for the elderly. Speaking personally, I find it unlikely that we will become that rich. Overall health care spending will stop growing faster than the economy as a whole, and Medicare spending will slow with it. I have no idea how the growth will be slowed, but “If something can’t go on forever, it will stop.”Report

        • Will H. in reply to Michael Cain says:

          I was looking at some data earlier that indicated that wage stagnation is a by-product of rising medical costs.
          To the employers, the cost of labor is rising. To the employees, the raise is all in benefits, and they don’t see anything on the check.Report

    • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jaybird says:

      Except it’s been pointed out multiple times that yes, life expectancy for white-collar workers, lawyers, doctors, etc has increased by leaps and bounds. But, the life expectancy for the working class, ya’ know, the people who will depend on Social Security has barely budget.

      As far as Social Security goes, the Trust Fund has repeatedly said that removing the FICA cap essentially fixes the Social Security problem for the foreseeable future.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

        You say that as though all those white-collar workers aren’t going to be collecting Social Security. Like they’re going to say “oh, I have a 401(k), I don’t need Social Security so I’m going to send this check back.”

        Or are you suggesting means-testing?Report

        • Jesse Ewiak in reply to DensityDuck says:

          No, because the whole “oh, just raise the retirement age to save Social Security since everybody lives to 90” is just a silly argument. As I said, remove the FICA cap, Social Security has no crisis.

          But yes, Social Security should be a universal program because otherwise, it becomes another welfare program the right can try to demagogue out of existence. If that means some money goes to rich retirees, that’s an acceptable cost for the continued semblance of financial stability for the majority of seniors.Report

      • The cap doesn’t even have to be totally removed.

        When the Greenspan Commission put forward its proposals, the initial value for the cap was such that almost exactly 90% of earned income was subject to the tax. The formula for the cap was, unfortunately, based on increases in the median wage, not on preserving the portion of income subject to the cap. I’m not claiming that there was a conspiracy; certainly for the 30 years or so leading up to that point, productivity gains in wages had been distributed relatively uniformly across the wage spectrum. Beginning a few years after Congress adopted the Commission’s recommendations, though, productivity gains began to be captured disproportionately by those already earning more than the cap.

        If Congress had adopted a cap formula based on maintaining the 90% figure, we wouldn’t be having a conversation about the long-term solvency of the system.Report

  8. E.D. Kain says:

    Sam, I agree that drug testing for safety purposes is important. I think most union members would agree. saying this is how cooperation will work in the real world seems kind of silly though.Report

    • rj in reply to E.D. Kain says:

      In many cases, drug testing is off the table because it’s required by regulation. However, this new trendlet of tobacco testing and the idea that people should be penalized for testing positive for marijuana that they didn’t use at work is an issue.

      At the very least, unions could participate a discussion on which drugs should be tested for which workers and what the consequences should be. Same goes for the punishment of other kinds of off-hours activity.Report

    • Sam MacDonald in reply to E.D. Kain says:

      If it seems silly, you need to read a little more into labor relations. Silly? That isn’t the half of it. It’s depressing, and this thread is just a little taste of it.

      You are positing a grand new era of cooperation. And that is cooperation that we would have to achieve regarding gargantuan questions about economics, culture, local versus global control, etc. A huge part of the challenge is going to be to pick winners and losers.

      What are the odds of that happening when a simple discussion about drug testing STARTS at Panopticon and devolves from there? And this is not an abberation. At least in my experience, this is the general tone of discussions about labor. And it’s not just one side.

      It just seems to me that any future position based on voluntary cooperation is akin a school discipline code based on the idea that teenage boys shouldn’t be interested in boobs. Yeah. That would make things a lot simpler. But it’s not all that likely to happen.

      I predict that it would be a lot more like healthcare reform. Any effort at “bipartisanship” would quickly get consumed by the arm twisters and head knockers. And one side “winning” any real concessions would entail a wholesale ass-kicking of the other side.

      That’s not to say it can’t be done. But the idea that it will be done in ccoperative fashion seems pollyannish regarding ant serious issue. But even more so regarding labor.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to E.D. Kain says:

      Drug testing is just the beginning. Who’s going to tell the employers they can’t do genetic testing?

      See, the whole wretched debate gets bogged down with all this happy horseshit about Cooperation. Employers will never cooperate, ever: they have no reason to do so. As has been laid out all over this article and elsewhere, the employer has all the leverage and the employee has none, except where it’s been wrestled away from them or there’s a non-fungible task in play.Report

    • Will H. in reply to E.D. Kain says:

      As pointed out earlier, this is really a CYA issue for the employers. The company has other things to concern itself with other than your personal life.
      From the membership, the safety contribution of the policy is negligible. There are methods for dealing with that on the spot whenever it comes up, and these tend to be very effective.
      It’s an insurance thing, and nothing more.
      Defective equipment is really more of a pressing safety issue than doped-up co-workers.
      And when you’re talking about union workers, you’re likely talking about men who have known each other, either personally or by reputation, for a number of years and over a number of different companies. They’ve sworn an oath, and maintain an awareness of that.Report

      • Will H. in reply to Will H. says:

        Two things occurred to me which are of some significance.
        One is that the abuse of prescription drugs is by far worse than what I’ve seen from illegal drugs. I have a young friend that’s taken a liking to Valium, and I think it’s scary as hell. But I’ve been around long enough that whenever someone tells me that they’ve found a new way of acting like a jackass, I think I’ve probably done something real similar before.
        The other thing is that the focus on drug testing is a bit off. It appears to me to be an overwrought concern. Do you think a guy that missed a child support payment should never again be allowed to pull a chainfall at a port facility? That one’s kind of odd. Should a DUI keep a guy off a nuke site? Personally, I’m more concerned with co-workers which might be lacking in hygiene.Report

  9. Jaybird says:

    BlaiseP, understand this:

    I am one of the biggest advocates of a right to privacy on here… but I’m also a big advocate of the idea that the employer has the right to ask for things in exchange for him giving you money and benefits.

    If I go apply for a job as a programmer, say, and my employer says “we test for heroin use, it is no longer the 90’s at our company.”, I have every *every* right to say “you don’t have the right to know whether I use heroin in my free time”.

    I also think that my employer has the right to say “well, we’re going to move on to candidate #2”.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

      Problem is, and I’ve faced this, IBM can’t drug test in its San Francisco office but it can in its NYC office. It’s all a matter of jurisidiction.Report

      • Will H. in reply to BlaiseP says:

        That’s funny.
        In SF, you can get by with toking on the marijahoopee, but they took all the junk food out of the snack machines.

        Maybe the issue should be looked at a bit differently.
        Everything that is wrong with SF can easily be cured with a wee little bit of the “herbal cure,” but NYC is so effed up, it’s going to take more than a few bong hits to make things look even halfway right.Report

    • Pat Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

      > I’m also a big advocate of the idea that the employer
      > has the right to ask for things in exchange for him
      > giving you money and benefits.

      They do. They have a right to ask me to deliver the work, on time and under budget. They have a right to ask me to subject myself to supervision during work hours.

      Any other intrusive capability they want, they have to justify as being reasonable in the context of payoff. I don’t consider mandatory drug testing to be a reasonable mechanism for assisting the company in evaluating my ability to do the work, nor do I consider it to be suitable supervision… at least, not within the context of the potential benefits of drug testing.Report

    • E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

      I’m not really interested in the drug testing issue. What seems more interesting is this (and I apologized if it’s being explored somewhere else in this sea of comments).

      “but I’m also a big advocate of the idea that the employer has the right to ask for things in exchange for him giving you money and benefits.”

      I think this gets at a crucial way we look at laborer and employer. And that is, at least right now (but I suspect in most times) the employer is seen to be the one doing the laborer a favor by keeping them employed. The employer GIVES me money and benefits for my labor. We don’t ever say, I give my employer labor for money and benefits.

      There is a tacit assumption/value hierarchy built into our society that the employ is fundamentally entitled to more than the worker, despite the transaction being seemingly a fair and voluntary exchange.

      So I might ask the employer, if I have to hand in a drug test, will you throw in an extra 15 minute break?

      Has it ever been the case that labor was in a position of superior or even equal bargaining power for an extended period of time?

      I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to ask an employer for references from past employees to find out what they are like.Report

      • North in reply to E.C. Gach says:

        Economically speaking E.C. such a situation would result in wild and rampant inflation as the extreme price competition for labor (the most fundamental commodity in economic systems) rocketted.Report

      • Trumwill in reply to E.C. Gach says:

        Different employers behave differently. I worked at a large software company in the Pacific Northwest and it seemed that they were quite frequently going out of their way to keep people happy.

        I’ve had other employers take a very different view. Sometimes going out of their way to be antagonistic because, well, they could. Ultimately to their own detriment. When I left, I wrote a letter to the new CEO explaining that while you can get away with a lot in a troubled economy, it’s the best and brightest employees that will find other work.

        In an environment where the employees are not interchangeable, the smart companies do what they can to hold on to people even if there are five (or fifty) people in line to take any vacancy that opens. Replacing employees is not cheap. It costs money to retrain and weakens tribal knowledge.

        It’s also worth noting that the benefits accrued during periods when employers have to sweeten the pot to attract employees often extend beyond that circumstance and into a tighter job market. For instance, it wasn’t all that long ago when it was expected that you would work for a company for a year before you got any paid time off. And casual Friday was a rarity whereas now it’s casual-everyday much of the time (at least in my sector).

        But this is all in areas where employees are not interchangeable. Retail employers, for example, can replace employees with minimal hassle. It’s one of the reasons why it is so hard to unionize them. They lack leverage even when times are good.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Trumwill says:

          Yeah, I have an acquaintance who does database and programming stuff up in Seattle (he worked for a number of companies you’ve heard of and used) and, during the boom, he wrote his own ticket. He was *VERY* good and wrote tight stuff. He did interviews where he wrote code and, while it was compiling, told them about some of his offtime hobbies.

          You’ve got a guy with purple hair and black nail polish sitting in an interview chair telling you “I smoke weed, by the way” and employers are having bidding wars for you? I boggled.

          Of course, I worked in food service and had a degree in “you have a degree in that???” at the time.Report

        • E.C. Gach in reply to Trumwill says:

          My brother does recruiting for a health insurance company and was talking about how he was doing 10 to 20% more hiring now with some expansion as well as retiring of other workers, and noted that those who stuck it out at the company through slashes in pay and increases in work load (as others were laid off) are now in high demand and they are losing all their best people who offers his company can’t match. As a result he’s left with a pool of internal bottom feeders.Report

        • Will H. in reply to Trumwill says:

          That’s interesting.
          The only time that I ever wrote to a company exec, it was a gentleman in Japan that I thanked for giving me the opportunity to give my best work on such an exciting project.Report

  10. John Howard Griffin says:

    Here’s a heretical thought to add:

    What if the economy has hit (or will soon hit) some kind of constraint and loses the ability to grow? Not just for a year or two, but for decades.

    Energy, mostly in the form of fossil fuels, is the elephant in the room during discussions of the economy. If we cannot produce ever larger amounts of energy resources (oil, coal, NG, et al), the economy cannot continue to grow.

    There is plenty of evidence that we will hit these energy resource constraints in the next 10 years (if we didn’t already hit them in 2005 or 2008).Report

    • Well there’s the renewables, tidal, wind, geothermal, solar. There is a huge amount of untapped potential in nuclear as well. I can see energy prices increasing somewhat but I don’t think our ability to generate more is likely to hit some kind of hard cap.

