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    • Why Would Iran Attack Tankers?
      Well, if it did. Let me tell a story, possibly apocryphal. Back in the 70s the Russian (USSR) ambassador supposedly had a talk with the Pakistaini leader of the day. This is what he is reputed to have said. ” I do not know who will be in charge in Moscow in ten, twenty or […]
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The Desolations of Smaugs

Gotta make this quick so I can bop down to the farmers’ market in East Liberty.

Here are two posts that belong together.  The first is about the crazy amount of money that the wealthy are just sitting on and not investing.  In The World’s Richest People are Sitting on Gigantic Piles of Cash that aren’t Earning them Anything, we get confirmation of what we have suspected for some time, that is, rich people are hoarding money.  But the reason they are hoarding makes no damn sense.  Apparently, the wealthy are waiting for a market correction before they dive back in to investing and since that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon, they’re going to sit on the cash.  Now, I can understand that feeling if you’re a poor schlub like me, hoarding the miserable little bit of IRA you have left after several years of employment insecurity.  It makes less sense if you’re a plutocrat with more money than god.

Hmmm, maybe we should be wondering why the wealthy think there is going to be a pullback.

The second is about the consequences of hoarding all that money.  When the shareholders demand more money and less investment, companies tend to shutter their facilities.  Recently, Hoffman-LaRoche in Nutley, NJ closed it’s doors and is preparing to dismantle the site.  When I was a young chemist a long, long time ago, I visited the Nutley campus.  Like many research facilities, it was more like a small town with a gatehouse and a shuttle that delivered the visitor to her destination.  Now that Roche has decided to stop doing research in the US because shareholder value (and Americans are notoriously easy to lay off since they have virtually no labor protections whatsoever), the Nutley facility is about to undergo a radical transformation.  If it is anything like my facility where the rent the company was demanding from small startups was prohibitively high, they probably won’t get many takers.

In other words, if some of the scientists they laid off decided to get together and try to operate one of the buildings as a small incubator, they wouldn’t be able to afford it.  And these days, vulture capitalists want a lot of the research done up front so they don’t actually have to risk any money at all.  That makes research on small scale even more difficult to finance.  Rent, reagents and researchers are expensive.  So, if Roche can’t get any takers to rent its empty labs, it may go the route of some of the other companies in similar circumstances and demolish perfectly serviceable, and in some cases, brand new research buildings, rather than keep them on the books.

Lovely.

One final thing, Hillary Clinton gave an interview to Terry Gross, former Obama fangirl extraordinaire, the other day.  It got a little testy about half way through when Gross started pushing her on same-sex marriage.  Hillary talks primarily about her four years as SOS and seems to think that Edward Snowden had other options to spill the beans.  I’d have to differ with her there though.  Snowden had superuser privileges.  Anything he revealed while he was still in the US would trace right back to him very quickly.  You don’t give su privileges to many people, or at least I don’t think the NSA and its contractors would.  I could be wrong about that.  It seems a little sloppy to allow one person to download massive amounts of information and have no one notice.

Given the reaction of the Obama administration to leakers, I think Snowden did the only thing he could have done and I’m not unhappy that he did it.  I meet people everyday who are pretty non-political who are keenly aware of what Snowden revealed and they are not happy to know that the government has so much information on them.  Until Snowden, the conversation about spying on Americans was tepid at best.  Hillary should know by now that timing is everything.  Snowden forced door open and let the sunshine in a lot more quickly than some politicians might have found convenient but he sure did get their attention, didn’t he?  No putting the genie back in the bottle now or slowing that genie down now.

Ok, enough with the foreign policy stuff.  What about domestic issues?  I want to hear about that now.  No time like the present.  Let’s not put it off any longer.

 

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Precariat- Learn this word

No, precariat is not a misspelling of a group of single celled organisms.  It’s a very disturbing word, an ominous word, a word that has already arrived here in the United States and is slowly moving up the food chain:

Precariat- a social group consisting of people whose lives are difficult because they have little or no job security and few employment rights

It’s a portmanteau of “precarious” and “proletariat”.  A precariat is a person who doesn’t have a reliable job.  Precariats initially were service workers who may have been working a 40 hour work week, but maybe not.  A precariat could be called in to work a 6 hour shift, every other day and one long 12 hour day at some other point in the week or come to work expecting a full 8 hours but sent home after 2.  The amount of work can vary from day to day, week to week.  This worker typically has no benefits.

I think most of us can see right away the limitations of the precariat world.  If you can’t say for sure how many hours you’ll be working each month, can you afford to rent a nice apartment or buy a house?  Can you buy a new car?  If you have children, how do you schedule and pay for their child care?  Can you depend on your paycheck to feed them?  Work and living become precarious.  Here is a video about the precariat from The Precariat: the New Working Class:

Precariats usually spring up in countries where workers are not protected by unions or strict labor laws.  Right now, the UK is starting to come to terms with the precariat but in a way, the Welsh precariat has it good compared to the American version.  Here in the US, there is no national health care system or reasonably priced, government subsidized schools of higher education.  So, the land of opportunity in America is starting to look like the last place you want to live if you are forced into precariatism.

