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The Steelworkers & Me

The Steelworkers & Me

Steve Pitelli and Mark Kruger have inspired me to relate one of my own experiences with protests. The campaign I describe below represents the series of protests in which I participated most actively.

The cause

In 1997, the steelworkers in Community went on strike. In 1999, the dispute was still on. Representatives from the steelworkers union visited the University of Cibola at Flagship City, where I was an MA student in history. At the urging of a fellow grad student who was also a labor organizer, I attended the union reps’ meeting.

The steelworkers explained their grievances. The company was trying to break the union. Its safety record was abysmal. One worker died on the job because a supervisor refused to allow him to take his heart medicine. As far as I know, that story was true. And according to one account, also supplied by the union, the company had a much higher than average accident rate.

The steel company weathered the strike in part because a consortium of banks extended it credit. The leader of that consortium was NWB (a name I made up). The steelworkers urged us to join them in a campaign to boycott that bank.

The boycott

I played an active role in the campaign. I attended planning meetings. I made signs. I may have done some phone banking. On several Fridays, I and one or two like-minded persons stood outside the bank’s branch in Flagship City. We passed out flyers to “educate” customers on what their bank was doing and urged them to stop patronizing it.

I also helped organize a demonstration.1 We carried the signs. We marched outside NWB. We chanted “si se puede,” “union busting is disgusting,” and “the people, united, will never be divided.” Other protests staged at branches throughout the state. A very large amount of money was reported withdrawn by bank customers.2

I know it’s a tired cliche, but “I felt a part of something bigger than myself.” The campaign was an emotional, bonding type of experience. I became friends (not close friends, but friends) with the three steelworkers who helped organize the events. “Justice” was on our side. We battled for the good and for what was right.

The complications

Complication #1: The narrative was too convenient

We chose an overly simplistic way of talking about the labor conflict. We were fighting against a big, evil corporation and a big, evil bank, all the while hoping (and finding) that the facts would reveal big, evil deeds. Not that some facts didn’t support our portrayal of the steel company. The local NLRB had ruled the company in violation of labor laws, for example. But it all felt too simplistic, almost as if we would have had to invent the facts if they didn’t fit our story

And we portrayed the people on whose behalf we fought as completely innocent, almost ennobled by the fact of their oppression. We didn’t decide to do that, but it seemed to just happen. And it’s not as if they were bad people. I’m sure most of them were decent, hardworking people now in a very distressing situation. But they were also, now, stock characters in a morality play instead of humans with their own faults.

Complication #2: The anti-boycott proviso

We passed out flyers that urged people to boycott NWB bank and we personally spoke with customers to urge them to boycott. Yet a proviso at the bottom of each flyer stated we weren’t doing exactly that. I forget the working, but it was something like “This flyer is for informational purposes. The AFL-CIO does not endorse sympathetic boycotts or strikes.” I understand the proviso was probably just a legal hoop we had to jump through to minimize our liability under applicable labor laws. 3 But it felt dishonest to me to pass out flyers whose fine print claimed we weren’t doing that which we most definitely were.

Complication #3: Bank employees

I fear some of the protesters were rude to the tellers and other employees. To be clear, I was busy outside the bank, demonstrating, so I didn’t witness this personally. But the people who went in to withdraw their money were, I heard, sometimes very vocal. They spoke in loud voices to advertise that they were closing their accounts in protest. I’m sure the protesters believed they were being civil, but I strongly suspect some of their actions didn’t translate that way. As a former customer service person (and a former bank teller), I knew and know how it feels to be yelled at by customers, even when the customer has a good reason to be upset.

Complication #4: Bank customers

We probably intimidated some customers. We were mostly polite, but my labor organizer friend taught us to be aggressive. We were to state firmly, to all people about to enter the bank, “we’re asking people to boycott NWB” and place the flyer in front of them so that they’d have to actually refuse to take it.

I guess that’s how it’s done. Maybe it even works. But it seemed overly aggressive to me. One older lady, obviously a little frightened by my friend and me when we stood outside the entrance, stated almost plaintively “I just want to go to the bank” as she walked by us. I felt like a jerk. And speaking for myself, my mind is rarely (though not never) changed by people who engage in such tactics.

Complication #5: The replacement workers

Replacement workers ( I refuse to use the word “scab”) “steal” jobs that “belong” to others. In a sense, I guess they do. But it seems to me that most replacement workers are in very marginal positions themselves. I also suspect that many, maybe most of them would have had a hard time getting a job while the shop was unionized. They might have a hard time staying on if the union had won, though I understand companies usually try to keep such replacement workers. On the other hand, any honest reckoning needs to note that replacement workers seem to have suffered a lot of on the job injuries, so in a sense, the union was trying to protect them, too.

What is to be done?

I don’t know the outcome of the strike. As of 2002, it was still going on. When a strike lasts that long it’s probably a good bet that the union loses even if it wins. The cause was probably already doomed by the time of our boycott campaign.

I’m inclined to say that activists would do well to heed the kinds of “complications” I note above. Too many activists with whom I’ve spoken too often ignore or dismiss many legitimate concerns. They end up discouraging people from listening. Or they take people who may be philosophically opposed to the cause but who are also willing to live and let live and make them into diehard opponents.

But I shouldn’t put it all on activists. It’s not as if the sample of activists I’ve spoken with is large enough for me to know how pervasive that attitude is.

And most of what I call “complications” simply illustrates that everything we do has second-order consequences. We have to work with the tools we have, not the tools we want. We sometimes have to oversimplify and cast a wide net. We sometimes have to equivocate or lie. The ends don’t justify all means, but they justify some means or else we wouldn’t have to have means. And I freely accept “complications,” and worse ones, when I do things for my own self interest or convenience.

What I write in this OP will brand me as the typical affluent neo-liberal who lacks imagination for anything better than the status quo. I plead guilty. Other than a few tweaks and fixes, I have only a hazy sense of what should be done and a hazier sense of how to do it.

My current material comfort allows me to ignore the needs of others. My attitude is probably not “Fish You, I Got Mine.” But it approaches “Good Luck, I Got Mine.” While that puts me in the company of a good number of liberals, I cannot tu quoque my way out of criticism. My actions and attitudes are on me and no one else. I have the means and the ability to do better. Whether I will or not is another matter.

Photo credit: The Plant during the 1923 steel strike. By Beaton Institute. Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivs Generic (cc by-nc-nd 2.0).

Notes

  1. I think we actually did two demonstrations, but my memory is hazy. []
  2. I recall it being something like a billion dollars, but that seems too high to be likely. []
  3. Insert mandatory “I am not a lawyer” disclosure here. []

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Gabriel Conroy [pseudonym] is an ex-graduate student. He is happily married with no children and has about a million nieces and nephews. The views expressed by Gabriel are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of his spouse or employer. ...more →

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235 thoughts on “The Steelworkers & Me

    • The short answer is no, because I don’t have all the facts.

      The longer answer: Concerning the “good steelworkers” vs. the “evil corporations”? I’d say the workers were as good as any one, but probably had faults/vices, etc.

      Was the corporation evil? Well, to my knowledge, the poor safety record of the company was a result mostly of deliberate decisions it made.

      Was the bank evil? I’m not sure. I suspect they thought they were getting something out of it, but what, I don’t know.

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  1. The argument about “replacement workers” is one that I usually find fascinating.

    Who is harmed when someone crosses a picket line? Who is harmed when an out-of-work person takes a job that someone else isn’t willing to do?

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        • Because the point of a strike is to apply pressure to the company through shut down of productivity (and by extension loss of profit). The replacement workers ease that pressure and weaken any leverage the union workers may have had.

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                • Well, I guess that depends on your definition of harm, then.
                  What if the strike is due to unsafe conditions or policies? Not all strikes are about money.
                  And even if it was about money- if the company won’t negotiate because they’re not burdened by the strike, then you stay out longer and your income suffers longer.

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                • Hell, improving the bargaining position via a social labor construct, may actually harm consumers. I swear there is an astounding knack at doing switch-a-roo context magic going on. Is that stuff taught in college or something?

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                  • “The bargaining position of non-union workers is also improved by a strike.”

                    We can discuss distortions and harms created by social constructs to a free market. It’s a really big kettle of fish.

                    -(not seeing this in main thread, but will respond)-

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                    • If we’re getting into moral obligations, the questions then seem to come “with whom shall I collaborate? with whom do I have solidarity?”

                      The assumption that we should obviously have more solidarity with union workers than with scabs strikes me as an assumption worth unpacking.

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                      • I typically have problems with this premise, the more I think about it the more uncertainty becomes about social objectivity.

                        The first problem arises not in the third step of premise, but halfway into the first step. Are social constructs more harmful to society than the benefits associated?

                        In this case is it more harmful to create the social constructs of the two factions ‘union workers’ and ‘scabs’ than not to create them?

                        Over and over the the chant is that ‘man is a social animal’, what I see in society is something else, man is more so a tribal animal than a social one. At some point the philosophy has to pick through the bits and pieces of human tribalism and judge the characteristic as good or bad. Is it something we work against, or something we work toward?

                        Is there a moral obligation to detangle ourselves from tribal natures and embark more so as individuals, or is it tribal, all the way down to the core. Does trust and collaboration only extend to the limits of ‘my tribe’?

                        If so, Hobbes was wrong but in a unique way, it is a war of all tribes against all other tribes, mans past, present, and future will only be tribal war.

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                          • Social objectivity carries with it uncertainty. You could be looking closer into the untruth of a untruth, and not know it from the truth of a truth.

                            Since these are often human events, you also have change over time, so the predictability, and repeatability are not overly reliable.

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                        • Are social constructs more harmful to society than the benefits associated?

                          I agree this question is enlightening, but I’m not sure where we go after that. Social constructs are appallingly durable even if they are harmful to society.

                          For this worker vs scab issue, the two potential outcomes here are “everyone should join the union” and “the union shouldn’t exist”.

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                          • The social construct of ‘union’ likely wouldn’t exist without the social construct of ‘corporation’. So one social construct arises from the existence of the other.

                            Not everyone will join the corporation, the union, or the scabs, and leads to those outside of constructs paying higher prices for the products involved.

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                • “Not improving” strikes me as being different from “harming”.

                  Might I suggest that you are being a bit slippery on how you’re using the word “harm”? You start the discussion by saying “how does it harm?” Greginak and Em respond the way I probably would have. That is, they assume by “harm” you mean “prevent someone from accomplishing what they want” whereas you seem to mean something different?

                  You further suggest we should talk to you like you’re Socrates dumb. Perhaps you could talk to us like we’re dumb and explain the terms a little more clearly?

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                  • I don’t know whether “harm” means “make materially worse off” or “make positionally worse off”.

                    I can see how someone striking is made positionally worse off by someone crossing the picket line to work.

                    I can’t see how someone striking is made materially worse off by someone crossing the picket line to work. The picket line crosser is merely doing a job that the striker won’t do.

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                    • Thanks for clarifying. I still see a little bit of the “material” in the “positional.” The people positionally worse off in this case aren’t earning an income* because their ability to convince the employers to take them back is lessened by the decisions of the replacement workers.

                      But then maybe I’m mis-grokking something.

                      *To be fair, I understand that the union, at least for a time, helped support the strikers. How much that support was, and how long it lasted, I don’t know.

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                      • The workers decided to strike, and within that decision was awareness of possible income issues for the duration of the strike and possibly beyond. They have deliberately placed themselves in a chance process.

                        I have encountered chance processes in other areas of economic decision making, and i often try to find any Bright Lines which set it apart from gambling.

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          • When I jump to “high trust/high collaboration”, I immediately start making analogies to immigration and come to conclusions that immigrants harm citizens in the same way that “scabs” harm workers.

            If I avoid “high trust/high collaboration”, I can continue to putter around wondering about the responsibilities that replacement workers have/don’t have to take jobs that union workers just won’t do.

