Uncommon Sense

January 20, 2022

Are You a Free Market Advocate?

It has been tried.

https://mitchellglennfrommichigan.medium.com/free-market-economics-is-a-disaster-just-ask-a-chilean-629e9c10d270

It was a unmitigated disaster.

Then, why are these ideologies still being preached here? Well, in Chile, some billionaires got everso much richer. Pssst . . . follow the money.

January 11, 2022

Why Are We Working So Hard?

It seems indisputable that Americans work harder now than ever before. Questions abound such as “why do we allow this?” and “what is it about our culture that makes this a positive?” and yada, yada, yada.

I remember reading an article in Scientific American quite some time +ago along the lines of “labor saving devices don’t” . . . don’t save labor, that is. When household appliances came around, like the electric vacuum cleaner, we ended up vacuuming more than we ever swept the same floors with a broom. The authors believe they identified the culprit: our standards changed. In the case of the vacuum cleaner our standards of cleanliness changed when a new level became available without large amounts of labor to pull it off. In that case, we were the cause of the additional labor. In this case. . . ?

Economists looked at post-war America and claimed that productivity gains would result in workers dropping from a 40-hour workweek to as low as a 15-hour workweek, well before now.

Well, what happened?

Greed happened.

For that prediction to have come to be, productivity gains had to be large, and they were. Check. Then those gains need to have been credited to the workers and their hours reduced at the same pay. Uh, that didn’t happen. What happened is the increases in income from the increases in productivity were pocketed by executives and owners. Call it the “Trickle Up Effect.”

Why any reputable economist would think that workers would benefit by their hours being reduced at the same pay is quite beyond me. In the after-war period, worker’s wages went up in lock step with worker’s productivity, but that was because labor unions fought tooth and nail to get those pay increases. There were more strikes post-war than I could count. But the oligarchs saw what was happening and bribed our politicians and judges to disempower unions, and as the number of strikes fell, so too did the pay increases. Those pay increases actually fell to almost zero (when corrected for inflation). And since you are probably not as old as I am, you probably don’t remember that pay increase came in pairs. One part was called a “cost of living adjustment” which corrected salaries for lost purchasing power due to inflation, and the other part were actual pay increases, aka “raises,” often based on productivity increases or flat out company performance.

And, it wasn’t enough that the fat cats took all of the wealth created by those productivity increases, they also chiseled workers wages, including outright wage theft, chiseled numbers of jobs, pushed jobs that lacked union coverage (by replacing union workers with contract workers), and then doubled down with the Big Kahuna of tax scams. They transferred tax burdens from corporations and the wealthy onto the middle class. Ronald Reagan bragged about pulling off a major tax increase without negative press in the form of “Social Security withholding.” We got a small tax cut (the fat cats got a bigger one) and at the same time we ended up paying that back and more as increases in SS taxes.

The US ranks near the bottom in taxes paid as a percentage of corporate income. Oh, and corporate profits are at an all-time high, setting new records every year if not every month for the past decade or so.

The lesson is clear. We can have our piece of the pie, but only if we are willing to fight for it. If we stay passive, it all slides uphill, against gravity, into the pockets of the already wealthy.

January 8, 2022

You Can’t Make This Shit Up!

Filed under: Business,Culture,Politics,The News — Steve Ruis @ 12:56 pm
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In the news I read that “California deputy district attorney Kelly Ernby died from complications of COVID this week after years of opposing vaccine mandates.” Ah, another dose of irony that will have no effect on her “followers” as they are vaccinated against irony.

A quote of hers in the coverage drew my attention and needs a response, I think. Here it is:

“I don’t think that the government should be involved in mandating what vaccines people are taking,” she explained. “I think that’s a decision between doctors and their patients…. If the government is going to mandate vaccines, what else are they going to mandate?”

Ah, let me think . . . governmental mandates, mandates, ah, we are mandated to:
• drive on the right side of the road
• pay our taxes
• get a driver’s license to drive a car on public roads
• requiring drivers on public roads to possess insurance
• that doctors, lawyers, and hair dressers be certified
• file a federal tax return by April 15th
• that medicines be proven effective before being allowed on the market
• that cars meet minimal safety standards
• that carcinogenic chemicals not be added to food, cosmetics, etc.
• and . . . and . . .
I could go on (and on and on . . . ) but I think you get the point.

