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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – May 4, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Flathead River with Mission Mountains in background, MT – photo by Jay Styles

Can the Republicans force the economy to open? Bill Barr thinks so.

“Justice Department officials have spoken on conference calls with leaders of conservative groups, who have flagged individual cases as worthy of the department’s review. Some cabinet officials have signaled that they back the effort by participating in private calls with conservative allies, according to multiple people involved with the calls.”

The COVID-19 outbreak sparked many states and municipalities to order their citizens to stay at home and businesses to close in order to slow the spread of the illness, and to protect the public, but do the states have the authority to do it?

According to the Incidental Economist:

“Terms like isolation and quarantine have legal meaning, and relate to the government’s powers to act in the public’s interest. Isolation is a targeted approach for individuals already diagnosed with a disease while quarantine restricts the movement of individuals or groups exposed to an illness, some of whom may not be sick.

Both strategies restrict the movement of individuals and are considered a severe deprivation of liberty.”

Last Friday, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Grisham (D) quarantined the town of Gallup, at the request of the city’s mayor, because the city is a COVID-19 hotspot. Grisham invoked New Mexico’s Riot Control Act. The order shuts down all roads to and from Gallup.

We can expect that this will lead to legal battles over whether governors can close individual American cities.

Last week, AG Barr issued a memorandum directing an effort to monitor state and local shutdown policies. Barr wrote: (emphasis by Wrongo)

 “We do not want to unduly interfere with the important efforts of state and local officials to protect the public…But the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis.”

Actually, it has happened many times before.

  • Both GW Bush and Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus.
  • John Adams helped pass the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, those four laws “restricted the activities of foreign residents in the country and limited freedom of speech and of the press”.
  • FDR built internment camps and imprisoned Japanese Americans.
  • Woodrow Wilson presided over the passage of the Espionage Act followed by the Sedition Act. People couldn’t say anything: “…insulting or abusing the US government, the flag, the Constitution or the military.” Violators could receive 20 years in prison.

And now, Barr barges in. Since Wrongo isn’t a lawyer, we’ll have to leave the arguments to those who are qualified. But it seems that in the past, all the Constitution-breaking has been done by presidents, not governors. What we have is a federal vs. state powers question.

So far, the DOJ has intervened in only one case, a “religious freedom” complaint, a lawsuit by a Baptist church in Greenville, MS.

Conservatives are perfectly willing to be inconsistent. They are champions of “states’ rights” until the state in question happens to lean blue. Speaking of inconsistency, remember that it was Trump who when asked why he wasn’t going to issue a nationwide ‘shelter in place’ order, said that it was up to the states.

The Trump administration delegated responsibility to the states with one hand, yet allows the DOJ to threaten governors with legal action. We also have religious conservatives who seem to forget the basis of Christianity, and are willing to put their neighbors at risk. Finally, there is a worrying increase in right-wing civil disobedience (while carrying weapons) that could easily ignite a real civil problem.

Once again, shopping is patriotism. Legitimate fear is unconstitutional. This isn’t unprecedented. After 9/11, GW Bush told everyone to go out and shop. Shopping is apparently how Republicans show their love of country.

Taken together, we as a nation have truly lost our way.

Wake up America! Insist that by November, the states have prepared well enough that it is safe to vote in huge numbers to get these birds out of office.

To help you wake up, let’s listen to Bruce Springsteen and his wife, Patty Scialfa playing two songs from their home studio, “Land of Hope and Dreams” and “Jersey Girl”. This was part of the Jersey 4 Jersey benefit for the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund.

This is dedicated to daughter Kelly, a former Jersey girl who can use a pick-me-up. Remember, dreams will not be thwarted!

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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The One World At Home Concert

The Daily Escape:

Hanging Lake, CO – 2018 photo by porkchopsandbeer

Wrongo and Ms. Right watched the “One World Together at Home” television concert last Saturday. We stumbled upon it, meaning that wherever it was promoted, it never entered our consciousness. Let’s chalk that up to the distractions abounding in our year of living dangerously.

The two-hour event featured pre-recorded remote performances from Lady Gaga, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Lizzo, and Taylor Swift, among many others. If you haven’t seen it, the video is available here.

It wasn’t originally planned as a fundraiser, but it inspired people across America to donate. Billboard reports that the show was watched by more than 21 million people, and we learned that it raised $127 million for COVID-19 aid.