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              • This is kind of what I mean about organized labor not doing a good job of making a case for itself. I know you’re probably joking, but say you weren’t. There is no plausible scenario where the government will totally stop defending private property rights. Its a foundational concept in our law and culture. Getting rid of it would be so fraught that it’s hard to know where to begin trying to sort it out.
                My guess is any attempt would look more like Kelo v. City of New London than a proletarian revolution.

                Now I do think there’s a strong case that the profits arising from the crazy level of productivity our technology has unleashed should not be all concentrated and amassed by a handful of people. It’s bad for our political system and undermines social cohesion. It’s a really hard public policy problem. The battles of the early 20th century don’t offer much guidance for where we are now.

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                • Right, but there is plenty of room for discussion, right here right now in Trump’s America, about why and how property rights should be recognized and defended.
                  The key is not to use the phrase “property rights”.

                  For example, the City of Los Angeles requires that all high rise construction be union labor. This puts a thumb on the scale of negotiations in favor of workers.

                  And why shouldn’t the taxpayers/citizens/consumers/workers put a thumb on the scale?

                  We have constructed this massive edifice of international trade treaties, contract laws, regulations and property rights protections, all of which were carefully crafted to protect the interests (NOT RIGHTS) of property owners and owners of capital.

                  Yet, when it comes to the interests of labor, we coyly talk about some mythical free market in labor.

                  Why?

                  Trump, intentionally or not, legitimized the notion that the constructed edifice is a dishonest sham of self-dealing cronies who ignore the interests of anyone not sitting at the conference table.

                  It is obvious to almost everyone now that middle class prosperity has never, and never will, “just happen” via free market mechanisms. It happens with the constructed edifice, “thumb on the scale” of things like NLRB rulings, prevailing wage laws, card check, tariffs and taxes.

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              • Then a guy like me wonders what benefit there is to the public in continuing to honor and protect the claim to ownership of the mill in the first place.

                The alternatives are….
                1) The mill owners need to have their own private police force (which can turn into a death force).
                2) The mill doesn’t get built.
                3) The mill is simply taken for “the community”, which means future mills don’t get built and the current mill is run by the politically most connected (which typically means “badly”).

                Am I missing something?

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                • In the entire universe of historical, existing, and possible alternatives, you can imagine only 3?

                  How is steel made in Europe? In Asia?
                  How has steel been made historically?
                  How could it possibly be made in the future?

                  Steel, like electricity and staple crops like wheat, is a commodity meaning it doesn’t have brand differentiation; A36 structural steel here is, by definition, identical to A36 structural steel from over there.

                  So why does it need to be produced by the private sector?

                  Electricity isn’t. And wheat is so highly subsidized and regulated as to be arguably a public good.
                  Why can’t steel be a as heavily subsidized and regulated as utilities and agriculture?

                  Well, we might say the private sector makes it more cheaply. OK, so why is that important?

                  If steel was 10% more expensive, but we kept mills operating, would that be a worse outcome for the American people than what we have now?

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                  • Well, we might say the private sector makes it more cheaply. OK, so why is that important?

                    Because every dollar we spend on expensive steel is a dollar not being spent on other goods, i.e. everyone who purchases anything made of steel is poorer in this thought experiment.

                    If you want to make the case that “this good is so important that it’s ok to make people poorer” then that’s fine, but the bar for that really should be pretty high because “making society poorer” is a pretty nasty thing in and of itself.

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                    • If the steelworkers win a raise, and I pay more for steel, how does that translate into “making society poorer”?

                      Conversely, if the steelworkers accept a pay cut, and I pay less for steel, is that “making society richer”?

                      I’m not proposing an actual solution here- what I’m saying is that we are forty years into a massive global experiment in prioritizing capital and devaluing labor, and it just doesn’t seem to be working.

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                      • what I’m saying is that we are forty years into a massive global experiment in prioritizing capital and devaluing labor, and it just doesn’t seem to be working.

                        Compared to what?

                        Because I can think of a handful of massive global experiments that happened last century that don’t stack up very well when comparing them to prioritizing capital and devaluing labor.

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                        • Chip may have a point. Devaluing labor (or even over valueing) by various social constructs isn’t a tenet of a free market.

                          An ancap experiment in deconstructing those may be useful.

                          It also somewhat eliminates the prioritizing of capital, because those are often the same construct doing the shenanigans.

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                          • I don’t know how much of a point he has until I hear what he’s comparing it to.

                            If it’s something similar to the labor theory of value, I have a handful of reasons to think that, no, he doesn’t have a point when we look at what actually happened in the economies that developed that sort of thing.

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                            • I keep using the phrase “massive constructed edifice of laws and regulations” instead of “globalism” because there seems to be this built-in assumption floating around where the current status quo of how the world’s economies interact with private interests is some naturally occurring phenomenon like the tides. And that to tamper with this will cause the seas to boil and tectonic plates shift.

                              It is contained in this comment where somehow our imagination can conceive of nothing except either the status quo, or the killing fields..

                              Why can’t we negotiate global labor standards the way we negotiate global patent and property rights?

                              Why can’t we control tax havens the way we control international terrorist havens?

                              Who says the current level of taxes and tariffs is exactly right, and must not be trifled with?

                              There are plenty of structures for how to manufacture products and generate wealth different than what we have.

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                              • Why can’t we negotiate global labor standards the way we negotiate global patent and property rights?

                                Because other countries prioritize different things differently.

                                Why can’t we control tax havens the way we control international terrorist havens?

                                Because of regulatory capture and corruption on the part of the controllers.

                                Who says the current level of taxes and tariffs is exactly right, and must not be trifled with?

                                It’s not. We need to get rid of a lot more taxes and a lot more tariffs.

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                              • But it’s like describing the problem of mortality. If the spear doesn’t kill you, a heart attack will. So we fix heart attacks. Now strokes are the leading cause of death. So we fix strokes. Now it’s cancer. So we fix cancer. Now it’s diabetes. So we fix diabetes.

                                And so on. While I’m pretty sure that we can and should improve things within the Capitalist system we stumbled across, I think that the Capitalist system is the equivalent of Medical Science and the criticisms of Medical Science that amount to homeopathy and anti-vax can and *SHOULD* be dismissed.

                                Even if too many people are still dying of heart attacks, cancer, strokes, diabetes, etc.

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                                • I can’t understand that comment clearly.

                                  I see capitalism in two contexts, one with social constructs and all the associated tribalism, and one with no social constructs, and only individualism.

                                  One requires universal collective/tribal unity and agreement (to prevent tribal conflict/war) and the other one doesn’t.

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                                    • Property rights are a social construct. Also, thou shalt not kill, etc.

                                      Both of those are mind numbingly useful by whatever yardstick you want to use. When other countries have experimented with getting rid of them, really awful things have happened.

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                                      • I’m not suggesting getting rid of them. Joe Sal wants to shed “social constructs” yet champions capitalism. I was pointing out that capitalism relies crucially on property rights which are a social construct, therefore his position is incoherent. (And I have no earthly clue what an individual construct of property rights even means. “That’s mine!” “No, it’s mine” Who wins?)

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                                        • Well there is this condition that if most everyone accepts property rights as a individual construct there is little need for a social enforcement, and negotiations are likely.

                                          If few or none accepts property rights, then the biggest social construct of enforcement won’t matter.

                                          So in a way, people get what they deserve.

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                                            • Depends on what the negotiations look like, and how violations are handled.

                                              Before we get too far in the weeds, i will say that I have no problems with private arbitration arising and subsiding, as long as it doesn’t become a permanent social construct, and no rule by force social mechanisms are established (and remain).

                                              Somewhat in the vein of ‘no standing army’ but more like ‘no standing social enforcement’.

                                              I hope that answers some of your concerns about defections being handled.

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                                              • And what happens when you have, for instance, claim jumpers? Or the situation we have with China, where they just aren’t interested in respecting our property rights in the least?

                                                Negotiation requires both parties to be willing to negotiate on reasonable terms. If one party refuses to come to the table, or if they come to the table with a metaphorical (or literal) gun…

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                                                • We can what-if this for years. The context I was bringing forward is “we are headed for socialism, maybe we should try something else (because that crap doesn’t end well)”. This was preemptive of Chip heading in that direction as these conversations unfold.

                                                  Socialism requires a gun in the room, EVERY TIME. What I am saying is, don’t pay all the infrastructure for that gun in the room. Don’t give any advantage/resources to any tribe to perpetuate escalations. I find it no surprise that this suggestion of a different solution has inspired considerable pearl clutching.

                                                  Maybe next time we will try something different. I seriously doubt it, the ‘good society’ folks have a several hundred year learning curve.

                                                  If what I am saying is true, there is no reason for me to defend it. The truth was there a hundred years ago, the truth is here today, the truth will be there a hundred years from now.

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                                          • It seems to me our difficulty here is simple nomenclature. From Merriam-Webster:

                                            social construct noun
                                            Definition of social construct
                                            formal
                                            : an idea that has been created and accepted by the people in a society

                                            So if “there is this condition that if most everyone accepts property rights as a individual construct” then property rights are a social construct. There is nothing in the definition of social construct requiring any formal mechanisms.

                                            Dude, you’re just using words wrong and it’s confusing.

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                                            • Sorry if your confused.
                                              “there is this condition that if most everyone accepts property rights as a individual construct”

                                              This statement is false. It is illustrative in showing that if individual constructs were aligned to a extreme quantity within a population, that there would be a specific condition were enforcement would not be needed.

                                              This actually doesn’t occur in reality, as most individual constructs vary to a considerable degree in populations.

                                              There is also nuance missing in Websters, that it just leaves the terms of ‘created and accepted by the people in society’ as a general meaning.

                                              There are problems with the term ‘people in society, because it is a flawed premise to know what all people in society will accept, or not accept.

                                              So it is most likely that what is referred to is some sub section of the total society creating and accepting. It becomes even more parametrically vague from there.

                                              Also there may be a subsection that only belongs to a particular faction. Like the social construct of christmas, or something like that is some what faction dependant.

                                              Liberals often say that gender is a social construct, yet there is a significant portion of the society that is not in agreement.

                                              Sorry to harsh your melon

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                                              • Sorry if your confused.

                                                The confusion is yours. You’re fucking with the language by using a word in a non-standard way. Which I suppose is consistent with your general philosophy in life but it still hinders communication.

                                                This statement is false. It is illustrative in showing that if individual constructs were aligned to a extreme quantity within a population, that there would be a specific condition were enforcement would not be needed.

                                                This actually doesn’t occur in reality, as most individual constructs vary to a considerable degree in populations.

                                                Then what exactly is it that you want? Different people?

                                                You strike me as a utopianist, no different really than a hard-boiled Marxist or religious dominionist, whose vision for society relies on that society being composed of the right kind of people harboring the right kind of attitudes and doing things the right kind of way.

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                                                • Meh, social construct is a term that falls more under social objectivity than empirical objectivity, so it’s really just your confusion of context.

                                                  Man, if I had to bring a label to this particular table, it would be whatever the opposite of a Socialist Utopianist would be.

                                                  I think on average people are more good than bad on a individual level, but when they start forming groups and making decisions, they become the worst thing humans can become. They mechanize warfare and drop nuclear bombs on each other.

                                                  As a one off from another quote: Socialism means extinction is the rule and survival is the exception.

                                                  These are the kinds of people I think we have, and there is no illusion that we have any other type.

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                                        • Joe Sal wants to shed “social constructs” yet champions capitalism. I was pointing out that capitalism relies crucially on property rights which are a social construct, therefore his position is incoherent.

                                          Not totally incoherent, all social constructs aren’t created equally.

                                          The wheels come off for society if we drop property rights, but various companies function fine without unions and there’s a strong argument that the cost of public unions outweighs their utility.

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                                      • Equating property rights with the right not to be murdered is an example of what I’m talking about, of enshrining the status quo into some sacred inviolable thing.

