COME ON, JUST THE TIP

As many of you are no doubt well aware, this tends to be a forum for relentless negativity in terms of politics. The reasons are many, none more important than the fact that small, incremental victories mean little to me in the context of the long, steady, thirty-plus year downward slide toward a lower standard of living that has defined post-1980 America. There are things to celebrate here and there, but there is no momentum behind the positives. All of the momentum is in the opposite direction; every year we get a little poorer, the schools get a little more defunded, the textbooks get a little more revisionist history and industry-sponsored "science", the corporations get a little more human in court, the jobs with benefits become a little rarer, the playing field gets a bit less level, and the feeling that things have changed for the worse in a very fundamental way nags a bit more insistently.

There has been a surprising (which is to say, nonzero) amount of coverage of Michigan's passage of a "Right to Work" law earlier this week. Given that Michigan is a traditionally union-heavy northern state and RTW laws tend to proliferate in cesspits like Mississippi and Oklahoma, the media have responded predictably with feigned shock and plenty of What This Means commentary letting us know that Reasonable People now recognize that unionization is a thing of the past. It's all part of our great evolution into a completely postindustrial economy, and now we can look back on pensions, decent wages, and benefits with the same nostalgia we currently reserve for railroads and the Victrola.

This happens the same way "austerity" has happened and will continue to happen: in a slow, steady process of downwardly revised expectations, stern lectures about your moral failings (Live within your means! Work harder! Shop more!), and Tough Choices that screw you continuously but incrementally. Michigan voters elect the kind of people who will pass RTW legislation for the same reason that we've been shooting ourselves in the foot for decades now – the combined illusion and lie that if we make just one more sacrifice that lowers our standard of living while allowing the already wealthy to amass even more money, things will turn around for the rest of us. Just give up defined benefit pensions for the stock market roulette of 401(k) plans. Give up health insurance for Health Savings Accounts (or, you know, nothing). Accept some wage cuts to be more competitive with workers in Possum Junction, Alabama. Accept a few more to be competitive with workers in Mexico. Give up a few more of your rights to save the company money. Deregulate a few more industries – sure, some people will probably get sick or die, but we have to think about ways to cut overhead and be More Competitive.

Like any good con, it's always the next sacrifice that will be the one that does it, the magic bullet that finally solves the problem. And then when it doesn't, there will be just one more next year, and then maybe another one a few years from now, and then…ten or twenty years pass and we don't even remember what it was we were promised when we starting cutting flesh, and we're reduced to hoping that the next sacrifice will be enough to keep us from losing the house.

The first bite from the apple took place under Reagan, when we collectively agreed that the problem with the American economy is that rich people aren't rich enough; it has been all downhill from there. Now Congress is poised to take the first bite from another apple – the "entitlement reform" that will begin the process of eroding our ability to retire from our jobs that barely paid the bills for 40 years. Sure, just take a chunk out of Social Security and Medicare and then we'll be safe from the Fiscal Cliff and all other similar boogeymen. Then in 2016 there will be another Big Crisis demanding further cuts, as it turns out that those cuts that promised to Save Medicare did not work out as the Oracle had promised. Since we'll already have normalized the idea of sacrificing parts of SS and Medicare, the downward trajectory will already be mapped out and heavily greased. You don't need a time machine to recognize where this is headed once the cuts begin.

It's always "just one more." One more round of cuts. One more bout of austerity. One more tax cut for the rich. One more voluntary surrender of your rights. Like a gambler in over his head who believes that the next hand will bring salvation, we are all too eager to accept the argument that economic turnaround is so close that we can reach it with just one more big collective sacrifice by (98% of) all Americans. And then, lo and behold, it turns out that we did not sacrifice a large enough animal to appease God Market. Again.

It's difficult to get excited about taking a step forward when doing so is inevitably followed by three in reverse.

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88 Responses to “COME ON, JUST THE TIP”

  1. OperationEnduringEmployment Says:

    "Developing" is code for impoverished. And yeah, some Americans think that they are poor because they are ignorant and do not know any better.

    And where are you from? And it is true that this whining is tiresome. Look at what has just happened in my home country, the flag for which my grandfather fought, and for which my great-grandfather died, was lowered in the next phase of the slow-moving surrender of what remains of Ulster by a traitorous, backstabbing government in Stormont. My home country is in the process of being taken over by murderers and cowardly blackguards, and a thousand years of traditions will be tossed into the sea. And do I whine? Do I participate in pointless flag rallies organized by hooligans? No, I had already moved on, I left my country because I knew that that which I had loved was now lost.

