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Thoughts on wage labor

[Sheesh, I thought this would be wildly controversial! I'm stickying this because I really do need feedback on it, partly on the diagram style. As in, does it work? --lambert]

I must apologize for not writing up Point 1 of the 12-Point Platform. I've been blaming myself for dithering, and in fact I have been dithering, but it finally dawned on me that "A Living Wage" isn't only a simple social justice matter, but the crux of all the points and reforms that must follow it. Why?

Because we live in a capitalist society, and wage labor is the fundamental and distinctive social relation of capitalism. And so, in order to explain what a "living wage" is, I also need to explain what a wage is, and the manner of life it supports. So I dusted off my memory of the Old Mole, and came up with this diagram, using my mad iPad sketching skillz. And if you would give me feedback on the diagram, I'd appreciate it. I'm probably not going to learn to sketch better, but since the sketches of my garden have helped me gather the knowledge I intended them to gather, I don't think my artistic skills are at issue; but I may very well have gone wrong, conceptually. So herewith:

Now that I think of it, this is probably a little two abstract, and I need stick figures and houses and food on the "commodities" side, and lots of dollar signs on the money side. Spoiler alert: The Old Mole had at least two cycles through which money moved C-M-C (blue) and M-C-M' (red). But I want to avoid that jargon if I can, and express the ideas with the simplicity that the truly have.

So. We are looking at a simple model world of commodities ("stuff") and money, and people who own, that is, can buy and sell, money and stuff. And in our simple model world, people enter into social relations with other other, and are defined by, their relationship to money and stuff. (This means that we're leaving out a lot of other social relations, like families, and friends (Facebook or not), and other more complex relationships, like voting, or joining a co-op, or being a student, and so forth.)

And in our simple model world (diagrammed above) there are two kinds of people.

1) In blue: People who sell stuff (C) for money (M) in order to buy more stuff (C). No, not at eBay; maybe you work at McDonalds on the line, or at Walmart restocking, or at the doctor's office keeping the books, or at a university as an adjunct, or as a factory worker on an assembly line, where the money you get for selling stuff is called a "wage," and the place where you sell that stuff is called your "job." We call the blue people "wage laborers" or "workers."

"But what stuff (C) am I selling?" you ask. Well, you aren't selling yourself; that would be slavery (or indentured servitude). And you aren't selling things aren't stuff to begin with, like pride in your work, or happiness in service people, or taking joy from creativity; you "can't put a dollar value" on your state of mind or your heart. The "stuff" (C) you are selling is called your "labor power," and that is what's left over from what you do at work after everything that would make you uniquely you is stripped away. We say "nobody is irreplaceable" or "no-one is essential" exactly because every job calls upon sets of basic skills that most people in society share the power to do, or can learn to do. For example, when I was a braider tender in the mills, I could change X thousands of bobbins an hour, and anybody who could change the same number of bobbins was interchangeable with me; or any two people, since I was very fast. The ability to change X thousands of bobbins an hour as a braider tender was an exercise of my labor power (C), for my wage (M), with which I bought food (C), paid the rent (C), etc.

2) In red: People who use money (M) to buy stuff (C) to get more money (M). My mill owner, for example, bought yarn (C), machines (C), electric power (C), the mill (C), and my labor power (C), and all of those commodities (C) were transformed by the operation of labor power into a product, cord, that he sold, receiving money (M). We call the red people "owners" or, better, "capitalists," since if I am not mistaken, the money (M), whether in cash, at the bank, or translated into commodities (C) like yarn, or machines, or electric power, or (when purchased) labor power, is all "capital."

So, workers begin with a commodity (C), labor power, sell it for money (M, a "wage"), and use the money to buy commodities (C), beginning the cycle again.

Capitalists begin with money (M), purchase commodities (C), among them labor power, and transform the commodities into money (M), beginning the cycle again.

We call this set of social relations "capitalism." (Parenthetically, one of the nice things about thinking of wage labor in the form of this diagram is that it disposes of the whole "jobs creators" canard. I mean, it's always been silly, because businesses aren't social welfare organizations; they are there to make money, and not "create jobs." But, more subtly, "jobs," from the owner's perspective, do not exist so that you, as a person, can lead your life; they are there to provide, as it were, a product specification for the purchase of labor power from whoever has it.

So, now we know what a wage is; what do we mean by a living wage?

The capitalist, in paying your wage, is purchasing your labor power (C), and the price (M) they would like to pay is how much it takes you to "live" (consuming C1, 2, 3 .... n) and come back the next day, every day, as long as the requirement for your labor power exists. (In the jargon, this is called "the reproduction of labor power.") Assuming you are a worker, you can see at once this is a power relationship[1] in which the capitalist has a lot more power than you; since any given worker is, by definition (at least in our small model world), expendable and interchangeable with any other, there's a lot of scope for gaming workers (like "human resources," bullying, firing, blackballing, creating conditions where people are desperate for work, "hiring one half the working class to kill the other," and so forth.) And so the natural tendency, all other things being equal, is for wages to sink to just enough to let you come in to work the next day, and the day after, and the day after (this is called "the subsistence level").

