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Four Tweets and Two Interviews

About a week ago, this tweet showed up in my stream and summarized everything that is worng with our current economy:

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 11.30.24 AM

Here’s what happened next:

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 11.30.56 AM

And after that?

{{crickets}}

That’s because when anyone has to actually sit down and think about it, the Gig Economy is only good for investors with a lot of money who can afford to dump a start-up when it doesn’t turn out to be the “get rich quick” scheme they thought it was.

The idea that some guy in his 20s is going to want to become a journeyman tech worker indefinitely is unrealistic. No one wants to live in a micro apartment forever. If you want a spouse and kids and a house, you can not do it if you are constantly looking for your next job that might be in another city where your spouse might not be able to find work or have to leave their own career behind. You can’t drag kids from one insecure gig to another and keep them in school without facing significant consequences down the road. (Take if from a Navy brat who still has problems with simple arithmetic. Thank god for calculators.)

Other things you can’t do in the Gig Economy as a tech worker: It’s hard to justify owning a house.How can you reasonably apply for a 30 yr mortgage if you don’t know when or where you’ll be working? It’s hard to save for retirement. Even if you are paid well, and some Accenture people I know are paid very well, you need to keep a significant chunk of liquid assets in case you’re laid off for extended periods of time. It used to be 6 months of salary. I’d say the actual amount is closer to two years. You just never know.

And add to that the stress of always shopping for a new job, updating your LinkedIn profile, networking, paying thousands of dollars for meaningless certifications, never getting enough experience or getting experience and then having to leave it all behind when the contract runs out.

IT IS THE STUPIDEST WAY TO RUN AN ECONOMY.

Yeah, if you’re an entrepreneur and you have a flexible morality that allows you to take advantage of “ease of migration” and “fluid labor laws” while benefitting from the “rule of law” and other nice infrastructure that everyone else pays for with their taxes, then it’s a sweeeeet deal. Good for Marc Andreeson! I used to admire the team who came up with Mosaic, the first browser I ever wrote HTML pages for back in 1995. But he is symptomatic of many people who think that just because this economy is working swell for him that we can all jump on the “I wanna be a rich entrepreneur!” bandwagon.

As I’ve pointed out before, biopharma R&D is a team sport, a collaborative activity where the credit is spread among many people. It does not adapt well to a start up economy where there are promises of fabulous riches made to a select few people of “talent”. Sure , there will be exceptions but what Marc will never know is how many cures did not get made because the research was not sexy enough to get the funding it needed.

And don’t even get me started about the companies and universities that make you sign over your patent rights as a condition of employment. When we were all in corporate labs with mostly stable jobs and a decent standard of living, we didn’t think twice about it. The company paid for the capital and overhead, we gave them a patent. It was fair. Now, all the risk is born by the researcher and they can’t keep their intellectual property.

Anyway, I won’t go on and on about it because you’ve heard it all before. My point is that as much as the candidates talk about retraining and having the work force catch up with technology, they seem to be ignoring the fact that there are millions of highly trained tech and R&D workers with all of the tech skills a company could want who are forced into lives that are pretty similar to migrant labor. Sure, the pay might be good for short periods of time but stretch that out over 40 years of a typical worker’s life and it’s a bad deal. There is so much uncertainty that it is going to have, and is currently having, a significant impact on the economy going forward.

We need to do something about those fluid labor laws where it is easy to lay people off for no good reason at any time, and we need to give foreign workers green cards when they are hired here so that their lives are not subject to the whims of vulture capitalism. If we really, really need highly educated foreign born citizens, then they are valuable enough to treat them as human beings, decently, with an opportunity to find other jobs if they are laid off due to no fault of their own.

Which one of our candidates is getting a clue?

I submit to you two recent interviews that Hillary has given recently. One is with Ezra Klein where they talked about policy. When I heard this, I could swear she’s been reading this blog for the last several years. She uses the words like “churn” to refer to the practice of large corporations to be perpetually overturning their work force every couple of years.

The other is the interview she gave to Charlie Rose last week where she says that “income insecurity” is a big problem. If she really means it, she will also have to acknowledge that profit sharing does NOT lead to secure incomes. She’s going to have to go back and talk to the Andreesons and other Obama’s supporters and tell them that’s not going to cut it.