  2. Elle Says:

    @OEE

    I'm not from America, and don't live there.

    'No American is poor' is not a credible analysis, and there's not much point the two of us engaging on poverty without any kind of agreement on what it is we're actually talking about.

    The question of the consitutional future of Northern Ireland is an interesting one, and one on which there are many perspectives. I'm sure you'll understand why discussing it would be a colossal derailment of a thread on US labour market liberalisation.

  3. OperationEnduringEmployment Says:

    Agreed on all accounts.

  4. eau Says:

    I'd just like to say that I was recently in Cambodia and Laos. People there have it tough. Therefore, I am right and everyone is else teh stupids!

  5. Major Kong Says:

    The corollary to "Hey! You guys are better off than starving Somali peasants so quit complaining!"

    is:

    "Hey! Your taxes are lower than (insert name of pretty much any industrialized country here) so quit complaining!"

  6. caseykim12 Says:

    What are unions so afraid of when it comes to Right to Work laws? I thought liberals were all about "choice," doesn't that mean people should have the choice to be in a union or not? If I want to be a teacher, don't I have the right to teach without having my paycheck cut to pay for union dues that go to support a candidate I may not necessarily agree with?

    Unions are afraid of RTW laws because they know that if people had the ability to choose whether or not to be in a union, the majority would choose not to. That means massive profit loss. That means these union heads can no longer make half a million dollar a year salaries. That means they have less money to donate to liberal candidates.

    When you look at Census Bureau data, you'll find that Right to Work states actually have higher wages, lower unemployment rates, and lower costs of living. Additionally, wage rates actually increase at a FASTER rate in Right To Work states compared to non RTW states. Things are really much clearer when you look at actual data from the BLS and US Census Bureau, and stop reading whatever the "progressive" tells you to think on websites like Media Matters and Gawker. Try it sometime.

    By the way, those protesters in Lansing look pretty hungry. Perhaps we should give them some Twinkies. Oh wait, unions shut that company down. Nevermind.

  7. Ed Says:

    What a shock, a right-wing gasbag has the facts completely wrong: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right-to-work_law#Comparisons

    They do have lower unemployment. You are correct about that. But not wages.

    Also, the cost of living is lower because they are shitholes and no one wants to live there. Cost of living is a function of demand. Yeah, it's pretty cheap in Lubbock. If you can't figure out why, go visit Lubbock and report back.

    Yes, it was "the unions" that shut Hostess down. Check out the way the board of directors looted the company and then complained when there was nothing of value left to take.

  8. bb in GA Says:

    @Ed

    Your mileage may vary about what 'quality of life' items are essential in any location you might choose to live, but the data disconnect for me is the cost of living in the RTW states show about 20% lower while the salaries in the non-RTW states are about 10% more.

    Obviously COLI and salary don't match up perfectly but that source you referenced also said

    " Adjusting pay for these regional cost differences results in higher real buying power in most of the right-to-work states."

    One person's 'shithole' is another person's 'happy place.'

    //bb

  9. Ruthie Says:

    @ caseykim12:

    RTW doesn't give you any more protections than you have in a non-RTW state. In CA, a non-RTW state, you cannot be forced to join a union. Nor can you be forced to contribute to your employer's political funds, or the lobbying arm of a professional licensing organization.

    The problem with RTW is that it eventually erodes certain protections provided by union membership: Such as the requirement that your termination be "for cause." Or that "discipline" by a superior must conform to certain specifications to be a valid precursor to termination.

    Under RTW, employers who break unions no longer have to take into account union bargaining power, and benefits are subject only to various legislative schemes such as ERISA or their govt./non-profit parallels. So, if your employer guts your profession's union, and then decides to change your health insurance to a high deductible plan, or the terms of your pensions, too bad–so sad.

    The same goes for workplace safety. Want to complain about your working conditions or other employer violations? Good luck with that OSHA or other whistle blower suit on your salary–or should I say what's left of your savings. Because the beauty of RTW is that it generally is a precursor to pure "at-will" employment legislation–where your employer can fire you or reduce your hours for any reason–or no reason at all.

  10. Xynzee Says:

    @OEE: what Ed offers should be obvious. It's called a rallying point.

    One person camped out in Zuccotti Park is an easily disregarded vagrant. 1000s in every city is a movement.

    One person standing in front of a tank is a dramatic photo. 1000s rising up in main squares bring down governments.

