Category Archives: Economics

Unions are the reason we’re not China

Triangle fire women picketers

The beginnings of the labor union movement in America.

Republicans appear to be mastering the art of turning back the clock. State by state, they are generating a great wave of anti-union legislation that is being met with apathy and ignorance by most Americans. I’m not sure what to do about the apathy, except to address the ignorance.

If you watch MSNBC, then you know that the reason for the Republican attack against unions is purely political: they are out to disable the funding machine of the Democratic party. Since the GOP tends to represent the interests of the business community, most of their money these days comes from titans like Sheldon Adelson. That one man almost succeeded in buying a Presidential election – talk about an American success story! The Democrats, on the other hand, tend to bat for the middle class which, by definition, has no money to give them. That’s because they work for a living. The only place you can reliably find them doling out cash is to their labor unions, who then forward it to the Democrats. Kill the unions, kill the Democrats’ funding.

That’s exactly what these so-called “right to work” laws do: The legislation is written specifically to outlaw compulsory union dues. So you can join a union and enjoy its protections without shelling out a dime. It’s a pillow over the face of the Democratic party.

The unions themselves will have a difficult time surviving this. No one outside their membership appears to care. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data for 2011 shows that only 11.8% of American workers belong to a labor union. That leaves the great majority of us uninformed about their importance and perhaps resentful of their influence. So these laws get passed and we either don’t pay attention or figure they’re justified. Our ignorance is shameful.

Last night we had a dinner conversation with our teenager. You can go to the mall, we said, and get a lot of stuff for a little money. But none of it is made in the US. It’s made in China or Indonesia or someplace where the labor is cheap. Those are jobs that could be here in America but if they were, everything would be more expensive.  Labor is cheaper overseas because the people work in terrible conditions with virtually no rights for almost no money, while the companies pollute the local environments because they’re not subject to American regulations.

How can they do that to people? A good question, we said. It’s because they don’t have the history that we do. They never had a labor union movement to stand up for and defend workers’ rights. It used to be like that here, too.


Paternal Accountability Act logo

WHEREAS, The Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision is continually under attack and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future, such that American women are in danger of losing control over their reproductive lives; and

WHEREAS, it is prudent to plan for the eventual overturn of Roe vs. Wade in a manner that suffices should the verdict stand, since the economic impact of bearing and raising a child in the US is typically over $200,000, not including college tuition or major medical expenses; and

WHEREAS, both partners are equally involved in the reproductive act that produces a fertilized human egg which is composed of precisely equal amounts of DNA from each of them, and which of fairness ought to result in equal responsibility between them;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the people of this State call for new legislation to hold male parents equally accountable for the economic consequences of their reproductive actions:

A. When a man impregnates a woman under any circumstance, he shall be liable for 50% of any and all expenses incurred as a result of bearing and raising the resulting child, including prenatal care and delivery; food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, education, and recreation; and all other provisions made for the child until age 25 or the completion of a college degree, whichever occurs first.

B. In the event that the male parent does not reside with or contribute economically to the household in which his child lives, his payments will be automatically deducted from any wages or benefits he receives and directly deposited into an account held in trust for the child by the mother or legal guardian.

C. If the male parent is unable to make these payments, he may supplement his contributions with household labor and/or childcare, subject to the expressed approval of the mother or legal guardian.

D. All unpaid debts shall accrue interest at the rate of 10% compounded yearly.

E. There shall be no limitations of time on the debt, which shall be paid through wage garnishment regardless of the age of the child.

    47%? 30%? Let’s make it 100%!

    King George III and George Washington

    According to Mitt Romney, 47% of Americans believe that the government should take care of them in some way. Paul Ryan, the numbers guy, says it’s 30%. They say it like it’s a bad thing. It’s not. The number should be closer to 100%.

    Let me explain: We had a revolution quite some time ago which freed us from the tyranny of a kingdom and established a democracy. Whereas a king rules by right of inheritance, a president is elected through the will of the people. A king stands above all others; a president is first among equals.