                                        It should be persuasive that all humans have an essential right to live, a right endowed by their Creator, one might say.

                                        But the Creator did not reach down and write “Joe Ownith This Forty Acres By The River”.
                                        Society recognizes claims to land, because it serves a utilitarian end.

                                        This is the point I began with that when property claims stop being useful or producing justice, it is time to re-evaluate them.

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                                          • Our current structure of property rights, trade treaties, laws and regulations , plus advancing technology have combined to privilege one group of citizens above all others, in a way that is utterly divorced from any reasonable definition of “earned wealth”.
                                            Note that the justification for patents and copyright were utilitarian, that they only existed so as to spur innovation.

                                            An example:
                                            In the movie About A Boy, the underlying joke is that Hugh Grant’s character is a lazy wastrel playboy, who has never worked a day in his life. This is because back in the 60’s his father wrote a hit Christmas novelty song, and based solely on that one fluke hit, Grant was set to be rich for life.

                                            This is an echo of a scene in Twain’s Connecticut Yankee, where the simpleton son of a Duke is given vast sums of money and power, because some generations back his ancestor built a brewery and pleased the King.

                                            The absurdity is that work is divorced from wealth, since it long ago lost its connection to the original justification, i.e., innovation.

                                            Think of the tech sector. The tech giants are valued with massive wealth, yet employ very few people. This is because there really isn’t a lot of labor being done.

                                            A CEO earns a staggering sum of money in a day, yet what work is being done that can be said to have been “earned”?

                                            It isn’t earned, and no one even says it is. The wealth is merely the product of patents and treaties and a byzantine structure that protects and extracts, not much different than the King granting land to some nobleman as a favor.

                                            Every single day, the Amazon web servers hum away, generating vast wealth.

                                            But who is the rightful owner of that wealth, and why?

                                            It reminds me of the situation during the Enlightenment when the peasants were told that King So-n-So owned the land, and they must pay him rent.
                                            Eventually someone asked, well, why should we accept his claim?

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                                            • In the movie About A Boy

                                              People like this exist in RL, the bulk of them are “lottery winners”, and the situation is self correcting. 5 years after winning the lottery wasterals have lost everything and are back where they started. If Michael Jackson can burn through 600 million in 25 years then “A Boy” would NEVER have lasted 40+ years off of one song.

                                              Think of the tech sector. The tech giants are valued with massive wealth, yet employ very few people. This is because there really isn’t a lot of labor being done.

                                              Ford has 100k employees. Amazon has roughly 600k employees and has bricks thrown at it because it’s creating too many well paid jobs.

                                              Even if we assume you’re right, I don’t see why it’s a bad thing. These jobs didn’t exist, at all, even 20 years ago. If we wave a magic wand and destroy them that would leave the country much poorer.

                                              Incomes rise as workers become more efficient. Presumably the reverse is true, creating inefficient jobs is a way to lower income, not raise it. If we go wild with that magic wand and restore true labor and put everyone back on the farm, then that would be a disaster in terms of how much money each person earns.

                                              A CEO earns a staggering sum of money in a day, yet what work is being done that can be said to have been “earned”?

                                              There are 500 CEOs of the Fortune 500. If memory serves the bottom of that list are paid 6 digits, and it doesn’t get outrageous until you get really close to the top. So what you’re really talking about are a few dozen CEOs running many-Billion dollar companies.

                                              A guy who can create growth in a multi-Billion dollar company really does deserve to be paid well. It’s like how a guy who can increase the odds of success of a hundred million dollar movie can demand a piece of that. On that subject, we have more than 50 overpaid actors of questionable worth. Similarly we have the same problem with high end models and musicians. So… Is it just CEOs with which you have a problem?

                                              Every single day, the Amazon web servers hum away, generating vast wealth. But who is the rightful owner of that wealth, and why?

                                              I’m not sure why it’s questionable that Bezos should own Amazon. He created it. Why shouldn’t he own it? What’s the issue here, he’s rich and other people aren’t? How would destroying him or forcing him to do his thing in some other country, especially retroactively, make anyone richer?

                                              Were Bill Gates and Steve Jobs horrible for this country, so horrible that we need to prevent them from existing? My expectation is that if we use a time machine to prevent them from existing, then the money and jobs they created are created in some other country and it’s a retroactive loss to us and a gain to wherever.

                                              Big picture I don’t see the problem. The worthless rich are very good at destroying themselves. In 70 years Bezos will be dead and his great-grandchildren will be either productive or poor. Cities that currently host Amazon have the problem of too many good jobs, not too few.

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                                              • My point is that property rights are not immutable things, but instead are negotiated and open to challenge and adjustment.

                                                In the same way that property taxes exist as a lien, literally a claim upon your land, a certain portion of Amazon’s wealth is rightfully the property of the American people. It was only generated by our collective effort, and we are entitled to some portion of it.

                                                That portion is a negotiated settlement, and open to periodic reevaluation.

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                                                • My point is that property rights are not immutable things, but instead are negotiated and open to challenge and adjustment.

                                                  This is true, but society’s rules are supposed to be neutral. It is problematic to change the rules of the game after the fact because the wrong person is winning.

                                                  What is the underlying motivation here? “We as a society don’t want people to be *too* successful? It’s a problem if someone adds too much economic value, or creates too many jobs?”

                                                  It was only generated by our collective effort, and we are entitled to some portion of it.

                                                  It’s weird (and telling) that we only see these “society is entitled to some portion of it” arguments for successful businessmen (who earned their money even if luck plays a role) as opposed to Billion dollar lottery winners whose success is totally via chance and who don’t create wealth.

                                                  Amazon’s impact is 600k jobs, an absurd number of products, and yes, taxes paid because Amazon’s employees, income, property, and sales. Because of the multiplier effect even these silly large numbers grossly understate the positive economic impact Amazon has on society. The concept that Bezos “owes” something more than he already pays to society ignores that the existence of Amazon is a great thing in and by itself the same way that a successful Pizza place is a great thing.

                                                  The ability to create jobs and/or wealth should be a right, not a privilege. We as a society should WANT people to be successful, even absurdly successful, and we should celebrate that these world conquering businesses are created here.

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                                                  • The concept that Bezos “owes” something more than he already pays to society

                                                    You can honestly stop right there. The first thing Chip needs to do is make this argument. Argue that Bezos, et. al. owe more than they already pay to society.

                                                    And honestly, it certain domains, it’s an argument that can be made. But you can’t just decide they owe more because you think they do.

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                                                    • Right.
                                                      Because this should be a negotiation between partners:

                                                      We will continue to honor your claims, and adjudicate your contracts, and enforce your judgement, for an increased fee of X

                                                      The only people who have to be persuaded of this are 50%+1 of the voters.

                                                      I’m being very pugnacious and confrontational in tone, because the real point here is to create a situation in which the voters are co-equal to the corporations and can negotiate on equal footing.

                                                      I’m trying to kill this notion of the corporations as “job creators” who dare not be offended lest they withdraw their lifegiving sustenance.

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                                                      • I’m hesitant to put such a question before voters, because voters have a hard time parsing big numbers.

                                                        Let’s put it this way, ideally, we should be able to figure out how much a given Amazon facility consumes in public resources (infrastructure costs to support the facility, legal costs to honor claims and contracts, etc.). But we can’t, too many costs and benefits that are vague and fuzzy. So putting it directly to the voters is always tricky.

                                                        I’d much rather stop trying to play those games and just re-work the playing field. For example, when Amazon started shopping for HQ2, Every community that wanted to attract it should put forth a package saying why they would be a good location, but ideally that package could only legally contain information about the community as it is, or as it has approved plans to be. No promises to spend any taxpayer money to attract the company. No tax breaks, or special grants, or promises to build X, or smooth the red tape, etc.

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                                                      • Because this should be a negotiation between partners:

                                                        What is wrong with the current arrangement?

                                                        “We will continue to honor your claims, and adjudicate your contracts, and enforce your judgement, for an increased fee of X”

                                                        So… there are people for whom we don’t honor claims/contracts/etc? Going there is an extremely aggressive tactic which should only be played in an existential emergency. The emergency here is… someone is creating too many jobs? Earning too much money? What exactly is the problem here that you’re trying to fix?

                                                        the real point here is to create a situation in which the voters are co-equal to the corporations and can negotiate on equal footing.

                                                        What does this mean? Amazon is a slave to its customers, most of those customers are also voters. Amazon also has no guns, the gov holds society’s monopoly on the use of force. The gov has the power to end Amazon if it’s willing to pay the economic/political price.

                                                        If that’s what you want then there’s lots of ‘with-the-stroke-of-a-pen’ ways. I could put some on the table and we could do a cost benefit analysis.

                                                        I’m trying to kill this notion of the corporations as “job creators” who dare not be offended lest they withdraw their lifegiving sustenance.

                                                        “Offended”? If you announce the US legal and ethical system doesn’t apply to someone if they have too much money, or that wealth needs to be taxed, then you should expect the rich to flee and right after that we’ll discover that Venezuelan style economic policy has easily predictable results.

                                                        Afaict the big problem Amazon poses is it’s creating too many jobs and the local anti-growth government faction has restricted housing enough that they’ve created a homeless problem. Other than that we’ve got… what? Amazon pointed out that an anti-business tax was in fact an anti-business tax? Bezos is rich?

                                                        I don’t understand where you think we’re at and I also don’t understand where you’re trying to go, but you’re using restructure-the-legal(economic?)-system rhetoric which if done seriously is the legal/econ equiv of nuclear weapons. The risk of serious unintended (and bad) side effects when using nukes is high.

                                                        I really don’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish here.

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                                                        • Amazon does not, cannot, never will, “create jobs”.
                                                          Jobs are the result of a confluence of factors- consumer demand, investment capital, and government policies, among many others.

                                                          We the taxpayers often set limits on which contracts we will or won’t enforce; Contracts with minors, divisions of land that don’t have frontage, etc.
                                                          There isn’t anything remarkable or revolutionary about that.

                                                          Remember, we the people are the silent third party to every contract ever written; We have interests in those contracts and every right to press for them.

                                                          Amazon, and in fact the entire marketplace, can only exist when the government AKA taxpayers, provide the environment and support network in which they can flourish. We need to be equitably compensated for that.

                                                          There are limits to how strong a bargaining position one side can take, but this is how business negotiations work.

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                                                          • There are limits to how strong a bargaining position one side can take, but this is how business negotiations work.

                                                            So, like, let’s say that Amazon and one of the most reliably Blue districts in the country sit down and negotiate business (specifically, the business of setting up an HQ in this district).

                                                            What tax rate do you think that Amazon would negotiate?

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                                                            • It depends- are we assuming the political environment remains the status quo?

                                                              Where like, “if negotiations break down, we lose the benefit of your presence, but you still can operate freely here”?

                                                              Or are we assuming a change like I suggested at the outset, one where “if negotiations break down, we lose benefit of your presence, and you lose the ability to operate here”?

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                                                              • I’m assuming that this happened recently.

                                                                As for the other part… If I’m reading you right, NYC politicians should have said “if you don’t play ball, we won’t allow the post to deliver your packages”? (Or “we’ll mandate that your website is blocked within city limits”?)

                                                                Was I reading you right?

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                                                                  • I would me more than willing to give the NYC government the authority to say “I am altering the deal” and threaten Amazon.

                                                                    It’s easy for me to say, though, because I am somewhat confident that not a single politician involved with doing such a thing would survive the next set of primaries or the next set of elections.

                                                                    I would recommend many of William Gibson’s novels to explain the relationship of corporations to the government at this point. You can purchase them on Amazon.

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                                                                  • “If I’m reading you right, NYC politicians should have said “if you don’t play ball, we won’t allow the post to deliver your packages”? ”
                                                                    “Something like that, yeah. Something where they have actual negotiating leverage.”