    Do you think the Egyptians all just happened to show up on the same day?

    Though I think you're making a common mistake in comparing being poor with poverty. By some accounts I could be classed as poor because I do not own a car. However, the operational costs of owning a car would impoverish me. I make a lifestyle decision that leaves me less well of financially by living in a suburb that is well serviced by PT and requires less time and costs less to access the major employment centre. If I lived in a cheaper suburb my real costs would sky rocket as I would have to purchase and run a private vehicle just to move about the suburb, and my PT costs would rise both in accordance to money and time to get to work.

    Fortunately, I live where this is an option to live this way. For many in the States there is no option but to get a car. So not having a significant asset like a car means a person cannot live where they can afford **and** get to the employment centres because there's not the PT alternative.

  11. Xynzee Says:

    Last line got cut off:

    So under these circumstances not owning a car isn't being materially poor, but is now an impoverished state.

  12. Major Kong Says:

    @bb

    No, sorry, Lubbock is a shithole no matter how you slice it. I've been there. It's all that's bad about Texas concentrated in one place with none of the good.

    So's Memphis for that matter. Memphis is Detroit with the addition of high humidity.

  13. Elle Says:

    @caseykim

    I do believe that people should have a choice about whether or not they join a union. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the closed shop is a breach of an individual's European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) Art. 11 right to freedom of association. Signatories to the ECHR had to amend their law so that employment contract clauses requiring employees to join specific unions were not enforced, and were removed.

    Union membership across Europe varies widely, with Scandinavian countries (and Norway, part of the EEA) having ~70pc density (Norway's is ~53pc), and France having ~7pc density. The figures are clearly misleading on the relative power of unions: France's work councils are stacked with union representatives and officials, and they can mobilise enormous numbers of workers.

    Unions have different roles in public life across Europe, from 'social partnership' in Scandinavia, to delivery partner of specific programmes, to adversarial influencer on employment policy. Individual unions negotiate terms and conditions for workers, whether in national pay bargaining arrangements, or at local level. However, the legal protections for workers (against unfair dismissal, requiring health and safety provisions, against discrimination in employment and so on) are not a function of union membership but pertain to all workers (with a range of qualifying periods and caveats).

  14. Tim H. Says:

    The oligarchs would do well to lift their gaze from the next couple of quarters to where the country is headed. With the bulk of the economy concentrated in a small handful of people, especially gifted in tax-avoidance, our superpower status will end, at best, we may remain a regional power, with no means of protecting the international interests of the oligarchy. The nation, like the labor movement now, will need to be rebuilt from the ground up.

  15. ladiesbane Says:

    Is there a workable best case scenario? Flashbacks to "The Way It Used To Be" and a set of circumstances that no longer apply won't cut it. What I mean is, let's not talk about it, let's be about it. The ideal is not an option, or I'd be George Jetson. But what would be the best real option?

    People might be ready to mobilize on this. Even Eric Cantor's vision of a nation of serfs (excuse me, workers free to make a nickel a day without the regulatory burdens of OSHA, Work Comp, affordable health care, labor unions, ombudsmen, Part B litigation, EEO protection, etc.,) has been hushed up lately.

    We are repeating the Gilded Era steps toward the Grapes of Wrath, folks. We now have retailers trying to serve the "underbanked" population by becoming lenders, even mortgage lenders. If you work for WalMart, shop at WalMart, and pay WalMart on your home note…can you say "company store"?

    To end on a cheery note, has anyone mentioned the new insourcing trend? International shipping still runs on fossil fuel, so it can be cheaper to manufacture goods at home again. Ready to cheer for high gas prices?

  16. Eric Titus Says:

    It seems to me that even within your logic, one step forward and three steps backwards is still preferable to just three steps backward…

    It is pretty crazy how powerless people feel. Even this blog focuses mostly on national politics, but Obama is basically a centrist. I'd suggest all readers of this blog to become at least incrementally more politically active in their localities, companies, universities

    I think one can fairly say that the American people has the government it deserves. And despite the hopes of progressives and socialists, it will probably keep having the government it deserves.