For Wrongo, there were three highlights of the show. First, the Rolling Stones lip-synching to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, with Charlie Watts air drumming. He played a cushioned chair as a hi-hat. We definitely needed a pick me up, and unsurprisingly, Charlie was right on time. Mick, Keith and Ronnie were actually playing, and there was a keyboard and drum track, but it all worked.

Second, Lizzo, this generation’s Aretha, sang Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”. Very nice, it was worth the whole show.

Third, Keith Urban performed “Higher Love” as a trio, with two digital copies of himself performing. At the end of the tune, Nicole Kidman came out and kissed one of the carbon copies. Like the Rolling Stones, Urban’s video added levity to an otherwise somber set of performances.

Some down notes: Jennifer Lopez doing a note-for-note cover of Barbara Streisand’s “People”. And although not noticed by Wrongo, industry pros reported that Lady Gaga sang to the wrong side of a $20k Neumann microphone.

On balance, although the performances rarely were of the quality of the studio or live experience we are used to, it was a nice way to pass a couple of hours. Watching some big names live streaming using (mostly) modest home equipment leaves us with a sense that maybe, there’s not a huge divide between the talent of the anointed few, and the talents of the rest of us.

Since the start of the pandemic, we have been flooded with feel good moments from around the world, many are musically based, and the musical parodies can be fun.

Here’s one that is a serious reworking of The Band’s classic tune, “The Weight” by Robbie Robertson, remade in 2019 for the 50th anniversary of the song. It features musicians performing together across 5 continents, led by Robertson and Ringo Starr.

It was produced by the charity, Playing For Change. Their focus is to record musicians performing in their natural environments in a series called “Songs Around the World”. They also have a nonprofit that builds music and art schools for children internationally.

The musicians performing on “The Weight” are incredible, but whoever mixed and edited it deserves a Grammy. The changes in vocalists and instrumentation feels natural and seamless. The sound is always balanced, and the editor also gives each musician a sufficient share of the limelight. We also meet some amazing artists many of whom were unknown, at least to Wrongo.

In these days of social distancing, this shows that distance can be a state of mind. Take a load off and turn it up. Trust Wrongo, you won’t be dissapointed:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Monday Wake Up Call, Social Cohesion Edition – April 20, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Alstrom Point overlook, Lake Powell, AZ – photo by Gleb_Tarro

World War II lasted six years. Americans from coast to coast planted victory gardens; turned bacon grease into bombs; recycled paper, metal, and rubber. Staples like sugar were rationed. Mothers went to work in defense plants. The war lasted six years, and half a million Americans died.

Fast forward: While some might say we’re not at war, it sure feels like we’re under attack. But our flag-waviest Americans today can’t even last six weeks, much less pull together.

Turns out, we have lost most of our social cohesion, the collective will to commit to a path, and work together to make the goal a reality.

In the past, we had a set of unwritten expectations that members of our society were expected to comply with, like voting, paying taxes, and displaying tolerance for others. Even these deminimus expectations are fraying today.

We’re being told that we’re on one team, or the other: Team working, or Team lockdown. Each is supposed to do the best it can to help control the virus, but people are becoming frustrated and angry.

If you need a visual representation of the reasons why, take a look at this chart from Visual Capitalist:

You can view a bigger version of the chart here.

The chart graphs jobs by income and degree of risk of catching COVID-19. They used the following criteria to establish level of risk:

  1. Contact With Others: How much does this job require the worker to be in contact with others in order to perform it?
  2. Physical Proximity: To what extent does this job require the worker to perform tasks in close physical proximity to others?
  3. Exposure to Disease and Infection: How often does this job require exposure to hazardous conditions?

Visual Capitalist then assigned a Risk Score between 0 and 100, with 100 representing the highest possible risk to each job. More from Visual Capitalist: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Many individuals have been practicing social distancing by working from home in recent weeks. While this arrangement can be a great way to reduce one’s exposure to COVID-19, it’s a luxury that’s available to just 29% of Americans.

The situation for the remaining 71% is uncertain, to say the least. A significant portion of the population has lost their jobs due to business shutdowns and mandated lockdown orders. Others employed in “essential services” have continued working as usual, but may face a higher risk of potential exposure to the virus.”

Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor and an expert on the 1918 influenza pandemic, observed:

“Someone is at home wondering how he’s going to make rent and feed his family,” he said. “And someone else is wondering if they can binge-watch the first season of The Sopranos…”

So it’s understandable that at least 71% of America want to end the lockdown. They are business owners who stand to lose plenty, or unemployed workers who have nothing left to lose.

There’s a disconnect with the end the lockdown reasoning and the world in which we live. We live, work, play, and eat together. We buy from and sell to each other. We depend on the farmers, the truck drivers, the street repair people, and the bankers. More than ever, we depend on the medical people, the teachers, and the people who run all kinds of business, big and small. And they depend on all the people who work for them.

The virus has disrupted all of that.

Are the lockdown protesters ready to pitch in and take the high risk jobs above? Will they drive the buses? Wait on tables? Deliver the groceries? Clean hospital rooms? Work with people who may be infected in nursing homes?

Time to wake up, America! We need to reach back and try for more social cohesion, or we’re lost. To help us wake up, we turn to Bob Dylan. Let’s listen to his “Slow Train Coming”:

Today, it’s no longer a Slow Train. It’s high-balling down the track.

Sample lyric:

Big-time negotiators, false healers and woman haters

Masters of the bluff and masters of the proposition

But the enemy I see wears a cloak of decency

All nonbelievers and men stealers talking’ in the name of religion

And there’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend

People starving and thirsting, grain elevators are bursting

Oh, you know it costs more to store the food than it do to give it

They say lose your inhibitions follow your own ambitions

They talk about a life of brotherly love show me someone who knows how to live it

There’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend

 

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Monday Wake Up Call – What’s Next Edition

The Daily Escape:

Chamisa plants near Abiquiu, NM – photo by zuzofthewolves

(Publishing of daily COVID-19 data is on hold while Wrongo tries to understand inconsistencies in the data)

Trump isn’t wrong to begin thinking about what comes next. At some point, we will again poke our heads out of our burrows, and feel the warmth of sunlight. We’ll attempt to resume the life we had before the virus struck. There are two risks in this: First, will we be back in the swing of things too soon? And second, what should we demand be different, given what the nation has experienced?

In Trump’s view the answer is simple. He wants most people back to work in time to have a robust economy come Election Day. He’s targeted May 1st as the start date for his governor buddies to begin revitalizing the economy.

Once again, the Trump administration is showing itself to be utterly incapable of dealing with this crisis.

He’s moving the country to re-open, despite warnings from public health officials and from most state governors. Here’s a germane comment on Wrongo’s Saturday’s column by long-time blog reader Terry McKenna:

“We really know so little. To begin with, we don’t know how the virus spreads. We are learning but that’s all. In the beginning, we guessed wrong that it was not spread by healthy (asymptomatic) persons. Doctors disagree over the size of the droplets that carry the virus. So we are almost like we were before we had the germ theory where all we can do it isolate.

Also “test” is a simplistic word. Which test? We need a test that tells a clinician that someone had the virus in his system, and a test with a fast result is essential. But a negative test means little, especially in a healthy (asymptomatic) person, because in the absence of a vaccine, that person could be infected next week or next month. So we need a test of antibodies – but even still, we don’t know how long immunity lasts.

And then we have the notion that the president can order the country back to work. Even if a business reopens, who will come? And yes, I know someone will, but imagine the NY Mets having their opening day May 15. Will anyone show up? And if they do, will we see a spike in sickness a few weeks later?

We need time for the science to do its work. We may get lucky, viruses do became less virulent over time (sometimes to re-emerge with vigor).”

A partial re-opening of those portions of the economy that are now shuttered is a risk both to the workers, and to the returning customers. Terry is right to ask if we’ll see a spike in sickness a few weeks later, and if we do, what will be Trump’s plan then?

Broadening out our view, many are starting to think about what needs to be different post-pandemic. As we emerge from this crisis, we have a rare opportunity to focus on change: Do we want a Star Trek, or Blade Runner future? A utopian, or a dystopian one?

As Viet Thanh Nguyen said in the NYT:

“Our real enemy is not the virus but our response to the virus — a response that has been degraded and deformed by the structural inequalities of our society.”