                                                                    uh

                                                                    that’s

                                                                    uh

                                                                    that’s

                                                                    an interesting position, suggesting that the government should simply dictate terms to Rich Bastards and suggest that if they don’t like it then they can enjoy not being allowed to use government-provided services like roads and sewers

                                                                    like

                                                                    you say that government derives its authority to do this from the consent of the government but i don’t recall voting for anyone who suggested they would do this and if asked i would not say that they had my consent to govern in this manner

                                                                    i’d also question the legal basis for your claim that the government can choose not to permit the delivery of packages because if nothing else that constitutes interference with the delivery of mail and that’s a federal crime

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                                                          • We need to be equitably compensated for that.

                                                            Does Amazon not pay taxes? Does Bezos not pay taxes? If you think they don’t pay sufficient taxes, you need to make that argument.

                                                            I mean, personally I’m of the opinion that the only taxes a corporation should be paying are property and sales taxes. I’d happily trade corporate income taxes for a higher progressive tax rate on personal and investment incomes.

                                                            But since we have corporate taxes, they get paid. If you don’t think they are paying enough, then you need to remember that the amount they pay is the amount that has been negotiated between the business community and the representatives of the people. Corporations don’t set the rates, we do. Or our reps do.

                                                            So beyond your valid point that we can change those rates through the political process, I’m not sure what your objection is?

                                                            Because all of this just sounds like you are pissed about how much Amazon, et. al. pays in taxes, and think they should be paying more, but not otherwise making the case as to why.

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                                                            • My objection, contained in my first comment, was that the complex network of trade treaties, labor laws, and regulations have all created a situation where holders of capital have all the cards:
                                                              1. If the steelworkers refuse to work for the pay offered, they will be replaced by those who will;
                                                              2. If the replacement workers refuse to work for that wage, the factory will be shipped to China;
                                                              3. If the Chinese workers refuse to work for that wage, they will be replaced by robots.

                                                              This is presented to us as a negotiation, where the circumstances of negotiation are simply the outcome of tectonic forces.
                                                              But in fact, the table has been tilted in favor of the holders of capital, by a long process of working on the rules of the game in their own favor. Of course they end up holding all the cards!

                                                              The taxpayers are seen as simply passive bystanders with no stake in the game. The services that they offer are kept invisible, assumed to be ever present, ever available, with no right of refusal.

                                                              And given the societal cost of the low wages offered by businesses such as Amazon and WalMart, I think we have every reason to renegotiate for a better deal.

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                                                              • So basically, you are complaining about regulatory capture, and insisting that this can somehow be fixed by the people all deciding to vote to change the regulations.

                                                                The same people who, on a good day, can barely be bothered to vote, much less vote rationally (Donald Trump is still POTUS).

                                                                And people tell me I’m living in a dream world with my crazy libertarian ideas…

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                                                              • This is presented to us as a negotiation, where the circumstances of negotiation are simply the outcome of tectonic forces.
                                                                But in fact, the table has been tilted in favor of the holders of capital, by a long process of working on the rules of the game in their own favor.

                                                                To a first approximation these are “the outcome of tectonic forces”. Transportation costs have dropped hugely in the last century or two and capital now has the ability to shift to places all over the world. The places which have prevented this have showcased that doing so is a bad idea; Compare the economic/social lifestyles of North Korea vs South, or the old East Germany vs West.

                                                                This history is why it’s so difficult to describe what “a better deal” would look like. The gov stepping in to help politically favored groups doesn’t tend to end well, most of the success cases are one-off one-time affairs and your steelworkers here presumably need constant support.

                                                                The core problem is the gov gets to set rules, not outcomes. If the gov mandates that every McDonalds job be highly paid, then the outcome is one McDonalds Computer Engineer with a “squad” of robots. If the gov mandates that Steel Mills be run with highly paid inefficient workers, then US steel goes bankrupt because they’re underbid by foreign competition. If the gov enacts tariff barriers to protect the US steel, then the entire country ends up paying for expensive steel and the net effect is fewer jobs across all of America (we’ve seen this again and again).

                                                                There are other ways to handle this, the gov could pay those steel workers to go to a closed plant and play cards. The gov could subsidize workers, i.e. pay part of their salary to the plant… but if we’re going to have a ubi for steel workers then why not others and this has nasty incentives for the plant.

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                                                                • Wait, which is it?
                                                                  You say that global trade has created terrific benefits, then you say that government stepping in to favor well connected groups doesn’t end well.

                                                                  But…the current system of global trade IS the result of government stepping in to favor well connected groups.

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                                                                  • the current system of global trade IS the result of government stepping in to favor well connected groups.

                                                                    If you’re talking about Free Trade, then removing tariffs/quotes/etc is, by definition, reducing gov favoritism.

                                                                    If you’re talking about letting capital keep it’s own money, then the examples we’ve had of countries which don’t do that are also examples of what not to do.

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                                                          • “Amazon does not, cannot, never will, “create jobs”.
                                                            Jobs are the result of a confluence of factors- consumer demand, investment capital, and government policies, among many others.”

                                                            haw. amazon doesn’t create jobs! except for when they do.

                                                            “Remember, we the people are the silent third party to every contract ever written; We have interests in those contracts and every right to press for them.”

                                                            that’s an interesting argument in favor of banning gay marriage, which is something that “we the 50%-plus-1 of the people” have voted in favor of doing in many places

                                                            “Amazon, and in fact the entire marketplace, can only exist when the government AKA taxpayers, provide the environment and support network in which they can flourish. We need to be equitably compensated for that.”

                                                            congratulations you invented income taxes

                                                            “There are limits to how strong a bargaining position one side can take, but this is how business negotiations work.”

                                                            congratulations you understand negotiation

                                                            now explain how “you have too much money, give us all of it because there’s more of us than there are of you” is a reasonable negotiation position

                                                            i mean i guess you’re right in the basic sense that there are indeed more of you than there are of Jeff Bezos

                                                            but if that’s the game you want to play then, well, bullets are cheaper than you

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                                                            • You realize that in almost every business negotiation, “I think I can get more” is literally the main argument?

                                                              If Jeff Bezos decided he simply could not tolerate making 10% less and shut down his business, do you really think no one else would be willing to take his place?

                                                              See this is what I mean. At the outset, when the steelworkers refused to work for the wage offered, everyone just shrugs and says “well, there are a million like you waiting to take your place”.

                                                              But if Bezos or Zucker or any other titan suggests he might walk away, we act like Atlas is going to shrug and the world will topple.

                                                              Why?

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                                                              • “You realize that in almost every business negotiation, “I think I can get more” is literally the main argument?”

                                                                the issue is not that someone thinks they can get more

                                                                the issue is the notion that they can get more because there’s more of them and therefore they have more power than the other party

                                                                “But if Bezos or Zucker or any other titan suggests he might walk away, we act like Atlas is going to shrug and the world will topple.”

                                                                what’s all this “we” stuff, white man

                                                                promising huge tax breaks to rich businessmen is an idea that has been shown to not pay off time and time and time and time and time again. but it looks good in the short term which is why everyone keeps doing it. and in the long term everyone forgets what the promise was because they’re too busy being alive to care. and the beat goes on.

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                                                              • But if Bezos or Zucker or any other titan suggests he might walk away, we act like Atlas is going to shrug and the world will topple.

                                                                Time lag. It takes days to train an Amazon warehouse picker. It takes, maybe, weeks to onboard a steel worker (if they are relatively inexperienced). It took years to build Amazon, and if Amazon were to fold, it would take years for it’s replacement(s) to fill the gap.

                                                                Economically, that time lag is no big deal. Talk to Hanley, he’ll tell you the government never should have bailed GM out, and it should have folded and gone the way of the Dodo. Someone else would have purchased their assets and put them to some other use, eventually.

                                                                Talk to the workers at GM, and all the downstream suppliers, and they were shitting bricks at the idea of GM folding, and their jobs going away, because they would have trouble getting another job, and had limited savings, and no ability or desire to relocate, etc.

                                                                That’s who was telling the politicians to save GM, the people you think are going to vote to restructure the trade rules are too terrified of being out on their ass.

                                                                There is a reason I support a UBI, etc., because it will help alleviate some of that fear. Maybe enough fear that companies can’t leverage that fear so effectively.

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                                                              • But if Bezos or Zucker or any other titan suggests he might walk away, we act like Atlas is going to shrug and the world will topple. Why?

                                                                Because our politicians are often shockingly economically ignorant to the point where them accidentally destroying an industry (or crazy numbers of jobs) is a reasonable concern. A law or tax can be economically destructive even without destroying an industry.

                                                                CEOs issue warnings and advice which is some combo of serious, self interested, and/or exaggerated… but you become an expert in job creation long before you’ve created 600k. There was something to the idea “what’s good for GM is good for america” at the time it was issued.

                                                                Bezos was correct that a local tax on jobs will destroy jobs. Amazon could certainly survive but it’s rare and shocking to have politicians enact policies which deliberately destroy jobs. The question then became “how many” and “would companies weaker than Amazon be hurt bad enough to flee/die”, and that conversation was painful enough the politicians in question changed their minds.

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                                                                • Again…
                                                                  There is no such thing as a “job creator”.
                                                                  You are a job creator every time you buy cup of coffee.
                                                                  Today I created some jobs by taking the bus, getting a blueberry muffin, and submitting some plans to plan check.

                                                                  Tomorrow I might create some more. Unless someone pisses me off, then I might go Galt and shut down the economy.

                                                                  So, watch your step, pardner.

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                                                                  • You are a job creator every time you buy cup of coffee.
                                                                    Today I created some jobs by taking the bus, getting a blueberry muffin, and submitting some plans to plan check.

                                                                    I recall once having a conversation with someone who could not understand the notion of “I do not want to be a small business owner. I have no interest in starting my own company.”

                                                                    To the point where I was accused of lying because, apparently, the only acceptable goal in America is to form your own business and employ people who can’t make the cut at forming their own business.

                                                                    Or something like that.

                                                                    He also had a real issue with the concept of “job creation” — anything other than forming your own company and hiring someone was apparently an economic null activity. A sap on the system.

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                                                                  • There is no such thing as a “job creator”.
                                                                    You are a job creator every time you buy cup of coffee.

                                                                    This is like saying there’s so such thing as a doctor, or a plumber; That the social/economic conditions which exist will make them just appear, i.e. that demand will create supply.

                                                                    This is not a useful claim in the context of suggesting we make an activity MUCH harder.

                                                                    Edit: Harder, less rewarding and more risky.

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                                                                    • So, we can say that jobs are the result of both a person with demand, a person who wants to supply it, a store of resources to be converted, a medium of exchange that is functional, a stable order where it is safe to operate, a legal system which adjudicates and enforces the order, and a state to oversee and coordinate these activities.

                                                                      That maybe there is no individual component of this web that deserves the title “job creator”?

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                                                                      • jobs are the result of both a person with demand, a person who wants to supply it, a store of resources to be converted, a medium of exchange that is functional, a stable order where it is safe to operate, a legal system which adjudicates and enforces the order, and a state to oversee and coordinate these activities.

                                                                        You’re skipping the part where there needs to be someone willing to put their own ass on the line. Their money, future, time, and security.

                                                                        The local pizza shop owner risked all of his money on a trade in a foreign country with a new wife. If there’s someone waiting in the wings to pounce on his success and announce “you didn’t build that” then the level of risk would have been much higher.

                                                                        And starting a new company is amazingly risky because most new companies fail. I’ve worked with several, I’ve started one, I’ve never had one be successful longer than a couple of years.

                                                                        That maybe there is no individual component of this web that deserves the title “job creator”?

                                                                        Let me guess, you’ve never created a job? Not even your own?

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                                                                        • I didn’t skip it- the pizza guy is right there, the “person who wants to supply it”.

                                                                          I’m just not sure why this one single actor, out of a vast network of actors all of whom are indispensable to the creation of jobs, is somehow singled out.

                                                                          Its like saying, the #1 piston is what creates the horsepower, all the rest of the parts like crankshaft and valves are really just going along for the ride.

