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Monday, July 15

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Airbags

I think a lot about those early human societies, the very earliest ones. The first humans who realized they were thinking about their thoughts — how much that must have freaked them out. And when they realized, upon seeing people around them die, that they, too, were going to die. And the weather; and feeling rejected by the opposite sex; seeing mental illness and birth defects. It must have been terrifying. This is the "state of nature" Hobbes wrote about: where life was nasty, brutish and short. Poor early people. They did a pretty good job building systems around themselves to protect themselves from these things. They realized pretty quickly, it seems, that the biggest problems they face are not individual problems, but group problems. Sexual rejection was frustrating, but marauding hordes of enemy humans are much worse and more terrifying. In any case, banding together must have seemed the best solution. Besides terror, one drive likely pushed them towards that solution, and it is the one that we still can't shake, and which we share with all animals. It's an ability to measure our effort against our reward. Early humanity realized pretty quickly that pooling their efforts brought greater reward.

The effort/reward relationship is a defining one for humans, and all animals really. Our bodies and our minds wear down; we sense our own exhaustion and fatigue. We gauge the reward for that exertion accordingly; if we judge the reward insufficient, we reduce our effort. If it seems that an increase in effort is, indeed, giving us a greater reward, we may increase that effort (or, likewise, maintain their level of effort in recognition of the sufficiency of the reward.) It's a pretty important system. It's not only biological, either; it applies almost uniformly to our economic, emotional, and political lives. Input/output; effort/reward. It works.

Of the American GDP, if you trust the calculation of that figure, fully 70 percent is consumer spending. Since the 1970s, however, the American worker has not been seeing their income increase with their productivity. The leisure class, which is a racketeering class, has deftly engineered decades of productivity theft from the rest of us. But in order to keep us spending, they also lent us plenty of money. Much of Americans' debt is consumer debt — by some estimates, $9,000 per household of just credit card debt — debt that keeps the economy afloat, while ensuring that as little of the wealth we create comes back to us. Revolving debt — credit cards, as opposed to non-revolving debt, like car loans — is more than 30 percent higher than it was just five years ago.

Americans borrow too much, there's no doubt about it; but the abundance of available debt has made the price of durable goods — houses and cars, primarily — prohibitive to buy without huge debt financing. Couple that with the fact that we are not compensated according to our productivity — in other words, our income is not only not matching our productivity, but it is not even matching the growing cost of the things we are buying — and it is not surprising that we are all (well, except the people stealing from us) swimming in debt. Ask yourself — are Americans borrowing more because they are stupid? Or because they must? If that is a false dilemma, fine. Are Americans sinking themselves into debt so universally because they do not understand what they are doing? Or because they have little choice?

Even our public universities — created, remember, by a public trust, given public land granted tax breaks not by "the government" but by you and me — drive us into debt for our education. Public hospitals — given public money in the form of grants and tax breaks — drive us into debt for medical expenses.

This sore has been rubbed raw by the so-called credit crisis now hounding millions of American families. Predatory home loans with variable rates have forced an explosion in foreclosures, pushing families into the street. As these now-repossessed homes are snatched away by lenders, who will purchase them? Hopefully, other working and middle class families; more likely, speculators. It will be interesting to see what happens to those high-foreclosure neighborhoods (you can find a map of those neighborhoods here). Mass foreclosure and seizure, and selling at speculative prices sure seems like fast-tracked streamlining.

I eagerly await responses accusing me of inciting class warfare. There are all sorts of ways to respond to such claims — first of all, by pointing out that productivity theft has been well and repeatedly documented, secondly by making it very clear that there is already a class war going on, and it is being unilaterally waged by the racketeering leisure class against the rest of us — but there really is no need to. As we send our aged and infirm back into the workforce to make sure Paris Hilton never has to work a day in her life, and as we human animals see our effort and reward grow further and further apart, we can expect a (figuratively, I hope) violent correction of the economic system that has been imposed on us for the last 30 years or so, accelerated by the economic terrorism of "Reaganomics."

Effort and reward, it's important. The willingness of the racketeers to nickel and dime Americans wherever possible — I opened a $25 checking account at a bank two months ago. I didn't touch it, and now I owe the bank $60 — reveals their short-sightedness, and the dreadful bankruptcy of the modern American religion, which you could call "The Marketism." Dogmatic fundamentalists respond to any and all criticisms of the excesses of the ruling classes with bed-wetting and hand-wringing about the omnipotence of "the Market," a reified concept-cum-deity to whom they demonstrate childish, irrational fealty. Effort and reward in a debtor society become dangerously disconnected. But this does not mean Americans will go whistling into indentured servitude. As America stratifies into the lending class and the borrowing class, and as we work harder and harder only to hand what we earn over to our creditors — eventually, directly — more and more people will simply drop out of the system. They won't accept the increased effort for declining reward exactly because this is a human function and drive we cannot ignore.

The beautiful diversity of the US economy and the dynamic ability of American capitalism to create wealth are our greatest assets, and it is exactly these that are under assault by the leisure class-cum-lending class. Their goal, like the goal of their forebears in the Southern slave colonies, is elimination of meritocracy in favor of hereditary aristocracy. The concern is that the outrage of the millions of Americans thrown out of their homes, acting as a vanguard for the general American indebted class, overreaches. Debtors' revolts tend to be ugly matters, and their political expressions could end up causing irreparable damage to not only economic structures and institutions, but political ones as well.

Aristocrats have brilliantly drafted common people into their drive for aristocracy through this false religion, The Market. Reaganomics, in all its rent-seeking glory, was its crown jewel. It's time to repudiate it, find a sensible way to deal with America's debt, and return to Americans decades of stolen productivity. We can do it through redistribution — better yet, we can do it through collective bargaining. In any case, we need to something soon. As reward slips further and further from effort, we should fear being exposed, once again, to what the human animal, justly terrified and furious, is capable of in a state of nature.

GB store

Comments

Pedro / December 12, 2007 9:54 AM

You lifted this right off of a Hugo Chavez speech, right?

Were lenders shoving ARMs down peoples throats? No. People were clamoring for those loans to try to create wealth for themselves. You can blame the borrower for their naivete and for not reading their contracts.

You can also blame Bush for bailing the lenders out, certainly guaranteeing that this will happen again.

Vinny / December 12, 2007 4:03 PM

Racketeers?

Lay of the bong hits kid.

C-Note / December 12, 2007 7:16 PM

WHAT???!!!

Ramsin is talking Red - you heard it here first. Not only that, but he's not making ANY sense.

"Productivity theft" my ass. Collective bargaining is something I can respect and understand, but the idea that you're underpaid for spraying water on vegetables at the Jewels is laughable.

Your revolution is over, Canon. Your revolution is Cuba. Go to Cuba and spread the word about "productivity theft." Grow a beard, wear fatigues, drive a '50's Cadillac and talk about the good ol' days.