Another feature of precariatism is the appearance of the middle man hiring agency.  That agency stands between the employer and you.  The employer hands off responsibility of hiring and paying the worker.  The worker becomes a true human resource to be hired when needed and laid off when not.  Benefits and risks are born by the employee.  The hiring agency takes a cut of the worker’s pay, I hesitate to call it a salary because that would imply some kind of security and regularity.

A couple of years ago, we who were salaried employees would have looked down on the precariat with pity.  Now, we are one.  From my vantage point, this is the way the pharmaceutical industry has decided to handle its well educated, experienced workforce.  We are now service workers.  More and more of us can only find contract work.  The work is parceled out in 3, 6 or 12 month contracts.  There are no benefits.  In some cases, the worker pays both sides of the social security tax.  It is hard to plan where to live because you don’t know if you’ll be able to pay the rent.  You can’t make any major purchases on credit because there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to afford the car payment.

One of the reasons I suspected that the McKinsey reports of employers dropping health insurance coverage for their employees after the passage of the Affordable Care Act was true was because it fits so well with the precariat worker norm.  Since a universal mandate meant that workers would be legally compelled to spend whatever the insurance companies could charge for health insurance, the employer could cut this benefit out of their compensation packages guilt free. To escape the employer mandate, all the employer would have to do is make many of its permanent employees into contractors.  The number of layoffs would be expected to increase. Responsibility and risk would now be transferred to the employee.   You don’t have to be a highly paid consulting company or economist to see how this would work.  All you have to do is think a couple of steps ahead. Mandatory universal coverage without a public option or a single payer system that requires employers to pay in puts much of the American workforce at risk of falling from the middle class into the precariat.

The new middle man hiring agency becomes the new growth sector.  Expect to hear more horror stories of foreign students brought to the US by a hiring vendor promising that they will learn English only to spend their summer in a chocolate factory in Pennsylvania doing manual labor for subsistence wages.  Expect Hershey the company to deny all responsibility.  Or Amazon.  Or {{your company name here}}

It’s hard to say whether Barack Obama was onboard with this or whether he was so overwhelmed by his job that it never was evaluated properly.  But I think we can say pretty unequivocally that the acceleration of the expansion of precariatism within the American culture is related to the measures that were  or weren’t taken in the wake of the financial collapse.  So much attention was focused on shoring up the banks at taxpayer expense that homeowners were allowed to foreclose, jobs were allowed to disappear and healthcare reform was rushed through to score political points without much thought of how  those reforms would affect the workforce.  In fact, hardly any thought at all has been spent on the workforce.  Well, Elizabeth Warren was thinking about it for years but as Adam Davidson pointing out in that blistering Planet Money interview from 2009, Warren’s opinions didn’t really count because she wasn’t a “serious” person.  Did Davidson see the rise of the precariat?  Does he know that free lancing is going to appear at an NPR station near him someday?

If the US economy is in a slump right now, it may very well be because there are so many more precariats where once there were college educated salaried people.  In my own sphere, precariatism is the norm these days, not the exception.  It wasn’t like this before 2008.  But now, if you’re a precariat, you can not plan for the future.  There IS no future.  Everyday is a struggle and stress about where the next mortgage payment will come from, what will happen if the car breaks down, how to pay for the plumbing that keeps getting backed up or the last of the orthodontic appointments.  It’s the reason why so many grocery stores are shuttering their stores and why Lowes is laying off workers in the northeast and why people are hoarding their money instead of spending it.  And it will get worse until more working people realize what is happening to them.  The people who are kissing the whip today are going to be tomorrow’s precariats.

We have been subjected to years of politicians relaxing the rules for the 1% and tightening the rules for everyone else.  The rise of the number of precariats can be attributed to the politicians who let this happen.  We need to replace as many of them as possible.  Because it wasn’t too long ago that Americans were pretty cool with capitalism.  When we were all making money and productivity gains went to the middle class, we had a vibrant, robust economy.  But when the rules went out the window and labor came under attack from the superwealthy and the whip kissers who brainlessly listen to Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Fox News, an opportunity arose to force many of us to live on the edge of a knife.  Now, those of us who didn’t necessarily want to be rich but wanted to work for its own sake are considered losers.  And the infection of the precariat is bound to spread.  There is no profession that is safe.  Once the public unions are broken, precarianism will be the norm, not the exception.  Your degrees cannot protect you.  Even senior citizens are not sheltered from the effects of precariatism because as the salaries disappear to be replaced with lower, precarious wages, the tax base will continue to shrink.  It won’t be that we don’t want to pay for social security. It will be that we just can’t anymore.

