"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."
- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)
"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."
- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"
Saturday, 10 January 2004
Topic: Bush Is America safer now that we have a color-coded alert system, and now that we're fingerprinting folks who fly in from places that are suspicious, and now that we have captured Saddam Hussein? Is our government doing its job well - the job of making us all safe and secure? Well, maybe so.
At least two of my regular readers have degrees in philosophy. But we all should consider this exchange from the ever-popular Simpsons television show.
Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm. Lisa: That's specious reasoning, Dad. Homer: Thank you, dear. Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away. Homer: Oh, how does it work? Lisa: It doesn't work. Homer: Uh-huh. Lisa: It's just a stupid rock. Homer: Uh-huh. Lisa: But I don't see any tigers around, do you? [Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money...] Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.
Topic: The Economy The Brave New World: "While workers are necessary, and so have to be kept alive, they have no hope of any better treatment since they are infinitely available, replaceable, and generally interchangeable." Really. That's a fact, Jack! Job growth pretty much came halt in December, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today, as thousands of people disappeared from the officially recorded labor force rather than keep looking for work. They gave up. Most forecasters thought that December would be a breakthrough month for job creation, given the strengthening economy. But instead of the 150,000 new jobs they had on average expected, there were only 1,000. Not good.
The unemployment rate dropped to 5.7 percent from 5.9 percent in November, but that was mainly because so many people chose not to look for work, a requirement to be counted as unemployed. It seems that in December, 309,000 working-age men and women who would normally be job-hunting either left the labor force or did not bother to enter it in search of work, according to the labor bureau.
Oh yeah, then the government lowered by more than a third its estimate of the number of jobs created in November and October. Instead of an increase of 143,000 jobs in those months, the revised figure was 94,000. Oops.
But the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew an unusual 8.2 percent in the third quarter and is expected to have closed out the year with another three months of solid expansion. Corporate profits are soaring, up twenty-two percent or so. Productivity - the dollar output per unit of work - is growing by leaps and bounds. Business is doing just fine. This is a recovery.
And the lay-off announcements keep coming, and the announcements of large bocks of jobs being eliminated by having the work done in India or the Philippines or wherever.
More here is being done with less, or with labor from distant places at one tenth the cost.
The recovery is being accomplished by stretching the labor force as thin as possible, by depressing wages (easy to do when there are ten people who want your job if you bitch too much), and by having the work done offshore when at all possible.
This is quite understandable. If I have a business making widgets I want to make them at the lowest possible cost and sell them at the highest possible price. That's where my profit lies. If I can stretch what expensive domestic labor I simply must use as far as possible at the lowest possible cost, and then offload big blocks of labor costs to foreign workers at one tenth the cost, then I can offer a fine product at a wonderfully low price. And fine products at low prices help everyone.
Actually, I have no problem with that. It makes good business sense.
The problem is all these folks with no jobs who cannot buy my products. Damn.
And the jobs are never coming back. How did this come to be?
I found an interesting discussion of the problem here: The Price Of Globalization William Pfaff, The International Herald Tribune, Saturday, January 10, 2004
Pfaff sets up the conflict this way:
The jobless recovery in the American economy, weakly echoed in Europe, reinforces complaints in all the Western industrial countries that employers and stockholders enrich themselves while workers' wages fall or remain static. Defenders of free trade irritably reply that outsourced jobs will be replaced by those demanding higher skills, and that workers should go out and retrain themselves.
Yep, a knee-jerk reaction each way. The rich capitalist owners are unfairly exploiting the workers? Well, the workers should make themselves useful and relevant again. Retrain. Yeah, yeah.
Pfaff points out that one could argue that capital, technology, ideas and jobs now "all enjoy unprecedented mobility." It's workers that lack mobility. Nearly all the work performed in modern industry can be outsourced globally.
It's a matter of freed trade.
But is exporting jobs free trade?