Ramsin / December 12, 2007 8:50 PM

Yawn.

Seriously? You are actually red baiting exactly how I predicted? And then ironically adding "you heard it hear first" even though they "heard" it about four paragraphs up in the actual column?

In the World of Conservative Talking Points that C-Note belongs to, if you add "my ass" to something, it makes it untrue.

Welcome to Ramsin's world, which is also known as reality.

http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/histinc/p08ar.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/28/business/28wages.html
http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=woe_is_the_american_worker
http://www.epi.org/content.cfm/webfeat_econindicators_wages_20060131
http://www.epinet.org/content.cfm?id=2778

money quote:

As a result, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s. UBS, the investment bank, recently described the current period as “the golden era of profitability.”

(NYTimes)

Easily dispatched. By the way, you're not in college anymore. Calling me a hippie and telling me to go to Cuba doesn't defeat reality. It just reminds everybody that you probably haven't actually had to actually debate anything since college, when "Go to Cuba!" killed with the other losers toting the Fountainhead around with them.

I repeat: Yawn.

ramsin / December 12, 2007 8:53 PM

Yawn.

Seriously? You are actually red baiting exactly how I predicted? And then ironically adding "you heard it hear first" even though they "heard" it about four paragraphs up in the actual column?

In the World of Conservative Talking Points that C-Note belongs to, if you add "my ass" to something, it makes it untrue.

Welcome to Ramsin's world, which is also known as reality.

census.gov/hhes/www/income/histinc/p08ar.html
nytimes.com/2006/08/28/business/28wages.html
prospect.org/cs/articles?article=woe_is_the_american_worker
epi.org/content.cfm/webfeat_econindicators_wages_20060131
epinet.org/content.cfm?id=2778

money quote:

As a result, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s. UBS, the investment bank, recently described the current period as “the golden era of profitability.”

(NYTimes)

Easily dispatched. By the way, you're not in college anymore. Calling me a hippie and telling me to go to Cuba doesn't defeat reality. It just reminds everybody that you probably haven't actually had to actually debate anything since college, when "Go to Cuba!" killed with the other losers toting the Fountainhead around with them.

I repeat: Yawn.

Kenzo / December 12, 2007 9:02 PM

Absolutely on-the-money, Ramsin. I could have guessed that one of the first criticisms of this piece would be a false dichotomy.

C-Note, we can have fairness and profits SIMULTANEOUSLY. The right loves making the assertion that either you are for unfettered corporatism or you are an anti-American commie. This is the same right that argues that they hold the "middle road" and speak for "middle America." Please come up with a new argument because I'm getting tired of using my own tired, old refutations.

Yes, it is true that public universities have increased tuition knowing that the majority of students will go on financial aid. Another plank that could be added to the argument is that these skyrocketing costs have also forced many young, poor, and minority students to join the military with the promise of a paid education.

This allows the war profiteer caucus of the leisure class to perpetuate this unending war, without ever fearing that their own children may be drafted.

mike / December 13, 2007 9:24 AM

In an amazing synthesis of advertising a debtor society and an unending war, my students in Humboldt Park are currently receiving Army "credit cards," which state that by joining the Army you can redeem the card, worth thousands of dollars.

Brian / December 13, 2007 9:52 AM

Nice "Fountainhead" straw man Ramsin.

So calling you a commie is off limits but calling your critics' Ayn Rand-ers is totally ok?

I guess this is what happens when you only talk to people who agree with you all day.

Your rant is based on the assumption that wages have fallen and we have gone from the golden age of teh 1970s to the dark days of neo-Dickensian 2007.

The consensus among actual real economists(you know, not demagogues, or lazy journalists on deadline) is that the median wage slide is at best, massively overreported, and at worst, total crap . Short answer: bad inflation indexes distort data, surveys focus on cash wages and ignore benefits. Fix those and wages rose.

The Fed analysis linked above skips over the broader question of whether 1974's consumer goods are as good as 2007's consumer goods--a core assumption of most inflation indexes, and one that is obviously false. CPI is good year to year because last year's tv is pretty much the same as this year's, but is pretty questionable over the long haul.

Both of these go a long way towards explaining why my material conditions are a hell of a lot better than those of my parents. My wages have grown and everything I buy is better and cheaper than it was 35 years ago.

Once one blows up the "real wages have fallen meme" it still leaves open the far more interesting question of morality:

Should ditch digger salaries increase to match those of computer programmers? Or is it OK that skills in demand pay well and skills not in demand don't.

I'm an idiot if I don't keep up with changing skill landscapes (new tech, for instance) but we somehow owe unskilled labor a comfortable living?

But you didn't do any of this and instead we get a column that could be written at any point in the last 20 years, and really, probably has been at least a dozen times.

Maybe this column should be called "Gass bag" instead?

a / December 13, 2007 10:29 AM

It seems like he's talking more about the wage gap, which has grown.
Also, yes, we do owe unskilled labor a comfortable living. It is so inane to talk about "keeping up with the changing skills landscape" as the reason for the vast majority of American success that I am not even going to bother rehashing the whole role of priviledge argument.
I would hash this out. But since you're not an Ayn Rand type, I don't need to. Although, your language suggests some consistency with the ideals of Ayn Rand. Seriously! Have you read her stuff?

Brian / December 13, 2007 12:19 PM

you didn't read any of the linked article, did you A?

Workers' compensation did not fall between 1974 and 2007.

Full stop.

That's the entire point of the Fed Res Bank of MN article.

His take is twofold:
Wages
a) nominal wages increased No arguments here, even from the Socialist Workers' Party
b) we discount the nominal wages to account for inflation Well, yeah, you have to do that, admit even the John Birch Society.
c) we have been using bad measures to do the inflation discount. Our inflation figures are way to high. Says him and the research he cites.

If you re-run the figures, he sees about a 10% increase in real wages over the time period.

But that's not all...

His second point--
Non wage compensation
In addition to hourly wages, people get more non-hourly compensation in health insurance, pensions, bonuses, profit sharing, etc. than they did in the past.

If you don't count this (as Ramsin's agitprop doesn't), you miss an essential piece of compensation.

You don't need to be an Ayn Rand-er to agree with this, despite your lame attempt to tar me as such.

Of course Ramsin is talking about more than the wage gap. He's talking about a swirling vortex of concentrated evil. Somehow his (imaginary) decrease in real wages is linked to war, racism, bad breath, and everything else you see advertised on the lapel pins of annoying 20 year olds.

Chef / December 13, 2007 4:58 PM

Revenge of the Second City is notorious for lecturing on the labor side of issues. In fact, I’ll go as far to say that the writers talk about the labor side of issues like a well oiled machine.

All the while they are coming off as if they have no knowledge at all in regards to Economics as a whole and how it works.

I’ve read ROTSC sum up corporate ideology as “anything to increase the profit”…which, by the way, is as far as ROTSC has gone in setting up the company side of any Economic issue. But to leave it at that seems a bit off when you go on for 5 paragraphs on the labor side of that same issue.