      But, assuming that it did, then there would be wars. Terrible wars.Report

      • Pat Cahalan in reply to North says:

        Tune in next week.Report

      • John Howard Griffin in reply to North says:

        I can see energy prices increasing somewhat but I don’t think our ability to generate more is likely to hit some kind of hard cap.

        Despite $140 oil in 2008, the maximum production rate for oil hit it’s highest point in the middle of 2005. Since then, the production rate has been falling and prices have been rising. The oil exporters could not produce more oil (globally) at the historic high oil price.

        None of your proposed alternatives can replace fossil fuels on the level that we use them. Especially in the United States.

        Here is a good assessment on the connection between energy and the economy (from 2009):

        Was Volatility in the Price of Oil a Cause of the 2008 Financial Crisis?

        A cause for the financial crisis of 2008 is described that differs from conventional wisdom. It is proposed that in the early 2000s, an increase in the volatility of oil took place. This increase in oil volatility had an impact on investment risk in general, and led to incentives to promote self-interested cashing out rather than protection of shareholders. Novel data will be provided to show that a distinct series of pulsed spikes in oil price volatility initiated in the early 2000s. The oil shock of 2008, when price doubled over less than a year (peaking at ~ $140 a barrel), is shown not to be an isolated event. Instead, the oil shock of 2008 is the largest in a series of 7 prominent spikes in oil price variance that began some 7-8 years ago.


        • Perhaps, perhaps not. But they could cover a lot of the uses we put oil to. When oil prices rise high enough there’ll be a mass migration over to oil alternatives (my personal bet, electricity) at which point global consumption will plummet and the oil uses that truely are dependant on oil will be left with a greater relative share of the oil pie. Oil will become more like a rare earth or industrial metal to us.Report

          • John Howard Griffin in reply to North says:


            How much can be produced and how quickly? How much can be replaced and how quickly?

            The Laws of Physics trump the Laws of Economics.Report

            • Perhaps so, but I don’t anticipate that oil prices are going to surge abruptly. Canada in particular has absolute tons of the stuff, much of it just isn’e economically feasable for extraction at current market prices. The higher the price climbs the more (currently) uneconomical sources become economical and the lower (by fleeing to non oil sources) the demand will go.Report

              • Will H. in reply to North says:

                The price level that I saw to make the extraction economically viable was $50/bbl. Dated information, granted.
                Canada is now in the process of building refining capacity. A new pipeline is going in as well. Soon, it will be refined product shipped to the US.Report

              • North in reply to Will H. says:

                You probably know more on the subject than I Will. I’m really only familiar with the principals and some of the economic concepts. The particulars aren’t something I have researched myself.Report

              • Will H. in reply to North says:

                I wouldn’t say that, necessarily.
                I have a different concern in the matter.
                I know people close to it, but still most of my information is second-hand.

                Here’s one for you:
                Q: What’s the capital of Newfoundland?
                A: Fort McMurray.Report

              • North in reply to Will H. says:

                Odd, I thought it was St John’s (which is where I was born). I think I may be missing the joke. But Newfoundland has turned things around nicely in the past couple decades. They’re a have province now (much to the consternation of the parasites in Quebec).Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Will H. says:


              • Will H. in reply to Will H. says:

                It’s a joke.
                That’s where people from Newfoundland go to work.
                I heard it from a carpenter out of the Edmonton local.Report

              • North in reply to Will H. says:

                Ah yes, I understand. Yes that has traditionally been where a lot of eastern Canadians have gone to work. Now, though, Eastern Canadians may elect to go work in Newfoundland.Report

        • Kolohe in reply to John Howard Griffin says:

          The volatility of oil, while contributing to business cycle to be sure, is also what keeps it in the game. If (and when) supply constraints make it so that oil is permanently and irrevocably above 300-400 US dollars a barrel everything would steadily switch to other sources, as everything else is competitive at that price point. The fact that petroleum is still around 100 bucks for the latest out-year means that it’s not worth it right now to build something that requires more pricey energy. (you just build your oil thing and buy the hedge)

          It’s totally possible to replace oil with nukes and coal, if your not worried about the currently uncaptured environmental cost (by any market) of coal, and the currently uninsurable risk (by the private market) of (breeder) nukes.

          It’s not cost free of course. The economy will take a hit. A year or two. Definitely yes. A decade. Maybe. Decades with an S. No. Growth will slow with higher cost of energy input – but will not stop.Report

          • John Howard Griffin in reply to Kolohe says:

            While it is possible to replace one form of energy production with another (to a certain extent), the problem is one of scale and time.

            10 years to build a nuclear plant to replace an oil plant (electricity). That’s at least a decade if we start replacing them right now, which we aren’t.

            Replacing oil with coal just decreases the number of years before peak production. Buys us time, but then what replaces coal. This doesn’t even consider the environmental cost (like the proliferation of nuclear radiation from coal plants – yes COAL).

            Ok, so we replace with all nuclear (with a little wind, solar, geo, et al). Where does the uranium come from? We’re near (or have already passed) the peak in production of uranium.

            This is the common “waving of hands” that economists do to get rid of that pesky energy input that is needed for a constantly growing economy.

            I disagree. You cannot have infinite growth in a finite system. We’ve been living off stored the collected energy of millions of years of stored sunlight. Pardon me for being pessimistic.Report

            • Dude, the sun produces enough free lunch that harnessing it at anything resembling efficiency solves our energy problems, right clear.

              Admittedly, we have an engineering problem there that is difficult. But of all the breakers on growth, available energy is not one of them.Report

            • DensityDuck in reply to John Howard Griffin says:

              Nuclear plants don’t take ten years to build. Nuclear plants take two years to build, and safety inspectors take eight years to get over their woo-woo-scary feelings.Report

            • John Howard, if we run scarce on uranium we will use thorium. The earth has enormous reserves of thorium (and thorium reactors don’t have the potential to produce bomb materials like uranium ones do) and by the time we dig through all of that I imagine that they’ll have sorted out either the engineering difficulties of pure renewable energy sources, will have dammed some large tidal basins (after first tying up and gagging some outraged environmentalists) or will have sorted out exactly how to extract the deuterium from ocean water and once again energy will flow.

              As Density and others have noted a nuclear plant is only marginally more time consuming to build than a conventional one. The regulatory framework under which nuclear plants labor (and in which current nuclear corporations have a vested interest, never let it be said it a government problem only) was erected in an era when nuclear power was viewed as unnecessary and a dangerous contributor to the arms race. It’s long past time for revisiting. The argument over plant construction time/profitability is one that the eco-boys deploy that really makes me doubt their seriousness. “The rules are rigged to make nuclear power unprofitable so instead lets cover the great plains with windmills!” Please.

              I sympathize with your pessimism but there are gobs of potential power rocketing past us and rolling beneath us every second. The universe is mightily full of energy, thank goodness. I am cautiously optimistic that our technological arch can provide more power sources as older ones deplete (or provide new sources: as soon as we get into space mining there won’t be any such thing as scarcity of uranium or any other element).Report

              • Will H. in reply to North says:

                I agree and disagree. I’m kind of like that anyway; but particularly so in this case.
                I see peak oil as nothing more than some well-intentioned hand-wringing over something that really isn’t a problem. I have reason for that, but I don’t want to move away from the issue.
                Clean coal will be the bulk of our power supply for the first part of the 21st century, and after that, nuclear. We will build more coal plants over the next 30 to 35 years, and we will build them like so.
                There’s plenty of oil, coal, and uranium, but we’re going to have to compete for it on the open market. China and India are the big players there. Our energy costs are going to go up no matter what we do.
                As far as renewables go, hydro is probably the best, but it comes with species depletion. Solar works best at the point of consumption, and we will likely see more moves toward that in the coming years. Wind works best as supplemental or for peaking requirements.
                Everything has its place.
                The service needs are different for each type of equipment, and wind is a particularly difficult one to work with. The thing is that it requires knowledge and expertise that comes with years of service, but it is very demanding physically. As I was told by one fellow that worked on one of those sites, “That’s a young man’s work.” That’s an issue, because those young men typically don’t have the level of training or the safety awareness of the older workers.
                It would be impossible to convert quickly. It’s not feasible from an EPC perspective. Look at China’s 10-year plan, and that should tell you a few things.
                Price shocks are not all that uncommon. Such price shocks also raise the cost of substitution, and particularly when those prices remain at a high level over a period of time.
                Of course, this is another area where there is strength in diversity.Report

              • North in reply to Will H. says:

                Quite so Will. I agree that price shocks are not impossible but I do think that the idea of a hard cap maximum limit on the amount of power we can economically generate is perhaps overwrought (or at least we’re far below that cap currently).Report

              • Will H. in reply to North says:

                Maybe I’m misunderstanding here, but we have to run at less than maximum capacity.
                If you want to go farther than that, the actual maximum capacity is unknown. It’s better that way.
                Think of what your car would do if you held the accelerator all the way to the floor for a long, long time.
                Not a pretty picture.
                Those things run about 70 to 80% most of the time.Report

              • North in reply to Will H. says:

                You may have to read further up for what John Howard was speaking of but the discussion centered around whether there is a hard global maximum amount of economically feasable energy that we can harness; what would happen if we hit such a hard cap and whether we are close to one now.Report

      • Heidegger in reply to North says:

        North, great to hear from you! I think what’s been forgotten in this ongoing discussion about APW is that a significant portion of the citizenry is being completely exempt from pulling their fair share of the environmental load. I’m speaking of major CO2 emissions producers and I think it’s about time it’s time for them to get on ball and help the rest of us get through this dastardly CO2 emergency.

        And what is it that I’m referring to? How about road race cars–used to be called slot cars. Can you even begin to imagine who much CO2 they’re producing? I, personally have clocked some of mine exceeding 19mph. And how about Lionel Trains and HO cars? My God, we’ll be seeing tidal waves, ice age, warming age, cooling age, droughts, floods, blizzards at Death Valley, earthquakes, Volcanoes if we don’t get this cleared up. Scary, scary thoughts. I have to admit, I pulled a nutty last week and with absolute relish, loaded up my shotgun and blew out every single one of those silly goddam idiotic Green Compact Florescent Bulbs–GOD, did that feel good! I highly recommend it.Report

        • Heidegger in reply to Heidegger says:

          Almost forgot. Do all of you remember the big brouhaha about the “fascist, Gestapo, sex-deviant TSA gropers”? Well, for once, it looks like the authorities actually heard you and have taken action. Not perfect but pretty damned good. And their ability blend in with other passengers and travel incognito is just extraordinary. Cruise ships travelling in dangerous waters, are also considering using them as well. Already, Rev. Shapton is screaming, “RACISM”! and “Primate Profiling” And Rev. Jerimiah Wright is bellowing about “monkeys” finally coming to roost….go figure.Report

        • North in reply to Heidegger says:

          Did you remove the bulbs from their sockets before you went after them with the shotgun? I’m no expert on guns but I assume the pellets would play Cain with your drywall.Report

          • Heidegger in reply to North says:

            Sadly, North, I didn’t. Had to have the HazMat technicians come over and remove this chemical mess–mercury everywhere. Do you happen to know Al Gore’s address and/or phone #–I have a few questions for him.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Heidegger says:

              Don’t you worry, Al Gore has yours. Already, e’en now, his hellish granola eatin’ minions have been dispatched in your general direction. When the Steel Hankie of Political Correction is thrown at your head, try not to whimper too loudly, or they’ll throw it again and again until you’ve been Convinced of the Error of your Ways.Report

              • Heidegger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                BlaiseP, thanks so much for the heads up–just as you said, the motley degenerate miscreants were howling like mad wolves last night. Good thing I had the sense to built a moat (complete with very hungry piranhas, water moccasins, cobras, a couple crocodiles, and even for good measure, a ten thousand pound Rhino!” A chorus of every possible sex known to man was bellowing, “No blood for oil”, “Kill Bush”, “Free the Palestinians”(hey, we’re trying–nobody wants these shameless, mass murdering, suicidal reprobates.” “Free Mumia” , “behead Cheney” and on and on and on.