  17. Tim H. Says:

    And we've been very bad, and this is how we're to be punished…

  18. JohnR Says:

    "sure, some people will probably get sick or die"
    Hey, man, that strengthens the population. You know; natural selection, driving evolution! Who says the guys on the right don't believe in evolution? Or is it that they just like the Others dying off?
    Anyway, I'm sure we're all glad to have you here in the handbasket with us, Ed. I can't even afford beer any more, but at least I'll probably be dead before I reach retirement age, so no worries about pensions for me! *whistles* Always look on the bright si-ide of life…"

  19. mel in oregon Says:

    ty, wow, you're very uneducated. you sound like the typical dunce responding to one of jason whitlock's blogs on hix fox sport's blog. obama a socialist? his whole cabinet is from wallstreet you fucking idiot.

  20. Ursula Says:

    Christ, it's as if no one heard what Obama said about the RTW legislation, or realizes that he is capable of learning from mistakes. A small example of my latter point came in the debates. He heard criticism of his performance in the first debate, and rather than explain why the criticsm was wrong, he took it seriously, and improved his performance.

    You all aren't paying attention if you think Obama's second term will be like his first, and you all are naïve if you think Obama couldn't have been as compromising with his first term and hope to get a second one. He knows who wrote checks to him, and who bet against him.

    This post and comment thread are a perfect example of the liberal circular firing squad. Yes, things have been going downhill for the last 30-40 years, but the only reason that we were at the top of a hill in the first place is because we, the people did something about it, held our representative's feet to the fire, and didn't just sit around, crying to ourselves about how powerless we feel.

  21. Rodrigo S Says:

    @Alex:

    "Strangely, I was more thinking of places like Argentina, Bolivia and, yes, Brazil, which seemed to improve much when they elected a worker's party president."

    Have you BEEN to Argentina lately? Like, in the last 10, maybe even 20 years? Things are not good. Nothing much special to see with Bolivia. Brazil is a different story, but not because they embraced anything like a "leftist" agenda.

    I guess I don't understand what you mean by leftist policies. The successful countries in Latin America are in some ways much more progressive than the U.S. (I live in Chile, and in some ways Chileans are waaaaay more progressive than Americans, sometimes to their detriment), but not so much when it comes to growth policy.

  22. Frankly Curious Says:

    Robert Reich presented two striking graphs today from the the St. Louis Fed. One on corporate profits and the other on worker wages. They make a stark comparison. I've put them together on my site:

    We Need More Than the Fed to Save Us

    The graphs show that we've been giving and giving and giving and this has only resulting in the rich taking and taking and taking. Prosperity is NOT just around the corner–not the way things are going.

  23. Elle Says:

    You all aren't paying attention if you think Obama's second term will be like his first, and you all are naïve if you think Obama couldn't have been as compromising with his first term and hope to get a second one.

    I am perplexed by the focus on the Office of the President in some comments. It's as if economic policy (or whatever else it is that we're talking about) of the USA is 90% a product of the Oval Office, and 10% the product of Congressional scrapping.

    Of course President Obama is the most powerful man in any room, but the room must be full of other stakeholders, agencies, and interest groups. Presidential or parliamentary shenanigans may be the most glittering political soap opera, but a lot of (most of the?) important stuff happens elsewhere.

  24. Southern Beale Says:

    Oddly, a Michigan state Republiweasel tried to exempt her husband's job from right-to-work. Isn't that curious!

  25. Southern Beale Says:

    Also, this is OT but I know there are folks here involved in higher education, and I just read this item about a movement in some states to charge differing amounts for different majors, for example sciencey-y majors would be less expensive because they're deemed "useful" and poetry and history degrees would cost more because they're useless.

    Anyone else hear of this?

  26. Bernard Says:

    it is all too obvious how we workers have rights that the Right wants to eliminate with RTW. it's called Conservatism, aka I"ve got mine, Fuck off loser! that's another aspect i hear little about. yes Unions are now part of the corruption problem. it is amazing to see how little the past is being learned from. weekends adn holidays, child labor laws. and much mure.

    amazing to think living in a stink hole is someone's idea of paradise. enjoy your stinkhole, stay out of my paradise and i'll stay out of your stinkhole.

    the more you pay the more it's worth is my kind of thinking. jealousy has led to this attack on others doing okay.

    the whole concept that we, drones, can affect the Rich Right wingers and Leftist traitor Democrats is not living in the same Banana Republic i call America. Dead leaders like JFK, MLK and RFK come to mind when i hear such nonsense.

    a lot of worker bees will have to fight and die to get back the Rights we lost to the Scum Republicans/Democrats who sold us out to the Corporate State. Here's looking at you Reagan and Republicans.

    amazing at the amount of willful ignorance, i am always astounded by the desire to get over by pretending adn expecting others to "buy" their BS.

    sorry, Homey don't play those games.

