Category Archives: Economic Commentary

Take Krugman as you like but…

Pathos of the Plutocrat – NYTimes.com.

While I have my own issues with Krugman as one of those polar pols, nevermind the orientation, he’s struck something here that’s struck me throughout the Hope-mongerer’s presidency.  While I can’t quite put my finger on it, I just know that the economic stagnation that’s become a defining characteristic of my generation’s (I just turned 30 and stopped wearing sandals) pathos is, in large part, due to a stubborn, mean-spirited, revanchist streak bundled up in the emotional personage of this country’s ultra-rich mover-shaker class.

Since 2010 we’ve heard that corporate treasury accounts are flush with cash — this article asks the wrong question, I think … why aren’t corporations hiring with that $, thereby increasing optimism about the wider consumer economic outlook, AND distributing it to shareholders (which tends to improve the outlook at the top-end of the wealth spectrum and create disparate distribution of wealth which some claim is even harmful for the beneficiaries) — and yet we’ve seen incredibly bleak jobs numbers during that span and in the short-run.

I can’t really enunciate what’s underfoot here.  The best that I can guess is that the tiny, ultra-privileged group of status-quo Teutonics who truly shape policy in this country are upset that, despite owning the media, our national discourse, and our economy, they haven’t been able to root out every last ounce of resentment over the gross disparity and corporatist agenda rampant in the land of the free-to-work-and-keep-their-mouths-shut and the home of the brave-and-jingoistic-when-it-comes-to-the-enemy-other-but-silent-when-it-comes-to-the-devil-within (I know, I’m sorry).  This sturdy group of look-alike gentlemen would really like it if we threw a ticker-tape parade once monthly to celebrate their hegemonic free-market for the poor, socialist for the rich economic victory.  Oh, and until they have that sort of triumphant acquiescence from every last one of us they’re going to hold our economy hostage, paint the first minority president with the resulting economic failures, and take their balls and go home until they’re able to ram, cram, foist, force a guy who looks and thinks like them in to highest office and reclaim their rightful place on the political pedestal.

Am I paranoid here? Does anyone else see things this way?  Now I’m over-anxious on a Saturday afternoon…

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Hobbes & Caged Lions: A Video Metaphor for Occupy

[T]he underlying terror of death is what drives most of the human endeavor. — Moore & Williamson

Knowing that, take a look at THIS VIDEO of a family of tourists as they thoroughly enjoy themselves while a lion tries its best to eat their baby (courtesy of WhoIsIoz, one of my favorites).  At least one of them wonders aloud whether laughing at the specter of death was “right”.  Find yourself thinking there was something inherently problematic with a family caterwauling like jackals in the face of death?  I certainly did.

If we reach back to political theorist and all-around curmudgeon Thomas Hobbes and accept his work as fact (ugh), fear of death was the organizing principle that had us leave the state of nature to form civil society.  It’s important to note that Hobbes’ lifetime and career were contemporaneous with the English Civil War (1642-1651) and much of his work was informed by the violence, death, and destruction endemic to those times.

Fear, according to Hobbes, suffuses and shapes human life. It pervades the state of nature, of whose many miseries the “worst of all [is] continual fear,and the danger of violent death.” ‘It is both the sole origin of civil society (“the original of all great and lasting societies consisted not in the mutual goodwill men had towards each other, but in the mutual fear they had of each other”) and the only reliable means of its preservation (“during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war, as is of everyman, against everyman.”) At once the principal cause of  war and the principal means to peace, fear is the basis both of man’s most urgent plight and of his only possible escape.  

Hobbesian Fear, Jan H. Blits, Political Theory , Vol. 17, No. 3 (Aug., 1989), pp. 417-431
Pessimistic Hobbes saw that fear has uses — it wasn’t the primary driver of humanity even if it was the ultimate organizing factor.  For Hobbes, insatiable thirst for power is the primary human characteristic and self-knowledge of that power-hunger is the root of civilizing fear and paranoia.
So what happens when a small sect of humanity is altogether freed from fear?  When an elite few understands all the levers of power are pulled in the direction that benefits them most?  Their avid power-pursuit goes unchecked and those individuals would become blatant, belligerent, and unapologetic in their pursuit of self-interest, no?  If you have a moment, watch that video again and then watch this: Wall St. Traders Laugh at Occupy Arrests    See any similarities?
*I’m in no way advocating violence here.  These are simple comments about what monetizing politics a la Citizens United could do to the status quo and the hyper-inequality we’ve seen perpetuated in this country since the 70s.
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Wisconsin’s New Aristocracy Is On The Ballot – Forbes

Federal, state or even local governments cannot be driven out of business.  They gain their revenue forcibly through taxes.  As a result, there is no market limit to how much such unions can pirate from the public.

via Wisconsin’s New Aristocracy Is On The Ballot – Forbes.