One sentence giving the corporate angle vs. 5 paragraphs noting the labor issues comes off as very one sided. Anyone could make a convincing argument given those parameters.

To have a critical discussion about Economic issues there should be equal weight given to both sides of that issue.

Not all corporations are greedy as you set them up to be. The step by step process that corporate executives go through does have to do with profit…no doubt…but there is more to it than that. If corporations acted in the reality that ROTSC describes then everybody would be making minimum wage…everyone…every single person. The fact is everybody does not make minimum wage.

In short, the issues corporations take into consideration cannot be summed up with “anything to increase profit”. That is the equivalent as saying the labor movement is just a bunch of lazy city workers “wanting a free ride”.

Both are irresponsible and both do not promote any type of dialogue about the issue at hand. And yes, I am saying the ROTSC is that irresponsible.

That ROTSC does not give even ink to all angles regarding issues written about means the points are so skewed from the beginning that anything said after that is useless.

The pieces written here are very labor-centric…but the outline in which it is written and the thought process displayed are those that resemble a Republican Party Press Secretary more so than someone who “studies and works in politics”.

Wow, there’s a jab…Ramsin, I KNOW you bleed Republican red baby!!!

Ramsin / December 13, 2007 7:13 PM

Bla bla.

Productivity: Up
Wealth: Up
Profits: Up
Consumer prices: Up

Wages: Down.

The end.

C-Note / December 13, 2007 7:42 PM

Your argument, Ramsin, is basically this: since there's apparently enough money to go around, why not spread it out more evenly, so that the people that need it can use it, since the rich seem to waste it.

Unfortunately, that's how it works already, even though it doesn't seem that way.

The money rich folks have in the bank is the same money the banks use to let strugglin' assed people like yourself buy homes and rims or whatever.

Envy will get you nowhere. What you're doing, though, is called hatin'. Don't hate me because I light my ciggies with C-notes. Don't hate the player; hate the Federal Reserve.

And I have had to debate issues since college. Not only in law school, but primarily in law school. Which is why I'll avoid serious debate, and settle for taunting.

Ramsin / December 13, 2007 7:55 PM

I am wholly unconcerned with criticisms that amount to little more than appeals to dogma or red-baiting. I take accusations of socialism, which I detest, seriously. Suddenly, when I forcefully respond to such attacks--which no less than Chef himself has engaged in, calling me a "socialist pig" in this very forum--you mewl and puke about my civility in discourse.

If you wanted to come on here and point out that wages have been stagnant, for example, because they were disporportionately high previously, and based this on some evidence, I would question it, but accept the argument as a fair one.

I have a good record of accepting fair criticisms on these pages and admitting mistakes; you can go back and read the comments from any columns and its right there in black and white.

I'm not worried at all about sparing your feelings or being "tolerant" of dogmatists who would sooner red-bait than have a real discussion. Your failure to engage in real debate here in the past has lost you any right to complain here.

I despise free-market dogmatism as much as addle-brained socialism. Both are dogmas, both reflect intellectual laziness, and both are betrayed by their adherents constant appeals to talking points.

Free-market dogmatism, which was dressed up as Reaganomics, which has lead to lazy rent-seeking through manipulation of the political process, and caused untold damage to our economy. It is a dying dogma.

Don't listen to me; listen to one of the theoretical godfathers of Reaganomics, Paul Craig Roberts:

There are two reasons for the dollar’s demise. One is the practice of American corporations offshoring their production for US consumers. When US corporations move to foreign countries their production of goods and services for American consumers, they convert US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) into imports. US production declines, US jobs and skill pools are destroyed, and the trade deficit increases. Foreign GDP, employment, and exports rise.

US corporations that offshore their production for US markets account for a larger share of the US trade deficit than does the OPEC energy deficit. Half or more of the US trade deficit with China consists of the offshored production of US firms. In 2006, the US trade deficit with China was $233 billion, half of which is $116.5 billion or $10 billion more than the US deficit with OPEC.

The other reason for the dollar’s demise is the ignorance and nonchalance of "libertarian free market free trade economists" about offshoring and the trade deficit.

There is a great deal to be said in behalf of free markets and free trade. However, for many economists free trade has become an ideology, and they have ceased to think.

Such economists have become insouciant shills for the offshoring interests that fund their research and institutes. Their interests are tied together with those of the offshoring corporations.

Free trade economists have made three massive errors:

1. they confuse labor arbitrage across international borders with free trade when nothing in fact is being traded,

2. they have forgot the two necessary conditions in order for the classic theory of free trade, which rests on the principle of comparative advantage, to be valid, and

3. they are ignorant of the latest work in trade theory, which shows that free trade theory was never correct even when the conditions on which it is based were prevalent.

When a US firm moves its output abroad, the firm is arbitraging labor (and taxes, regulation, etc.) across international borders in pursuit of absolute advantage, not in pursuit of comparative advantage at home. When the US firm brings its offshored goods and services to the US to be marketed, those goods and services count as imports.

David Ricardo based comparative advantage on two necessary conditions: One is that a country’s capital seek comparative advantage at home and not seek absolute advantage abroad. The other is that countries have different relative cost ratios of producing tradable goods. Under the Ricardian conditions, offshoring is prohibited.

Today capital is as internationally mobile as traded goods, and knowledge-based production functions have the same relative cost ratios regardless of the country of location. The famous Ricardian conditions for free trade are not present in today’s world.

In the most important development in trade theory in 200 years, the distinguished mathematician Ralph Gomory and the distinguished economist and former president of the American Economics Association, William Baumol, have shown that the case for free trade was invalid even when the Ricardian conditions were present in the world. Their book, Global Trade and Conflicting National Interests, first presented as lectures at the London School of Economics, was published in 2000 by MIT Press.

While free trade economists hold on to their doctrine-turned-ideology, the US dollar and the American economy are dying.

http://www.vdare.com/roberts/071211_offshoring.htm

Brian / December 13, 2007 7:56 PM

Ramsin,

Not quite accurate. And saying "end" doesn't change the reality.

So more like...

Productivity: Up
Wealth: Up
Profits: Up
Consumer prices: Up in nominal terms, way, way down in real terms. (example: food prices are about 25% of what they were in the early 70s. Go look it up. )

Wages: (Way, way up in nominal terms. Up in real terms too as long as you don't overcount inflation).

Now, if you want to label your pieces "fiction" go right ahead and continue in your "woe-is-us, everything sucks" vein that the left is stuck in. Continue wondering why people don't find this an inspiring vision.

But if you want to suggest that you are talking about reality, then you need to change your tune.

Ramsin / December 13, 2007 8:20 PM

Roberts is discussing foreign trade here, but I'll respond further:

This is not an issue of envy. This is not about your absentminded passion phony "free market" purity, nor is it about my obsession with collective bargaining.