Actually, this is free trade. It is free trade as theoretically envisaged by the 18th century economist David Ricardo, stripped of the economic, social and political constraints that for two centuries kept trade from functioning the way Ricardo expected.
He said that states should exploit their comparative advantages in resources or manufacturing. Trading in those complementary advantages would produce reciprocal gain. It's win-win - as Ricardo would not have said.
This is a relatively simple-minded theory, but in practice it has generally worked out, if not to the advantage of all concerned.
Okay, fine. Then how come so many of us are getting screwed over and unable to find work?
Here's the deal:
... Ricardo had a second theory, which he called the "iron law of wages." You do not hear much about the iron law, in part because you wouldn't want to hear about it, and also because experience has seemed to prove it untrue. But times are changing.
The iron law of wages is also simple and logical. It says that wages will tend to stabilize at or about subsistence level. That seemed inevitable to Ricardo, since while workers are necessary, and so have to be kept alive, they have no hope of any better treatment since they are infinitely available, replaceable, and generally interchangeable.
Ah, that's the problem. Previously the pool of available labor was limited - a matter of geography. Now, for the first time in history, thanks to modern computer networking and telephony, we really do have "infinitely available" labor, world-wide, twenty-four hours a day. This IS new.
Yes, Ricardo's wage theory had seemed untrue. The supply of competent workers in a given place was not unlimited; neither workers nor industry were perfectly mobile, and labor demonstrated in the last two centuries that it could mobilize and defend itself. This "iron law of wages" would function only if the supply of labor is infinite and totally mobile.
And now we pretty much have that. Globalizaton.
Pfaff argues that globalization is "removing the constraints imposed in the past by societies possessing institutions, legislation, and the political will to protect workers."
Yep, any labor movement is screwed:
Labor today has almost entirely lost power in the places where it once possessed it. Western Europe provides limited and unrepresentative exceptions: Germany with its national unions, and the civil service unions in France. In both countries unions survive because of political rather than economic factors.
Until recently, the complaint that industry benefited from free trade but workers did not was conventionally treated as special pleading by unions and the left. At best, this was said to be a problem of lagging interaction between the unmistakably positive results of trade for business and industry, and the advantages for workers that - according to the abstract model - must ineluctably follow.
Hey! Wake up! Business is great, and getting better. We do have "unmistakably positive results" - look at the profits piling up.
But nothing is going to "ineluctably follow" for workers.
Technology has made the labor pool nearly infinite. Ricardo's law of wages, his "wage theory," finally comes into play. And it isn't pretty.
So what to do?
Best to own a business - be a capitalist - and not to work for one.
Topic: Election Notes What's God got to do with it? Plenty! Any white person who believes in God is a Republican, and not a geologist. Dean and Clark are now putting more "God talk" in their speeches, and the question is whether this will help.
...about a month ago, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a poll showing that people who regularly attend religious services supported Bush 63 percent to 37 percent, and those who never attend religious services opposed him 62 percent to 38 percent. When you exclude blacks (as they do in Vermont), who are overwhelmingly Baptist and overwhelmingly Democratic, and rerun the numbers, basically any white person who believes in God is a Republican.
PARIS (Reuters) - Europeans may have some problems grasping the ins and outs of American politics at the best of times, but the transatlantic gap never gets bigger than when candidates in the United States start talking about God.
Democratic presidential front-runner Howard Dean has started awkwardly discussing religion on the stump, trying to shake off a label many European politicians would covet - the most secular candidate in the race. The eight other Democrats jostling for a chance to challenge the openly religious President Bush have also spoken up about their faith, Bible reading or church attendance to close their perceived "God gap" with the Republicans.
European voters accustomed to campaigns focused on budget deficits, pension problems or immigration would be surprised to hear a political candidate talking about praying, as Wesley Clark has done, or being "God-fearing" as John Kerry has said.
Ah, we are not a "secular" nation.