These anti-government idiots seem to think that our governments have been imposed upon us by Martian Communists instead of them being the mechanism by which we act in concert. Our government (name which one you want: state, local, school district, federal, etc.) is “us acting together.” And yes, we do not want “too much government” or “too little government” but just “the right amount of government.” I don’t see how a comment like “If the government is going to mandate vaccines, what else are they going to mandate?” helps us find the right amount.

Plus this idiot is, excuse me, was a California State legal official; she should know that children have to be vaccinated to be admitted to a public school. The “government” has been mandating such vaccinations for decades! Plus businesses can mandate that their employees get vaccinated to continue to be employed. So, businesses should have the power but not us acting collectively?

We have to stop electing idiots to public office and yes, I do know they have a constituency. But even that constituency should realize that having an idiot representing their interests is not to their advantage.

January 1, 2022

We Need to Fix Capitalism . . . Now!

Capitalism is quite flawed, but so are all of the other economic/political systems. Some countries have been good at reining capitalism’s excesses . . . this country isn’t one of those.

As I have said, often enough, capitalism’s Achilles’ Heel is that it doesn’t place any limits whatsoever upon greed. I suggest that a good start at reining in the greed woven into the warp and woof of capitalism is to eliminate speculation. There is no inherent good associated with speculation, although there are many associated evils in it; for example, people try over and over to manipulate prices, markets, whatever to make their speculations pay off, legally and illegally. Those are not what might be classified as productive labors.

We need to eliminate speculation as something that doesn’t contribute anything to our society, nor does it contribute anything to individuals. It is a form of gambling, pure and simple.

There is something called the “futures markets” in which prices are set now for sales that will take place in the future for various commodities. The buyers are hoping the prices go up and they will get a deal when that sale is triggered and the sellers are hoping the prices are going to go down, so they will get a fatter price for their goods. In an ideal world this process helps to moderate price changes, but in the world we live in, it is just another form of gambling.

The stock markets are dominated by secondary sales, making the story about the role of such markets in our economy we are taught in school to be a very, very minor form of providing capital for businesses. Instead these markets are very close to just being casinos where rich people gamble.

Let me explain how these capitalistic devices have taken over. If you go to the store and buy, say, a shirt in most states you will pay a sales tax, up to almost 10% of the price of the item (although a small number of states charge nothing, but I think there are just five of those). But if you buy a share of stock, what “sales tax” to you pay? The answer is nada, zip, zilch, no tax at all. Some items, such as alcoholic beverages, include what used to be called “sin taxes.” Extra taxes are levied upon alcoholic beverages to discourage their consumption (Get behind me, Demon Rum!). We do the same for gasoline in which there are substantial taxes, both federal and state, paid and then sales taxes added on top of those! We could do the same for stock transactions. This would discourage speculation, certainly the practice of buying a stock and selling in when its price went up a few cents, often just seconds or minutes after the buying transaction. (Amazing what you can do with computers!) If the profits from the sale didn’t cover the sales taxes, those sales wouldn’t be made.

Plus people who buy and sale and trade stocks contribute nothing to our society. Extensive studies show that stock markets are actually a drag on our economy (they extract funds from the economy without producing anything in exchange). We, at least, need to slow their roll.

Currently we have a patent system, a flawed system but it works . . . kind of, sort of. Drug companies have become adept at acquiring patents and then jacking up the prices for the goods produced under those patents. A current example is insulin. One vial of insulin lispro (Humalog), which used to cost $21 in 1999, costs $332 in 2019, reflecting a price increase of more than 1000%. The cost of manufacturing that drug has barely changed over that same time period. We could change patent laws to prevent such abuses. “What the market will bear” is not a limit upon greed. These same pharmaceutical companies have also taken to making very, very (very!) minor changes in their drug’s formulations to apply for new patents, extending their “right” to make as much money as they want. Patents were supposed to, were designed to, expire so that those things end up belonging to the commonweal. Often the public has already paid to research that drug in the first place through public universities and federal institutions and research funding. The same thing is woven into our copyright laws with written works and others eventually ending up in the public domain.