The 99% don’t want to live a precarious life.  We know who was responsible for the ruination of the American middle class.  We focus on the robber barons of Wall Street now but come November 2012, with a handful of notable exceptions in Congress, they ALL have to go, Obama included.

What the OccupyWallStreet protestors object to is the increasing economic injustice forced on the precariat and what they demand is that it stop.

Obama is the worst president of my lifetime

Obama makes home ownership a thing of the past

Hyperbolic?  You be the judge.  Administration calls for cutting aid to homebuyers:

The Obama administration’s much-anticipated report on redesigning the government’s role in housing finance, published Friday, is not solely a proposal to dissolve the unpopular finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said closing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac might take five to seven years.

It is also a more audacious call for the federal government to cut back its broadly popular, long-running campaign to help Americans own homes. The three ideas that the report outlines for replacing Fannie and Freddie all would raise the cost of mortgage loans and push homeownership beyond the reach of some families.

That fact is already generating opposition in Congress and among groups like community banks and consumer advocates.

But administration officials said they had concluded the country could no longer afford to sustain its commitment to minting homeowners. Better to help some people rent

What is more sickening?  That this president who had everything going for him when he came into office would betray the American people like he has or that the gullible left put him in charge because they got all snooty over Bill Clinton’s comparatively reasonable welfare reform?

Read the whole thing.  It will make your blood boil.  What would make anyone want to buy a house after this?  How will current homeowners sell in the future?  What will developers buildinstead?  Highrises?  Will you only be able to rent your three bedroom house with all the restrictions on making structural changes and painting the walls?  Will a greater number of Americans be subject to landlords and evictions, fees and arbitrary rent increases?  Will their rental rights and property rights be protected and respected?  Who will enforce that?    What nutcase thought this was a good idea??

And what does it say for Obama’s attitude towards the middle class that he expects that we won’t be able to afford houses in the future?  What does he know and when did he know it?  Who are his friends?  What are they talking about behind our backs?  We better find out.

Wednesday: Rent and Taxes

You MUST pay the rent!

You MUST pay the rent!

Simon Johnson had a cryptic post at baselinescenario the other day about money managers and shareholders.  Naked Capitalism followed it up yesterday with a post about John C. Bogle, head of the Vanguard Group and his proposals for a new fiduciary relationship between money managers and their customers. One thing I found astonishing was that pension funds are charged something like .08 for a transaction but mutual funds of the type that many of us are forced to put our 401K money into are charged .61 per transaction.

In the past couple of days, I’ve been reading more references to the term “rent”.  In this context, rent is not simply what we pay to our landlord to keep a roof over our heads but, as I’m interpreting it, rent is a fee charged by an entity to make use of a service that they have exclusive control over.  (Dakinikat can correct me on this)  For example, when you use your debit card, you pay a transaction fee and that is a type of rent.  I’ve always assumed the rent in this case goes towards servicing the machines and the bank makes a ginormous profit.  Then there are those transaction fees extracted from us by our 401k managers.  And when I think about it, rents are all over the place and costing us more and more each year.  Think about your cell phone bill.  Ok, *don’t* think about your cellphone bill.  There are ridiculous fees for everything.  You get roped into a monthly charge for 400 minutes but find that unless you purchase unlimited texting, every SMS you send is going to cost a ridiculous amount of money even though those text messages hitch a ride on cell signals at virtually no cost to the phone company.

Then I started to think about all the privatization we went through in the Bush Era.  Remember when the Republicans were ready to privatize the national weather service to something like The Weather Channel?  Think about that for a moment.  We pay taxes already to keep the weather service and its spinoffs like the hurricane watchers in business and Congress was negotiating with a private company, who would have charged us additional fees, to provide that service for us.  But I think it’s even worse than that.  I have heard horror stories about companies such as Accenture bidding on projects like taking over human services databases in Texas and making a shambles of it.  I know from an insider how the IRS has been downsized and portions of its services sent to private contractors for high fees.

Funny how it seems like our taxes never appreciably decreased after Bush and the Republicans made government smaller, especially for those of us who live in states where the cost of living, and consequently salaries, are high.  I supposedly have more money in pockets, money that I can decide to spend better than the government and I spend a lot more of it in rent that every service provider manages to extract from me in little dribs and drabs.  It adds up, substantially.  And today, when I do my taxes (yeah, yeah, procrastination), I will once again be amazed that I fork out so much money and get so little for it.  I *thought* I was paying much less in taxes than my French colleagues until one of the expats told me that taxes here are much higher when one accounts for what she would get for that money in France.  Little things like decent healthcare, generous maternity leave, tuition at a public university that is really just a token.

But in any case, I’m sure it is no accident that rents to the private sector have increased to the benefit of our capitalist masters of government.   It makes me pine for socialism.