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild for tomorrow. Or will we just prop up the economic and political process that has given us today’s problems? As an example, if we don’t want sick and contagious people trying to go to work, America must have paid sick leave.

During the lead up to passing the CARES Act, Democrats in Congress recognized this, but at the behest of business lobbies, the Act exempted 80% of all workers, including all those working at firms with over 500 employees AND those working at firms with under 50 employees!

Here’s an illuminating chart:

And in America, add $600 for four months for 20% of our workers. This is post-Reagan America. Assistance to the poor and working class is given grudgingly, and with strings attached. The rich and corporations are showered in subsidies since they are too virtuous and important to let fail. MAGA really means “Make Americans Grovel Again”.

What has to die after Covid-19 is the myth that America is the best country on earth. We’re not as healthy as we thought we were. The symptoms — racial and economic inequality, callousness and selfishness, have been covered up by our unquestioned acceptance of American Exceptionalism.

We’ve lost our right to that view, despite the many, many small acts of heroism every day by health workers and all the “essential” hourly workers who face becoming infected every day.

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Facebook Could Destroy Democracy

The Daily Escape:

Pond, Greenville County SC – February 2020 photo by Ninjiteex. It’s rare to see snow in SC

On Facebook, Wrongo mostly reads the posts of friends who are involved in showing dogs at AKC events. People who show dogs skew older and female, and thus, so do Wrongo’s Facebook friends. Many share a constant amount of pro-Trump (dis)information.

So, Wrongo tried a week-long experiment, letting some of those posters know that their posts were factually incorrect. Let’s focus on one, a picture of a very young Bernie Sanders being hauled away by police:

The photo’s caption says:

“In 1963 Bernie Sanders was arrested for throwing eggs at black civil rights protestors. This is the side of Bernie that CNN and the fake news media don’t want you to know”

The picture is real, the caption is false. Sanders was actually protesting police brutality and segregation, and was arrested for “resisting arrest”. Facebook has now taken down the post, but it was up for over a week.

When Wrongo told friends that their posts were false, everyone deflected, and minimized their intent. One, a fervent Trumper, said, “I just wanted to post a picture of him when he was young”. Never mind that this photo is available all over the internet with the simplest of searches, all with the correct reference.

Despite a week’s worth of trying, no one was willing to delete a false post. Many of these people post disinformation six or more times a day, so it was an exercise in futility to try and make these “friends” admit the truth about their posts, much less show any awareness about their biases.

This is a small example of what McKay Coppins wrote in his Atlantic article, “The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President.” As an experiment, Coppins signed up at many pro-Trump social media sites, and soon was deluged with alternative facts: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“What I was seeing was a strategy that has been deployed by illiberal political leaders around the world. Rather than shutting down dissenting voices, these leaders have learned to harness the democratizing power of social media for their own purposes—jamming the signals, sowing confusion. They no longer need to silence the dissident shouting in the streets; they can use a megaphone to drown him out. Scholars have a name for this: censorship through noise.”

All of this is helped by Facebook’s excellent micro-targeting tools. They allow an advertiser to slice the electorate into narrow and distinct niches and then reach them with precisely tailored digital messages. More from Coppins:

“An ad that calls for defunding Planned Parenthood might get a mixed response from a large national audience, but serve it directly via Facebook to 800 Roman Catholic women in Dubuque, Iowa, and its reception will be much more positive.”

The results can be overwhelming. The Trump campaign runs hundreds of iterations of ads. In the 10 weeks after the House of Representatives began its impeachment inquiry, the Trump campaign ran roughly 14,000 different ads containing the word impeachment.

No one has the bandwidth to sift through all of them, and then call them out.

It gets worse. Coppins says that the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign have compiled an average of 3,000 data points on every voter in America. They have spent years experimenting with ways to tweak their messages based not just on gender and geography, but on whether the recipient owns a dog or, a gun.

Raw Story quotes former Rep. David Jolly (R-FL) saying that Donald Trump intentionally wants America to be anxious: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“I had a colleague that was in a meeting in the Roosevelt Room and….he heard Trump say, ‘Have you ever seen the nation so divided?’ My colleagues and others said, ‘No, we haven’t.’ Trump said, ‘I love it that way.’’

He thinks this how he’ll be re-elected!