We have tools to rein in greed in capitalism but the current greedy class has acquired so much wealth that they are blocking access to the political gears of government to make such reforms. If we do not act soon, it will be too late. The only result of extreme wealth inequality is armed strife.

December 19, 2021

Ye Shall Reap . . .

Filed under: Business,Culture,Economics,Education,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:32 am
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For several decades now, teachers have been demonized as the source of “the problem.” The problem, basically, is why students are not getting better. This problem is rather strange. Why would a, say, new crop of fifth graders do better on a standardized test than the previous group? It is not the same group being retested, it is a new group, being taught much the same way by much the same people. Surely this is a manifestation of the old saw defining sanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Makers of sausages, for example, don’t expect each batch to be superior to the previous batch. In fact their quality assurance systems are set up to ensure that each batch is at least as good as the last batch . . . as good, not better. “Better” only comes from research and development and in the case of sausages, test kitchens.

Nonetheless, teachers have not only been targeted as the problem but also not part of the solution, a second insult. Then some states have stripped collective bargaining rights from teachers. Some have hired Teach for America “teachers” rather than fully certified teachers, even in violation of state law. Many places have instituted “charter schools” and “voucher schools” in which the normal labor protections of the state do not apply and unions are blocked.

And then teachers asking for wage increases have been characterized as “greedy” and not caring about “the kids.”

Many of these “movements” have been supported by corporate America and then when the inevitable happens, those same people stand gobsmacked and don’t understand what happened.

What is the inevitable, you ask? Good question.

Well, let’s see. Enrollments of college students in teacher preparation programs have plummeted. Teaching is not being seen as a desirable, or even stable, profession. School districts all over the country are reporting higher rates of “retirements” and teachers just quitting. And many districts are reporting extreme shortages of teachers when trying to hire them.

This is what you get when you piss in someone’s pocket and expect them to thank you for the warm feeling you just shared with them.

December 11, 2021

Dear Diane Ravitch,

I wish I could contact Ms. Ravitch directly as she is a beacon of light in the gloom and despair surrounding public schools right now. If you haven’t noticed public schools are under attack by plutocrats who want to privatize them. (I have yet to hear why it is that extracting profits from a system makes it better, especially a system so necessary to the foundations of our democracy.)

So, I am writing to her . . . and you . . . on this very important point.

Dear Ms. Ravitch,
I have not seen this point argued by many others, even though I have been harping upon the point that education is a social process through which we learn how to learn and how to work with others, which makes computer-based instruction especially egregious. In support of this point I ran across this quote in one of the hottest books currently in circulation:

When we are capable of self-awareness, it’s usually for very brief periods of time: the ‘window of consciousness’, during which we can hold a thought or work out a problem, tends to be open on average for roughly seven seconds. What neuroscientists (and it must be said, most contemporary philosophers) almost never notice, however, is that the great exception to this is when we’re talking to someone else. In conversation, we can hold thoughts and reflect on problems sometimes for hours on end. This is of course why so often, even if we’re trying to figure something out by ourselves, we imagine arguing with or explaining it to someone else. Human thought is inherently dialogic. Ancient philosophers tended to be keenly aware of all this: that’s why, whether they were in China, India or Greece, they tended to write their books in the form of dialogues. Humans were only fully self-conscious when arguing with one another, trying to sway each other’s views, or working out a common problem. True individual self-consciousness, meanwhile, was imagined as something that a few wise sages could perhaps achieve through long study, exercise, discipline and meditation. (Source: Graeber, David. The Dawn of Everything (p. 94). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition)

So, now we are being sold that individual self-consciousness is something primary school kids can achieve interacting with a computer.

I don’t see computers as something that can hold up half of a dialogue with a human being. Well, maybe IBM’s Watson might be able to but I don’t see our eduformers offering to supply each student with a Watson.

Students need to interact with other students and with teachers and administrators, a large number of them for long periods of time to have a chance to develop their minds.

None of the eduformers seem to be offering a new learning process, just the benefits of profits extraction, whatever they might be. Most offer “choice.” If you have seen supermarket stores at all, does having a choice of eleven different mayonnaises actually improve your life? How about a half dozen brands of bottled water?