                “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”

                “We can forgive you for killing our sons. But we will never forgive you for making us kill yours. ”
                Golda Meir

                “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Heidegger says:

                Beheading Cheney? Fat lot of good that will do. Like St. Denis the Cephalopore, he would merely pick it up and continue on his truculent way.

                It is no small source of dark amusement to see Our Preznit continue in the sinful and deplorable excesses of Herr Cheney, especially in the Dept of Torcherments down Gitmo way. Why, it would almost convince a man ol’ Dick Cheney had been vindicated.Report

              • Heidegger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Now that would be interesting. I think life has gotten at so good at Gitmo, AAA now lists it in their travelogue as one the 10 “best” places to relax and have fun in the sun. And there were repeated warnings saying, “water boarding” will not be permitted unless there is a physician by your side. Sigh…..Report

              • Heidegger in reply to Heidegger says:

                Whoaa–sorry about that Blaise—“just as you said, the motley degenerate miscreants were howling like mad wolves last night.” No, you didn’t say that, at all–My words, and have no problem with the inevitable beat down surely to come. You have enough jackals nipping at your heels than for me to put words in your mouth–sorry. I can’t tell you how happy I am that you’re hanging around this joint–it truly stirs the pot. Now i just need to brush up on my Quantum Mechanics because I’m having a very difficult time trying to figure out Bell’s Theorem–do you know anything about it? Also, I would like to be put to death. Or at least be able to get to the point where a turning back would still be possible but in every other way measurably dead, dead as a doornail.-brain, heart, the while shebang. It’s time this argument about life and death be put to rest (NO pin intended!) and I’m more than willing to toss my hat in the death wannabee ring. Enough idle speculation–let me see if I can dig my way out 6 feet of dirt!Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Heidegger says:

                Though all metaphors must fail in their turn, the easiest and most direct exposition of Quantum Mechanics goes as follows:

                A Martian has installed an overhead camera at Union Station in Chicago. Over time, he sees the commuters coming and going. In the morning, they arrive from one direction, in the evening they depart in the opposite direction.

                The Martian now installs a microphone and a loudspeaker, so he can ask the commuters questions. But when he interrogates any one commuter, the commuter must stop to answer his question: the commuter is neither coming nor going at the moment of interrogation.

                John Bell built test equipment, detectors mostly, like the camera and the microphone. To understand Bell’s Theorem, we must begin with the actual test apparatus, to understand how his famous inequalities developed.

                The Martian has several ways of considering the commuter, and there are any number of questions he might ask. As the answers stacked up, the Martian was able to merge two important ideas: the commuter as an individual, and the ideas of Rush Hour.Report

              • Heidegger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Dammit, why can’t I think like that!!
                Beautiful, Blaise, just beautiful and many, many thanks. I owe you a case, really.

                I’ll have think about this because if I’m mistaken, you might just have produced a very compelling reason for the existence of God. I think it’s going to take a good while to understand the Big Fella–GOD– but in the end, I’m pretty sure he’s going to turn out to be one helluva Great Guy. I think what I’ll most enjoy is to see God laugh. Can’t blame Him for the tears though–how would you like to wake up one morning and have the whole damn universe put on your shoulders. Imagine what the feeling must be like to know you are IT. All that is, was, or forevermore shall be. You can’t exactly go on unemployment when times get rough. Oh well, we shall see.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Produce a compelling reason for the existence of God? Ridiculous. I have done no such thing, no more than I have resolved the EPR Paradox. I warn you against rushing to any conclusions about God, most sternly against my conception of God: as with Quantum Mechanics, the entire notion of his “existence” is a matter of definition.

                George Santayana once said “My atheism, like that of Spinoza, is true piety towards the universe and denies only gods fashioned by men in their own image, to be servants of their human interests.”

                That’s pretty much my take on my faith, as well.Report

        • tom van dyke in reply to Heidegger says:

          Carbon tax on fat people. Ever see ’em huffing and puffing?

          And the methane, my god, the methane!Report

          • Heidegger in reply to tom van dyke says:

            Frightening, Tom, just frightening. Gore might just save the planet if he just never got out of bed in the morning. Don’t forget, his monthly gas/oil bill tops $30,000 and is growing, just his waistline. Didn’t even add up all the plane fares. His carbon footprints are approaching trillions and trillions of feet. I’ve heard every rain forest in South America is reaching the point of no-return because of this one-man CO2 planet destroying machine. Mercy, Al!Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Heidegger says:

              When it comes to fetid outgassing and other wastes of perfectly good watts, nobody holds a candle (it might be very dangerous to do so) to Joe Barton’s abject apologies to British Petroleum.Report

          • Heidegger in reply to tom van dyke says:

            Tom, did you by chance take a look at my “Budget Proposal”? I’m relying on your encyclopedic knowledge of this period of our history, because I think I found a reasonable solution And it couldn’t be simpler. I researched every budget from 1800 on, and the Budget for the year 1804 would perfectly suit all of our needs. The entire budget of our Founders for the year 1804 was less than $50,000. Why can’t we achieve this? Okay, a few little programs there, and a few little problems here, might need a little bit of adjusting. The unfortunate and unmistakable reality is that the Bamster is just going to flatout bring us to ruin and fast, if we continue to live in Candyland.Report

          • Mr. Heidegger, I give you Congressman Davy Crockett.


            • Heidegger in reply to tom van dyke says:

              Much obliged, Mr. van Dyke. (do you prefer Tom or Mr. van Dyke?)

              And likewise,I present to you the most one of America’s greatest heroes, frontiersman, soldier, House Representative, backwoods statesman, cattleman, a sharpshooter without equal–in short, the real Deal, Davy Crocket!

              Enjoy the tune!


              • tom van dyke in reply to Heidegger says:

                It’s Tom to all gentlepersons of good will, Mr. H. Mr. Van Dyke capital “V” to others, except if I make a particularly cogent argument, in which case such formality is taken as a compliment.

                TVD is fine in all cases. Thx for asking, sir.

                The Crockett link prev forwarded is quite good, even if apocryphal.

                “So you see, Colonel [Crockett], you have violated the Constitution in what I consider a vital point. It is a precedent fraught with danger to the country, for when Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the Constitution, there is no limit to it, and no security for the people. I have no doubt you acted honestly, but that does not make it any better, except as far as you are personally concerned, and you see that I cannot vote for you.'”

                Oh, and thx for the song. I haven’t heard it since I was a certain age, but still remembered the first verse and even some of the harmonies.Report

              • Heidegger in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Tom–sorry–forgot to thank you for that excellent link you provided–just LOVED it!

                And what a great and interesting character Davy Crockett was so multi- talented–good thing he wasn’t around now–wearing those pelts would have had PETA get so crazy they would have sliced him up and fed him to the polar bears.

                A cogent argument should certainly be worthy of Honorable Sir. Especially if it’s against a liberal!
                Well, as you always say, rock on.

                For the record, I am a passionate lover of all animals. And nature as well.Report

      • Will H. in reply to North says:

        If you’re paying less than $350/mo for your electric bill for your home, then you’re buying energy at an artificially low rate.Report

        • dexter in reply to Will H. says:

          My wife and I live in a 2800 square foot house in Lousy Sauna and our electric bill averages about 1oo per month and I do not think I pay to little. I know some will yell here, but if it was up to me utilities would be scaled on a tangent that approaches 90 degrees.Report

  11. J S says:

    Let’s go back to the American System! Oh wait, we’re not in the 19th century anymore. Seriously though, tariffs can be a great revenue source; after all, the federal government was funded almost entirely by tariffs until the establishment of the income tax. Why can’t the USA and China agree to a mutual 20% tariff treaty on all imported goods? China can use the revenue to develop a safety net, thereby encouraging more domestic consumer spending. The USA could use the revenue to balance the federal budget while maintaining/increasing entitlement spending, and increase domestic production. Yes, this would increase prices on consumer goods, but so would a VAT or a sales tax, both of which are being proposed to address our budget deficit, and a uniform, flat rate, ad-valorem tariff would be much easier to administer than a VAT or a national sales tax.Report

  12. Will H. says:

    I’ll comb through the thread in a minute, but I want to respond to your questions.
    Does a revived labor movement require protectionist policies, increasing tariffs, etc.?
    If not, what policies do need to change in order to strengthen labor?
    Good question. First, there needs to be a distinction between labor and human capital. Unions work best (from what I’ve seen) when managing human capital.
    The way my union (which represents some 27 specialty trades) does it (and I think this is a good model), is that negotiations occur between the union and a trade group; so each member of the trade group usually gets the same deal.
    Question #2: Does a revived labor movement require harsher immigration policies?
    No, not necessarily. Order does need to be enforced, and this is key; but it’s really more of an issue of what they (immigrants) do when they get here rather than if they get here or not.Report

  13. Maxwell James says:

    The key to a revived labor movement in this country is employee ownership.Report

  14. stillwater says:

    One thing – the primary thing – that liberalization of the global economy has permitted (and I would say encouraged) is capital flight from regions with onerous (from the point of view of capital) restrictions on profit-seeking. These restrictions can take the form of high wages, strict environmental and safety regulations, or – and this is also important – high tax rates on corporate income. If there is no cost on repatriating a good or service (or even the profits) to the domestic economy, then the calculus for determining whether outsourcing is profitable is simple: how soon, if ever, is it profitable to relocate to a foreign country with cheaper labor and lower cost-increasing regulations? Well, the answer to that question clearly in, as outsourcing continues, now to service-sector jobs like accounting and legal services.

    On the flip side, there is an argument that reducing the cost of living by importing cheaper goods and services balances, or constitutes a net positive … for somebody (labor, consumers, investors, governments?). This argument, which is common, is fundamentally based on perceiving lower consumer costs in an ‘all other things being equal’ context. And given the ceteris paribus nature of the argument, no one would argue that cheaper prices aren’t a net positive. But this naive view of things conveniently overlooks both the causes and the effects of cheaper retail prices. And insofar as some of those issues are addressed, eg, unemployment, globalization defenders suggest that employees in dead sectors (eg, manufacturing) need to be retrained for service sector jobs. This naive view is also based on ceteris paribus conditions applying, and overlooks two important problems: one, that such retraining is in principle possible; two, that the sector of the economy into which the unemployed person is re-training for is stable enough to not get outsourced itself.