The fact is that the American worker is creating more wealth that he or she has at any point in the last three decades, they are deeper in debt; the fact of the matter is that their ability to educate their children has been compromised by exploding college costs; these are stone-cold facts that can't be honestly disputed.

The fact is that their ability to bargain for better wages and conditions has been degraded not because they don't care, but because the right to organize for collective bargaining has been under assault by the government, a government that has been compromised and corrupted by cash.

I am not a Leftist because I hate business or rich people, because I don't, and I'm quite tired of being accused of it. I'm a Leftist because I hate bossism, and support democracy, equality, liberty, and fraternity. I know that the Enlightenment is so unhip nowadays, but there it is. What can I say, my childish love of the Founding Fathers and French Revolution haven't faded..

That hatred of bossism applies not only to our bosses at work, but political bosses and even those union bosses who stay in office for life, who curb member democracy and silence internal criticisms. All of these are the enemy: working people like you and me would do better to take each other's side in this fight, rather than pretend by curling up and purring in the laps of the bosses and feeding off their scraps, we're actually free.

Workers are intimidated and threatened (technically illegally) for expressing their Constitutional right to assemble. It's not only been shown by academics: I've seen it with my own two eyes. I've felt it. Its all around us.

The mutual-aid community sentiment that holds humanity together has been compromised by an anarchist, "social Darwinist" dog-eat-dog philosophy of governance and society that has as a goal a world where might makes right and individual rights--"just claims"--are only universal so long as they not inconvenient for the ruling classes.

So, again, if I made a mistake, point it out. But if your goal is "taunting" or red-baiting, don't complain when I point it out.

Chad, we're all impressed with your Northwestern Law education. Did they issue you that chip on your shoulder, or was it cultivated after years of people rolling their eyes as at tough guy act?

Jacob / December 13, 2007 10:21 PM

This is why economists and those educated by them are increasingly irrelevant. You end up in academic pissing matches that argues more about which measure is true and whatnot...
so let me join in.
1. The high school/college relative wage premimum is at it highest point since 1950. (a different measure of income inequality). Economists' ideological reaction is to point to an increase in "skill-biased technological change." In other words productive technological change has biased the economy against high school workers at an increasing rate in the last 10 years. Only problem is that if you look at the data, skill-biased technological change has stayed relatively constant since 1950. If you crunch the numbers (using regression or decomposition analysis) only about 4.5% to 14.6% increases in the inequality in wages between high school and college educated workers. Interestingly, decreasing union density accounts for at least 46% of the increase in income inequality (i've got citations).
2. Black male workers have been dropping out of the labor force and are losing (in relative terms) ground in wages. (The literature on this is vast). Crunching the numbers, things like declines in manufacturing and (here it is again) union density matter.
3. If you don't believe me (which you have no reason to) check out the early work of David Card an ECONOMIST. (ok from UC Berkely, but still an economist) who shows how important unions are to reducing wage inequality, etc.

Summary:
1. Wage inequality is increasing and its not just due to technological change or human capital as economists and the media would have us believe.
2. Unions matter. Wage inequality has historically highest when unions were weakest and vice versa.

This is why Ramsin and I are pro-union. It's not because we hate capitalism or are anti-business, but because we recognizze that capitalism commodifies everything, including workers. (who are by the way, people.. just in case y'all forgot). Unions, for all their well-rehashed warts, force employers to deal with workers as something more than costs on the balance sheet.

Brian / December 13, 2007 10:23 PM

Ramsin,

Are you in some kind of competition for "Most Pretentious Blog Post of 2007?"

You keep saying: "point out my mistakes," but when it happens, you just ignore the facts, attack a straw man, then lay the "Solidarity Forever" sauce on thicker.

Adding more tired, overwrought rhetoric isn't improving anything.

Maybe this one should have stayed in the notebook, eh?

Bridget / December 14, 2007 12:08 AM

You're dead on, Ramsin. Keep on telling these suckas what's what.

It comes down to the fact that we're working hard, longer, and later in life and we're not getting back what we've had in the past.

Somebody is getting rich and it ain't the average joe or jane in middle America.

I don't know a single working, middle-class person who would possibly disagree with that. In fact, most would spit in your face if you dared to mention stat A or B as "proof" that they're doing just fine.

Statistics and figures don't make any difference when it fundamentally comes down to the fact that we are not better off than we used to be. That's heartbreaking and heartbreak can't be measured.


Brian / December 14, 2007 9:50 AM

You know why people work longer in life? Because they live longer. In 1970, a guy who retired at 55 could count on being dead in fifteen years. Today, that same guy is likely to live to 96. Of course he needs to work longer.

The rest is simple pessimistic bias. People think their lives are far worse than those how preceeded them, despite the evidence.

Your house is on average, twice the size of your parents' house. Your car is better than any amount of money could have bought in 1975. You have access to information resources that were science fiction to them. Your parents will live 20 years longer than their parents, and you will live longer than them.

Today, the rich are vastly better off materially than they were thirty years ago.

Today, the middle class are enormously better off materially than they were thirty years ago.
Today the poor are much better off materially than they were thirty years ago.

This isn't ideology, this is fact. Prices of all goods have fallen. Compensation is up, and more people are owners of investment capital than at any time in the nation's history.

Even energy prices have only now reached their mid 1980s levels.

Would you trade your life for your 1971 counterpart? If you would, you are a fool.

Now, none of this makes for a satisfying narrative. It is boring: things got better and better for ever and ever. Sounds like the last line of a story, not the meaty conflict-climax-resolution part.

I propose that people like Ramsin are desperate for the world to be one of crisis and despair because it makes a good story, and the stories we tell ourselves are hugely important. He gets to be a hero in a great clash between good and evil.

In my story, I get to be just a guy who has a long, amazingly comfortable life that will seem like deprivation and hardship to his grandchildren.

Dan / December 14, 2007 10:00 AM

What kind of name is Ramsin Canon? You sound like a total stroke.

DC / December 14, 2007 11:34 AM

Excellent, excellent, excellent, excellent.

Excellent.

You know what it comes down to: not economics, but priorities an values. What we value as Americans - wealth - translates into how we manipulate economics. Once we begin valuing people, quality of life, health, education, families - the economics will follow.

Kate / December 14, 2007 12:13 PM

So Brian, are people deeper and more irrevocably in debt now than in 1970, or is that not the case? Are people more at risk of losing homes or declaring bankruptcy now, or not? Does it benefit bosses who want to keep wages low when working folks are desperately in debt, or not?

John / December 14, 2007 1:31 PM

So much torepsond to here. First, might I request an end to the name calling. Not that it is (or isn't) true, but it generally debases the coversation. Additionally, "names" are often used improperly. I assume "Red" means communist. Even a superficial understanding of what communism is would reveal that Ramsin's is not "speaking" communist. If we were in, say, 1917 Russia, Ramsin would be killed, or at the very least ex-commincated with Kerensky.