    A king typically inherits his right to rule through a line of ancestry that connects him to a figure recognized as important to the establishment of the country.  His power is legitimized by his biological connection to the birth of the people and of the culture, and his authority is conceived in paternal terms. The country is his; it belongs to him and he may do with its land, its people, and its army as he sees fit. He is, however, obliged to see to it that his lands are farmed, his people are fed, and his armies are supplied.

    Did these responsibilities of government just fade away when we replaced a king with a president? Clearly we are still subsidizing our farmers and supplying our armies, so what happened to the other piece of it?

    Remember this: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . .”

    Was this not what Jefferson was talking about? How can one be entitled to life but not medicine? Liberty but not food? A shot at happiness but not the benefit of shelter?  Don’t these things all go together? I believe that Jefferson thought his language was broad and inclusive: Let’s see, he reasoned; what three words can I use to represent all “unalienable Rights”? Oh, yes! I’ll say, “among these,” and cite the big ones! “Life,” for crying out loud! How much more inclusive can I be?

    Conservatives deride an American sense of “entitlement” (oh, the irony!), where people think they deserve government assistance for which they should not have to work or pay. They think a lot of us are stupid, irresponsible, and lazy. The truth is, we are all raised to believe that life is meaningless without work – which includes raising children – and that we are useless without it. Most of us want to make an honest living. That, it’s patently obvious, is not always possible.

    It has always been the job of the government to see to it that people’s basic needs are met. From chiefs to kings to parliaments, the primary charge is to keep the peace and provide the food – the latter being necessary for the former. As long as there has been government, that has been the case.

    Democracy didn’t change that; capitalism did.

    Podcast 02: On Abortion and Birth Control

    human development

    Fetal development from 0 – 8 weeks.

    Why not dive right in? In the second podcast, I discuss birth control and abortion from an anthropological perspective.  Every young woman should listen to this, regardless of her position on the matter.

    is there an app for the suicide hotline?

    Factory Workers in Shenzhen, China

    Factory Workers in Shenzhen, China, from

    I am a capitalist. I like making and spending money. I am unapologetic about my love of technology and gadgets, and I enjoy upgrading my computer and my cell phone when they cease to satisfy me. Hell, I work hard for my money and spending it at Best Buy keeps those kids employed, right?  That’s the way that our economy works:  If you have money, you owe it to your country to spend it.

    I can’t help thinking, though, about all the people that are disabled, killed, and driven to suicide by my commitment to patriotism. I suffer from elitist guilt. In a global context, I am the 1%.

    In Shenzhen, China, millions of Chinese kids (and I do mean kids) are thrilled to have relatively high-paying jobs, where the minimum wage is $240 a month for about an 80-hour work week.  They are proud to be the first generation of their countrymen to live the capitalist dream. They get to work in a Special Economic Zone — a big, modern city set apart by the communist government for the clearly capitalist purpose of making money for China. They manufacture everything we buy, despite the fact that quite a lot of it is unavailable in their own country.

    They do it all by hand, bending over the same table at the same dull task for 12 to 16 hours a day, day after day, week after week, year after year, until their hands are crippled by it. Men in their 20s can no longer hold chopsticks. Enough people were driven to jump from the heights of Foxconn’s production tower that the company put up nets to catch them; perhaps they looked up from the iPads they would never themselves possess and determined that life was not worth living?  Would access to apps have saved them?

    One thing is clear: These things happen because we allow them to.  This is what free trade gets us – abusive and exploitative labor practices overseas.  We make no demands of our trading partners, and they make no efforts to cater to our sensibilities.  Why should they? What we see as inhumane, they see as perfectly normal. Nothing compels them to change anything.

    All capitalists are moral relativists; they have to be.  The only way we can do business with China is if we ignore the fact that they employ ten year-olds to work 16-hour days. That’s alright for them. The only way they can do business with us is if they block most of our commercial websites.  That’s alright for us. The bottom line is, well, the bottom line.

    The thing about capitalism is, it’s not a moral system. It’s about making money, not making nice. It’s great at fulfilling its purpose — profit-making — but don’t expect it to be kind. There is no benevolence in the free hand of the market, which is ordinarily found clenched around a fistful of cash. That’s why we can’t just leave it alone to regulate itself.

    Damn it. I still want an iPad.