    There’s much more to say about this, of course. Ideological issues come into play, as do tax issues. Pragmatic issues like international trade law are also important factors in coming up with a solution. I’ll leave those aside, and just say that ensuring a stable domestic labor market (which is definitionally anti-thetical to profit-seeking for domestic corporations) is a necessary condition for the health and preservation of the middle class. And protectionist measures which prevent capital flight or bring it back home are, it seems to me, necessary to achieve this.Report

    • stillwater in reply to stillwater says:

      And I would also add that this suggestion

      Actually, I don’t think protectionism or closed-border policies are necessary in order to revive the labor movement.

      overlooks the main problem. The assumption here is that collective bargaining can be effective in labor’s efforts to promote job security and fair wage/benefits packages. About this, I’ll just say that collective bargaining occurs at the retail end of the political-economic equation, but the changes in US domestic labor policy that need to occur are on the wholesale side of things. Preventing capital flight in and of itself rejuvenates labor markets, with or without collective bargaining. It does this by creating jobs, and preserving them (not for a particular individual of course), which leads to higher employment and higher compensation packages. The scenario you advocate – retail changes imposed by collective bargaining – is insufficient because it a) doesn’t create jobs (it only applies to individuals who already have a job) and b) it doesn’t prevent those jobs from being outsourced in the future (particularly of the collective bargaining proposals are onerous to ownership).Report

  15. Rick Taylor says:

    I’m speaking from ignorance here, but my impression is that while tariffs might not be appropriate, there should be some sort of policies in place to ensure a level playing a field. A company might send their operations overseas to avoid taxes, to avoid limits on the environmental degradation they can create, or to avoid benefits they might be obligated to pay to American workers. I’m not a believer that unbridled capitalism automatically produces the best outcome, I believe that there needs to be a mixture of capitalism and regulation, and if companies circumvent the regulations by taking their operations overseas, that is a problem.Report

  16. Pangloss says:

    Germany has a vital labor movement, a very healthy economy (they’re propping up half of the EU), a comparable standard of living, better health care, lower crime, etc.

    But the food sucks.Report

    • Bubbaquimby in reply to Pangloss says:

      They also have almost 70,000 US troops stationed there for over 60 years. All the while only having a total force of less than 90,000 troops.

      One more reason I wish the US wasn’t the world’s cop.Report

  17. Simon K says:

    What do we want the labor movement to do? This isn’t a rhetorical question. Labor unions work well when fairly skilled, pretty specialized labor needs to negotiate with a monopsomy or near-monopsomy employer for a share of the revenue stream. Where individual workers can be replaced with anyone off the street, the relative cost of unionization is just too high and the business would go bust if it happened. Where individual workers have enough bargaining power on their own, unions are pointless.

    Implicit in the post is an idea that the middle class faces a hard time and that the labor movement could help address this. I’m skeptical of the proposition to begin with – even if the Pickety & Saez study that says middle class incomes have not increased is correct, it only says that the middle class’s lot has not improved. It does not say its gotten worse. And the same data implies that the increase in relative inequality is driven by a very small number of very rich people, almost entirely in finance. But lets suppose that the implication is true – that the middle class needs relatively more resources to have a comfortable life – how would unions help ?

    They can only help if the critical problem is for workers to get a larger share of revenue from employers who themselves have enough market power to have substantial surplus profits. Is this the problem? It doesn’t really seem like it is. Competition and technological change between them mean that the number of employers who have the kind of monopoly/monopsomy position required for a union to exact benefits for workers is shrinking. Sure, there are some – most manufacturing, some construction, resource extraction. But these aren’t exactly exciting growth industries, are they? And to the extent they are growing, they’re growing away from using lots of semi-skilled labour and outside of the United States.

    Which brings us to protectionism. You can certainly increase the number of monopoly/monopsomy employers using trade restrictions. If you can’t import oil from Canada profitably, more oil will come form the US, so US drillers will make more money and their unionizer workers will have more bargaining power. Same goes for immigration restrictions, although its probably much less effective – competition from unskilled immigrants mainly affects businesses where unions are ineffective anyway. But do you really want to do this? You’re depriving everyone of resources they could use and want to buy in order to make some part of the workforce better off. In my view its unconscionable. But even if it wasn’t, it sets the US on the road to being Peronist Argentina. Its not exactly the model you’re looking for, I suspect.Report

    • E.C. Gach in reply to Simon K says:

      “They can only help if the critical problem is for workers to get a larger share of revenue from employers who themselves have enough market power to have substantial surplus profits. Is this the problem?”

      It was my understanding that compensation across the board for top level people has grow by many times what it had been, so that your average CEO is now making well over however much more than their employees they use to make:

      “The typical CEO of a Fortune 500 company is paid $10.8 million, or 364 times what an average employee makes. By comparison, 40 years ago that CEO would have been paid only 20 to 30 times what an average employee makes. “As citizens,” Reich concedes,”

      Do you have evidence to the contrary?Report

      • Simon K in reply to E.C. Gach says:

        No, I don’t disagree. The data is indisputable – senior execs and finance types have seen huge increases in their formal, taxable compensation, where median-and-lower income employees have seen stagnation. There’s plenty of nits to pick about what this means on all kinds of levels, but that’s the raw fact.

        But does it bear on my question? Historically labor and management have fought over how much of a firms revenue that didn’t go on fixed costs would go to labor and how much to the firm’s owners. That’s different from how much goes to the CEO’s paycheck – the CEO is not the owner. I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other on whether execs in big firms need to be paid so much – if they don’t I’d certainly be in favor of diverting the money to labor, but the effect would be small.Report

        • E.C. Gach in reply to Simon K says:

          True, I’m inferring from that one data point, as well as the overall increase in profits, that there an imbalance between capitalist and worker.

          Financial crisis hit, companies got lean, fired workers, and then started reaping nice profits. The people who were now doing 150-200% more work I don’t think received much more in compensation. OF course this would apply more to white collar wage slaves than laborers.Report

          • Trumwill in reply to E.C. Gach says:

            In the aforementioned CEO letter, one of the things I stressed was that our team had a 300% increase in productivity over the previous six months due to having a small, sharp team of highly trained and well-educated individuals in a team previously filled with entry-level high school grads. This demonstrated that paying a few people more was more beneficial than paying a lot more people less.

            The attitude there, up to that point, was that people had nowhere to go. It seemed lost on them that we lost two Employees of the Month due to, of all things, the company’s draconian Internet policy. That and they just couldn’t get it out of their head that “XML Programmer = $10/hr” whether they were a thesis away from their Master’s Degree in CompSci or a fresh high school graduate. They really viewed everyone as interchangeable.

            Incidentally, this is one of the problems with unions, at least as it pertains to more creative work. What we had been advocating was paying some programmers a whole lot more than others. The company took the more union-friendly approach, in a way, of believing that seniority and equality was more important. When we tried to get our top-performer a raise, their main response was “If we give him that much more, we’ll have to give *everyone* that much or close to it. Besides, we’ve had people here a lot longer than him.”Report

            • E.C. Gach in reply to Trumwill says:

              I’ve always wondered, is there something essential to unions that all workers must be equal/seniority for all?

              I’ve often thought that most unions would actually be much more effective at obtaining their goals if they themselves were trimmer.

              If you have lazy workers, why wouldn’t a union want to sanction them, as an individual lazy worker is a drag to the rest?

              In a democratic workplace, the bottom feeders would not hang on for long me thinks.Report

              • Simon K in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                The union where my wife works allows performance related pay. They didn’t even resist it very hard. They do use seniority for determining who gets fired or rehired, but I think that’s all.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                How have unions worked *IN PRACTICE*?

                Have they regularly done what they could to prop up the best and brightest as an example?

                Have they regularly sanctioned the lazy, stupid, or corrupt?

                Look at the arguments folks have over the teachers unions… they’re not arguments over the difference between C+ and C- teachers. Look at the examples Balko gives about various police officers who might have to deal with, say, DUIs or sexual assaults.

                How do unions work *IN PRACTICE*?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                Unions work just fine. I bear witness to several instances of a teacher’s union removing incompetent teachers from a middle school in U300, Carpentersville IL.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Oh, we’ve had a ton of discussions about this.

       had a fun one but you can’t go wrong with anything here:


              • Will H. in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                My own union prohibits the observance of seniority for everyone other than apprentices.
                For non-performing workers, sanctions would typically be in the form of job assignments or (if that didn’t work) a lay-off slip.
                These are a group of men well-known to be a bit persnickety about things, and those who do not observe proper table manners are also subject to sanction.Report

              • Trumwill in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                Nothing essential, but I think it seems to work out that way more often than not because there are always more “average” people than superstars. If you have ten employees and pick three out as superstars, you have three happy people and seven unhappy.

                I don’t know about (and was not referring to) “you can’t fire incompetents.” On the one hand, up until a few incompetents were let go, we probably would have gone to the mat for them (out of solidarity, misplaced loyalty, or fear that we could be next). On the other hand, once they were gone we realized how much they were dragging everyone down.Report

          • Simon K in reply to E.C. Gach says:

            The increase in profits is a recent thing, though, since the crisis. Returns on equity over the last 10 years have been miserable. The increase in CEO compensation goes back to at least the early 80s, so whatever is behind the two trends, its presumably not the same thing.

            There definitely has been an imbalance between capital and labor recently, because in a recession labor needs to get employed more badly that capital needs to get a return. Over the longer term I’m not so sure – we’ve seen big structural changes that I’m not sure we can understand in the old framework of capital and labor.

            That dynamic said: Capitalists own factories which make stuff. In order to operate the factories they need labor. No labor, no stuff. More labor, more stuff. No stuff, no profits. More stuff, more profits. In more or less direct proportion until they build another factory, and then the same again. Provided the supply of suitable labor was at least somewhat constrained, unions could use their leverage to get a bigger share.

            But how much of the economy really fits this model now? In most cases, increasing production doesn’t depend much on hiring more workers, and as you say in many cases we can make do with less workers and get the same output. One way of looking at this is that workers are getting more capital-like – businesses need to have the right combinations of workers and capital, so its harder for employers to use workers who come along and harder to replace those you lose. If this is right, in the end, it should result in more money going to workers in general, but the worry of course is people who don’t have skills that fit well into this model .Report

    • Lyle in reply to Simon K says:

      It is interesting that you recite the historical difference between the AFL and the CIO before they merge. The AFL was primarily about craft unions (building trades printers etc) where skill is involved the CIO (congress of industrial organizations) was about organizing the workforce of large employeers such as coal mines and auto companies. Note that in these kinds of companies a majority of the workers can be replaced with a few days training. Thus the downsizing of the UAW for example. IN essence the CIO model was the model for unions in the period 1935-1970 and now has been shown to not work, as carbon based workers (humans) are replaced by silicon based workers (computers) or the job is offshored where the time to learn the job is small. Now if you go the silicon based worker route you need folks to keep them in health and these are more highly skilled than the humans the machines replaced. Programming a CNC machine to make something is more highly skilled than running a lathe. Soon it will be programming the input for a 3d printer to make something, that perhaps could not have been made by any machining technique.Report

    • stillwater in reply to Simon K says:

      You can certainly increase the number of monopoly/monopsomy employers using trade restrictions. … But do you really want to do this? You’re depriving everyone of resources they could use and want to buy in order to make some part of the workforce better off.

      So you’re solution to the problem is that it’s not really a problem, since consumer choice is more important than structural unemployment and a shrinking middle class?

      But even if it wasn’t, it sets the US on the road to being Peronist Argentina.