School choice is a scam. Especially if they are offering a “cyber-education” whatever the heck that is. Defend your public schools. Defend your school boards. The pirates are coming and they will only be satisfied when they have extracted all of the wealth from the ship of public education and burned it to the water line.

November 25, 2021

Conservative Business People, Listen Up

Filed under: Business,History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:21 am
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You’all have been claiming that the U.S. government, aka guvmint, should be run like a business and I have a case study for you in which I agree.

What would you think about one of the divisions of your corporation which has not met a goal in twenty years, run up huge overruns on their budget, and recently failed an external audit because they couldn’t even perform an internal audit. They could not account for billions of company dollars that they spent, they think.

It is time for that underperforming sinkhole of profits to go, no?

I am talking about the Pentagon here, which needs a name change to Penta-gone.

We have been fighting a so-called “War on Terror” for easily twenty years and, well, help me count the victories: #1 We assassinated Osama Bin Laden, uh #2 . . . uh, #2 . . . well, there aren’t any other victories major or minor.

Okay, this nonperformance resulted in budget cuts, right? Let’s see, the Pentagon’s budget for the year 2000 was 378 billion U.S. dollars, about 3.5% of our GDP. In 2020, the Pentagon’s budget was 738 billion U.S. dollars. What? All of that abject failure to meet any military goals and the Pentagon’s budget doubled? Doubled!

What business principle is it that a woefully performing governmental division gets its budget doubled and nobody loses their job?

Are these the business practices you are recommending? Yes or no—don’t wait for the translation—yes or no?

October 27, 2021

New Name for Facebook? Suggestions Anyone?

Filed under: Business — Steve Ruis @ 11:38 am
Tags: , , , ,

How about:
Fuckface
Face the Music
AboutFace
AssholesAnonymous
Neverland
FuckZuck
Faceplant
Facepalm
WeAreSellingYou!
GWOT (for Giant Waste of Time)

And you?

October 19, 2021

What is a Corporatist Society?

(Sorry this is so long. It seemed warranted. Steve)

If you live in the U.S., just look around, you are living in such a society right now.

This country was founded as a republic, not a democracy, a republic being a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president with powers limited by law rather than a monarch. We created a government in which each of us was no longer the subject of some monarch; we were citizens, not subjects.

That is all fine and well, but we lost all of that a while back. We are now back to being subjects again. While there is no monarch there is a ruling clique of corporatists, meaning that our governments are run for the benefit of those corporations and subject to their desires and whims, rather than our own.

Consider the fact that our national government only pays attention to the needs of what is called “the donor class,” which you and I know as the filthy rich. If you are a substantial donor to a political party, your needs are attended to. If you are middle class or poor, you have zero chance of getting any attention, even from those elected to represent you. And “zero chance” is not hyperbole, that’s what the research showed.

So, the very rich are running the federal government and most of the state governments in the same fashion. So who are these “very rich” people? We used to think of the very rich as those with inherited wealth, but those days are past. Sure, there are a few very wealthy people who inherited their money and they got inheritance taxes reduced to zero so they can pass it all onto their children, but they are a small minority now. The very rich are now typically corporation executives. And they have corporatist mindsets.

A corporatist mindset is believing that corporations are the best structures to govern human activities. Did not a corporation recognize their personal qualities and reward them mightily. How could they be anything but perfect? You will have heard from these people that “government should be run like a business (aka corporation)” and “schools should be run like businesses/corporations,” etc.

These people have gotten the courts they purchased to establish that corporations have the rights of citizens, making the transition from imaginary person for business purposes only to political person in one court ruling. The rights of “corporations” to donate unlimited funds to political campaigns was established recently. Oh, and if you thought that the employees or even the shareholders of a corporation got to determine where its “campaign donations” went, dream on. Those decisions are made by the executives of those corporation, aka the filthy rich.