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                                                                          • I’m just not sure why this one single actor, out of a vast network of actors all of whom are indispensable to the creation of jobs, is somehow singled out.

                                                                            He’s the one with the most skin in the game.

                                                                            The twenty I put on the counter is in no way comparable to his building, which is probably also his life savings and his income, or the time he’s put into building his (admittedly small) company.

                                                                            Its like saying, the #1 piston is what creates the horsepower, all the rest of the parts like crankshaft and valves are really just going along for the ride.

                                                                            If we all collectively own the pizza place… who runs it?

                                                                            Me? I have no interest, skill, or experience.

                                                                            The pizza guy? Why should he be putting his life savings and tons of sweat equity into a place he doesn’t own?

                                                                            Some agent of the people? How was this person picked? If we own this collectively, then presumably he was appointed for his political connections, why does that make him competent economically? Is he really going to run it as though he owns it? If it’s in his best interests to steal from it, does he? Does he get to fire incompetent or criminal workers if they’re also fellow owners?

                                                                            Trying to equiv people to machine parts is a description of how things should work, not how they do or can reasonably be expected to do so.

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                                                                            • I think what you’re doing here is applying the Labor Theory of Value to job creation.
                                                                              Like if the Labor Theory of Value says that a pizza is worth the labor a guy put into it, modern economists hold that the pizza has zero value unless someone wants it.

                                                                              You’re saying that if a guy builds a pizzeria and hires 5 guys, presto he’s created 5 jobs.

                                                                              Except…those jobs don’t exist unless the guys are actually doing something, and they are only doing something if somebody is there buying a pizza. And people are only there buying pizza if the whole economy is working.

                                                                              “Skin in the game” really doesn’t have anything to do with anything here.

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                                                                              • “Skin in the game” really doesn’t have anything to do with anything here.

                                                                                Horseshit! Skin in the game has everything to do with this. It’s why we give the owner more deference, because he’s the one taking the risk, and if it fails, he’s the one who pays the greatest price.

                                                                                Hell, this is why people get pissed about executives with golden parachutes or other sweetheart deals where the can screw up, lose tons of money, and still walk away with millions from the company.

                                                                                If you want the ‘job creator’ to not carry such importance, then s/he needs to be insulated from the failure. Given someone like Bezos, that makes sense, he’s got enough money and other businesses that if Amazon were to fold, he’d be fine. At that level, I give Bezos credit for looking to hire, but he’s not really taking risks by hiring more people. He takes more of a risk for starting a company like Blue Origin, but even that, if it fails, is mostly a write-off, not a risk.

                                                                                And if you want a point, that’s what it is. At some level of income, ‘job creators’ are no longer taking a substantive risk, they are just entertaining a profit or tax write off opportunity.

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                                                                                • You’re are confusing a moral affinity for the heroic entrepreneur with how economies work.

                                                                                  The entrepreneur is reacting to market conditions created by the actions of others; without those conditions, he simply can’t invest. The economy is more like a complex ecosystem, where one action provokes others, in a continuous cycle.

                                                                                  The economy has no starting point of origin, doesn’t turn on heroes, and no one needs to be shown special deference.

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                                                                                  • Chip,

                                                                                    How would this new deal for capital of yours work? What changes would you make?

                                                                                    Because you’re pointing to the current system on how it does work, saying you’re going to change it, and trying to claim it will still work the same way in the new system.

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                                                                                    • *shakes fist ominously*
                                                                                      Come The Revolution…

                                                                                      Basically, I would be happy to see a reinstatement of the New Deal-
                                                                                      Stringent banking regulations;
                                                                                      Progressive taxation;
                                                                                      Stronger legal support for union (e.g. card check)

                                                                                      As well as a progressive emphasis on our global trade agreements such as a international structure of wages with our trading partners, environmental and workplace safety provisions.

                                                                                      All of which intended to tilt the balance back towards the holders of labor, instead of capital.

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                                                                                          • I’d ban employers from requiring employees to be educated. If the company wants to voice their side to employees, that’s fine, they can hold information sessions all day, every day, until the vote. But no one is obligated (in any way) to attend those sessions (and the company must make it clear that attendance is completely voluntary).

                                                                                            As for Unions themselves, we really need to step away from the traditional model of Unions, because it’s been shooting itself in the foot with a 2 gauge shotgun for the past few decades, and the old hierarchy and benefits, etc. are unattractive to younger workers. IIRC, changing things up might require legislative action, but it needs to happen.

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                                                                                      • Progressive taxation;

                                                                                        I’m pretty sure we already have this… and this is normally applied to “income” but this statement is about capital. Are you trying to tax job creation?

                                                                                        As well as a progressive emphasis on our global trade agreements such as a international structure of wages with our trading partners, environmental and workplace safety provisions.

                                                                                        I doubt our trading partners would agree to this, and for good reason.

                                                                                        Protecting the environment is a luxury good, if your choices are “clean air” or “enough food to eat” then the no one lets their kids starve (which explains China). Us insisting that other countries need to have our level of environmental standards is us trying to prevent the 3rd world from having jobs… which means their kids go hungry. Go back in time a hundred plus years and a bad shift of the wind could kill dozens of people in the US. We’re richer now, they’re not.

                                                                                        Further the implication here is they will be accepting our regulations. Are we willing to accept theirs? France’s 35 hour work week? Iran’s segregation of the sexes? If the answer is “no” then we’re pretty deep into cultural imperialism; Our way is better so it’s fine for us to cram it down their throats.

                                                                                        And something to keep in mind is Free Trade increases the output of an economy. This strongly implies increased worker productivity in an economy close to full employment. And increased worker productivity is the big way workers increase their pay.

                                                                                        Restricting trade is something that shows up again and again as a suggested way to increase pay, and I continue to have no clue why people point to North Korea’s trade policies and say “we’re going to copy that and it will make us richer”.

                                                                                        If the goal is to increase worker pay, then more trade with less restrictions is the way to go (and yes, I get that this is counter intuitive).

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                                                                                  • Chip, as long as the economy has social constructs and those constructs have chance processes, you will have these ‘Bezos’ guys show up as the winners of the social Pareto Distribution.

                                                                                    https://youtu.be/CsRLVZTYpGo?t=260

                                                                                    This is where I start seeing chance processes in social constructs should be avoided. If there are only owner operators that have limited chance processes in their business model, then the Pareto Distribution will have less affect to distribution of wealth.

                                                                                    I think if you look even in the socialist models that had chance processes, you start seeing winners and losers of the chance process, and power accumulated to certain firms(individual heads of firms).

                                                                                    You do realize if this is the case, your solution will probably lead to the same thing you are criticizing?

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                                                                                  • No, I am not. You are utterly discounting how risk in the system works and falls on the small players who make up the bulk of the economy. My point is not one of moral affinity, it’s one of accepting that risk requires reward that is greater than a mere paycheck.

                                                                                    But please, show me an economy where the risk takers were not given some greater reward?

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                                                                                • Given someone like Bezos, that makes sense, he’s got enough money and other businesses that if Amazon were to fold, he’d be fine. At that level, I give Bezos credit for looking to hire, but he’s not really taking risks by hiring more people. He takes more of a risk for starting a company like Blue Origin, but even that, if it fails, is mostly a write-off, not a risk.

                                                                                  Nonsense.

                                                                                  We’re talking about investment, and for Bezos that means “investment into Amazon”, which he’s still doing. For example Bezos took a monster risk by changing Amazon from a “books only” store to a “anything” store. Granted he’s not risking having enough food to eat, but he was risking Billions and Billions of his own money.

                                                                                  And that highlights the whole problem with putting a ceiling on how successful you’re allowed to be. Bezos was already a Billionaire when he took that risk, so if we’d hobbled him at “Amazon only sells books” then we’d have been destroying hundreds of thousands of jobs.

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                                                                                  • Yes, there is risk, but it’s a fantasy to pretend that Bezos currently endures the same degree of personal risk in a given failure that your sole proprietor of the neighborhood pizza place does.

                                                                                    Bezos can insulate his personal fortune and reputation in ways that are just not practical for the local pizza joint. And if he hasn’t, then he has no business running Amazon.

                                                                                    But I never suggested he be legally hobbled, because I know damn well how such hobbling would play out in real life (I don’t suffer from fantasies that the labor class will somehow rise up and upend the existing power structure, except perhaps, temporarily, until new leaders are chosen and the power structure largely settles back to something similar to today).

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                                                  • Amazon’s impact is 600k jobs, an absurd number of products, and yes, taxes paid because Amazon’s employees, income, property, and sales.

                                                    Umm… is that net?

                                                    Amazon is mostly a retailer, selling products produced by other companies that, prior to Amazon, were being sold in other venues — brick and mortar, online, etc. Honestly, it doesn’t even make economic sense to assert that Amazon has added 600k jobs to the economy. They’ve been successful by being more efficient, no? And isn’t that mostly a matter of reducing costs, including labor? Remember bookstores? Music stores? Video stores? Getting sorta thin on the ground lately. It’s some hinky accounting that only looks at one side of the ledger.

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                                                    • Net is too complex a question to address here and I’m not sure how to even start looking into that. However the economy is close to full employment, and Amazon is certainly part of that.

                                                      Where it gets interesting is how many of these jobs destroyed by Amazon have been outside of the US and how many created have been inside of it.

                                                      There’s a reason Europe and the rest of the world are not especially happy with the USA’s habit of creating people like Gates/Jobs/Bezos. And it’s the same reason I don’t want to stop and shift that onto some other country.

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                                                    • “Remember bookstores? Music stores? Video stores? ”

                                                      I remember a lot of places who traded on being The Place That Has Stuff. One might argue that they had a monopoly on being The Place That Has Stuff, and they exploited that monopoly to overcharge the customers. You’re going to argue on behalf of a monopoly that only existed because of an accident of geography?

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                                              • Dark, let me tell you a story.

                                                There was a able gold miner that traveled into the middle of nowhere and began mining. It wasn’t long before he found a nice metal bearing vein, so he began extracting and refining the beautiful metal into rods and bars that gleamed in the sun.

                                                Unknown to him, a church had later moved in just ten miles from his mine. It was The Social church and it worshipped the God of Needs. One of the collective reported the gleaming bars of metal to the church and soon after there were cries of ‘sharing’ and great sermons on how the God of Needs put that gold in the ground to be shared with all The Social People.

                                                ‘What is to be done’ the preacher reads from his new manifest. Of course they knew what they must do. The church folk embarked for the mine. By force they took the miners wealth, as it was clearly socially justified in the newly developed church writings. In this instant it never occurred to the mob that the metal the miner extracted would have never been found from the dawn of human kind to its extinction without his effort.

                                                As they left with the treasure, the miner spoke with the last defiance ‘it’s only copper’.

                                                In a fit of rage, the mob attacked the miner for not producing the great treasure they had so coveted, and yearned to possess.

                                                And so it goes with the man of ability and the mob it’s need.

                                                The real point I wanted to discuss, mostly with you, is that this was just one social construct within ten miles of a mine.

                                                Imagine what happens if there are fifty or more social constructs within a stones throw of wealth.

                                                The Proximity Religion.

                                                Imagine the God of Need infiltrating every construct, coveting every resource.

                                                This is why I think Capitalism should be aware of social constructs, that none should form in it or around it.

                                                The miner could not walk from point A to point B without the cries of The Social at every footstep on the ground being owed passage by right of the God of Needs and Scripture.

                                                Maybe this doesn’t reflect Capitalism-as-it-is, just a idea that maybe capitalism should be attempted without access by the God of Need.

                                                I will save the Guilt Religion for another day.

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                                                • This is why I think Capitalism should be aware of social constructs, that none should form in it or around it.

                                                  I think it’s fair to say that property rights are indeed a social construct, but I also agree that this “God of Needs” is extremely dangerous for it’s potential to disrupt economic activity.