Second, C-Note, your argument that rich people have the money in the banks, and thus lend it out to the people like Ramsin is EXACTLY Ramsin's point.

Third, Brian, nominal wages are up; that is why we have the term nominal. The Congressional Budget Office released household income data recently detailing the rising income inequality in the US. Most of the real wage increase came in the 1990's; reals wages have stagnated (or fallen) over the past 7 years for bottom 30-40% of American earners. Over 35 years the bottom 20% have seen real wages improve 6%. The S&P 500 has increased 800% over the last 20 years. Those with the means to invest and save get ever richer, those who work for peanuts stay aflot, if they are lucky. Or a bad thing happens, and there it all goes. This cuts to the heart of Ramsin's argument, I beleive. It is, at the very least, the heart of my argument, generally speaking.

Lastly, I do believe that a ditch digger should paid an amount comparable to a computer programmer.

Comments, suggestions, ideas, etc...

John / December 14, 2007 1:31 PM

So much torepsond to here. First, might I request an end to the name calling. Not that it is (or isn't) true, but it generally debases the coversation. Additionally, "names" are often used improperly. I assume "Red" means communist. Even a superficial understanding of what communism is would reveal that Ramsin's is not "speaking" communist. If we were in, say, 1917 Russia, Ramsin would be killed, or at the very least ex-commincated with Kerensky.

Second, C-Note, your argument that rich people have the money in the banks, and thus lend it out to the people like Ramsin is EXACTLY Ramsin's point.

Third, Brian, nominal wages are up; that is why we have the term nominal. The Congressional Budget Office released household income data recently detailing the rising income inequality in the US. Most of the real wage increase came in the 1990's; reals wages have stagnated (or fallen) over the past 7 years for bottom 30-40% of American earners. Over 35 years the bottom 20% have seen real wages improve 6%. The S&P 500 has increased 800% over the last 20 years. Those with the means to invest and save get ever richer, those who work for peanuts stay aflot, if they are lucky. Or a bad thing happens, and there it all goes. This cuts to the heart of Ramsin's argument, I beleive. It is, at the very least, the heart of my argument, generally speaking.

Lastly, I do believe that a ditch digger should paid an amount comparable to a computer programmer.

Comments, suggestions, ideas, etc...

Chef / December 14, 2007 3:18 PM

Hi John…you said, “Those with the means to invest”. You are coming off as if it is some small minority who can benefit from the stock market. I contribute to a 401k. By no means am I apart of some “exclusive 1% club” who is building a retirement through my 401k and the stock market.

I would go as far to say people contributing to a 401k is the majority. So with that, the majority of people have the means to benefit from an increase in the stock market. You do not have to be some savvy stock broker to reap that benefit.

You also said, “I do believe that a ditch digger should paid an amount comparable to a computer programmer”.

So the terms “skilled labor” and “unskilled labor” have no meaning any longer? You KNOW you have to expand on that comment, Johnny Boy.

Brian / December 14, 2007 3:20 PM

John,

Actually I do know the difference between nominal and real. The "real wages have fallen" meme is the result of bad inflation discounting and massive wishful thinking.

And if ditch diggers get paid the same as programmers in your world, remind me not to use any software there.

How about doctors? Do they get their wage coupon from the central committee branch office just the same?

In that case, I'l be going elsewhere for my checkup, because any doctors in your world must be morons who couldn't get hired anywhere else.

If this is your favored world, Cuba or North Korea are just a couple of plane rides away. Seriously they tried it and the result was human misery on an immense scale. Oh, and poverty-- worse than anything the capitalist world can even approach.

John / December 14, 2007 4:08 PM

Brian:

Thank you for your prompt reply.

I did say you do not know the difference between real and nominal. I apologize if you misread this. I did not say that real wages had fallen. I said they went UP 6%. In the future, I will capitalize all direction prepositions. My point is that 6% is a pretty crappy 30 year return.

Well, luckily, you seem to be using software in my world, so that worked out for. But you make a good point. I am tired of those lazy, roustabout ditch diggers in their cushy lifestyles. I work at a computer all day, and it so easy. I exert almost no physical effort, and have been burned zero times at work here, been cut zero times at work here, and have hurt my back zero times at work here (although sometimes my leg falls asleep). An honest days work deserves an honest days pay. I do not see what is so controversial about that. (Full disclosure: I am on the payroll of the ditch diggers lobby.)

Please stop referring to communism. Nothing here has been remotley communsit. I would appreciate argue my actual points. Thanks.

I live in the same world you live in. Your point about doctors makes no sense. Also, it will be impossible (or, highly improbable) to find doctors on a different world. And if you were to find these extraterrestial doctors, it is yet more unlikely that they would have a thorough knowledge of human anatomy.

And once again, where is all this communist talk coming from? Outside of this line, Ramsin mentions nothing about it:

My name is Ramsin, and I want to live in an oppressive cult of personality state. And I like eating poopy!

Granted, those sentences look bad, but they are taken completely out of context.

Comments are welcome, although I would prefer they are at least tangentially related to someone's argument. And Brian, thanks for giving me something to do; Fridays around the holidays get kind of slow.

John / December 14, 2007 4:08 PM

Brian:

Thank you for your prompt reply.

I did say you do not know the difference between real and nominal. I apologize if you misread this. I did not say that real wages had fallen. I said they went UP 6%. In the future, I will capitalize all direction prepositions. My point is that 6% is a pretty crappy 30 year return.

Well, luckily, you seem to be using software in my world, so that worked out for. But you make a good point. I am tired of those lazy, roustabout ditch diggers in their cushy lifestyles. I work at a computer all day, and it so easy. I exert almost no physical effort, and have been burned zero times at work here, been cut zero times at work here, and have hurt my back zero times at work here (although sometimes my leg falls asleep). An honest days work deserves an honest days pay. I do not see what is so controversial about that. (Full disclosure: I am on the payroll of the ditch diggers lobby.)

Please stop referring to communism. Nothing here has been remotley communsit. I would appreciate argue my actual points. Thanks.

I live in the same world you live in. Your point about doctors makes no sense. Also, it will be impossible (or, highly improbable) to find doctors on a different world. And if you were to find these extraterrestial doctors, it is yet more unlikely that they would have a thorough knowledge of human anatomy.

And once again, where is all this communist talk coming from? Outside of this line, Ramsin mentions nothing about it:

My name is Ramsin, and I want to live in an oppressive cult of personality state. And I like eating poopy!

Granted, those sentences look bad, but they are taken completely out of context.

Comments are welcome, although I would prefer they are at least tangentially related to someone's argument. And Brian, thanks for giving me something to do; Fridays around the holidays get kind of slow.

John / December 14, 2007 4:10 PM

Sorry, my internet froze, and it double posted.

John / December 14, 2007 4:15 PM

I meant to say:

I did NOT say you do not know the difference between real and nominal.