The best thing about these interviews besides her command of policy, her confidence and her passion, is that she seems to have really started to listen. America is not as dark and foreboding as Trump would make us believe. But all is not well in terms of the economy and work and no one believes the current administration’s rosy scenarios and PR team. That is where the anger is coming from. We get a steady stream of Pravda media and it isn’t squaring with our own lives. Politicians, and by that I mean Republicans and some student body president Democrats, can only pull this off for so long before the electorate throws them all out.

She’s getting it. Good. That’s what I want to hear.

The Candidate Index

I’m sure they will feign innocence but how much time and space are our media sources devoting to all of the candidates running for president of the United States.

To refresh your memory, there are currently 3 major candidates still remaining. We aren’t counting Martin O’Malley.

The *three* major candidates are (in alphabetical order):

Hillary Clinton (D)

Bernie Sanders (D)

Donald Trump (R)

Sanders and Clinton? Who are they, you might ask? Indeed. What have they been doing in the last week? Judging by our nation’s sources of truth, we would have no idea. We wouldn’t know if they have any policy ideas, or struggles with campaign financing (seems inevitable with so much attention focused on the other guy), or anything really.

So, how are we going to show how much free publicity has been gifted to each candidate? I’m thinking I need a table of three rows for the candidates and multiple columns for media outlets’ front pages. Media outlets would be: NY Times, WaPo, CNN, MSNBC and Fox. I’ll count the number of times the candidate’s name shows up in a headline on the front page at 6am. Wait, does anyone have any insight on morning deadlines?

Also, what kind of metric should we be going for here?

Gotta go to work but I’ll be back later so if you have any ideas, put them in the comments.

For today, so far I see 3 headlines featuring Trump’s name, 0 featuring Clinton’s name, 0 featuring Sanders. 2 op/ed featuring Trump’s name (Krugman), 1 op/ed featuring Clinton’s name. Elsewhere on the front page of the NY Times, Trump’s name appears 6 times, Clinton’s appears 0, Sanders appears 0.

I can’t wait for Ezra Klein to tell me how surprised he was by this.

 

Nip and Tuck — No Biggie

If this is true it should be front page news. We have a right to know what is getting bargained away:

Ezra F*ckin Klein:

There will be a variety of nips and tucks to Medicare, including more cost-sharing and decreases in provider payments, and the headline Democratic concession is likely to be that the Medicare eligibility age rises from 65 to 67.

That’s not a policy I like much, but New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait accurately conveys the White House thinking here: They see it as having “weirdly disproportionate symbolic power,” as it’s not a huge (or smart) cut to Medicare benefits, and most of the pain will be blunted by the Affordable Care Act. But Republicans and self-styled deficit hawks see it as a big win. And Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who staunchlyopposes raising the retirement age, has stopped well short of ruling it out.

Takin’ a break today

It’s rainy and yucky today.

Anyway, this one goes out to all those chemists out there who have been freed from wage slavery:

*********************************

By the way, Ezra Klein wrote something intelligent after a four year self-induced psychogenic fugue.  It appears that he has woken up to discover that he is a Democrat after all and that some of the people that Obama hangs with in Washington are not:

Of course, those who say we should raise the Social Security retirement age — either the age of eligibility or the age for full benefits — don’t get laughed at. It’s considered a very thoughtful, courageous effort to deal with our entitlement programs. People who mention it often make a joke of how brave they’re being. For instance, here’s New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) at an American Enterprise Institute event:

You are going to have to raise the retirement age for Social Security! Whoa! I just said it and I am still standing here. I did not vaporize into the carpeting.

Big applause, of course.

This is one of Washington, D.C.’s more disagreeable conceits. The people wandering around calling for a higher retirement age will never feel the bite of the policy. Think tankers and politicians and columnists don’t retire at age 62, or even age 65. They love their work, which mostly requires sitting down in air-conditioned rooms. They stick around pretty much until they’re about to die.

Too bad this awakening comes too late to do anything about it but we must be grateful for small things.