      It seems like the political terrain is always slanted and wet, cuz I can’t seem to get away from that ole slippery slope.Report

      • Simon K in reply to stillwater says:

        We don’t have structural unemployement. We’re in a demand side recession. When GDP is growing at 3% for a few quaters, if unemployment doesn’t fall, then we’ll talk. There is also no data to support the idea that that middle class is shrinking. But just keep burning those straw men – its fun after all.Report

        • stillwater in reply to Simon K says:

          There is also no data to support the idea that that middle class is shrinking.

          What does ‘no data’ mean here? There’s all sorts of data (just Google ‘shrinking middle class’). Some of it you may reject. But even on the merits of a study you do seem to accept, the overall distribution of income gains over the last 27 years indicates dramatic increases for the richest 5% (63%), and relative stagnation for the lowest 90% (9%). That means middle class income as a percentage of total income has gone down, ie., the middle class is shrinking. You of course can stipulate a preferred metric, but that is only one way, and certainly not the only way, to approach the topic.

          I’ll also just mention that Saez draws the conclusion that spiraling income inequality can only be remedied by government intervention, something central to the OP of this thread.Report

          • Roger3 in reply to stillwater says:

            That Saez report was the worst thing to happen to libertarianism in 70 years.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to stillwater says:

            Unfortunately, unless we somehow warp Capitalism itself, this trend will continue. I have said before elsewhere the trend resembles the formation of the stars and planets: more massive objects tend to capture the smaller ones until the neighborhood is swept clean.

            The trick, it seems to me, is to turn up the amplifier: for the poor to rise from poverty, the rich must of necessity become even richer. During the Clinton era, we saw many people rise from the middle class into moderate wealth and the poor rose proportionally into the lower middle class.

            Under such circumstances, progressive taxation would largely take care of the problems of tending to the public good.

            I contend there exists a parabola with two zeroes. At one zero, statism has eliminated markets entirely. At the other, an unregulated free market has imploded upon itself, as we saw in 2008. As we near the zenith, we see regulated markets producing wealth and the needs of the State supplied with sufficient tax revenues. The Scylla of too much government and the Charybdis of skeevy capitalism can be avoided if Winners and Losers are effectively separated by market regulation. To the extend you favor capitalism, you must also favor effective market regulation.

            The Middle Class was a temporary artifact of the post-WW2 boom: it could not last. If we are to lift the poor from poverty into a new Middle Class, we must hold our nose as the wealthy become even wealthier.Report

            • stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

              I’m curious about is this:

              The Middle Class was a temporary artifact of the post-WW2 boom: it could not last.

              Do you think that certain inexorable forces determine this outcome?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to stillwater says:

                Inexorable? The old joke about Marx says he only told the truth about Capitalism and only lies about Communism. Marx didn’t foresee the rise of the trade union or really understand what Bismarck was up to, placating his inchoate revolutionaries.

                At the end of the Black Death, Barbara Tuchman observes the surviving peasants made great economic gains, renegotiating their role in the feudal world.

                I’d argue the same happened in China as the entrepreneur class emerged from hiding during the era of Deng Xiaoping. Those with the foresight and connections shot up like mushrooms on horse turds.

                But it doesn’t last, this Middle Class phenomenon. Any economic advantages the Middle Classers might have are temporary: they either go up into moderate wealth or down into genteel poverty. Their parents might have been rapacious enough to extract some wealth from their advantages, but their kids, who grew up in relative comfort seek other goals.Report

              • stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I didn’t mean that question to be snarky (if you interpreted it that way). I really wanted to know what you thought. From your answer, it sounds like cultural factors within the middle class cause its (own) demise. Is that right?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to stillwater says:

                It never occurred to me there was any snark at all. Yes, I believe the Middle Class collapses upon itself. Once they get used to that regular 40 hour paycheck and that five day week and that two weeks of vacation, they get fat ‘n lazy and the entrepreneurs start moving their jobs elsewhere.Report

              • stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Even if this were true (that middle class workers are withholding their productivity) it seems to be only a small part of the equation. Consider this: suppose that in a particular sector of the economy, US labor is just as productive per hour as their Chinese counterparts, but cost 10x more. Even on this supposition (insofar as their is no cost on outsourcing/repatriating the good or service) outsourcing makes sense.

                My contention would be that institutional factors (like flexibility of capital to relocate, flexibility in the labor market due to immigration, low cost of entry into cheaper labor markets, the institutional goal of maximizing return on investment, etc), play a bigger role than productivity (or the lack of it) in driving down labor rates and reversing the gains of the middle class.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                There was a day when the Middle Class was also the Working Class. That’s all over and done with, in modern times. Look, back in the days of slavery, empires were built with the sweat of slaves. Come the Industrial Revolution, those slaves ran the machines. Now that the slave is building the machines and puttin’ those little twist-ties on the cables on the ten dollar keyboards from Hong Ri Electronics, nobody pays you to work. They only pay you to think.Report

              • stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

                There’s a constancy in progress towards more efficiency and higher profit-margins and getting more shit done that can’t be legislated away. It’s endemic, for good or bad. Since laborers are on the serving, rather than receiving, side of those things, they’re always playing a losing game of catch-me-if-you-can. Pretty soon they won’t even pay for people to think.Report

          • Simon K in reply to stillwater says:

            How is an increase in the relative share of income of the top 5% (actually its more like 0.5% if you break it down further) equivalent to a reduction in the size of the middle class? I can’t see any definition of “middle class” that would make that make sense, so you’re going to have to explain it to me. Slowly.

            As far as I can see, what Pickety and Saez says, (massively oversimplified) is that we started off with 10 people and 10 ponies. The distribution of ponies was slighly uneven, so people 1 and 2 have no ponies, and people 9 and 10 each had 2 ponies. Over the years of the study, 5 more ponies showed up, but people 9 and 10 each got 2 of them, and person 8 got 1. In what way has the “middle class” shrunk here? Or gotten worse off?

            Yes, the distribution of income has become more uneven. Precisely what this really means is remarkably difficult to figure our. At least for me.Report

            • Roger3 in reply to Simon K says:

              I think it’s because you’re missing a part of the equation. Let me rephrase your example a little bit:
              The distribution of ponies was slighly uneven, so people 1 and 2 have no ponies, and people 9 and 10 each had 2 ponies. Over the years of the study, 5 more ponies showed up, but people 9 and 10 used their ponies to ensure that they each got 2 of them, and person 8 managed to acquire 1. In what way has the “middle class” shrunk here? Or gotten worse off?

              Specifically, everyone from 1-7 has lost the ability to acquire new ponies.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to Roger3 says:

                Persons 9 and 10 had 2 ponies, so they made more ponies.

                Persons 1-3 ate their ponies, and if you give them more, they’ll eat them too.

                What to do about persons 4-8 has been the mystery of the ages.Report

              • Roger3 in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Persons 9 and 10 had 2 ponies, so they were able to make more ponies.

                Now having a surplus of ponies, and a duopsony, they are able to charge extortionate prices to 1-8 for use of their ponies.

                Person 3 ate his pony, and if you give him another, he’ll eat that one too. Because circumstances dictated that he had nothing else to eat. Present concerns outweighed future benefits. Persons 1 & 2 never had ponies to start with. They’ll also eat any ponies you give to them because none of the three have a pony to do work and the charges imposed upon them by 8-10 for use of their surplus ensure that they’ll never save up enough to do so.

                What to do about persons 4-7 has been the mystery of the ages.

                1-7 should band together and ensure that 8-10 get very little use out of their ponies until such time as 1-7 also get the opportunity to make more ponies because 8-10 have demonstrably benefited from the way the economy is set up to a much larger extent than the others.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Roger3 says:

                Ponies are theft.Report

              • Simon K in reply to Roger3 says:

                You’ve gone past the point where my analogy breaks down, unfortunately. We’re really talking about income here, not wealth – the same person’s income will vary from year to year and need not be correlated from one year to the next. To translate back from the analogy “people 9 and 10 used their income to acquire more income” so “persons 1-7 lost their ability to acquire more income”. How does that work exactly? How does one use income to divert income from other people? The best I can come up with is that you use the income to buy wealth in the form of capital and capital somehow has relative market power over other resources which you use to get more income.

                But this takes us back to the question I was discussing with EC Gach – does capital have relatively more market power than labor? The Pickety & Saez study doesn’t directly speak to this. You can infer from it that it does, on the grounds that people with high incomes are more likely to have income from capital, but I’m not sure I buy this.Report

              • 62across in reply to Simon K says:

                “How does that work exactly? How does one use income to divert income from other people?”

                Well, you use that income to buy influence, of course. With that influence, you are allowed to rewrite the rules, so that future income is made easier and carries less risk.

                I don’t know see how you can discuss income inequality and overlook discussion of regulatory capture. Increasing income equality leads to oligarchy. Then equal protection under the law becomes a farce. Under one set of rules, if you use a hand-gun to take $100 from a liquor store and you go to jail. Under the other set of rules, you can use insider deals and some connections to take $100 MM from the US taxpayer and go scot free.

                This is what makes the “all that matters is if the poor have enough” argument so specious to me. The poor can’t have enough until they can afford to buy the same legal protections the fatcats get.Report

            • stillwater in reply to Simon K says:

              How is an increase in the relative share of income of the top 5% (actually its more like 0.5% if you break it down further) equivalent to a reduction in the size of the middle class?

              I get where you’re coming from going here, and don’t disagree that the way you’re evaluating things is useful. You’ve stipulated a metric of (say) purchasing power of the middle class (a constant value) over time, and claim that it hasn’t diminished (or that it’s in fact increased). But that’s only one metric. What the Pickety – Saez study shows is that percentage of total income received by the lower 90% of the population has shrunk since 1980. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re worse off (although it most certainly doesn’t entail that their better off, either). It means that the middle class accounts for proportionately less of the total income than they did in 1980.

              Two metrics, both informative. But the metric based on percent gain in income reveals something about income inequality in a way that non-relative measures of spending power for a determinate class doesn’t.Report

              • Simon K in reply to stillwater says:

                I agree with that. What I’m not sure about is whether it matters or not. One or the other of Pickety and Saez has recently written a book arguing that inequality in and of itself – separate from poverty – has negative impacts. I’ve not formed an educated opinion about this yet – on its face it would seem very hard to separate it from other factors, given the small sample size.Report

              • stillwater in reply to Simon K says:

                Upthread, you said that the Pickety and Saez paper doesn’t address wealth, only income, and that’s an important distinction, one which I think goes a ways to answering your worry about why income inequality matters. Currently, the bottom 50% of US income earners account for a total of about 1% of US wealth. Make of that what you will, but increased income inequality certainly won’t rectify, and more than likely will only exacerbate, long term wealth imbalances.Report

              • The question is not whether the rich have too much, only that the poor have enough.

                “Income inequality” is a meme until shown otherwise. We need some who can afford not to eat their ponies so we can make more ponies.Report

              • stillwater in reply to tom van dyke says:

                That may be right, but horse eating is still frowned upon, by most of the classes anyway. Surely we have some obligation to change this behavior rather than deny them their snacks, no?Report

              • > “Income inequality” is a meme until
                > shown otherwise.

                Okay, fair enough. So what’s your standard of falsification on this one, Tom? It’s certainly the case that we can throw a bunch of economists on the wall and some will stick inside the “income inequality is good” and some will stick inside the “income inequality is bad” and yet some others will stick inside the “income inequality is neither” circles.

                What would make you accept this particular meme?Report

              • I’m not biting on “income inequality,” Pat.