Now you may be thinking that this is all a bit much, but if you take a step back and look at the life experience of just any old citizen, you will see what is involved. For example, when a child is born, whether their mother got good medical care depended upon whether they had good insurance. Poor pre-natal medical care is part of a pattern that results in skimpy lives for the children. And good insurance is a fringe benefit associated with a shrinking number of jobs and are controlled by the employers (aka corporatists). So, you are born and grow up and then attend school. So, what are you taught in school? Increasingly, and all the way up and down the ladder, that education is focused on acquiring a “good job” when you become an adult. Recently education reformers wanted you to be asked to read more “informational texts” and less classic literature. My home state of California used to have a series of “readers” for each grade level. The works to be read were challenging and included extracts from Mark Twain, the Bible, James Fennimore Cooper, Nathanial Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., and more of their ilk. Obviously those California State Readers tended be supporters of the status quo, patriotic, and so on but none of them, to my recall, involved a shop manual for a Ford pick-up truck or a treatise on writing contracts. But now that the corporatists are in charge they want to make sure you can fix the department’s printer when it jams. They have no need for humanist texts that allow us to see one another more clearly and see the virtues that make a society that makes for happier and safer citizens, no need at all.

The corporatists now in charge have a Taylorite view of humanity that makes each of us a cog in their mechanism. So, if our growing citizen goes to college they will find that more and more the programs there are tailored, pun intended, to jobs they might get. If you ask students what their goals are, the majority will respond with “to get a good job” or “a job that pays a lot of money.” They are not stupid, they got the message.

So, they graduate, or not, and they seek and acquire a job. Who in that job has the bulk of the power: the employer or the employee? Analyzed economically, there should be a 50:50 power balance there. This is what free markets create, or so say the corporatists. The corporatists absolute hate free markets. But they recognize the propaganda power of the word “free.” The markets they like are those they can manipulate and dominate, and dictate to. A “free market” is a level paying field and only chumps play on a level playing field.

The corporatists used their political power to not only expand their own power but to limit the powers of their opposition. Labor unions, for example, were quite powerful after WW2. Have you notice them lately? No? That is because the corporatists used the political power their money bought to crush them. While the private sector used to have about 33% of its jobs covered by a union contract, that is now about 6%. Crushed. The only remaining institutional power that can oppose the wills of the corporatists is government and the corporatists have bought enough politicians to make that source opposition neutered.

So, who has the power in the employee-employer relationship? The employers. And they use it. They arbitrary transform their employee’s pension plans into plans that cost them much less and pay their employees much less in the process. They change work rules as they see fit. They ship entire factories overseas and if they keep you on as an employee, it is only to train your less expensive replacement.

So, you work and you work, then you are fired so they can hire a cheaper replacement. Corporatists are so addicted to that power that they often fire people critical for their corporations or fire so many support staff that their critical people look for other employment because of that. Basically, if they meet their stock market goals and retire before it all falls apart, corporation executives are good with that. Golden parachutes make for soft landings.

So, you skimp along or are “comfortable” in your retirement and are no longer of interest to the corporatist, other than as a voter. Old people vote, so the corporatists have massive propaganda machines that use fear and other levers to get you to vote in alignment with their interests. They also trump up phony issues to keep you riled up and distracted.

Then you die, your whole life having been dominated by corporate interests. You served “your country” well, were a good provider for “your family,” and a pillar of “your community.” Now replace all of the parentheticals in that sentence with “your corporation(s)” and you will have it about right.

Please do not mistake my intent. I am not claiming there is a cabal of corporations or some Big Brother Corp. running the show. No, it is people with corporate mindsets, acting independently and occasionally in concert who are doing this.

And we let them and continue to let them by buying into the way they see the world.

The COVID pandemic is showing the corporatists what is in their future. People are not returning to the bullshit jobs the corporations created. People are figuring out different ways to live. People are starting their own businesses which are not part of the cabal.

It is a start but a lot more needs to be done.

If you are interested in this topic please read “The Unconscious Civilization” by John Ralston Saul. I dog-eared so many pages that I gave up on a book report. I will just weave what he saw into my writing more and more.

October 18, 2021

Fixing Our Broken Society

The Great Experiment in Democracy that this country represents was focused upon its citizens living as citizens and not subjects. Unbeknownst to most of us, we have failed in that experiment. Currently the vast majority of us could be classified as subjects, subjects of corporations.