But as Ezra says:

The courage it takes to call for a higher retirement age is the courage to say that other people who don’t have it as good as you do should be the ones to pay to shore up Social Security. It’s the same kind of courage as a poor person calling for higher taxes on the rich, or a sitting congressman calling for a war he’ll never have to fight in.

Or the courage of an A list blogger to defend future social security recipients after the blogger failed to pressure the Democratic nominee he helped get elected with threats of electoral suicide if he didn’t drop the Grand Bargain plans.

Just sayin’.

Calorie Labeling and your weekend dinner plans

I am constantly struggling with my weight.  If I don’t walk about 5 miles a day I gain weight — and if I eat out with any regularity at all I gain weight.  The switch that makes my brain relate what I’m eating to my weight and health just shuts off when I’m at a restaurant.  And without that switch — I’m out of control.

Ezra Klein is discussing that experience in his post, Calorie Labeling In Action, today

All quite delicious. When I got back to the office, though, I decided to see what it added up to. First, I looked up the cookie. A solid 450 calories, with 19 grams of fat. Yikes. But what might have actually changed my purchase was knowing the content of my sandwich: According to the nutrition calculator, 525 calories.

The calories in the cookie weren’t startling. But their calories relative to my sandwich proved a bit off-putting. I could pretty much have ordered a second sandwich for the caloric cost. Buying them without the information, it was easy enough to just consider them a side dish. As it happened, the cookie was more like a second lunch. I wouldn’t have ordered a second lunch. Good to know.

I had that EXACT experience with a Subway sandwich and a cookie a few years ago.  Their cookies are only in the 200 calorie range but, they’re puny.  I got two that day (440 calories) and NEVER did it again.

When it comes to calories knowledge isn’t just power — it’s control.  And it’s not just me:

The following table comes from a Health Impact Assessment prepared by the County of Los Angeles on calorie labeling laws. It shows how much of the whole county’s projected weight gain would be averted if calorie labeling got X percent of restaurant patrons to make average decisions that were Y calories smaller

Follow the links and take a look (Ezra has a link to a graph) — it’s pretty impressive!  And since it’s likely you won’t find the label on the menu at your favorite restaurant, spend a couple of minutes looking at the nutrition information on their website before you go.


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Could “reform” possibly look worse than what we’ve got?

I don’t know how anyone could consider this reform (h/t Alegra) –

EXCLUSIVE: The Finance Committee’s Health Reform Outline
A Senate source just passed me the latest outline of the Senate Finance Committee’s health reform proposal. This is the post-CBO revision. Apparently, after the committee staff received the scores, they dug deep and quickly developed this proposal to circulate among members and then send back to CBO. It was presented earlier today at a closed-door meeting.

(shaking my head) It’s actually unbelievable…. You’ve got to read it yourself: Health Care Reform Draft Proposal.  It’s a pdf of an image so I can’t copy and past the text.  But, one of Ezra’s readers posted this evaluation (this is just a bit from the middle.  He’s got more detail in a chart): Continue reading

Health care reform the dollars and sense of it

[ An extended update to Health care: Bipartisanship in itself is not a goal (period) ]

Health care for a country as large as ours is going to cost a lot of money — no matter who’s paying the bills.  Right now, the burden rests almost entirely on individuals to either pay extortion high insurance premiums & all the deductibles and copays required to actually benefit from those payments.  But, many of us are hoping that with true government reform, those payments could be restructured in such a way that everyone in the country gains access to health care . . .  and none of us go broke getting it.

Ezra’s  hair is on fire but, why can’t he point out that we’ll pay much more than these estimates in ten years without reform?

Health reform is, I think it fair to say, in danger right now. The news out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee was bad. The Congressional Budget Office had scored a partial bill and the result was a total fiasco. But the news out of the Finance Committee is much, much worse.

Put simply, the Finance Committee wanted its bill to cost $1 trillion over 10 years. The CBO returned an early estimate to the panel on Tuesday night: $1.6 trillion over 10 years. The specifics of the estimate have not been made public. But the final number changed everything. Max Baucus, the chairman of the committee, pushed markup back behind the July 4th recess. He has promised to get the bill below $1 trillion over 10 years.

That’s very dangerous.

“Very dangerous” — to say the least. Continue reading