                Those who want to make it an issue of concern have the burden of proof

                a) that it’s harmful
                b) that their proposed remedy won’t do more harm than good

                I remain open to their arguments, but I’m not setting foot in them at this point. They have the burden of proof.Report

              • I’ll accept the burden of proof, Tom, but you’ve got to tell me what it is that you’ll regard as sufficient evidence to make a case. Obviously I can’t give you axiomatic proof arguing from some root principle.

                The only thing I can do is give you evidence. If you’re predisposed not to accept it, you can find all kinds of reasons to reject each piece as it comes down the pike… “Not enough, not enough… not enough…”

                Tell me where the goalposts are, and I’ll try to kick a ball through it. What sort of evidence will you accept? Do you require historical validation? Trend analysis? What?Report

              • If you’re going to driveby with, “I believe this thing NOT, so you can’t even postulate that it exists!”… and then not tell me how to convince you, I can just turn that around, e.g. ->

                “‘Income inequality is good’ is a meme until shown otherwise.”

                I’m perfectly willing to accept that I have to convince you that it’s bad. You have to tell me how to convince you so that we can then get started on that part of the exercise.Report

              • You accept the burden of proof in making an affirmative case, Pat. That’s good.

                Make whatever case you want; that’s the beauty of accepting the burden of proof and making an affirmative argument. Previously stated: provisos a) and b). I already said I was open to your arguments. The issue is not of concern [or legitimacy] to me until you make it so, and therefore, I’m not interested in debating the con side of a non-issue.

                It’s incumbent upon you to make me care–more precisely, the other readers, I meself don’t figure into the equation–how much money Donald Trump has, and sanguine in your cure for the “problem.”Report

              • stillwater in reply to tom van dyke says:

                I’m not biting on “income inequality,” Pat.

                Those who want to make it an issue of concern have the burden of proof

                Isn’t the burden of proof met when you admit that some people are so poor that they eat their own horses?Report

              • Yes, Mr. Stillwater, pity we can’t get food stamps to breed like ponies.Report

              • E.C. Gach in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Income inequality degrades civic society, social cohesion, cooperation, and so on. That is the general argument from expediency, i.e. society would function better (more prosperity) with less income equality (though not necessarily none).

                On other grounds, income inequality could be very severe, in which case some not having enough money to make money (i.e. own clothes or have a place to bath in order to obtain/hold down a job). Severe income inequality degrades individual life, depriving it of dignity, among other things. That is a more principled argument, that assumes certain social obligations to fellow humanity, especially fellow patriots/citizens.

                Of those two general threads of thought, which do you find least offensive, and within that thread of thought, what premise do you not allow, or conclusion do you disagree with?Report

              • Thank you, Mr. Gach. I stipulated your second argument: that the poor have enough.

                As to your first, it’s of course pure assertion. I get along with Donald Trump just fine. [And, non-glibly, several of my friends and family are multimillionaires. No lack of cohesion, etc.]

                But I really want to beg off being a party to this. I will read with an open mind, promise, and will pipe up if moved to do so.Report

              • E.C. Gach in reply to tom van dyke says:

                The problem is perhaps less with you and millionaires then it is with those below the poverty line. And of course, real income inequality comes from unemployment. Those making very little, at least in American society, look up to the wealthy as an admiral aspiration.

                But those unemployed (that is, income = 0) are usually pretty riled.

                And I feel no form of identity of association with those making over a million.

                So I guess we are an anecdotal parting of ways.Report

              • stillwater in reply to tom van dyke says:

                But I really want to beg off being a party to this. I will read with an open mind, promise, and will pipe up if moved to do so.

                Will it be so open as to consider the sociopathology expressed by your casual and overtly privileged disregard for the poor?Report

              • Since I’m assuming Tom has dropped out of this for the moment, I’d like to take up the banner here.

                The problem is perhaps less with you and millionaires then it is with those below the poverty line.

                If this is the case, then we aren’t talking about income inequality being a worrisome problem per se; we are talking about poverty being a worrisome problem. This no one denies here.

                That we are really talking about poverty here is reinforced by the comment following this, wherein Tom’s apathy towards inequality is accused of being “casual and overtly privileged disregard for the poor.”

                But, as Tom has said, we’ve stipulated that poverty is a problem.

                So concern about inequality per se comes across as being little more than a tribal marker.

                If it could be shown that inequality causes greater poverty, then it might be a source of interest. Ditto if it could be show that inequality in the absence of poverty would tend to cause a significant breakdown of society. Etc., etc.Report

              • stillwater in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Well, perhaps to re-clarify, the initial comments that engendered Tom’s pretty casual response were not about income inequality, but increasing income inequality, a misunderstanding that evinces, perhaps, a rather different sort of tribal affiliation.Report

              • E.C. Gach in reply to tom van dyke says:

                What if I were to posit the following:

                Increasing income inequality leads to a decrease in market competition (more concentrated capital), leading to less optimal economic outcomes for all.

                And do we agree that increasing income equality usually though not necessarily brings about increasing wealth disparity?Report

              • stillwater in reply to tom van dyke says:

                If it could be shown that inequality causes greater poverty, then it might be a source of interest

                There is no reason to suppose that income inequality in and of itself causes or even contributes to poverty: just imagine a society in which rich people make more than poor people but there aren’t any at or below the poverty line!

                Increasing income inequality, on the other hand, leads to greater centralization of wealth, which in turn makes it more difficult for relatively poorer people to enter into the investment/asset purchasing game. A closed economic system in which the upper 5% received 63% of the total income gain year over year would result in wealth stratification that ought to make everyone nervous.Report

              • Heidegger in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Mr. Stillwaters Run Deep, writes to Tom:
                “Will it be so open as to consider the sociopathology expressed by your casual and overtly privileged disregard for the poor?
                I just knew it—Mr. van Dyke is a closet robber baron with thirty million dollar mansions on both coasts! The outrage, the outrage. What’s next? a neon sign that says, “Arbeit macht Frei” for the lowly peasants toiling in the van Dyke fields, picking fruit for 16 hours a day?. Have you no mercy at all? Does your obscenely aristocratic background make it impossible for you to feel even the slightest empathy for your fellow humans?Report

              • Mr. H, ad homs are a retreat from the marketplace of ideas, an admission of defeat.

                I am getting better at seeing these trains coming and getting off the tracks, though. Why it took me until my dotage is one of the ironies of life.

                [This is not to say some good faith arguments have not been made, which I appreciate.]Report

              • Heidegger in reply to tom van dyke says:

                C’mon Tom–“I just knew it—Mr. van Dyke is a closet robber baron with thirty million dollar mansions on both coasts! The outrage, the outrage.” You could not possibly have read that and not known I was just kidding around—that remark had immediately followed the one from Stillwater which was directed at you: “Will it be so open as to consider the sociopathology expressed by your casual and overtly privileged disregard for the poor?” Ad homs? Not from me. And please Tom, don’t get all serious on me now–I think my number of friends on this site is getting quite close to zero. What do I mean, “close to”–it’s there! It was not at all an admission of retreat or defeat and there were no ad hominems directed at anyone. Sometimes all this ponderous, pretentious, claptrap crosses the threshold, and becomes much more than any human being should have to endure. In the future, I promise to spare you any further notes from the Underground. Painful as it is to say, I haven’t left my mother’s basement in 14 years. I’ve also survived on nothing but Kentucky Fried Chicken. And am fervently hoping and praying the Hale-Bopp Heaven’s Gate Crew will swing by and pick me up–STOP THE WORLD I WANT TO GET OFF!!!Report

              • Mr. H, I read you “charitably.” I got it. Hostile environments–this blog is not yet a hostile environment, although it’s flirting with it lately–make one properly paranoid, I know.

                Better to bear the slings and arrows with equanimity, just in case they’re not plotting against you.

                (And it’s capital “V,” as previously noted. Careful reading is always in order, just in case somebody’s saying something you haven’t heard before. [Although admittedly, most do not.] So far, JasonK has proven capable of surprising me, and I have read him unfairly and uncharitably in the past, which I regret.

                That the estimable Dr. DeLong has done so too says more about Jason himself. And unlike J. Bradford, I believe my responses to Jason have never been uncharitable.

                [There has been a huge confusion in the comments on this blog about reading charitably and responding charitably. Two entirely different things, and senses/contexts of “charitably.” But at some point, it’s just not worth the trouble of clearing things up, doing the unnecessary for the ungrateful, as it were, y’know?]Report

              • Heidegger in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Tom–forgive me, I don’t mean to teach you how to spell your own name, but in Dutch, van is ALWAYS, without exception, spelled with a lower case “v”, as in van Dyke, or van Beethoven. The German preposition is also always spelled with a lower case, “v” as in “von Hindenburg. In both cases, the preposition means to be “son of” and in the German sense, it usually referred to nobility. As always Mr. Van Dyke, there are exceptions to the rules and if you want me to spell your name Thomas Van Dyke, consider it done. There was, after all, a Dick Van Dyke. Any relation?Report

              • stillwater in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Well, H and Tom, I think you’ve pretty convincingly proven my point. Jokes about the poor are one thing; jokes about being falsely accused of lack of sympathy when that lack is openly embraced is another. Do you regularly meet like this to back-slap fellow comrades in amusement over trivial trifles like the impoverished, or is merely an accidental meeting like minds?Report

              • Mr. H.—My great-great-great-great grandfather William Dyke [d. 1809] is buried in the ring to the right in this picture, alongside his son Edward. Salvage, Newfoundland.


                My great-grandfather was Thomas Edward, my father is Thomas William. His father was named Reuben, after his grandfather. I’m Thomas William Jr.

                The Dykes of Newfoundland are very economical with their Christian names, eh? I added “Van” as a mnemonic device back in my rocker days and kept it.

                I know who I am, I think, my father’s son and his fathers’ son. Son of a son of a sailor, and many other sailors to. That was Newfoundland. And I’m Tom Van Dyke, too.

                I’m also my mother’s son. The O’Neills, the Swifts, Counties Mayo & Waterford. But that’s another story.

                Thx for asking. I didn’t always know all this. Just saw my GGGGGrandfather’s grave a year or two ago. Spinal Tap visiting Elvis’ grave:

                Nigel: It really puts perspective on things, though, doesn’t it?

                David: Too much! There’s too much fucking perspective now.Report

              • Mr. Stillwater, my original reply was “The question is not whether the rich have too much, only that the poor have enough.”

                Until you engage that counterargument, kindly get out of my face.Report

              • stillwater in reply to stillwater says:

                Tom, at the risk of offending your delicate sensibilities, I have to mention that what you offered in the (re-posted) original comment wasn’t a counter-argument at all, but rather an assertion. The semantics of those words ought to be clear to you, as a man of letters and all, but I feel compelled to repeat this even as it might seem impertinent.

                Furthermore, I cannot ‘engage’ you’re ‘counterargument’ until certain loose and – sloppy, really – vaguenesses are clarified. For example, the quantitative terms ‘enough’ isn’t precisely defined, and so precipitously inclines one to attribute to you a meaning which you did not intend. Additionally, the term ‘have’ is ambiguous, admitting various readings including ownership or alternatively the mere possession of, which includes handouts from state welfare programs, objects acquired by theft, or perhaps as a result of fortuitous kindness, most likely from a stranger (could it have been you, Tom)

                Until these issues are addressed, I cannot ‘engage’ your ‘counterargument’.Report

              • stillwater in reply to stillwater says:

                Oops, wrong thread.