    What i really dislike is the willful desire by some to FUCK up America because it's too difficult to accept facts for what they are. i.e. the Race to the Bottom is so much easier. the eagerness at which The BS is bought and regurgitated by the RightWingers is sickening, but very effective for the uneducated.

    it's not like we don't have a responsiblity to our children, but then again, the Lord of the Flies Behavior is the Right wingers aim and destination, which we apparently have accepted, most at least, as the way to go.

    so Solidarnosc is only for the Polish people!

    just because i live next to the poor deosen't mean i want to be poor. nor is your acceptance of stupidity is not shared by me. you want to get screwed over wihtout a fight, by all means enjoy yourself. i want no part of your "paradise." Thank you very much.

  27. Xynzee Says:

    @caseykim: "Why should you pay?"

    Would you expect to claim against health fund you're not a member of? Why/Why not?

    Because you *are* deriving a benefit from the Unions. Higher pay , health care, protection from unfair dismissal, work place protections — eg dangerous machinery has appropriate equipment lik guards over chains…

    So why should you expect to get those same conditions if you're not paying for them?

    Now answer the age old libertarian fantasy question on work places:
    If you don't like the way the work place is, why don't you get a different job else where? You don't have to stay with this company. You can go get a different job else where can't you? Ever consider changing industries? I hear Walmart is non-unionised why don't you work there? Or a company that competes with them?

    Well?? We're waiting for your reply…

  28. Xynzee Says:

    @Elle: many of the things you're talking about are great for Europe where the union movement was stronger. The "Labor" parties being the political wing of the unions were able to ensconce labour policies into European laws. So what you consider a "basic" right in Europe are sporadic and not fully enforced/implemented in the US. People are unclear what their rights as an employee are. Employers don't display appropriate signage nor do a proper induction it's not in the interest of the employer to have a well informed staff. See some the articles written about the Walmart protests.

    Here in Oz, I once had a manager ask me to do something that was clearly unsafe and no safety equipment. I told him that by my following his instruction I would be performing an illegal act as it violated OHS legislation. Which would be grounds for my summary dismissal from the company. I was able to show him the relevant legislation as displayed in the staff room. Good luck pulling that off in the US w/o a Union.

  29. Xynzee Says:

    @Elle: the POTUS unlike say the Irish office of president has actual power not a moral figure head status. Somewhere between the European monarchs of old and a prime minister. It's a directly elected power position, thus the need to hamstring the Office.

    Though you are correct in pointing out the need to put the feet of the House and Senate to the fire as well.

  30. Kevin NYC Says:

    clearly you have not yet given up enough benefits.

    what say you give 5% more to fund your pension, 6% more to fund health care… and lose 1/2 your vacation days.. and… work a 50 hour week standard…

    and .. bring food for the managers and clean the bathroom.

  31. Dej Says:

    Excellent post. Depressing? Yes. But accurate.

  32. Elle Says:

    @Xynzee

    I'm sorry I have somehow led you to believe that I didn't understand the history of labour market regulation in the US versus Europe, or what the Office of the US President entails. I think I'm pretty clear on both, but thanks for typing out those bits of background.

  33. Joost van Steenis Says:

    It is not depressing at all, it gives way to new ways of thinking. Not be concerned with the puppets who play a political gamer (and live luxuriously from it) but with the real power-bearers in the world, the 1%. Therefore I remove all posts on my Facebook group Occupy the 1% that talk about politics, democrats or Republicans. Intrude in their life just as they are intruding in our life. See my blog article, The War of the Flea, Ev eryone against the 1%. http://downwithelite.wordpress.com/2012/05/01/the-war-of-the-flea-everyone-agaisnt-the-1/

  34. bearsense Says:

    Sort of like the pig that saved the farmer's life and was then butchered one joint at a time. When asked why, the farmer said " a wonderful pig like that; you don't eat him all at once."

  35. vegymper Says:

    Dear friends at G&T:
    At least what I can say from here (Argentina) is that "it is complicated". Unions here are particularly obscure with the use of their funding; however, it is better to live with them that without them.

    I would invite you to look at the issue not so much from the domestic, US-only point of view, but as a trend that is more global: The Capital (and as such, it is increasingly nationless, so there are not, strictly speaking, "american capitalists" or "european capitalists" anymore) has decided that buying social peace by giving back some of the profit to workers in salary or through state-administered "entitlements" is demod

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