Wisconsin's New Aristocracy Is On The Ballot - Forbes

Governments are funded by taxes ergo public sector unions are funded by taxes?  More lies today.  This time from our smug looking friend Peter Ferrara, former Reagan and Elder Bush collaborator.  I won’t spend much time on this since it’s fairly clear his claim is duplicitous, even to the labor-layperson such as myself.

While it’s true that governments do gain their revenue via taxation, that revenue is at zero risk of being pirated or pilfered by public sector unions.  I can’t even begin to grasp where M. Ferrara could draw such conclusions, beings that he’s a highly credible economic policy expert who “write[s] about new, cutting edge ideas regarding public policy, particularly concerning economics old, mis-leading, and divisive pro-business talking points intended to diminish organized labor’s power and drive up executive and shareholder [read 1%er] profits”.

Public-sector unions obtain funding the same way private-sector unions – whose rights to collective bargaining, Ferrara asserts, “are not at issue in Wisconsin” – do: they collect member dues.  Unless we count the wallets of private citizens who make a living working at government jobs as public coffers, there’s no bilking going on here at all.

The media discourse over supposedly corrupt, deleterious public sector unions is fraught with irony, as highlighted in this excellent piece excerpted below:

[W]hile unions can’t compel workers to fork over a penny for political campaigns, corporations can donate unlimited amounts of their shareholders’ equity to do so – they are, in fact, in the “unique position” to elect pliant lawmakers. “What the right-wing and the business community always try to portray is that you have these union bosses that are forcing helpless employees to give them money,” says Gold, “when the reality is that these are their members who chose to be in a union and then elected their officers democratically, in sharp contrast to corporations, none of whose officers are elected democratically unless you count shareholders voting at an annual meeting as a real democratic system.”

And conservatives have long held that voluntary donations to political campaigns are a high form of free speech. The double standard is clear– “money equals speech” unless it’s money freely donated by working people to advance their own economic interests.

Double-standards and duplicity abound while Wisconsonians follow democratically dictated recall protocol to elect the New Aristocracy (you read that right).

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Who’s to Blame for Resentment of Immigrants?

Ran in to this today on an internetting tangent:

Dear Singaporeans,

Sign our Support  Singaporeans First petition here:-

http://www.change.org/petitions/support-singaporeans-first

Stop this relentless foreigner influx!

Spread the word around and stay united as one Voice!

Singapore for Singaporeans!

Gilbert Goh

Petition Organiser

The familiar tone from an unfamiliar setting got my wheels turning.  All good, progressive liberals firmly understand that harsh immigration policies are discriminatory and inhumane — it’s one of our axioms, right?  Why shouldn’t people move freely across arbitrary borders in order to better their lives?  The jingoistic chauvinism so often wrapped up in anti-immigrant sentiment tends to strike us progs as thinly-veiled instances of self-interest or, much worse, racism.  That’s a fair snapshot of the party-line, I think, but what are the deeper implications of globalized resentment for non-native workers?

We know there are heated immigration battles in Arizona (and all across America), Norway (tragically), FranceGermany, and, recently,  even temperate Sweden.  Immigration presents us with an issue that’s been hatched from within the globalization incubator.  Here in the US, the debate over Arizona’s specific flavor of nativism is about to be granted forum at America’s most hallowed venue, SCOTUS.

This surely isn’t a phenomenon that’s unique to America and it can’t be as simple as the bigots vs. brown-skin argument we’re force-fed in the media, right?  Sure that’s some of it, but the anger over a declining standard of living has to be primary.  Who’s the real Scooby-Doo villain here, once we’ve removed all the masks?

While the animus directed towards individuals who, by legal or illegal means, enter this and other countries to live and work and build lives is widespread, we see very little acrimony for the legal persons providing the incentive for the behavior of said immigrants — the corporate employers who actively recruit and hire these people to displace the local population’s workforce.  Immigrants provide the corporate executives at factory farms, manufacturers, service providers, and any number of other businesses across the globe with two very valuable assets: 1) the cheap labor that’s characteristic of a legally unprotected class and 2) a deflection of the resentment over their treatment of local workers.

To explain #2 above, when a local population is presented with what amounts to an underclass of others who don’t possess full legal protection, aren’t always fully taxed on income, and have a varied level of voice with the national government it becomes instinctive that their wages would remain flat or even decrease.  A new environment of wage competition is plain to all; how could they expect higher wages when the _____ others are here to take their jobs?

Why isn’t there more debate in this direction?  Why don’t we start asking these multi-national corporations why, all across the globe, they’ve spent decades playing an unprotected underclass against locals, creating hatred, derision, and deadening human dignity in every market they enter?  Could it be that a few of these very MNC’s control most of the interests in our global corporate media?  I really couldn’t say.  I’m just hopeful all the misguided disparagement for immigrant groups finds a truer target one of these days.

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Surowiecki on Joblessness

Surowiecki says there’s no end in sight…

Comforting, in light of yesterday’s post on my vocational situation.  A good read, nonetheless.  I’m not sure I agree that America has yet to experience hysteresis.  It’s a scary thought.  It seems we’re about 25,000,000 jobs short of paying our tab.