                Look, Tom, I apologize for the snarky sarcasm in some of my comments, but if you can’t even comprehend the discussion in a thread before commenting, I don’t know how I’m supposed to take you seriously. The discussion you responded to was centered around two things: how increasing income inequality relates (or doesn’t) to the middle class. Your response to that discussion was to assert that income inequality doesn’t matter (irrelevant to the thread), and that the real issue is whether the poor have ‘enough’ (also irrelevant to the thread). That relation, or lack of one might be an interesting topic of discussion, and it is tangentially related to the main topic of that part of the thread, but it doesn’t constitute a ‘counterargument’ to the view that increasing income inequality leads to a shrinking middle class.Report

              • I’m always willing to clean the slate, Mr. Stillwater.

                This has not been the first time of heard “income inequality” buzzed about. Mine was not a counterargument, merely a solicitation for an affirmative argument, a) that it’s a problem and b) that any proposed rectifications would do less harm than good. I yield the floor.Report

  18. Loneoak says:

    Since public sector unions are in the news so much right now, and are by far the largest bloc of unionized workers left in the US, I’m surprised we didn’t more discussion about them.

    I think there are two excellent examples of how we might rethink unions, and in these cases it is not just about employer-employee relations in a strictly economic sense, but also about public service and demanding responsible governance. First, the public worker strikes in Wisconsin today are pretty darn remarkable—these are not numbers you would typically see at any protest in the US, let alone a labor strike. Some good reporting indicates that Gov. Scott Walker is using a falsely generated sense of crisis to smash collective bargaining rights (I would say a human right of self-organization and assembly) and reward his political benefactors with spectacularly wasteful spending. With the right kind of pressure, these public sector union members will be able to both affirm their rights AND get more transparent and less wasteful government.

    The second example I am much more familiar with on a personal level. At the University of California we are terribly mismanaged by an appointed and unaccountable Board of Regents. We receive round after round of brutal cuts at the same time we have had a 400% increase in tuition in 8 years. Meanwhile the Regents give members of the administration absurd bonuses. Why is all this happening? Well, the state has withdrawn a lot of support from the UC over time, but noting to justify this. According to this perspective (pdf warning), the Regents have pledged perpetual tuition increases and budget cuts to Wall St in order to maintain the highest bond rating. In other words, their Wall St. buddies get out tuition, our workers get screwed, and CA’s crown jewel gets torn apart. Meanwhile, there is literally no way to recall the Regents or get any other kind of accountability. The graduate students union (affiliated with the UAW) has been at the forefront of organizing some rather large responses to this, although we have a big uphill battle. Again, in this case, anybody who cares about transparent governance should support the disruptive actions of the unions.

    It has nothing to do with tariffs or drug tests.Report

    • Roger3 in reply to Loneoak says:

      Did you hear the Governor’s ‘argument’ as to why the unions needed to lose their bargaining power? It was risible:

      Paraphrase: “Wisconsin doesn’t have anything to bargain with or about: we have no money for improved pay or retirement, therefore the unions shouldn’t have any bargaining power related to pay or retirement.”

      It can, of course be utterly demolished simply by supplying the supressed premisses:
      “Wisconsin doesn’t have anything to bargain with or about right now: we currently have no money for improved pay or retirement, therefore the unions shouldn’t have any bargaining power related to pay or retirement ever.”

      What an ass.Report

  19. trixie larue says:

    The anti-labor movement has been going on since we started sending jobs overseas. Now, that supposedly happened because we had to pay american workers too much because of unions. Planned obsolescence is actually the cause – why the auto companies could/would not change design; there was something to be gained by the owners to have jobs cut.

    As for ordinary working stiffs, my brother is a plumber in an area that has been hit really hard – it never really recovered from the recession in the 70’s. He does not sound good to me – I don’t know how he does it. It’s the same for everyone I know there. Nobody was ever making a killing; they made a living.

    It’s time to protect workers and raise taxes as much as necessary to get the US back on track – feed, educate, provide health care to anyone who needs it. The rich will never stop being rich, ever – look at Donald Trump.Report

  20. Binky the Bear says:

    So Feudalism it is!Report

  21. The Raven says:

    “Does a revived labor movement require protectionist policies, increasing tariffs, etc.?”

    It is perhaps worth pointing out that Marxism, and one faction of the labor movement, has been internationalist for over a century. Internationalist socialism as a major political force, however, foundered. First, on the rock of nationalism during the first world war–at that time national identity trumped class consciousness–, and, second, was then hijacked by the victorious Bolsheviks and Stalin’s USSR. Stalinism ended, as a mainstream movement, international labor. It did not, however, end the issues of international labor. Perhaps it is time to dust off some of the old thinking in this area and see how it stands up.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to The Raven says:

      Yeah, what’s the worst that could happen?Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to The Raven says:

      Raven – I think you’re on to something. There’s no reason at all that internationalism ought to be limited to global capitalism, or that unionism ought to be limited to nationalist movements. And yes, Stalinism did set back internationalist socialism a few decades. What bothers me about pointing to the USSR to prove that socialism can’t work is that I find it much more likely that in fact it is Russia that can’t work. When has Russia ever really worked?Report

      • tom van dyke in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Oh, please. The League of Ordinary Marxists. As if the world needs yet another one.

        “Perhaps it is time to dust off some of the old thinking in this area and see how it stands up.”Report

      • Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        And yes, Stalinism did set back internationalist socialism a few decades.

        What an interesting way to look at it.

        I see that he advanced it more than any other person in history and the USSR from 1953 on was merely skating on his momentum.Report

        • E.D. Kain in reply to Jaybird says:

          Yes, that’s conventional wisdom. But Russia is a unique duck. Everything it does turns to ash and death. Why not look at other more successful attempts at socialism? Why is Stalinism always held up as the bogeyman? Honestly, why?Report

          • Simon K in reply to E.D. Kain says:

            Where was socialism successful?Report

          • Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain says:

            Really? I thought that the conventional wisdom that what Stalin did was evil and had nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with Marx’s theories and, as a matter of fact, it’s downright slanderous to imply that his theories and Marx’s had any overlap beyond Stalin’s misappropriation of Marxist terminology.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

              Let’s see how much you actually know about Marx’s theories and how they played out in the USSR.

              Expand, if you can, on the role of Kerensky, Trotsky and Lenin.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Yeah, yeah.

                Explain the difference between Lamarck, Malthus, and Darwin before you’re allowed to talk about Intelligent Design.

                Yeah, yeah.

                You want me to write you an essay based on stuff that I remember from college along with the primary sources linked on wikipedia? I can, if you want. Most of us can.

                I thought we were discussing the nature of the “conventional wisdom” rather than throwing essays together.

                But, sure. What do you want? 500 words? 1000 words? Are you looking for the conclusion that these guys had nothing to do with Marx apart from misreading what he said or that they were deliberately trying to hasten the things that he said would be inevitable?

                I want to get a good grade, you see.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well, I’m afraid I’m going to have to get out the Big Red Marker and get to work. I’ll start here: I see that [Stalin] advanced [Socialism] more than any other person in history and the USSR from 1953 on was merely skating on his momentum..

                If this is the summa of your argument, the Big Red Marker is applied to the margin and the following words emerge: “Wrong. I don’t think you read the chapter on the Russian Revolution.”Report

              • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Oh, but teacher! Please keep in mind that my take was not in response to a request for an essay but a counterpoint to the argument that “Stalinism did set back internationalist socialism a few decades”.

                The context of the statement you read was in the context of that argument from yesterday rather than from the context of the essay you asked me to write today.

                I mean, if we’re bitching about how one thing leads to another, that might be a point worth addressing as well.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                Don’t make me summon the Swedish Bikini Team to vigorously suppress you with lutefisk and akavit, Jaybird. Before all is said and done, you will be singing “Beasts of England” at the top of your lungs.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Ugh. The very idea of having to hold an extended conversation with them has my bile rising already.

                I’ll get started on the essay.

                “Since the beginning of time, man has yearned to kill his fellow man in the name of higher causes. Many philosophies and religions were attempted to do these things but, sadly, the vast majority of these were only good at killing foreigners and people who qualified as “the other”. It was not until the 19th Century that, finally, a philosophy capable of killing one’s own countrymen was finally achieved.”Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                Nonsense. When it come to killing one’s countrymen, nothing can compare to the 30 Years War. We’re pretty sure a third of Europe died in it, of one cause and another, and for at least a dozen reasons, religious, political and mercenary among others.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Hey, the 30 Years War was a case of “us” and “them” fighting.

                Seriously, if you have Germany involved in naval stuff, there pretty much *HAS* to be an “other” involved.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                More history and less regurgitation of trite catchphrases for you. The longer I look at the 30 Years War, the more it resembles a complete anarchic breakdown. Unpaid regiments became troops of looters and would descend on a towns like locusts, often with their families in tow, murdering and pillaging and moving on. There was no Us and Them, other than whatever temporary allegiance could be rented. Europe looked then like Somalia does today.

                The Peace of Westphalia was the first international treaty ever signed in Europe, and that mostly so the larger powers could put down the looter battalions.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Please. The An Shi Rebellion makes the 30 Years War look like Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yes, and I suppose the Mongol decimations were damned near as horrible. On the strength of the An Shi Rebellion, we can at last strike this ridiculous sentence from your initial paragraph: It was not until the 19th Century that, finally, a philosophy capable of killing one’s own countrymen was finally achieved.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yeah, I sort of noticed that at the time.

                I then thought about arguing about how China wasn’t particularly monocultural in 755 but, hey.

                It’s China, right? They’re practically Sweden.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Golly, here’s an interesting paragraph…


                In addition to being politically and economically detrimental, the rebellion also damaged the intellectual culture of the Tang Dynasty. Many intellectuals had their careers interrupted, giving them time to ponder the causes of the unrest. They lost faith in themselves, concluding that a lack of moral seriousness in intellectual culture had been the cause of the rebellion.Report

          • Heidegger in reply to E.D. Kain says:

            Stalinism is not a Marxist bogeyman–Stalinism is the very heart, soul and inevitable outcome of anyone who tries to implement it. And, with regard to Uncle Joe, there is just no other, better representation of what happens when Marxism is allowed to “flourish” on its own. It’s fate is sealed and delivered. It has never, ever succeeded in any country or government, but has, on an enormous scale, produced bottomless misery, death, destruction, and, worst of all–a total rape and murder of the human spirit. While I don’t know the exact numbers where capitalism and free markets systems have succeeded, I know precisely, the number of Communist states that have succeeded. Zero.

            “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel or envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery” . Winston ChurchillReport

        • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

          I certainly agree that he advanced his version of it more than any other single person advanced socialism of any kind in history. And there is only one history that actually happened, so he played the lead role in shaping the lion’s share of all the socialism that has actually existed. But E.D. is right that Stalin did not shape all of the socialism that has existed, nor that his example has to shape all the socialism that could yet exist. I don;t think it can be denied that socialism has taken forms that do not look like Stalin’s version of it. That’s not to say that Stalin did not hang a burden on the doctrine he adhered to that it must legitimately carry to this day. But it doesn’t follow that his crimes are fully owned by socialism as much as by him, and this that any socialism anywhere must be presumed to be Stalinist. That is simply disproved on a daily basis by forms of socialism that exist that do not have Stalinist features in the world today.