Last Sunday, Walter Schaub, former director of the US Office of Government Ethics had a remarkable tweet thread on this, saying: (emphasis and brackets by Wrongo)

“…we’re in a dangerous new phase of Trump’s war on democracy. What do we do now?

….the greatest threat we face is despondency. The enemies of democracy…want you drowning in hopelessness. A hopeless populace is a helpless one. To that end, a hostile foreign power set up an infrastructure to weaponize social media against you.

Compounding the assault on your senses, he [Trump] also wields a corrupted government, which follows his lead in disseminating lies to sow confusion…

In the face of this psychological warfare, our most urgent mission—our civic duty—is to reject despondency. Everyone has a bad day, so we may need to take turns leading the charge. But our job as citizens is to resist the temptation to spread defeatism on social media.”

You said it, Walter!

We gotta keep hope alive.

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The Future: Will It Be Just More of The Past?

The Daily Escape:

Wrongo said he wouldn’t look back, but has reconsidered. It’s time to declare war on those who refuse to use facts or science. Think about what these true believers in either faith or ideology have brought us:

Will we continue on this road, or will we make a turn for the better? Will 2020 usher in a better decade than the one we just closed? Doubtful, unless each of us stand up and do what we can to make a difference.

Those who think Trumpism is so new and novel should remember that Norman Lear made a hit TV show about it in the early 1970s. Since then, many American white people have taken a dark turn: They would rather have Trump’s government enforce a whites only voting policy than put in the work required to make our system benefit everyone equally, while decreasing the cut taken by the corporate class.

Building this better society requires hard cognitive work. So far, Americans aren’t up to thinking about solutions beyond “Build that wall!”

Another example: 50% of white people are actively against government bureaucrats making their health care decisions. They insist that something that important should only be decided by employer HR departments and multinational insurance companies.

They’re perfectly fine casting their fates with insurance bureaucrats. Even if those corporate bureaucrats deny their care most of the time. Worse, they’re told by the media that they shouldn’t pay any more damn TAXES for health care when they could be paying twice as much in premiums to insurance corporations.

Remember the song In the year 2525? “If man is still alive…”

That’s 505 years from now. What do you think the odds are that we’re still here?

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 25, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Delicate Arch, Arches NP, Moab UT – 2019 photo by rallymachine

Wrongo learned last week that the GOP thinks he’s just another agent of Soros, like most other non-Republicans. Sadly, the mailbox didn’t contain his weekly globalist payoff check, so we’re still stuck writing this blog.

We should be framing the debate about 2020 not in terms of policies, but by asking the question Ronald Regan asked: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” For the Evangelicals who wished for a right-wing Supreme Court, the answer is “yes”. For the 1%, and corporations who were awarded a gigantic tax cut, their answer is a strong “yes”.

But for most Americans, after four years, the answer isn’t yes, it’s a hard “no”.

Yes, the unemployment rate in the US is the lowest it’s been in 50 years. More Americans have jobs than ever before. Wages are climbing, but people tell a different story: Of long job hunts, trouble finding work with decent pay, or predictable hours.

How do we square the record-long economic expansion and robust labor market with the anecdotal stories we all hear? Quartz reports on a new jobs index that shows a way to make sense of both stories. Researchers at Cornell, the University of Missouri, Kansas City, the Coalition for a Prosperous America and the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, working together:

“…..unveiled the US Private Sector Job Quality Index (or JQI for short), a new monthly indicator that aims to track the quality of jobs instead of just the quantity. The JQI measures the ratio of what the researchers call “high-quality” versus “low-quality” jobs….”

They developed a ratio of higher-wage/higher-hour jobs versus lower-wage/lower-hour jobs, and tracked it back in time using federal data. The Index reveals that job quality in the US has deteriorated substantially since 1990, and even more so since 2006.

Overall, the JQI found a shift from US high-wage/high-hour jobs to low-wage/low-hour positions. Since 1990, the US has been creating an overabundance of lower-quality service jobs. The JQI reveals that 63% of the production and non-supervisory jobs created over the past 30 years have been in low-wage and low-hour positions. That’s a marked change from the early 1990s, when nearly half of these jobs (47%) were high-wage.

Since 1990, America has cumulatively added some 20 million low-quality jobs, versus around 12 million high-quality ones. We now create more bad jobs than good. This helps explain why our GDP growth isn’t nearly what economists say we should expect from a full-employment economy.