My sincerest apologies.

John / December 14, 2007 9:10 PM

Chef:

I didn't notice your post earlier. You are correct that many can gain from the stock market. One can argue one of the principal gains from the internet is the proliferation of cheap stock purchases, allowing an ever greater number (percentage and absolute) to invest. However, you must realize that gains from investment increase geometrically. And this obviously benefits the wealthy. As the gains accrue, one gains on the gains. With $1mm the speed at which the gains become massive. On the other hand, a cook has little excess capital to invest. With $250, the gains on the gains never amount to anything. The idea behind savings is putting off consumption now for consumption later. But this $250 will never amount to future consumption. So, besides never amounting to anything, it doesn't make logical sense to save.

An yes, I do understand the concepts of "skilled" and "unskilled" labor. I do not suggest that all should be paid equally. But work is still work. And one should be apid a fair wage. I think we are over simplifying what a computer programmer is, as this can span a wide range of activities. But defining what "skill" is tricky. I am fairly certain I could not be a ditch digger. I could if I trained at it (essentially acquiring that skill). Are mechanics skilled or unskilled? I would say a mortgage broker is far less skilled than a mechanic, for instance. But this is all unimportant. Yes, varying degrees of skill, and varying jobs, deserve varying degrees of pay. But it is really absurd that we have a term "working poor".

And to go further, I think one of Ramsin's points, in a more general sense, is that, most important of all, is equality of opportunity. But as society stratifies, you see less and less of an investment in "public goods" (ie trains, roads, levees, and, of course, schools). What you see in many areas of the country is schools that are stink, unless you pay a significant amount of money for them, and once again we have a distinct advantage for those that with means to maintain their advantage.

I hope this answers expanded on my earlier post, and please let me know if you have any questions, sensible disagreements, or what have you.

John / December 14, 2007 9:25 PM

John,

OK. I'm cracking a cold one in a minute, but here's my take: most--strike that, all efforts to guarantee equity through state regulation have resulted in disaster: the 20th century's awful history of communism, France's efforts to legislate prosperity that caused anemic growth plus 20% youth unemployment, Denmark's troubles keeping workers from emigrating, etc.

Now, what you propose makes Eurosilliness pale by comparison: To suggest that people with unwanted skills should make the same amount of money as people with skills that are in demand?

Well, I imagine there will be a real shortage of skilled workers in your economy. Are you going to build a wall to keep the doctors from fleeing abroad where their skills are rewarded?

That's without even touching questions of equity.

And I agree 6% is a crap return. But like every other measure (link way up there) these measures generally don't count non-wage compensation like insurance, 401k matching, etc.

Just like household debt over equity conveniently ignores non-cash savings like the stocks and mutals that half of all households now own, up from what? 10%? in the 70s.


ramsin / December 15, 2007 9:56 AM

No, Brian it shouldn't have "stayed in the notebook, eh?" because your points are not correct. By every measure, people are generating more wealth and not being fairly compensated for it.

One bright spot, I would admit, is that according to Pew, children of middle class parents in the early 1960s are now slightly better off than their parents.

If they're white.

So, I guess nevermind, that is only a bright spot if you're white.

Similarly, if you are working class, it is harder to buy a home, support a family on one income, have adequate health insurance, go to college without graduating with a huge amount of debt, etc.

Only 1/3rd of Americans have a 401(k) (about the proportion that have a bachelor's degree); on the flips side, almost none of them have a defined-benefit pension, which were much more prevalent in the horrible 1960s and 70s you demonize. They were more popular then, of course, because of union density which was around 1/3rd of the entire workforce.

Of the people who have those magical, your-point-proving 401(k)s by the way, 20% have loans outstanding against them because they are so "cash strapped".

You can call me pretentious; I'm not embarrassed by the fact that I have an ideological and moral basis for believing what I do, rather than a dogma of any kind. That's one of the joys of recognizing the material world around us as being real, as opposed to a fun game for Milton Friedman et al.

John said:
The Congressional Budget Office released household income data recently detailing the rising income inequality in the US. Most of the real wage increase came in the 1990's; reals wages have stagnated (or fallen) over the past 7 years for bottom 30-40% of American earners.

But I'm sure this doesn't count because it is so "pessimistic" and non inspiring. So I guess we should just ignore it.

Let me guess: the CBO invented this to make a "narrative" of a dire situation for American workers; the well-documented increase in high-interest consumer debt is irrelevant because it doesn't take into account the 33% or so of us with 401(k)s, so that also is part of your nefarious "narrative"; let me guess, the explosion of college costs is because we're all just so much richer, so it, too, is just part of the "narrative" that seeks to obscure that, secretly, we're all better off.

Which of these is untrue:

1. High-interest consumer debt is at its highest point in living memory.
2. Personal debt at the age of workforce entry is at its highest point in living memory
3. Savings rate are at their lowest point in living memory.
4. College costs are at their highest point in living memory.
5. The minimum wage is at its lowest value since its adoption.


I'm not taking your "pointing out of my mistakes" seriously Brian, because you're not. You're just calling every single fact and statistic we've thrown invalid because it has been skewed or not calibrated to your liking. Why should we bother refuting what you're saying, when you keep coming back either by making cracks about the "Central Committee" (Huh? Pointing out exploding personal debt, which is an incotravertible fact, is Communist?) and telling me, yet again, to go to North Korea or Cuba?

Jacob makes the essential point here: you, and people like you, just take any uncomfortable fact and say that its bias. From the Census department; from the New York Times, from the CBO; the source doesn't matter. If it would make Milton sad, it is wrong. This is the world of dreamy eyed unaware idealists, not the adult world where the rest of us live.

Nowhere do I say, or even insinuate or hint, that I think we should have a guaranteed wage for all or that, ridiculously, we should make sure "everybody gets paid the same" (talk about strawmen: point out anywhere I say anything even resembling the comment that ditchdiggers and programmers should get paid the same?)

You dispute facts using that same limp relativism that people accuse liberals of using; then you create strawmen (go back to Cuba; Central Committee; you want ditchdiggers to make the same as programmers) and then you accuse me of doing those two things. It's right there in black and white.

People should get paid whatever they can bargain with their employer to get. It would be nice if the Department of Labor and the federal government and the regulatory system wasn't set up to make that collective bargaining process nearly impossible for workers.

That world you describe, by the way, where the Central Committee issues "wage coupons"? It existed here, too. It was called Pullman Town. Remember Pullman Town, from the great era of zero government regulation and violent repression of free trade union movements?

In Pullman Town, the company paid you in "coupons" (scrip); they owned your home; they owned your school; they stood even as sentinel over a single blade of grass. Is that fine by you, because it wasn't the Central Committee issuing the scrip and commanding every aspect of people's lives, it was an "entrepreneur" and that makes it okay.

"Well, those Pullman employees could have chosen not work there" and starved.

"Well, they could have found another job"; Don't you think they would have if they could?