Here are some interesting quotes:
"If a politician were to speak of his faith on the campaign trail as American politicians do," said Austrian analyst Peter Hajek, "the population would react by asking 'Why is he or she telling us that?'"
"It would come across as odd if politicians spoke too much about their religious beliefs. There would be an embarrassing shuffle in one's seat," said James Ker-Lindsay at the Civilitas Research center on southeastern Europe.
"Europeans see it as a badge of honor that they have moved beyond religion, as a victory of science and rational thinking," he said. "This is something Americans find dreadful about Europe, that it is a godless society."
Yes, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been lampooned in the press for being a committed Christian. "People in this country are rather averse to individuals who seem holier-than-thou," religious affairs commentator Clifford Longley said.
As Reuters points out, France takes secular logic the furthest. To ensure equal treatment as it struggles against Islamic radicalism among its Muslim minority, it plans to ban all signs of faith including Jewish skullcaps and large crosses from public schools.
Even in Poland, home of Pope John Paul, the huge political role the Catholic Church played under communism is fading fast. "The era when religion and Christian values played an influential role in political campaigns and politics has passed," said sociologist Jacek Kucharczyk. "Politicians no longer use religious slogans to win votes."
Well, Ann Coulter would ask just what is wrong with these people. Why do they value "rational thinking" so much? And since when did science become truth? There are higher truths.
Even the National Park Service knows this. They are strongly resisting the pressure they are receiving now. The Grand Canyon cannot be more then six thousand years old, not millions of years old.
(Florence, KY) - A new book offering an alternative view of how the Grand Canyon was formed is the object of a book- banning effort by prominent evolutionists, who have demanded that the Grand Canyon National Park Service remove the text from bookstores within the park.
"Grand Canyon: A Different View" is the 2003 work of Tom Vail, who collected essays from 23 contributors (most of whom hold earned doctorates in science). His book presents a creation science viewpoint of the Canyon's formation that is quite different than what most Canyon visitors are told.
Creation scientists present evidence that the Grand Canyon was formed not by the slow erosion of the Colorado River over millions of years, but by a lot of water over a short period of time. [ It was Noah's Flood, you see. ]
The controversial "Grand Canyon: A Different View" has been on sale at the Canyon's bookstores since last fall. It quickly raised the hackles of the presidents of seven science organizations, who jointly signed a December 16 2003 letter to the park's superintendent urging him to remove the book.
Of course this particular controversy follows the one last year when Canyon officials required that plaques containing Biblical Psalms be removed from the Canyon. That decision was later overturned and is now under review.
In my last post I sort of held the next election would be one of class warfare. It seems it will also be one of religious warfare - with those who favor a Christian theocracy winning handily.
Topic: World View Why Are The Brits Making Fun of Us? Don't they know we need to be careful? Here's an interesting news item they pick off the wire from Massachusetts, from the Greenfield Recorder - which they really shouldn't be reading, I suppose.
A mother's enquiry about buying Microsoft Flight Simulator for her ten-year-old son prompted a night-time visit to her home from a state trooper.
Julie Olearcek, a USAF Reserve pilot made the enquiry at a Staples store in Massachusetts, home to an earlier bout of hysteria, during the Salem witch trials.
So alarmed was the Staples clerk at the prospect of the ten year old learning to fly, that he informed the police, the Greenfield Recorder reports. The authorities moved into action, leaving nothing to chance. A few days later, Olearcek was alarmed to discover a state trooper flashing a torch into to her home through a sliding glass door at 8:30 pm on a rainy night.
Olearcek is a regular Staples customer and schools her son at home. The Staples manager simply explained that staff were obeying advice. Shortly before Christmas, the FBI issued a terror alert to beware of drivers with maps, or reference books.
At one time it was rare to find US citizens, in the safest and most prosperous country in the world, jumping at their own shadows. Now we only note how high.
Well, that's pretty snooty. And kind of funny.