But, you say, you don’t work for a corporation, so how could that be. It be because of the corporations making all of the rules by which you exist in society. It is clear that the rich have captured our legislatures, our courts, the guts of our political structures. Nothing the rich do not like happens, period. Now, when you think of the rich, you make think of what is called “old money,” money handed down generation to generation. The Koch brothers, Donald Trump, the Kennedys, the Rockefellers, etc. While these people do exist, the vast majority of the rich now are corporation executives. By pooling their money, they have bought off politicians in sufficient numbers to control the actions of our federal government and state houses. Corporations control our news media, our social media, our commerce (Amazon delivers in Hell, don’t you know).

Want our government to make voting easier? Not going to happen. Want our government to enforce the gun laws on the books? Ain’t gonna happen. Want fewer wars? Ain’t gonna happen. (The Afghan War lasted twenty years with no discernable objective, either met or progress made toward. The objective was billions and billions of dollars of defense contracts.)

So, what is wrong?

Well, it would be nice if representatives of citizens were back in the driver’s seat, rather than corporatist representatives. And there are some things we can do to make that so. Right now the middle class is being ground under the heel of the corporatists, who like high unemployment as it keeps wages down and these same people have been transferring the tx burden of government off of their corporations and onto the general population. (The poor pay few taxes, and the rich are avoiding taxes, so guess who pays the bulk of the taxes?) It seems everyone is okay with the pay-as-you-go culture we have created, but collectively there are really only two ways you can fairly support such a system. Either every citizen is given minimally adequate shelter, food, utilities, healthcare, etc. as a right of citizenship (and then anything else needs to be worked for) or every job has to pay what is called a living wage, enough to pay for those things mentioned previously. If the minimum wage of the 1960’s had be adjusted for worker productivity since then it would be near $22-24 per hour which is near a living wage (what constitutes a living wage depends on local conditions, urban New York City and rural Oklahoma have different costs of living, for example).

Both of these structures address the current failure of our systems, the loss of anyone, anyone at all, representing the common good. Everyone now represents the interests of some group, but no one represents the interests of us all, usually referred to as the “common good.”

The idea of the common good, like the ideas of unearned income and many more terms, have been driven our of our discourse by the corporatists who are just looking to advantage themselves above everyone else. As a military example, think of a battlefield general who doesn’t make sure that his troops are well-fed, well-rested, and well-motivated. If all that general is interested in is promotions, those may happen by sucking up to those higher up the ladder, but if you want to win battles, troops need to be fed, trained, supplied with weapons and ammunition, etc. For the common good of that general’s army, the people “at the bottom of the influence range” must be taken care of by those at the top,

Currently the corporatists at the top do not give a rats ass about those at the bottom. These are seen as the great unwashed. Their pet economists see worker education and support as a cost undermining profits, rather than an investment in future capacity. Workers are things to be sold off, turned into robots, gotten rid off as soon as possible. Corporations do not see themselves as a functioning segment of society, providing good jobs and benefits to citizens in exchange for their productivity which allows the corporation to prosper. And by providing those jobs, they are doing what they should. Instead the corporations have been turned over to management types who have been sold the bogus idea that the corp’s only obligation is to the shareholders, not to their community, or society at large, nope, nada, zip, zilch.

This did not happen by accident. Corporations used to have goals of being a contributing member of their communities and society as a whole, recognized workers as stakeholders in the corporation, etc. A few corporations still do, but for each of those, there are dozens that only do such “do-gooder” things as PR ploys to maintain a good image.

And, not being able to get the last word in my own post . . .

From nakedcapitalism.com (10-15-21)

“ . . . Taken together with mass resignations, such worker strikes reveal a deep dissatisfaction with the nature of American work that has been decades in the making. Corporate America has enjoyed a stranglehold over policy, spending its profits on lobbying the government to ensure even greater profits at the expense of workers’ rights. At the same time, the power of unions has fallen—a trend directly linked to increased economic inequality.

But now, as workers are flexing their power, corporate America is worried.

In the wake of these strikes and resignations, lawmakers are actively trying to strengthen existing federal labor laws. Business groups are lobbying Democrats to weaken pro-labor measures included in the Build Back Better Act that is being debated in Congress.

Currently, corporate employers can violate labor laws with little consequence as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) lacks the authority to fine offenders. But Democrats want to give the NLRB the authority to impose fines of $50,000 to $100,000 against companies who violate federal labor laws. Also included in the Build Back Better Act is an increase in fines against employers that violate Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.

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