          I fully expect and accept that people will continue to say that socialism has proven that it can lead to results like what happened in Stalin’s Russia, but it beggars seriousness to say that socialism must lead there, or to deny the place that Russian political and social culture (not to mention Joseph Stalin’s individual defects) had in bringing about what happened in Russia in the 20th century. Or of in Chinese culture and individuals in China or likewise in Korea, etc. It’s a complex stew of conditions and events that lead to political results, not a one-to-one correspondence between philosophy and outcome.Report

      • The Raven in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        It’s a good point. By and large, BTW, the “USSR proves socialism can’t work” argument is, so far as I can tell, mostly heard in the USA. In Western Europe there are enough successes of socialism that socialism is still regarded as a plausible view of society. We are also in a crisis of capitalism and it is possible that a reexamination of socialist though might turn up some solutions.Report

  22. tom van dyke says:

    My quick reply to your very good question, EDK, is that is the inevitable fate of collectivism is Stalinism [or Leninism or Maoism or Pol Potism or Castroism or HugoChavezism or EvoMoralesism] is always the same.

    The answer lies in human nature. Tyranny and murder are man’s norm. The system, the justification, is secondary. The modern conceit is that it can create a better system, and its worst conceit is that it can create a better man to vitiate it.

    This is not just folly, it is tragedy.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to tom van dyke says:

      Is modern Sweden a collective? I ask honestly.Report

      • E.D. Kain in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Apparently modern Sweden (and the rest of Europe) is a collectivist hell-hole. They have Gulags too.Report

        • Simon K in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          Yes, but in the Swedish gulag you get a TV and conjugal visits …Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to Simon K says:

            From six-foot-tall blonde women.Report

          • Heidegger in reply to Simon K says:

            Oh my God, Simon K and EDK, that’s so damn funny!!!

            Just the thought of a Swedish Gulag, a TV and conjugal visits…..I’ll be laughing all day–thanks!

            Perhaps, maybe they’d even be welcome some of our Gitmo tourists? Worth a try. The torture inflicted on them by our SS has caused them, on average, to gain about 25lbs. Is that acceptable? I hope not. Just a blatant violation of Geneva Rights. It’s also resulted in the heartless withdrawal of mints placed on top of pillows of Gitmo inmates who have been behaving well. We’re so evil.Report

        • tom van dyke in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          Mr. Kain, the question is whether the modern Eurostate is sustainable. They have only been at it a little over half a century, and indeed Europe seems to have got wise that they’re hitting the wall just as we elected a government determined to follow their path.

          Of Sweden, that blonde, socialistic utopia, there are certain geographical and demographic advantages—and a small scale—that may forbid its use as a model most anywhere else.Report

          • Michael Drew in reply to tom van dyke says:

            “Of Sweden… there are certain geographical and demographic advantages—and a small scale—that may forbid its use as a model most anywhere else.”

            This is a most blatant attempt to bait-and-switch, tom. It is not us who are necessarily arguing that Sweden may be a sustainable model of socialism that co; it is you who explicitly claimed that “the inevitable fate of collectivism is Stalinism [or…]” (with the dot dot dot being a series of increasingly dissimilar isms that tend to dissipate your argument in any case). *Inevitable*, you said. (Inevitably *what* is not so clear, since it is either a or b or c or d.)

            That raises the question of just what is “collectivism,” and where does it exist or has it existed? Before we can even examine your dependent claim (which you now say is the question of sustainability, though how we were to glean that criterion from your parade of isms is not clear to me), we have to understand how you define and what you include in the category in question in the first place. Or, at least, that is the only condition under which we could reliably test your claim from a logical perspective, being that it includes an assertion of inevitability, which means we have to verify that there is not even one qualifying exception to its truth.

            That’sthe context in which I asked whether Sweden is a collective, tom. Not to claim that it’s clearly a model of sustainable socialism, but to (honestly, as I said) ask (via offering a border case): how do you define the collectivism, and what are the specific instances of it in the world to which you mean your claim to apply? It wouldn’t actually be all that difficult to be rigorously specific about this if one wanted to, actually (not that I expect that from you): after all, there is only a finite number of countries that have existed in the world since collectivism arose.

            My raising Sweden was simply a means of moving toward some definition and specification of the parameters of your claim.Report

    • Here’s a case where Tom and I agree partially. Allow me to edit for brevity:

      > …The inevitable fate of [complete] collectivism
      > is [totalitarianism].

      I actually agree with this statement, again given population size. Sweden might not succumb, but if the entire EU was, I suspect it’d be screwed in short shrift.

      > The answer lies in human nature. Tyranny and
      > murder are man’s norm.

      This is the part I disagree with; I don’t think tyranny and murder are “man’s” norm. I think that (given a steady state social structure) for the most part, people are in practice decent chaps. To be truly evil or truly good requires enormous energy, and most folk have other stuff to do. You’ve got outliers on both ends (the saints and the monsters), but the majority of any group of people will toddle along being productive and decent members of society, even if by nature they’re inclined to be asshats (or they’re crazy, see the crazy thread earlier).

      The problem, inasmuch as there is one, is the problem of aggregated power. The monsters seek out power much more actively than the saints do. If you aggregate a sufficient amount of power, the monsters gravitate to it. Once the monster gets some, he uses it to leverage more. Collectivism is inherently susceptible to aggregated power misuse because once you put all of the goods in a pile, somebody needs to dole out the pile.

      Even if most of the people are decent chaps, they’ve got work to do. So they put their goods in the pile, and head off to work, trusting that the pile doler will do his or her job equitably. Once the monster gets into the role of the pile doler, this trust mechanism is violated. And once the trust mechanism is violated, it’s very easy to aggregate power, because the very nature of collectivism distributes it so widely. It’s much easier to gain power when all the agents in a system are singletons than it is when you’re fighting distributed coalitions.

      Collectivism destroys distributed coalitions in favor of the single coalition.Report

  23. Jaybird says:

    To run with the idea that the Chinese Intellectuals had following the big rebellion, I’ve been thinking about the whole equality thing and how best to establish it within a culture for the last week or so.

    I think that the intellectual left’s abandonment of Christianity (or a Theistic Spirituality) is the worst thing they possibly could have done. While it’d be easy to blame this on Marx and his observation that something something opiate something, I think that such was one of those inevitable things that happens from time to time. The whole “Death of God” thing that whatshisname foresaw in the 1880’s is part and parcel. (Perhaps the best word might be “enlightenment”.)

    Anyway, with the abandonment of a fairly strong Theism, there seems to me to be a lot less firm ground for the arguments that result in equality for all and a lot more firm ground for the arguments we saw taking place in much of the 20th Century among the groups most identified with “enlightenment”.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

      That tiresome old carol has been trolled far too often. Religion has been used to justify hierarchy for many centuries. If it now cringes and whinges and acts all pitiful, as if butter wouldn’t melt in its mouth, it justified the Divine Right of Kings and the supremacy of the Pope and the institution of chattel slavery, time out of mind.

      You may thank the godless Enlightenment for what passes for the notional equality of man in these times.Report

      • Pat Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP says:

        I don’t think Jaybird is suggesting what you think he is.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Religion has been used to justify hierarchy for many centuries.

        Oh, yes indeed! Absolutely, and totally.

        You may thank the godless Enlightenment for what passes for the notional equality of man in these times.

        By hatchet, axe, and saw?

        In any case, I think I stand by the Intellectual Left’s abandonment of Theism as a bad idea culturally. Not because Catholics are just soooo awesome (see, for example, the 30 Years War) but because of something as simple as comparing upsides to downsides and the worst excesses to the worst excesses.

        (Note: I’m pretty much an atheist/materialist type. I’m not arguing that the abandonment of theism was the incorrect conclusion to come to. It’s just that as someone who, in his weaker moments, suspects a moral fabric to the universe, I wonder if theism wouldn’t have been a better tool with less downsides than the one I pretty much see as the accurate one.)Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

          The Enlightenment had quite a few Deists, which is what I think you’re talking about here.

          Deism, like Lite Beer, is an abomination before the Lord of Hosts and every thinking and drinking man alike. It was always a bit of an intellectual fan dance, mostly intended to placate the Religious Authorities of the day. Well, there’s this God, y’see, but we can’t say very much about the old boy. All men are born with a nose and ten fingers, but no one was born with a knowledge of God, said Voltaire.

          Dispense with all this God Lite business. Either believe or don’t believe. But don’t pretend: Deism is just a polite way of avoiding the argument.Report

          • Pat Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP says:

            That’s rather uncharitable. Most Deists/Agnostics I know operate in this intellectual space: “Whether or not God exists isn’t actually important to this issue, because if God exists he’s probably gone out of his way to make a system where some workable degree of truth can be reached by reason, and if He doesn’t, the only degree of truth that we can reach would be by reason anyway. So rather relying upon arguments from theology, let’s just skip that part and use reason. We should be able to get everyone where we’re supposed to be going and we can all get on board that way.”

            The anti-Theist has a tendency to spend too much time trying to convince the Theist that their axioms are flawed. While this might be a laudable goal in and of itself, it very unnecessarily muddles public policy decisions. Why fight over whether the law is natural or not? Just *move forward* with it, for fishing sake.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

            We live under a new covenant. It’s not an abomination anymore.

            I’ll be interested to see how the intellectual left evolves in the next 50 years (well, I hope I can, of course).Report

          • Simon K in reply to BlaiseP says:

            Its a “god of the gaps” thing. Deism was more intellectually respectable than atheism when there were more things we couldn’t account for. These days Deism differs from atheism only in allowing the creator some role is deciding the irregularities in the microwave background. Or something.Report

        • Pat Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:


          > By hatchet, axe, and saw?


    • Pat Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

      People like natural law arguments, because the idea that your principles are grounded in some ironclad definable thing (or ineffable but at least knowable to *somebody*) gives you a degree of psychological surety you don’t get by working in a probabilistic or relative philosophy.

      So yeah, I get what you’re saying, at least in the sense that abandoning Theism serves to distance you from people who rely on that psychological surety to get going in the morning.

      That doesn’t mean that your arguments are actually *on* firm ground in either case, though. The ground ain’t firm.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        It’s more that I suspect that certain arguments (equality, for example) are possible under theism that are not possible without it.

        In practice, I mean.Report

      • “To him to believes in the Existence and Attributes physical and moral of a God, there can be no obscurity or perplexity in defining the Law of Nature to be his wise benign and all power Will, discovered by Reason. A Man who disbelieves the Being of a God, will have no perplexity in defining Morality or the Law of Nature, natural law, natural Right or any such Things to be mere Maxims of Convenience, to be Swifts pair of Breeches to be put on upon occasion for Decency or Conveniency and to be put off at pleasure for either.”

        — John Adams, Letter to Thomas Boylston Adams, March 19, 1794, quoted in The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations, edited by James H. Hutson (Princeton: 2005), pg. 132.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to tom van dyke says:

          The problem with that, of course, is that God is a pair of pants to be worn or removed at the leisure of the wearer… but, yeah, I suspect that God’s belts and clasps are more difficult to un/fasten at a moment’s notice.Report

  24. liberal says:


    The class war between workers and capitalists? Both left and right have it wrong.

    The true problem is that the biggest redistribution facilitated by government is from everyone to the landowners, who pocket rents in exchange for nothing.

    Given that Ricardo’s theory of rent was discovered centuries ago, and Henry George nailed down the central economic problem afflicting societies a bit more than a century ago, it’s funny that people still go on and on about this topic.Report