I remember when Microsoft Flight Simulator first came out. I tried it, and crashed my Cessna 172 repeatedly just trying to get in the air. Microsoft Flight Simulator has gone through years of upgrades and perhaps it is more functional now. I'm not sure even now it would aid terrorists. And one wonders how a ten-year-old young lad would get access to the flight deck of any airliner to put into practice what he mastered on his home computer - but he COULD BE a terrorist.
These Brits feel all superior because they've been living with the threat of mad Irishmen blowing up a car now and then on a crowded street - and they're getting on just fine.
Topic: Election Notes Religious cults, like fringe candidates, are never quite as much fun as you'd imagine. Lyndon LaRouche, Scientology... whatever. My neighbor for a time was thinking of supporting Lyndon LaRouche in 2004 and I think I talked her out of it. I reminded her of his conviction for mail fraud - bilking old folks out of lots of money to finance his political efforts. And then there is his ranting about how the world is really controlled by a secret group of Jewish bankers and certain members of the British House of Lords, and those evil Rothschild folks. A nut case.
Still, he is sort of the tenth candidate of all the Democrats running against Bush. Brian Montopoli has some interesting comments today on Lyndon LaRouche.
Here's a bit of it:
I've gone through life dimly aware of Lyndon LaRouche. I always thought he was some sort of wacko, vaguely cultlike figure, and when I came across his followers on the street, standing behind tables, I tried not to make eye contact, much as one does when confronted by those bright-eyed young men outside the Scientology building. Yesterday, however, I got a call from a friend at 6:15 telling me, rather breathlessly, to turn on the TV. LaRouche had bought a half hour on Fox 5 here in DC (preempting The Simpsons, no less), and he was broadcasting a speech he had given in December. I watched, and my friend was kind enough to take notes. Here are some of the highlights:
We should earmark at least $6 trillion to rebuild the infrastructure of our cities so that everyone can get to work in less than a half hour. This will involve magnetic levitation.
The monetary system may crash before the broadcast of the speech is over. (It didn't.)
Hitler was created by bankers.
The medical practice should get lessons from the Norman Wars.
The Democratic Party will "die" if it doesn't recognize LaRouche as a candidate, because in a poll nearly a year ago, an "unknown" Democrat had better odds of beating Bush than any of the established candidates.
That's enough of the bullet points. Onto LaRouche's presentation: he has this weird stream of consciousness style of speaking in which he jumped from topic to topic without ever really explaining anything. I believe he said Howard Dean shouldn't even be in this country, but never really mentioned why. Then he was onto the Peloponnesian Wars or something. It was at least timeslot appropriate: I felt like I was listening to Grandpa Simpson, only with more historical references. It was kind of a disappointment, actually, though - I was expecting a little more charisma, perhaps a crazy new laser based mail system or maybe something involving aliens and a secret handshake. I mean, LaRouche was strange, don't get me wrong. The magnetic levitation thing was great. I was just hoping he'd go a little further over the edge. It's like when I wandered into the Scientology building. I was a little under the influence, and I thought I'd see what they'd try to do to me - give me a psych test, get me to sign over the rights to my refrigerator, something like that. Instead, they just gave me a tour and tried to sell me some books. It was a pretty big letdown. Where was the indoctrination? The charismatic recruiter? Why wasn't I being lowered into a pool of something? They did invite me to L. Ron Hubbard's birthday the next night, but I decided not to go. Religious cults, like fringe candidates, are never quite as much fun as you'd imagine.
Well, Claudine didn't got to the Lyndon LaRouche rally in Long Beach, nor did I. It might have been amusing in an isn't-this-odd way.
But a lot of life out here in Hollywood is like that. Who needs more?
By the way, if any of you visit, I live quite near the Scientology Celebrity Center, the big complex up on Franklin Avenue, not far from the Magic Castle. We could visit. There's another big Scientology center a few blocks east of here right in the middle of Hollywood - the one for the "not famous." No John Travolta there. Your choice. I haven't visited either.