Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, May 10, 2015 5:37 pm

Odds and ends for May 10

Hidy. Yeah, it’s been a while.

Your brain is your brain. Chuck Norris is your brain on drugs.

So good to see that the Baltimore officers implicated in Freddy Gray’s death were all the kind of stable individual to whom you want to give the power of life and death.

I had about given up on anyone doing anything to stop the NSA’s blatantly unconstitutional hoovering of Americans’ data. This isn’t a fix, but it’s a start.

Good to see that job creation is back on track. We’re still far from where we need to be, though, and farther still on wage growth.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012 8:52 pm

Rigged game, part MMXII; or, Too much is never enough

If you want proof that America’s economics and finances are in the hands of people who couldn’t give less of a shit about the common good, look no further than Caterpillar, the maker of bulldozers and other heavy equipment.

The company made $4.9 billion in profits last year — about $39,000 per employee — and projects an even better 2012.  So how is it rewarding its workers? By insisting that they agree to a six-year wage freeze and a freeze on pensions as well, and demanding that they contribute up to $1,900 per year more for health care than they already are. This move comes, the Times reports, as the company netted almost $1.6 billion in the first quarter of this year and “has significantly raised its executives’ compensation because of its strong profits.”

The workers said, in effect, “[Bleep] this noise,” and went on strike. Good for them.

The company argues that its wages make it less competitive in the marketplace, but the boost in compensation for its executives gives that game away. Its top six executives alone got cash and stock worth almost $40 million last year. Sure, you can make a case that Caterpillar is a well-managed company and they should be properly compensated. But the U.S. wage market has been artificially distorted in the past few decades to overcompensate a few at the top for outcomes that, when favorable, are as much the work of their much-lower-paid minions as of themselves. There’s a strong argument that reversing that trend would benefit the economy as a whole, which, other than plain selfishness, might well be part of the reason why these sociopaths oppose it.

Rose Bain, a striker, grows impatient with such arguments [that Caterpillar’s demands are fair]. Earning $15 an hour after two years, she said she could not afford a six-year freeze and did not trust Caterpillar to follow through with [a] hinted raise for lower-paid workers.

“We’re the people who busted our butts to help them make record profits,” she said. “We shouldn’t be treated like this.”

Exactly. And the fact that we’re even having to have this conversation shows how incredibly out of touch with reality our Galtian overlords have gotten. Worse, some of the same kinds of people who run Caterpillar want us to run the country the same way. I think Charlie Pierce speaks for anyone who has a lick of sense:

Jesus God, is there anyone — A-N-Y-O-N-E — out there beyond the Beltway who still believes that the CEO’s of American corporations have any inclination to act in the general national interest? Is there anyone — A-N-Y-O-N-E — out there beyond the Beltway who’d still trust [J.P. Morgan Chase CEO] Jamie Dimon to park his car? … I never thought I’d see the living definition of bleeding a country with leeches, but this comes awfully close.

UPDATE: Missing words restored 7/25.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 6:09 pm

America: Land of opportunity?

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 6:09 pm
Tags: , , ,

Well, if, by “opportunity,” you mean, “scraping by and desperately hoping not to get sick”:

That’s right, folks: We’ve got a higher percentage of our work force working for less than two-thirds our median wage than any other industrialized democracy, and yet one major party insists that the answer to all our economic problems is more tax cuts for the wealthy and the other major party refuses to call this policy out for the batshit insanity that it is.

And you wonder why people are marching in the streets.

Monday, September 14, 2009 9:48 pm

Updating the classics

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 9:48 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I’ve started re-reading “Les Miserables” because I hadn’t read it since high school and it just felt like time. Starting on page 50 of my battered paperback edition, I found this passage:

HISTORY OF AN IMPROVEMENT IN JET-WORK

… From time immemorial the special occupation of the inhabitants of M—— sur M——- had been the imitation of English jets and German black glass trinkets. The business had always been dull in consequence of the high price of the raw material, which reacted upon the manufacture. At the time of Fantine’s return to M—— sur M—– an entire transformation had been effected in the production of these “black goods.” Towards the end of the year 1815, an unknown man had established himself in the city, and had conceived the idea of substituting gum-lac for resin in the manufacture; and for bracelets, in particular, he made the clasps by simply bending the ends of the metal together instead of soldering them.

This very slight change had worked a revolution.

This very slight change had in fact reduced the price of the raw material enormously, and this had rendered it possible, first, to raise the wages of the laborer — a benefit to the country — secondly, to improve the quality of the goods — an advantage for the consumer — and thirdly, to sell them at a lower price even while making three times the profit — a gain for the manufacturer.

Thus we have three results from one idea.

In less than three years the inventor of this process had become rich, which was well, and had made all around him rich, which was better. … he had drawn a fortune for himself, and a fortune for the whole region.

Ask yourself how many of today’s CEOs would behave in such fashion, rather than having measuring contests with one another over how many multiples of the lowest-paid worker’s salary they can pay themselves. Oh, sure, there are some out there, don’t get me wrong. (And Warren Buffett at least tries to make money for other people, although at $98,750 a share as of today’s close, his Berkshire Hathaway stock ain’t exactly priced for the little guy.) But are such CEOs common enough that we see them portrayed routinely in our news and entertainment media?

No, they’re not. And any CEO, real or fictional, who publicly tried to do what Victor Hugo’s fictional CEO did — or even what Henry Ford did — would, in today’s financial world, be mocked by the pundits of CNBC as a sucker.

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