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The Feeling of Joblessness

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAGUuCGx1es%5D

Political Theory is Philosophy’s slightly less awkward cousin so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

On a Monday morning just a few weeks ago I set off on my auroral commute — just like any other weekday — headed to a job that I had held for almost a year.  Being that it was a sales/recruiting job, it felt like I had been there for quite some time.  I shared a commute with my lovely girlfriend (who I still sometimes walk to the train) and, that day, we fought our way through the same Chicago Transit Authority crowds that we had come to know.  We found a little enclave in a corner of the train-car, as far out of the way of the foot traffic as we could, until it was time for us to disembark at separate Chicago-Loop stops.

After getting off, I wove my way through the Wacker Drive Corridor construction and reached the 30-story high-rise that housed my office.  The dull, all-glass skyscraper failed to inspire as it had so many other mornings.  I flashed my daily smile at the concierge, breathed my usual sigh as I waited on the elevator, and popped out my iPod headphones, as was my custom, as I walked through the door of my office suite.

And everything went according to plan — according to the routine that become my understanding of waking week-life — until just after I took my seat and fired up my desktop.

My manager — a nervous woman with a tendency towards awkwardness — asked how my weekend had been.  The question, in itself, wasn’t too far out of the ordinary.  Maybe it was a little too personally interested for her personality but I could bear that.  It was the desperate tone she had phrased the question in that unnerved me.

I said my weekend had been fine, thanks, and went about the task of logging in to the database.  Just as I clicked ENTER to log my username and password in to our database I heard that uneasy tone in the manager’s voice float over the divider between our cubicles:

“Matt, let’s head to the conference room for a moment…”

Ok.  This can’t be good.  Why would we go to the conference room?  I’m out of a job.  It was almost instantly and intuitively understood.  My thoughts were short, panicked, and syncopated.  I looked down at my feet and the dirt-colored-florescent-light-bathed corporate carpet as we both walked across the office to a cramped conference room at the corner of the office.

“Am I being fired?” I asked as we each took our seats.

No answer from my manager.  She simply and curtly said her boss would be in shortly to explain the situation.  I remember thinking how unwieldy the whole sequence felt.  We sat in uncomfortable silence for about a minute while we waited for her boss, the director, to join.

The director joined and the conversation went as you’d expect it did.  It was clear that I had worked hard and my contributions were appreciated.  I had done a good job and this was just a symptom of the numbers.  The proper facial expressions were made so that it was understood that this was an uncomfortable and unpleasant arrangement but it was something that just had to be done.

The manager and director were “kind” enough to offer a few moments for me to clean out my desk provided that I would give them my key card and head home.

I can recall the walk back to my cubicle, under that dropped ceiling and those unflattering panel lights that had hung above my head for so many days; I did my best to avoid eye contact with now-former co-workers.  I was so embarrassed my skin was crawling — should I just forget getting my things and get out of there?  No.  I wanted to sit and think this through for a moment.

A friend from the office walked me to the train.  The walk was surreal and my mind was muddied with a cacophony of thoughts and feelings that were difficult to discern from one-another. In a way, I was free from the mundane repetition of my line of work but the economic uncertainty and the lack of security that came along were terrifying.  What struck me the most was the stark severance from routine.

I had been Sisyphus with a clear, concrete rock and a well defined hill and, for hundreds of days, I had quietly rolled that rock to the pinnacle and then watched it fall to the other side.  My sense of self was rolled up in to that endeavor and now… who I was and what I would do felt, in a very real way, unclear.

So, I went home and took a survey of my life, my employability, the job market (which, like all the living-breathing, I knew to be grim), my resume, and I reflected.

I read that a Record 1.2 Million People Dropped Out of the Labor Force in December of 2011, culminating in a 30 year low for the Labor Force Participation Rate.  It was disconcerting to read that 1 in 2 Recent Grads Under 25 are unemployed or underemployed (I’m a fairly recent grad not much older than 25).  As someone with substantial student loan debt, I was discouraged to see that, if nothing is done, Interest Rates on much of our $1 Trillion Student Loan Debt will double soon, too.

So, what would I do?  How would I fill my time?  Determine who I was?  Things looked bleak.  I can say that, personally, I’ve been very lucky to have emotionally supportive loved ones.  I’ve spent more time with hobbies, set a goal of 3+ job applications a day, gone on a slew of interviews, read as much as I can, and been more active here at Frustrated Hypocrite – and I was interested to find that starting a blog has been heralded as one of the 10 Things You Need To Do during unemployment.

As time has passed and the interviews have trickled in, much of my anxiety over joblessness has faded away.  Still, in reading about the state of unemployment, I think the blow to our sense of selves is an under-examined symptom of job-separation.  Sure, it’s often said that we are not what we do, but in a consumer-oriented, statist society where we are defined by what we buy, and we work longer hours than ever before, does that old axiom ring true?

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