There is the tyranny that comes with a completely socialized economy, and there is the tyranny of the might-makes-right world you espouse.

The difference between people like you and me is, I hate both; you prefer one over the other.

You equate my saying we need strong collective bargaining rights to correct the current debt explosion with me thinking North Korea has an ideal economic system; that is baldy and, on its face, ridiculous. However, me equating your vision of an unfettered, unregulated labor market with something that existed here under those conditions--a Pullman Town or Hearst Mining society--is not. It is chillingly close to reality.

So who is the one who advocates tyranny? Which one of us hates the individual's rights? Me, who hates tyranny in both those forms?

ramsin / December 15, 2007 9:58 AM

http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/yourmoney/chi-ym-borrowing-1014oct14,0,5181066.story

This is the source for the borrowing-against-401(k) fact. Let me guess; this reporter is part of my CPUSA covert ops.

Ramsin / December 15, 2007 10:03 AM

Dan,
"Ramsin Canon" is an Assyrian name. "Ramsin" comes from Na-ramsin, who was a king; Canon actually shares a root with the English word and is related to the concept of law.

I apologize for my lack of an Anglo name. Thank you for putting me in my brown person place.

Would you like a refill on your coke? How were the kebabs, good? Yes? Please, come again, so I may serve you...

feel better? Sorry for being so uppity.

John / December 15, 2007 2:14 PM

Brian I am assuming it was you that put my name on your post. Please get away from names like Eurosilliness.
Unregulated markets never work. Period. That is a fact. There is, of course, a flip side;: dangerous over-regulation. So what does that mean? You spend time and money developing strong and sensibler regulator regimes.

For instance, the SEC costs $900mm a year. I am going to dodge questions about their specific missteps, but could you imagine what would happen without them? I can. It is called the Great Depression.

And I said specifically that I would not mandate that everyone be paid equally. And obviously, we should not have people doing work that is unecessary. So maybe we do not need ditch diggers. But if you do work, you should be compensated fairly? What is fairly? Well, if you work full-time (32+ hours, or so) you should not be poor.

You site these awful European countries, but are either uniformed about the state of their economies. Structural problems plague several countries, France being the most prominent. But the Scanadavian countries, which any self-respecting reactionary Republican would call Socialist, have consistently out-performed, or performed at par with, the US and UK, and the rest of developed world generally. Additionally, aggregate GDP in European countries is, in a sense, understated when compared with the US. Due to our higher population growth rate, our per capita GDP has been growing only slightly hiher than that of the Eurozone countries.

You have to realize what is going on in our economy. We are cutting costs by increasing trade (in finished goods, labor, and capital). This should be good. And it really is. But there is somenthing sinister going on, too. As labor goes overseas, we see increased profits. But these profits are not spread evenly. He who loses his well paying job is, generally, fucked. But he who owns the company involved gets paid. This is dangerous. And unsustainable. And just plain bad.
This is why the "ownership society" is such a lie. If you do not have the money to own stuff, you are, once again, fucked.

Thoughts, comments, suggestions, please...

C-Note / December 15, 2007 7:09 PM

Ramsin- let me be clear here. I feel I've been misunderstood. This is what I'm saying:

1. You perceive an economic problem that has real, problematic effects on almost everyone, all the time.

2. The problem has been endlessly debated by better educated, more sophisticated folks than you and I for a long-assed time. Perspectives on the topic could fill a book.

3. The fact of the matter is that capitalism wins, every time, and that even many of the losers are themselves, capitalists.

4. I don't know if I'm a capitalist, but that's the gig, for better or worse and for me, it's not a battle worth fighting. Luckily, I happen to have battles worth fighting, and for that I am thankful.

5. I didn't learn about this shit in law school; what I meant was that's the last time I had enough time to research and debate MOOT POINTS. Like this. But I appreciate your appreciation.

6. Since I seem to be on the other side - at least as a practical matter - and the triumph of capital over labor is blowing in the f*cking wind, philosophically and concretely, humorous taunting seems to be a better use of my limited time and mental ability than disproving your case, which just seems unnecessary, since it's been done better than I could ever hope to do.

7. I don't know as much as you do about GB, but I'm not sure this is the place for debating economic philosophy without the benefit of practical advice. I thought it was a "what's happening in Chicago tonight" kind of deal. But if you're going to blow against the wind, how about some practical suggestions? The rubber has to meet the road somewhere. Otherwise the wheels are just spinning, going nowhere.

I'm just sayin'.

Peter / December 15, 2007 7:27 PM

> He who loses his well paying job is, generally, fucked. But he who owns the company involved gets paid. This is dangerous. And unsustainable.

As a computer programmer, and hanging around with a lot of computer programmers, a lot of my mates worry about jobs being shipped to India and China.

However, the wage of Indian programmers has shot up, and that of the Chinese is climbing.
a) there just aren't enough
b) they can't make anymore, given their educational system
so I'm not worried about it.
I might want to worry about my particular company, but I'm not about my profession.

This is part of what Brian is pointing out.

Second, I agree with Ramsin that wages are going down. So what? As Brian points out, the total wealth of individuals (measured in health, real estate, durable goods, education, etc) is rising. Frankly, I'd be happier if my _wages_ dropped to zero and my asset base doubled (let's make that tripled, no quadrupled).

On consumer debt: again, so what? No one, not even the horrible credit card companies is holding a gun to these peoples' head making them use more debt, capitalist economies do require personal responsibility, and until moral hazard can be regulated another way, both ditch diggers and programmers will have to cope (ps - John, if you feel personally responsible for those ditch diggers, then send the bulk of your fortune to a ditch digger).

Credit, in fact, is a great thing. Just look at all the micro-credit programs around! If you bring up 'good' credit vs 'bad' credit, then you're going to have to work out a way to determine that the requester is asking for 'bad' credit, because the provider really cannot know. (ex: micro-credit again - clearly some Bangladeshi with no cash income, no history of business, and no education should not be put into debt, for any reason whatsoever).

Corporate profits are up! So what? The money corporations make doesn't just go to an incinerator, y'know. It goes to the their workers, suppliers, and shareholders. This is, in general a GOOD THING. If it isn't, again, what is a 'good' corporation and a 'bad' corporation (note 'illegal' corporation is not the same as a 'bad' corporation)?

Is the company that John, sole proprietor, owns to provide equity to ditch-diggers 'good'? Is Merck Pharmaceutical, the company that makes life-saving drugs 'bad'? Presuming John and Merck both follow the law (and are thus not illegal), I do not see the test that establishes the goodness or badness of either. However, I will point out that Merck, in both absolute and relative terms, probably serves more members of society than John's sole proprietorship.

Peter / December 15, 2007 7:39 PM

What is really cool about the capitalist and market-centric society of ours, is that *you* get to achieve what you want.