                                                  The many really are poorer than the one, there’s a heart-ringing argument that their needs are greater… and they’re also largely ignorant of the economic destruction they can/might do. There needs to be a balance, but we already HAVE a balance. Changing the rules because someone is above average and half of the people are below average is an extremely dangerous path to walk.

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                                                  • “The many really are poorer than the one, there’s a heart-ringing argument that their needs are greater…”

                                                    For sure, and it is why I started dabbling more into social objectivity and less in empirical objectivity, because I was never really good at the arguments happening in social objectivity. Also I couldn’t distinguish the Bright Lines between empirical objectivity and social objectivity.

                                                    I don’t think we have a balance. I think if people can elect politicians that serve the Gods of Needs and have the ability to accumulate social debt, all there will ever be is increasing social goods baskets and wages until collapse. Rinse and repeat for millenniums.

                                                    This isn’t a social model of success, but a repeating social model of failure. I don’t think you can get out of that gravitational pull until the social constructs can be separated from production and exchange.

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                                                    • Also property rights may be a social construct, but the more the individual constructs align with the social construct, the less burden in the ‘costs of enforcement’ are required. In minarchist speak ‘i want only a small enough amount of enforcement that it could be drowned in a bathtub’.

                                                      As I said up above my ‘wished for’ model wouldn’t have standing enforcement, just rising and subsiding to match the needs of the situation, so there is no long term social construct costs associated, and no established long term standing social construct.

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                                                    • I don’t think we have a balance. I think if people can elect politicians that serve the Gods of Needs and have the ability to accumulate social debt, all there will ever be is increasing social goods baskets and wages until collapse. Rinse and repeat for millenniums.

                                                      In theory the US model is pretty good about avoiding that, i.e. the bankruptcy of Detroit and the struggles of Illinois serve as a lesson on what not to do… the problem being that the federal gov is already pretty far down that road. If FDR’s various programs were State level things then the long term costs would be a lot clearer and spendthrift politicians would break small economic entities.

                                                      I do wonder if Europe, for all their anti-growth govs, isn’t better suited to deal with this politically with the parliamentary model. If the people become convinced of the economic need, they can reform social programs with one election. With the US it’d take a min of three election cycles and that’s probably too long to sustain a reform effort.

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                                                      • Socialist governments historically don’t last 100 years. The trouble with the U.S. is there is no clear point when it became socialist enough to start the clock ticking.

                                                        We made it to 2013, so back dated we are past the 1913 part, my bet is it doesn’t make it past 2033.

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                                  • I was looking at Capitalism as-it-seems-to-exist in the world.

                                    The criticism of capitalism that it is imperfect strikes me as true but uninteresting. The argument that it is imperfect and therefore needs to be tweaked is one that I’ll happily engage in and I know, going into it, that I’d be okay with any number of tweaks (even the ones that strike me as unlikely to work) because I know that, at that point, the argument becomes one of practicality rather than ideology. The argument that it is imperfect and therefore we need a different system is one that needs a *LOT* of heavy lifting on the part of the person making it.

                                    For one thing, the different systems that have been experimented with in living memory have had some *SERIOUS* side-effects.

                                    It’s the equivalent of weighing the difference between “doctors need better bedside manner” and “homeopaths have the best bedside manner, we should do that instead of allopathic medicine.”

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                                    • Yeah, some serious side effects, yet they continue to persist. They persist so much that the capitalism-that-exists is laiden with ‘progress’ toward the same end. It’s like only stepping slightly on a rusty nail in an attempt to achieve 1/2 a tetanus infection.

                                      If the truth is that if ‘the good society’ needs another lesson in SERIOUS side effects, there is little you or I can do about it.

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                                      • They persist so much that the capitalism-that-exists is laiden with ‘progress’ toward the same end.

                                        What are we comparing “the same end” to?

                                        Stuff that actually exists?
                                        Or stuff the way we wish it was?

                                        Like with the modern medicine system, people are still going to die.

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                                        • What is your main concern as the only one I am really interested in is if i am tangled or untangled from other peoples social utopian experiments.

                                          If I am not tangled, then utopian death camps are ‘none of my business’.

                                          To the concern that people are going to die….you’ve met people. People are going to die is like saying the sky is blue.

                                          I think it was the Moder Times experiment that someone died because all they ever ate was beans.

                                          If i am to be tangled then, ‘I’m your huckleberry’.

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                                          • I want to make clear that I see the serenity prayer as applicable to Capitalism as well.

                                            There *ARE* problems and there *ARE* things that need to be fixed. But “hey, maybe homeopathy will work this time” is never going to be true, no matter how awesome the bedside manner is.

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                                            • I’m still not clear about what you getting at.

                                              The way i see it there are many categories of objectivism.

                                              You may find actual truth in ’empirical objectivism’.

                                              If the category is ‘social objectivism’ that is where things get fuzzy.

                                              I don’t know for certain, but the social construct of Capitalism, seems to fall more under social objectivism than empirical objectivism.

                                              There are some parameters if you squint just right appear to be repeatable within certain limits. There is tribe y that think capitalism is supposed to do ‘these things’, and there is tribe x that think capitalism is supposed to do ‘these other things’.

                                              I don’t think capitalism will ever be constructed on the basis of empirical objectivity. We have seen some experiments that may indicate what we shouldn’t do. If we plotted those no-go areas on the political compass it may be useful to try experiments on the opposite axis.

                                              I can point that out but it tends to be a triggering topic.

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                                              • There are some parameters if you squint just right appear to be repeatable within certain limits.

                                                Yes. Exactly.

                                                There also seems to be a lot of deck stacking whenever this argument shows up. Capitalism is considered a failure when everything isn’t perfect. Socialism isn’t considered to have failed until there are death camps and people look at the first three or four years of socialism’s eating its own seed corn as examples of what could be possible if only there weren’t wreckers.

                                                (And that’s not even touching on how much heavy lifting is done by culture from tribe to tribe to tribe)

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                                    • I agree, I’m all for talking about different ways to do X. Chip has asked this question (regarding property rights) before, and I think it’s a good question to ask.

                                      My issue is that, in a vein similar to your objection, the suggested alternatives tend to ignore the age old problem of, someone has to make decisions regarding how resources are allocated and utilized, and people will spend the entirety of their lives, and motivate others to do the same, working to be the person making those decisions. Putting those decisions to “the people” is pointless, since “the people” can only barely come to a thin consensus regarding big decisions. The decisions will be made by a select few, and as a species, we are really bad about keeping the wrong sorts away from those decisions.

                                      Like you said, I’m all for tweaking the levers and knobs (Chip has a point regarding the rules of local and global trade, etc., they aren’t physical laws), but I’d be very skeptical over upturning the capitalism apple cart, at least not before someone gives me a good solution* to how to avoid the same issues coming about in a new form.

                                      *solutions that involve re-education camps, pogroms, etc. don’t count as good.

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                                      • You’re talking about “capitalism” or the “capitalist system” the way fuzzy Marxists do, that it is a singular object with a precise definition.

                                        But looking at the actual world, there are about a 170 countries, all but 2 are “capitalist” and none practice it the same way.
                                        China’s version of capitalism is vastly different than Norway’s, which is wholly different than Haiti’s. And all three have wildly different levels of wealth and justice.

                                        A lot of this seems to be in according to what I mentioned before, how us children of the Cold War can only imagine politics revolving around the terms of Marxism/Capitalism, where economic theories are the main drivers of outcomes.

                                        China and Russia are fast becoming good examples.
                                        The private ownership of capital has produced a tremendous amount of wealth in both nations, but at heart, they are still the same repressive places they have always been. Except now the privileged elite are not party bureaucrats, but oligarchs.

                                        “Producing wealth” is not the same as “producing a good outcome”.

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                                        • “wildly different levels of wealth”

                                          Between the two options of:

                                          A: Most everybody has X amount of wealth and nobody really has a whole lot more than anybody else

                                          B: Most people have 1.5X amount of wealth but there are a lot of people who have merely X but there are a few people who have 5X, 10X. 20X, and even a handful that have 100X.

                                          Which is better?

                                          “wildly different levels of … justice”

                                          Do they also have different cultural assumptions as to what justice consists of?

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                                        • Yes, there is ‘capitalism’ in the broad sense of private interests controlling the means of production. How that is implemented varies, and it’s worth looking at how it varies to see what works. It’s also worth thinking about other ways to vary things and ‘war gaming’ those ideas.

                                          But when you say something like this:

                                          So why does (steel) need to be produced by the private sector?

                                          It doesn’t need to be made by the private sector. But the onus is on you to make the case for it to become something more akin to a utility. That’s not to say there is no case, but you have to make it. When you just toss out a statement like that, without making the argument, well, it sounds like a dog whistle for Marxism/communism, and people start thinking about paradises like Venezuela.

                                          Take, for example, Statoil (now Equinor). It’s not a public utility, but the Norwegian government is the majority shareholder. The case was made, and it’s by and large been successful. Such a venture would not work everywhere or for every industry, but clearly it can work.

                                          But you have to show your work.

                                          As for your other point, about workers getting paid better, to be honest, that is something that needs to be attacked in the MBA programs and in the behavior of Wall Street prognosticators. It also needs to be addressed in Unions.

                                          IIRC there is plenty of evidence that well paid and well treated work forces are happier and much more productive than those under the metaphorical lash, and a lot of businesses understand this and compensate and treat their work forces very well, top to bottom. Those that don’t, they need that wake up call. Unions, on the other hand, fall into the relevancy trap. Once they’ve managed to win for their members the good pay and environment, leadership often imagines that they lose power, and struggle to maintain relevancy. They have to maintain the animosity or risk being irrelevant (see also: Republicans and the Cold War/GWOT, or Democrats and environmentalism, etc.). Obviously, #NotAllUnions, but a lot of the older, big ones (UAW, IAM, etc.) tend to act as if that 0.5% extra pay is the only thing letting the membership keep food on the table.

                                          All of this is a long way to ask, “At what point does the extra worker compensation become detrimental to the company, or to others?”

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                                          • I’m not trying for something so focused as “here’s an industrial model that is superior” as it is to break the stranglehold of these twin arguments;

                                            1. “Either status quo, or else Stalin”. There are other options!

                                            2. “The status quo has produced vast wealth”. This is true, but as evidenced by Trump voters, irrelevant. Perceptions of justice count for more than GDP.

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                                              • The best way to avoid dogwhistles? “Here, by the way, is an example of a model that is superior.”

                                                Otherwise you sound like someone saying “no one is suggesting anti-vax! I’m just asking why nobody is questioning whether injecting infants with mercury is a good idea!”

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                                              • &
                                                What do you mean by “exploring” the idea that perceptions count for more than objective measures?

                                                That’s like saying we should explore the idea that the moon moves the tides, or explore what follows from the idea that the earth revolves around the sun.

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                                                • What do you mean by “exploring” the idea that perceptions count for more than objective measures?

                                                  That’s not what I said.

                                                  I said this: “I would *LOVE* to explore what follows from this.”

                                                  If perceptions count for more than objective measures, what obligations does that put on me? On you? On us, as a society?

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                                                • What do you mean by “exploring” the idea that perceptions count for more than objective measures?

                                                  I mean perceptions are a dangerous measure and need to be handled carefully. Objective measures are much safer.

                                                  So no, the contrast between perceptions and objective measures are nothing like the tides and nearby stellar masses. It’s more like measuring how bright the moon is versus measuring how pretty it is tonight.

                                                  Or to bring it more home to you, it’s like assessing the structural safety of a building versus measuring how inhabitable* it is. One is, while not easy, relatively straightforward and unlikely to change with the evolution of society, and the other is, well, not.

                                                  And again, I’m not saying perceptions aren’t important, but the case for why we should try juggling those particular sticks of TNT needs to be made.**

                                                  *My apologies if I’m using the wrong term. I’m looking for how well the inhabitants of a building find the structure to meet their needs, from the basic to the far more aesthetic and esoteric.