Also, the poor jobs come with fewer hours worked. People in low-quality jobs clock 30 hours a week. Compare that to an average 38 hours a week for high-quality jobs. That seven-hour gap doesn’t sound like a lot, but it adds up to about 480 million hours per year.

Those unworked hours represents the equivalent of about 12 million jobs forgone each year. A key reason is that employers limit worker’s hours to keep from having to pay benefits.

Overall, the growing total of jobs that offer lower-than-average incomes means that job growth, as reflected by a super-low unemployment rate, provides less spending power than in the past. The economy is getting a lot less bang for its buck.

Maybe the Democrats’ presidential candidates should base the campaign on asking the Ronald Regan question again in 2020.

Time to wake up America! Look behind the headlines. Ask the candidates what they plan to do about the fact that our economy isn’t providing quality jobs. The $15/hour wage, although useful, isn’t enough to grow the economy.

To help you wake up, listen to Tones and I, a 19 year-old Australian singer-songwriter who has the number one global hit “Dance Monkey”. Today we’re featuring her song called “The Kids are Coming”. This song is sending an important message and portrays the reality of our time, that young people believe we’ve been poor stewards of their futures:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Tuesday Wake Up Call – September 3, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Clouds and light, Zion NP, Utah – 2019 photo by walkingaswind

It’s fair to ask, “What happened to the Wrongologist?” He’s taken a long break from posting, in part due to fatigue brought on by our toxic political environment. But beyond that, Wrongo has (at least temporarily) despaired of seeing a path forward to meaningful political change.

Here’s a few relatively connected changes to ponder on Labor Day.

We’re in the midst of a big demographic change. Demo Memo reports that Non-Hispanic Whites (that’s white people to us non-demographers) will account for just 47% percent of the nation’s 2019 public school students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That means the majority of students (53%) in grades K through 12 will be Hispanic, Black, Asian, or another minority.

That’s a big drop since 2000, when 61% of public school students were non-Hispanic White. Their share fell below 50% in 2014. The non-Hispanic White share of public school students will continue to fall. In 2027, non-Hispanic Whites will account for 45% of students, according to projections by the National Center for Education Statistics.

It’s not a coincidence that nearly 32% of Americans aged 18 or older can speak a language other than English. According to the 2018 General Social Survey, this figure is up from 28% a decade ago. Asians and Hispanics are most likely to say they can speak a language other than English, 83% and 69%, respectively. By generation, the youngest Americans are most likely to be able to speak a language other than English, with the iGeneration at 43%, Millennials at 39%, and GenX’ers at 33%.

Times they are a-changing.

Changes on the jobs front have already occured. Here is chart from Visual Capitalist showing the largest non-government employer in all 50 states. Sadly, even in this time of economic progress, Walmart is the largest employer in 21 states:

In many states, either the state or federal government is the top employer. California employs 250,000 federal workers. New York State is unique, since NYC’s municipal workforce is the state’s top employer. And then, there is the US Department of Defense: Eight states have more active military personnel than any single private employer.

Universities and hospitals are top employers in nearly half of the states.

But Walmart is the biggest private employer, with 1.5 million workers. They employ about 1% of private sector workforce in the US. Amazon is a distant second with more than 500,000 employees.

How are the facts about majority/minority schools and Walmart as  our largest employer linked? According to Walmart’s 2019 diversity report, 44% of Walmart employees are people of color. This means that after graduation, Walmart is a likely workplace for many of them. People of color account for 61% of Amazon employees.

And the average wage for a full-time Walmart employee in the US is $14.26. Recent full-time pay in a New Jersey Amazon warehouse was $13.85. Both sound fine until you realize that these are average pay rates for full-time workers. Many earn far less. And few actually are full-time workers, most are part-time.

Are these good jobs at good wages? They are not.

Our schools are getting more diverse, and the jobs we hold now are increasingly fragile. What’s more, for many Americans, one job doesn’t provide a living wage. As the NYT reported in a Labor Day opinion piece by Binyamin Appelbaum and Damon Winter:

“More than eight million people — roughly 5 percent of all workers — held more than one job at a time in July, according to the most recent federal data.”