In a communist system, one gets the house one is assigned. In a capitalist system, you can have whichever house you want:
*whichever you want*, so if you want marble baths and gold leaf molding, go for it! If you don't have enough cash, some enterprising individual will lend you the money to you, in order for YOU TO ACHIEVE WHAT *YOU WANT*.

And if you don't want such a house, but prefer some nice wine, great! You can rent, and spend the bulk of your cash on Cabernet. If you want to let your grandchildren enjoy a nice house and/or wine, you can be the person lending the money. But, it is all about what *YOU WANT*.

Lastly, if you want higher income (income, not wages) and less debt then you have a plethora of choice:
a) go to school, and stop spending
b) get another job, and stop spending
c) invest spare cash, and stop spending
d) ...
e) ...
f) ...
g) ...
h) ...
.......

There are plenty of stories of folks who started from nothing to achieve great wealth, from Andrew Carnegie to Oprah Winfrey - one doesn't necessarily have to inherit.

Of course, our government could help more people make that achievement by investing more in education and health -- but, that is a question of where the system spends the wealth the system generates, NOT A CHANGE OF THE SYSTEM ITSELF.

C-Note / December 15, 2007 8:17 PM

On saving - I started out by saving my $1 bills in the middle of a summer. By Christmas I had $600 in a box. Takes discipline, and I couldn't have done it while I was smoking, but I saved every one of them $1 bills and I had enough to put in an intake manifold gasket, buy a tank of gas, pay some bills, and go to the Jewels.

WC / December 16, 2007 8:44 AM

Ahhh..the indoctrination has worked well. "Work hard and you'll be rewarded". "Educate yourself and the system will pay you back". "save your $1 bills in a jar so you can retire in comfort".

LOLOL

In each country I am sure the populace will defend broken systems of government or economics, because they are taught they are "better than the other..." or "what could be".

But American is a broken dream. It needs to be fixed, not defended out of silly - most likely indoctrinated - pride.

Excellent article.

C-Note / December 16, 2007 6:23 PM

WC, shut up. You don't know any of us, just like I don't know you. Indoctrinated, my ass. I work all fuckin' day to fix this shit - I wonder if you can say the same. I'm making the dream, not buying into someone else's. And I do save my $1 bills - keeps me from being tempted to tip you for making my coffee at the Starbucks. Then when I blow the money I've saved, I might buy you a Pabst or whatever you drink while I'm buying a round.

WC / December 17, 2007 12:26 AM

Spoken like a true, indoctrinated, asshole.

Cheers!

C-Note / December 17, 2007 8:00 PM

Yeah, right, WC - like I said: easy when you don't know who you're talking to. Enjoy that Pabst in your ignorance. You're a free man - enjoy it while it lasts.

sûrement / December 17, 2007 11:51 PM

Who says WC is a man? Sounds smart enough to be a free woman to me.

roy / December 18, 2007 7:44 PM

I find it interesting that people attack one for unplugging from the system.

Two months ago, I quit my job in the loop pushing paper at an appauling yearly salary with "benefits"... yes, insurance.But along with those benefits came:
1) stress
2) being emotionally attacked as a human being for not producing more and more and more
3) paying rediculous rent for a shoebox from which I had to commute 45 minutes a day on a failing transit system.

I quit my job. I cancelled my credit cards. Sold or donated almost all of my belongings. I sold my car. I now live with my parents. In exchange for rent, I help them around the house, cleaning, upkeep, shoveling snow, doing some of the shopping. My mother has two false hips and my dad is on disability for a broken shoulder. They appreciate the help, and I feel its a good trade for free room. I buy my own food (mostly cause I try to eat organic).

I took a job as a waiter at a restaurant across the street from our subdivision. I walk there. Because I'm a personable person, with great communication skills, I make excellent tips. I'm now awash with cash. More money than I ever had working downtown. I don't pollute the environment by driving anywhere. I don't waste my entire day servant to more masters than I can count; a landlord, a boss, friends demanding me to help them solve their crisis, an economy I don't support. My cost of living: $10 a day on average.

I work as much as I like. Some weeks I don't take any shifts at all. At the end of that work, I walk with my wage, which is entirely tied to my customers and how I served them. I spend my days reading. writing. meditating and being self reliant, emotionally. I'm a sucker for movies, so I see a lot of movies. Luckily, I can also walk to a metra to get downtown when I need to.

I don't put my money in the bank. Since I don't get "direct deposit" they want to charge me a monthly fee for "holding" my money.

I don't buy things on credit. If I can't afford to see a movie with a friend this friday, I don't. If I can't afford that organic flank steak to prepare for dinner, I eat some brown rice and frozen veggies.

I was on some medications for chronic stress/sleep issues for the last 7 years. I'm now free of any medications - including antacids, tylenol, etc. My days are simple, full of knowledge and wonder and being my most authentic self in every moment.

Everyone - and I mean everyone - keeps telling me that I should be unhappy. That I should grow up. That I need to move out on my own, get a full time job. My relatives (aside from my parents) are aghast. I had such promise as a young man. They thought I would be doing great things with my life. What am I going to do about retirement? Why don't I have a 401K?

Not everyone would have the good fortune of some of the arrangements that I do; the love between my parents and I is healthy, and comfortable. I don't know how long I'll remain unplugged. It's been 5 months; I'm aiming for a year. I've been studying reiki healing and already people are paying for me to perform energy work on them on a regular basis; at some point, I might earn a whole living doing that. I'm open to whatever is next.

Once I unplugged from the rat race - financially - I was freed up to do so much. Sure, my plasma tv is not as big as yours. But who says I want to watch tv anyways?

People will refute this, thinking they could never be happy without amassing personal fortunes, playing the system to win, acquiring more and more. But it will never fill the void you're feeling. there is no "winning" this game.

To those of you who think the system isn't broken, and that people just need to work harder, or work better within it - you're living in blissful ignorance and that's truly a blessing. I envy you, in some ways.

But I'll be more prepared for the coming changes. And then I'll be more than happy to share with you what I've learned.

billy / December 18, 2007 8:03 PM

While appalled by many things in this discussion stream, one of them really sticks out and I must comment on.

Shame on any of you for making such distinctions between "skilled" and "unskilled" laborers.

As the son of a tradesman, my father was more honest, more steadfast and fearless than any white-collar man I've ever worked for.

The men and women who build your homes deserve your utmost respect. If not, your house will undoubtably collapse. (and probably not on its own.)

The men and women who collect your trash deserve your thanks. Or perhaps next time they'll leave that one bag of rotting meat "on accident."

The men and women who slide a piece of processed meat onto a bun for your lunch should be compensated a living wage. Or else you deserve that bit of spittle in the mayo.

Honestly people. And you think there's no class conflict in America.

I'm sure Marie Antoinette thought the same thing. See y'all at the guillotine.


 

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Ramsin Canon studies and works in politics in Chicago. If you have a tip, a borderline illegal leak, or a story that needs to be told, contact him at rc@gapersblock.com.

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