                                                  **IMHO, 90+% of the time, when I read an attempt to make such a case, the argument is rife with special pleading, or tautologies, or numerous assumptions that a given X is true, without showing that X is true.

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                                                      • Specifically, Brexit and Trump.
                                                        Both were driven mostly by an irrational emotion, a perception of injustice rather than anything objective.

                                                        We’ve seen it right here where we are asked to juggle the dynamite of a powerful voting block of Americans who are relatively affluent, yet feel aggrieved and victimized, even if they can’t actually explain why.

                                                        This is just a fact of how people work. As citizens, all we can do is cope with this fact.

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                                                        • OK, I grok that. Now how does one realistically incorporate that sense of injustice into economic policies? Especially when that perception is so unfocused.

                                                          Sure, we could tweak copyright back to the reasonable “until you are dead, or maybe even less”, but copyright doesn’t really bother most folks.

                                                          Sure, we could institute an Estate Tax that would help end dynastic wealth, but again, small impact to the whole unfocused injustice (very few families pass on vast sums of wealth).

                                                          Personally, I think most people would feel better about injustice if they didn’t perceive that their jobs were disposable if the C-suite needed to meet investor expectations, or if an executive got a bonus for cutting those jobs (costs). How you would satisfy that perception through law/regulation without introducing a whole host of negative 1st, 2nd, and 3rd order effects is beyond me.

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                                                          • You’re question is so big, its like you’re sort of asking, “effin’ politics, how does it work?”

                                                            Things like the New Deal, or even the Reagan Coalition were massively complex negotiations involving exactly what you describe, and more besides, with all kinds of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd order effects.

                                                            But this sort of massive multi-player political juggling act is exactly what happens all the time, when the subject is banking or industrial interests.

                                                            Funny you mention how trivial the estate tax is, because you’re right it scarcely affects anybody.

                                                            But curious isn’t it, how such a trivial and obscure thing has become a commonplace talking point, one that guys who change tires for a living will get indignant about, after hearing it discussed for the 114th time on Fox and Friends?

                                                            There are plenty of issues that have a political utility far beyond their actual economic utility.

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                                                            • But we are talking about changing how we think (which I read as ‘how we regulate’) economic activity, not what kind of political mileage perceptions of said activity can get. Honestly, if it’s an economic activity that gets either party political mileage, the current likelihood that it will be adequately solved by the political system approaches zero.

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                          • Some parts of it were good, some parts of it were atrocious, some parts of it were ineffective.

                            We can have a food stamps program without confiscating gold from people.

                            The trade liberalization was good but the artificial scarcity was bad.

                            I’d probably feel better about Social Security if I thought that I’d ever see a dime from it.

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                      • I’m not proposing an actual solution here- what I’m saying is that we are forty years into a massive global experiment in prioritizing capital and devaluing labor, and it just doesn’t seem to be working.

                        We’ve lifted a Billion or two people out of abject poverty, and increased the USA’s GDP by a factor of 9.3x. We’ve created new products and distributed to the masses, these new products include things like a (almost) cure for AIDS, many types of cancer, smart phones, and so forth.

                        By any math based evaluation, I’d say it’s working REALLY well.

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              • Way back when, Bushitler argued that we needed more immigration because the immigrants would do the jobs that Americans don’t do.

                There have been a handful of studies that show that Americans *WILL* do these jobs, they just want more money and more benefits.

                Importing workers to do these jobs strikes me as analogous to hiring scabs.

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                • You keep saying that these are jobs union workers won’t do and comparing that to importing immigrants to do jobs Americans won’t do (which, as you say, are jobs Americans will do, but only for the right pay and benefits) which is misrepresenting what’s going on here. These aren’t jobs union workers won’t do; these literally are the union worker’s jobs. What they won’t do is work them in unsafe conditions or for poor pay. As others have already noted, their labor is the best leverage they have, and line crossers undermine that leverage.

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                    • In the strictest sense of “jobs union workers literally won’t do,” sure.

                      Except that, up until the moment working conditions became unsafe or the pay became unsatisfactory, union workers were literally doing those jobs.

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                        • If the pay were satisfactory to someone else, should the someone else be prevented from doing the job?

                          That’s a different point from suggesting that union workers aren’t harmed by replacement workers. (I’m not sure you explicitly suggested that, but the tone of your original question struck me as stating that in actuality, the union workers weren’t harmed. I apologize if I misread.)

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                            • I get that, but my point was that saying replacement workers should have the right to work if they choose, and therefore that we’re harming them by preventing them from working, is different from saying that the strikers aren’t harmed by replacement workers.

                              I know that elsewhere in this thread you raise the issue for discussion that maybe strikers aren’t harmed, or harmed in a way we can consistently recognize “harm.” But it seems to me that the points you bring up further in the discussion (including the one I just quoted) are more about whether we should allow or assure the replacement workers’ right to work. I agree that’s an important issue, but it’s different from the one you started the discussion with.

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                      • But the same can be said of american workers and immigrant labour. The jobs low skilled immigrants seem to be taking are jobs that low skilled americans won’t do unless for instance the pay increases. Being against other people being willing to do more for less takes you to a rather ugly place.

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                    • If the union workers go on strike, they seem to become jobs union workers literally won’t do.

                      I didn’t mention this in the OP, but after the first two months or so of the strike, the union agreed to go back to work at current wages, etc., and continue negotiating. At that time, the company refused to take them back. At least, that was the union’s side of the story. It was probably true as far as it went, but I suspected there was more to it. The linked to article goes in a little more detail, and from there you might be able to Google some more info, if there is any.

                      (I actually mentioned it in earlier drafts, but excised it because my OP was way too long. I had mentioned it in the context of the “convenient narrative,” because we, in our protesting/activism called the strike a “lockout,” which legally it was. But I was uneasy with insisting on the lockout language.)

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                      • I didn’t mention this in the OP, but after the first two months or so of the strike, the union agreed to go back to work at current wages, etc., and continue negotiating. At that time, the company refused to take them back.

                        This is a very interesting piece of information.

                        Thank you.

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    • Some of the “replacement workers” are simply going to be current non-union employees who get shifted to the factory floor. When the labor contract at CAT was recently reaching a stalemate and talks of a strike began circulating, a number of the engineers in my brother-in-law’s unit, were assigned to different plants and got some basic training on what they would be doing in the event of strike. He actually didn’t get assigned, and I asked jokingly if that was because he was too important or was he not qualified. Nobody had any idea how the selection was made; didn’t matter if you were working under a visa or not.

      I suppose that’s one way to encourage engineers to incorporate the best safety features.

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    • Jaybird,

      While I’ve commented on this subthread, I haven’t engaged your comment directly. I guess my question is, to which “argument about replacement workers” are you referring, mine or that of the pro-union folks? It seems to me that your question about harm is directed to the argument pro-union folks tend to make. I mostly endorse what Greginak and Em have said.

      For my own argument, I’m talking about the harm, or at least “marginalized circumstances,” that I imagine replacement workers face.

      If you’ve read (and if you recall) some of my labor posts at Hit Coffee a while back (not that you have any obligation to), you may remember that I’m conflicted about the typical narrative even the best labor historians sometimes fall into. I’m referring to the way those historians sometimes discuss the state’s use of troops or police or employers’ use of private guards to protect replacement workers. They seem (again, sometimes, not always or even most of the time) to view such measures as unquestionably anti-worker or illegitimate. I, on the other hand, see the stated purposes as defensible: protecting people from violence.

      Those historians may very well answer that troops/police/private guards did more than merely “protect” replacement workers. They often (usually?) bullied, harassed, committed violence against, or killed strikers or pro-union persons. Sometimes they didn’t even claim to be protecting replacement workers. I cede the point, but the historians still seem to equivocate on whether or in what ways it’s okay or not okay to protect replacement workers.

      ETA: here is one of the Hit Coffee posts I’m referring to: http://hitcoffee.com/file/8219

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      • Well, I see the argument as really interesting but I see it having a lot of hidden assumptions.

        I know that the current morality tells me that I should take the side of the union member over the side of the corporation.

        But I think about stuff like “should the corporation be allowed to hire someone else?” and I find myself thinking “of course they should be able to do that.”

        Should the “scab” be allowed to work the job? Of course they should be allowed to work the job.

        I have solidarity with the union. I have solidarity with the corporation. I have solidarity with the “scab”. I understand where each one is coming from. Should the company be safer? Of course it should. Should the workers be able to go on strike? Of course they should. Should replacement workers be able to work the job without fear for their safety? Of course they should.

        And when I see an analogy between the union workers’ relationship to the “scabs” and US citizens’ relationship to immigrants (documented or undocumented), I see that the current morality whipsaws between the teams that I am expected to have solidarity with.

        And I find that very interesting indeed.

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        • I think I mostly agree with you about the assumptions concerning with whom we are expected to side.

          Note my passive voice. My intuitive understanding of the “current morality” is the same as yours. But calling it the “current morality” leaves unanswered the question of who creates the morality or what its intellectual bases are. There’s also a certain passive-voice-ness in saying that something is “interesting” when what you seem (to me, at least) to mean is it’s something to be criticized or at least interrogated.

          Again, though, I see what you mean about the hidden assumptions, the basic contents of that “current morality,” and the whipsawing that occurs. And I agree, it is “interesting” and deserves to be interrogated.

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  2. Thanks for sharing. I’ve never been involved in any kind of labor activism but this hits on a number of issues I’ve pondered. I’m relatively sympathetic to the idea of organized labor in the private sector (public I think has serious problems). Yet I also can’t help but think the labor movement hasn’t done a great job of making the case for itself in the last couple decades. Not enough people think it’s on their side.

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    • Why don’t you think the labor movement has done a good job of making the case for itself in the last couple of decades.

      I agree that running a business and making payroll is tough. These are not easy things. However, I also think there are a lot of people who get into management to be pricks and are pricks. They get a psychic pleasure from being able to order people around in the most demeaning way possible.

      I’ve seen companies where the managers work hard to keep morale and engagement high. There are also companies where managers and ownership seem to do their hardest to keep morale as low as possible. Sometimes these companies with high-attrition rates and low morale manage to be profitable for decades despite the reputation for low morale.

      We don’t question management making decisions. We do question workers looking out for their own interests though and “it’s complicated” narratives like this essay’s example always boil down to the idea that the employees need to take one for the team.

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      • Put it to you this way. I am very thankful for labor’s early-mid 20th century successes. Me and you are attorneys. I went into this, and you probably did too, knowing life for us would not be 9-5 a lot of the time. But the entire environment we operate in has benefited from the labor movement. After all, even busy lawyers don’t work every Saturday.

        My current day to day experience with a union is my local grocery store. There you spend 20 minutes in line waiting for deli meet cut by one person while 5 stand around obviously doing nothing. Some union shops are better run than this but where they’re not it at least gives the impression that the union’s successes has been at the expense of the consumer. My impression is that many people observe this and feel similarly, but ymmv.

        Personal anecdata aside, my impression is that when most people think of private sector unions, they envision rear guard actions protecting the interests of workers in dying or dead end industries like heavy manufacturing or resource extraction. Those people defending their interests are not wrong to do it. I think they have a right to try to do it. But the perception is that they are defending themselves (again, nothing wrong with that, management is certainly in it for themselves), not workers generally. Most people see a fight between other people, far away. I think if organized labor wants to improve its appeal it needs to find ways to promote solidarity with others who it traditionally hasn’t or who aren’t historically part of unionized industries. It has nothing to do with sympathy for the boss or love of ‘free’ markets or something like that.

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        • The biggest strike in SF right now is the Marriot strike:

          https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/29/travel/marriott-strikes-hawaii-settle-not-an-francisco-.html

          There are lots of things going on here. One is that white-collar office workers were always much harder to organize than blue-collar workers. There are lots of reasons like this. At our level, we are closer to and have a different relationship to our bosses. We presume more of an equality and letting them know what is going on. We are also not generally micromanaged as much as blue-collar workers. Other times office workers are more transient or the offices are smaller.