Dignity. Shouldn’t America strive to make working at one job pay enough to provide for a person’s family? We tout the low unemployment rate, and the statistics that show millions of available and unfilled jobs. But, except for a few jobs involving high barriers to entry, “worker shortage” is a euphemism for “this job doesn’t pay well enough, or have good enough conditions to attract enough workers.”

There’s no worker shortage in America, there’s a pay and good working conditions shortage. Work doesn’t have to be absorbing, but it should be free of fear, and it should be worthy of one’s talents.

It’s baffling to Wrongo that supposedly smart politicians have facilitated a system that has robbed wealth from the bottom 90% of Americans and funneled it to the top 1%, largely through holding down workers’ wages, when our economy is driven by consumer spending.

All of us are wage slaves to a degree, we all sell our time and talent for money. Our schools are the basis for building talent. That, plus job experience, is what the average American offers to sell to employers.

So this is mostly a post about future Labor Days.

Time to wake up America! Without profound changes to how we educate our kids, and how we reward capitalists and capitalism, our country of tomorrow will bear little resemblance to the nation of today.

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Can US Workers Bridge A Cultural Divide?

The Daily Escape:

Peaks Island, ME – August 2019 photo by Kendall Lavoie. Peaks Island is a popular destination for day trips on the ferry from Portland. As you might expect, it has a small population in winter, tripling in summer, with many more day trip tourists. There is one taxi, a relatively new Ford Flex. It was purchased through donations by townspeople last year.

(Apologies for the sustained period of no reporting, the longest since the Wrongologist’s founding in 2010.)

Wrongo and Ms. Right watched “American Factory” on Netflix last night. The story begins with the closing of a Dayton Ohio GM truck plant in 2008, and the layoff of 2,000 plant workers. Seven years later, Fuyao Glass, a Chinese company that manufactures glass for trucks and automobiles opened in the Dayton factory. Cao Dewang, the Chinese Chairman of the Fuyao Group had a bold idea: Pair American workers with Chinese workers, who are brought to Ohio to train and work alongside their American counterparts.

The former GM workers are initially ecstatic. They’re happy to land a new factory job. Never mind that the closed GM plant was unionized, and paid more than $25 an hour, while Fuyao is non-union, with starting pay of $14 an hour. But, the laid-off people of Dayton are happy to have a new job.

Soon it’s clear that the operating results aren’t meeting Fuyao’s plan. There is an obvious and growing culture divide. First, Chinese workers have no problem working 12+ hours a day and at least six days a week, while the Americans are used to five days in eight-hour shifts.

Second, individual expression is difficult for the Chinese but hardly for Americans. During a seminar for Chinese workers to help them understand American culture, a Chinese manager assures them:

“You can even joke about the president. No one can do anything to you.”

That’s followed by amazed looks.

The movie starts by trying to learn, “will the new plant succeed?” But success has different meanings: Success for the Chinese owner is different from success for the American worker, who only wants to know, “will these be steady jobs?” Success for the management means something different. Can the factory fulfill their orders at the same volume and quality as Fuyao’s Chinese factory? What will it take for the new factory to become profitable?

These different goals, and the pressure to meet them drives the film. As one frustrated Chinese manager complains:

“American workers are difficult, and their output is low. I can’t train them.”

The American view? One fired US manager says:

“You can’t spell Fuyao without FU”.

OTOH, a move to start a union was soundly defeated.

American Factory is really about how culture drives what we expect to get from a job. Everyone wants to get paid, but what the Americans want from a job is different from what the Chinese are looking for. Americans see the job as an extension of self, and a way to earn. The Chinese see the job as part of the company’s drive to succeed. And also as a means for China to succeed.

There is a quite a bit of soul-searching in the film. The soul of the American factory worker, of American manufacturing in general and the future soul of the global economy are at stake. In addition, late in the film, Cao Dewang, the Chinese CEO wonders aloud:

“I don’t know if I’m a contributor or a sinner.”

He’s reflecting on what was lost between his young life in rural China and his later outstanding business success.

But, Cao and his Chinese managers aren’t villains in “American Factory.” It is a nuanced story, although clearly its sympathies are with the American workers. The film raises many issues: How can companies remain competitive in a global economy? Is it worth it to give taxpayer breaks for companies that relocate? Can global companies bridge the culture gaps that occur whenever a firm locates abroad?