          FWIW, I’ve never had that issue at a Supermarket.

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          • I think there are two issues when it comes to lack of success at organizing office workers.

            The first is cultural.* White collar workers generally have more emotional buy-in to the system that hires them.

            The second is that some white collar work (though not all, or most, by any means) is less “proletarianized” and therefore less susceptible to the types of management control that makes unionization attractive to some workers.

            For what it’s worth, I’m in a white collar (albeit public sector) union. I oppose it for good reasons, bad reasons, and self-interested reasons. But I’m in it by choice. The Janus decision forced me to choose whether I want to belong to it, and I’ve chosen to, for the time being.

            *Mirabile dictu! Notice this comment and bookmark it. I usually don’t like to make recourse to “culture” as an explanation for things.

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            • White collar workers are more likely to perceive themselves as would be managers and business owners than blue and pink collar workers even though statistically most of them aren’t going to rise that high up in the corporate ranks. Since they see themselves on the up, they have no real need to unionize to fight for a better deal at the bottom. This is especially true in the private sector. White collar workers for the government seem more likely to want to unionize for the best deal they could get at the bottom.

              I think the management thing also explains why public sector white collar workers unionize. Many private sector white collar workers are in small businesses where management consists of do this task by this time. They are generally free to do the task however they like, especially if they are professionals. Public sector white collar workers are going to be controlled in their tasks a lot more. This makes unionization a bit more likely.

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              • I’ve just now noticed your comment. Sorry about the delay.

                I think your first paragraph goes a long way toward explaining the “cultural” argument.

                Your second paragraph offers a good hypothesis about “structural” reasons, such as freedom to perform however one wants (and relative lack of freedom for public-sector white collar workers).

                That hypothesis seems reasonable, but I’ll have to ponder on it some more. I do know one of my union’s grievances is the administration’s practice of increasing workloads without consultation with the union. I don’t know how pervasive that practice is, but I assume the union is telling the truth when it says it’s happening. At the same time, the larger grievance is what the union claims is an insufficient raise in salary. That grievance isn’t unrelated to the workload grievance, but the situation strikes me as being much more about the money than about workload increases. (That said, I’m sure a large majority of my colleagues in the bargaining unit probably disagree with me. So I can only speak for myself.)

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          • FWIW, I’ve never had that issue at a Supermarket.

            I’ve encountered situations like the one InMD describes, at the supermarket and elsewhere, and at unionized shops and non-unionized shops. However, I don’t begrudge supermarket workers’ efforts to unionize, even though I do fear that the unionization might not be a good thing overall.

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            • I’d like to add on that. My own experience as a customer service worker in various capacities gives me a lot of sympathy for the perceived (and sometimes not merely “perceived,” but actual) instances of sloughing off on the job.

              I’m not sure exactly what I mean by “a lot,” but I assure you I mean something closer to a “whole lot” and not a “half lot.”

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        • One of the best run supermarkets I’ve been too wasn’t Union, it was employee owned.

          There is something to be said for Unions, especially Unions where the membership will be interacting with the consumer (such as hotel staff, grocery stores, etc.), making more of an effort to appeal to the consumer that Union labor will give them a better value for their dollar. I’ve said this before that IMHO Unions in the US seem happy to coast by on the old idea that being in a Union is an unalloyed, unquestionable good. The fact that Union support is at best lackluster, and otherwise declining, suggests that the rest of the public is not so inclined.

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              • The United States has a suspicious lack of co-ops compared to other Western countries. Co-ops and employee owned businesses seem a lot more common in Europe. Americans have been more ideologically capitalist than Europeans as a whole though. Capitalism is part of our shared national image.

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                • When you get out into deep-red Trump country on the Great Plains, there are coops all over the place. It really is part of the lexicon — “Take the pickup down to the coop and fill ‘er up” is absolutely a thing. The large majority of the harvested grain goes into the coop’s elevator. The coop is responsible for getting the best price for the grain, negotiating rates with the railroads, etc.

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                  • In the 19th century as the West was being settled, there wasn’t the Cold War distinction between “Capitalism” and “Socialism”. Much of the western agricultural culture contained copious amounts of collectivism.

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                • Employee-owned is pure capitalism. I think the reason it’s not as popular is that managing such enterprises is challenging and most businesses start out as sole proprietorships or limited partnerships. It’s tricky to move from that to employee-owned, and if the company is taken public… can a publicly traded company be employee owned, unless it’s through employees owning the majority of the stock?

                  Co-op is a less capitalist, and has issues in law as Gabriel suggests.

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                  • The story of The Lusty Lady is the story that comes to mind to me for employee-owned businesses.

                    The employees make a business that they most would like to work for and then the business fails to make enough money and then the business shutters. (I mean, check this story out.)

                    It becomes an argument about the Labor Theory of Value at that point.

                    If you work really hard to make a really good product that not enough people wish to pay for… then what? It’s not like you can get a better customer base. The customers are the customers.

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                    • As I said, managing such businesses are challenging. There is that Pollyanna ideal that everyone should love their job and love working at their job, regardless of the job or the employer, but the reality is, a business exists to make a profit by primarily serving the customer. As soon as the business begins to substantially serve the interests of the employees over the customer*, you can expect profitability issues.

                      And I’ll note that this also applies to businesses who start to behave as if they serve the interests of majority shareholders over customers, or if the customer and the people being served are not significantly the same set of people. Whenever the focus of the decisions the business makes shifts away from serving the customer, you are going to have a tough furrow to plow.

                      *You can, however, serve the customer at the detriment to the employee and be profitable for a long time, if you have a large pool of un- or under- employed. At least, until your treatment becomes widespread knowledge, which is one of those things Unions are good for, making sure the bad behavior of management is brought to light, and countered.

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                      • When it comes to “employee owned,” one issue to consider is the distinction between ownership and control. As I mentioned above, I worked at a bank once that was “employee owned” but there was no illusion about who was calling the shots. The voting shares of the ESOP were held by the bigwigs. And while we weren’t treated horribly, we were treated by the industry standard (maybe a little better) and were, quite simply, workers/employees. The ESOP was basically just a benefit and nothing else.

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                  • One of the issues with co-ops or even heavily employee-owned business is that they tend to be capital-constrained. A worker co-op can only get equity from its members, by definition and that limits its ability to accumulate the capital it needs to expand or buy necessary plant and equipment.

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          • Worker co-ops can be good for this thing because everyone has an incentive for them to succeed. But they tend to be rare and only in a few industries. IIRC Worker co-ops survive economic downturns better than regular companies. They also avoid the worst abuses of management.

            We can use more workplace democracy.

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      • Saul Degraw: Why don’t you think the labor movement has done a good job of making the case for itself in the last couple of decades.

        You didn’t ask me, but my answer is that the balance of power in the nationwide union movement has shifted to the public sector and public sector adjacent enterprises (e.g. mass transit).

        We are killing the planet because our public works infrastructure projects have become literally unmanageable.

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        • Ergo, how does my bus driver being Union give me a better public transit experience?

          Back when I worked for Big Aero, there was a company bus service so employees could get between distant buildings without having to drive their POVs and find parking, and the drivers were Teamsters. More than once, the driver would hit the end of their shift, and the bus would pull over, and stop, and stay there until their relief showed up, which could be a while. Driver said it was Union rules. As a passenger now stuck on a bus, miles from my destination, waiting who knows how long, and usually missing my meeting, the Union was decidedly NOT adding value to my day.

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        • 2This is a much more succinct way of getting where I was trying to go. I support a lot of the nominal goals of unions, living wage, reasonable benefits, workplace safety, etc. Yet you have these situations like my grocery store or Oscar’s bus driver that tell people, whatever unions may be, friends of yours they ain’t. And that’s not getting into those public/quasi-public sector ones where unions seem to act in direct opposition to the public interest. It’s a bad look.

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      • I also think there are a lot of people who get into management to be pricks and are pricks. They get a psychic pleasure from being able to order people around in the most demeaning way possible.

        What happens if the particular manager doesn’t get into management because they’re bad people? Maybe there are varying degrees of good and bad people. Maybe you’re one of them. Maybe I am.

        Still and even so, I do get the argument. And unions in theory can help protect against bad apples. (Of course, there’s also the problem that some union reps can be “pricks,” to use your term. But that by itself isn’t an argument against unions.)

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  3. I have a more cynical view of the anti-boycott proviso. It could have meant that if you or your group got in trouble for engaging in a secondary boycott, you would be on your own.

    One of the difficulties of engaging the larger community in a labor dispute is when the business produces a service or good that is consumed by another business, in contrast to when groups like grocery store workers strike. In the 19th century though, if the business was a main tent pole of the local economy, there would be support from local retail whose business was dependent on the workers having a good wage. On the other hand, if the local community fears that the strike will reduce local jobs, they may not support it anyway.

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    • I hadn’t thought about your “cynical view,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s at least a strong kernal of truth in it. (I would, however, be surprised if the feds or whoever actually tried to enforce that provision against me and my co-activists.)

      One of the difficulties of engaging the larger community in a labor dispute is when the business produces a service or good that is consumed by another business, in contrast to when groups like grocery store workers strike

      It’s not 100% clear to me where you’re going with that point, so please correct me if I’m misunderstanding. But in my experience in CherryPlatte (when I was growing up, the workers at the two major grocery stores struck every three years….I don’t know if it’s still like that), and a significant number of people seemed to support the strike by boycotting the stores. Of course, “significant’ both does too much work and is in the eye of the beholder, and perhaps my perception is skewed because my father insisted we not patronize the struck stores.

      In the 19th century though, if the business was a main tent pole of the local economy, there would be support from local retail whose business was dependent on the workers having a good wage. On the other hand, if the local community fears that the strike will reduce local jobs, they may not support it anyway.

      That’s good point. I’d add that there was often a strong feeling, not completely reducible to retailers’ (or others’) perceived economic interests, that large conglomerations of capital were to be opposed.

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      • The basic dynamic I was alluding to with the grocery stores, which I think you get, is that there is a very different dynamic when the employer is in the business of offering goods and services to businesses versus consumers. If the employer and the union come to loggerheads, the union can try to harness consumer sentiment on its side. In the case of steel, its generally been getting the government to intercede, which I don’t think has happened since Kennedy was President and he didn’t find the experience positive.

        There are potential lawsuits for damages for secondary boycotts, and I don’t know how common they are. The link suggests that lost profits can be difficult to prove, so injunctions are more common. Personally, I’ve declined to stay at that hotel before, when it was the only one available and often charging well-below market rates that make me hesitant.

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        • Thanks for clarifying. I do agree that the dynamics are different when the customers are (for lack of better words and to lump very different people into two categories) “retail customers” and not “wholesalers/retailers/government/other producers.” It’s indeed very difficult to boycott a ton of steel.

          I’d also say there’s a difference when the customer has already paid. My faculty union went on strike a few years ago, and the students didn’t get any money back and weren’t otherwise compensated for the instruction time they missed.

          Thanks for the link. I haven’t done more than skimmed it yet, but I plan to read it in more detail. I didn’t realize that strike was still going on as of 2014. (Or maybe it was over and just took that much time to wend its way through the system? Or maybe it’s a different strike altogether from the one I’m thinking of?)

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        • I’ve had a chance to read your linked article in more detail.* What the union is alleged to have done is quite different from, and more extreme than, what I was doing in my activism. That doesn’t mean my friends and I would have been off the hook, but it would have been harder to make the case.

          *It is, by the way, the strike I had been thinking of. I believe it began around 2003, or even earlier, as you may know.

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  4. Hello everyone:

    No one has suggested otherwise, but I’d like to stress that I’m claiming not special knowledge of what it’s like to be an activist. My “activism” was very brief, limited to this strike and a few other causes. There’s much about which I can’t speak when it comes to such things.

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