Much of the interest in the film is due to its production company, Higher Ground, formed in partnership with Netflix by former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama. The filmmakers,  Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert began shooting independently in 2015 while Obama was still president.

In closing, note that at its high point, GM’s Dayton plant employed 10,000 people. Fuyao Glass America’s Dayton plant now employs 2,200 Americans and 200 Chinese. They had originally promised 5,000 employees, and received tax incentives to open the plant.

Some of the Chinese have now moved their families to Dayton, and their kids attend Dayton’s public schools.

By adding automation and fully Chinese management, the plant turned a profit in 2018, three years after it opened.

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Current and Future Job Growth Will Be In Cities

The Daily Escape:

Breezewood, PA – 2008 photo by Edward Burtynsky. Each year, 3.5 million passenger vehicles and 1.5 million trucks drive the half-mile Breezewood strip on Route 30. That’s because a law in the 1950s prohibited spending federal funds to connect a free road to a toll road. So, highway planners designed an interchange that routes drivers onto Route 30 for a half-mile.

An interesting article from Market Watch shows how nearly all job growth is in big cities, while rural America is being left behind:

“Since the economy began adding jobs after the Great Recession nine years ago, about 21.5 million jobs have been created in the United States, the second-best stretch of hiring in the nation’s history, second only to the 1990s. But….Most of the new jobs have been located in a just a few dozen large and dynamic cities, leaving slower-growing cities, small towns and rural areas — where about half of Americans live — far behind.”

MarketWatch cites a July 2019 study by McKinsey forecasting that 25 cities that are home to about 30% of Americans will capture about 60% of the job growth between 2017 and 2030, just as they did between 2007 and 2017. In typical McKinsey fashion, they break cities and towns into many categories. Please read the report for full details. Here are their top-line findings about where the largest growth is happening:

  • Twelve mega-cities (and their extended suburbs) top the list: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco and Washington.
  • Another 13 are high-growth hubs in or around smaller cities: Austin, Charlotte, Denver, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Nashville, Orlando, Portland (Ore.), Raleigh, San Antonio, San Jose, Seattle, and Tampa.
  • Smaller, fast-growing cities and a few privileged rural counties will also add jobs, while vast swaths of the South, Midwest and Plains will lose jobs.
  • The New York metro area, home to 20 million people, added more jobs over the past year than did all of America’s small towns and rural areas, with a population of 46 million people, combined.

McKinsey’s forecast reinforces concerns about persistent economic inequality in America. Inclusive growth is a must, or it is likely that our society will fall apart. The problem: No one, and certainly not Republicans, have a magic wand that will bring back jobs to rural and small-town America.

Anyone who’s been paying attention knows that job growth is mostly occurring in places that vote for Democrats, while the stagnation is mostly in places that vote for Republicans. In 2016, Trump was smart to tailor a pitch to those parts of America, but their situations haven’t improved since his election.

And the divide is getting larger. Over the past year, only 12% of 389 metro areas had any significant job growth, according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by Aaron Sojourner, a former White House economist, now an associate professor at the University of Minnesota:

So, after 17 years of significant and broadly-spread growth, fewer towns and cities are now doing so well. And, of the 47 metros that gained significant numbers of jobs over the past year, 21 were on McKinsey’s top 25 list.

Meanwhile, the regional jobs data from the BLS shows that non-metropolitan areas, which account for 18% of jobs, had just 5% of job growth over the past year.

OTOH, income inequality is greatest in those cities with the highest jobs growth. But, we can’t write off one quarter of the US population simply because they live in low-growth areas. And politically, it’s essential. Rural America is overrepresented politically — we can’t ignore them.

But, what to do? Sanders and Warren have addressed this by trying to raise tax revenues from corporations, and funding free college. They along with others, believe in some form of Medicare-for-all, which could help address the fact that rural America is older, sicker, and poorer than ever before.

Yang proposes a universal basic income of $1,000/month for everyone.

Trump proposes tax cuts for the wealthy, tariffs and weakened environmental regulations, but despite all three, the situation has gotten worse since his election.

McKinsey suggests that communities that are being left behind ought to try almost everything: improved transportation to get residents to jobs, rural broadband, and lifelong job training.

Building consensus about how to address job growth and income inequality is the key to America’s future. This is what the 2020 presidential election should be about.

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