And so in China, for example, a "living wage" could well imply eating at a company cafeteria, sleeping in a company dorm, and a very low wage. In Cambodia, a "living wage" could mean much less. In Germany, a "living wage" might mean enough to own your own home, a car, acquire education, and so on. In this country, the "living wage" is somewhere between China and Germany. It is true that commodities (C) are cheaper in China or Cambodia than in Germany or here, and so whatever basket of commodities adds up to the subsistence level is different for each country, but it's also true that in German workers have more clout than Chinese workers, and Chinese workers have more clout than Cambodian ones, for reasons having to do with the history, sociology, and culture of each country. We might also bring in globalization at this point, since that tends to equalize the living wage all over the world, and for what is considered subsistence to average out (that being one thing "trade deals" are supposed to help with). And in fact that's what is happening in the U.S.; our wages are gradually trending toward the worldwide average.

You can also see a second level of power relationships when you look at where each cycle terminates. For the worker, the cycle begins with C (labor power) and ends with C (consumption of commodities). It's easy to see that the worker, even if they could do so, can't get more political power by accumulating, say, loaves of bread or wide-screen TVs; and it is equally easy to see that capitalists can and do gain political power by accumulating money (M), since they can use some portion of their profits to make sure the balance of power between them and their workers such that workers can sell their labor power for the minimum amount that is "politically feasible."

You can see clearly the idea that capitalists would prefer (although there are exceptions to everything) to keep wages at a subsistence level if you've been following the minimum wage debate and in particular, Walmart. Walmart has so much political power that it's actually able to pay it's workers below subsistence; if workers had to live on Walmart's wages alone, they would not be able to reproduce their labor power! How do we know this? Because Walmart workers must supplement their wages with Food Stamps and other forms of public assistance.[2]

Finally, people on the street are asking for a $15 minimum wage. But Obama and the Democrats are proposing a $10.10 minimum wage. Why $10.10?

For all Walmart workers, if you do the math: M = Wages at $7.25 per hour + Public Assistance = Wages at $10.10.

In other words, the minimum wage at $7.25 plus public assistance equals the minimum wage of $10.01 and no public assistance. So the Democrats are just playing a shell game, and there's no more money in your pocket.

With $15 an hour, there would be more money in your pocket (and nobody would go out of business, either, although that is a post for another day).

NOTE I realize this is an explicitly reformist post. That is because the 12 Points and 12 Reforms are exactly that: Reformist and not revolutionary. However, taken in their entirely, I think the whole package would drastically improve the lives of workers everywhere, and the record of revolutions in the 20th Century is not a good one. Of course, anything can happen when reasonable demands are refused.

NOTE [1] Libertarians call this "the magic of the marketplace" or, perhaps, "freedom."

NOTE [2] I need to look more into the part-time / full-time distinction here. I'm guessing even the full-timers need help.

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okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

I hadn't thought of it before, but we no longer live in a capitalistic economy; that paradigm has been usurped by the new financialistic economy.
I believe that is why so much of the vocabulary, tropes, prescriptions, and emotional cues fall flat. They are based on ancient systems. Just like "file folders" "record albums" "nformation super highways".....
When I am at a keyboard and have time to expand, I think this is the crux of the conversation.

Submitted by lambert on

I envision rent-seeking as happening during consumption on the worker side and profit taking or accumulation on the capitalist side (all with, I suppose a C->C' relation with the resources of Nature, as breathing for example). Rent seeking would also be a nice way to conceptualize fraud.

We can look at the fix we are in here as, I believe, a classical crisis: The whole country (or, rather, certain classes within the country) are awash in capital. Yet there is nowhere to put it that yields the sought-after return. Hence, absurd misallocations like Silicon Valley startups. Or housing, as in the last bubble.

Submitted by lambert on

OTOH, this is not a theory of everything. It's an explanation of what a wage is. And it makes sense to begin here, because a wage is the most distinctive feature of a capitalist society.

That's not the same as saying that it's the most important; Okanogen argues that it is not; I'm not sure I agree. At the end of the day (horrible phrase) most of us adults go to work for wages. That relation is one of the most important relations in our lives, as opposed to the many smaller acts of rental extraction.

I think then that rents are better described later on in the 12 points, for example with the Post Office Bank, or with a debt jubilee.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

Except the financial rents are huge vortices coming off every pathway of the streams depicted as 1's and 2's in your diagram. Whether they are bank charges or payday loans sucking off flow between capital and labor or insurance costs or (yikes, even) taxes. In my view, all of these things (in America at least) are every bit as important in that relationship as the original employer, employee, wage for labor dynamic.

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

I freely admit that in such conversations I am utterly out of my depth and make a much better spectator......A spectator, however, with the potential for learning something......

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

...your point?
If it takes all of the above, you lost me after the cheesy graph(?).
I'm serious; what are you trying to say?
Think about it...

Submitted by lambert on

Quote:

And so, in order to explain what a "living wage" is, I also need to explain what a wage is, and the manner of life it supports.

Which the post attempts to do.

Jay's picture
Submitted by Jay on

I think the problem is that we don't live in a capitalist society, we live in a fascist society, a crony capitalist kleptocracy, where financial concerns become public policy, and the state declines to enforce equality under the law, or enacts/changes laws that are inconvenient to financiers. The reason working people can't get ahead, and why the Fed's QE dollars are completely wasted, and we have rising inequality, is that every aspect of the system has been gamed, like a pinball machine where Jamie Dimon has drilled a 1-foot hole at the bottom of the board and tipped the machine at a 45-degree angle. Every single court judgment, every deregulation, every trade agreement, every labor union loss over the past forty years has been a steady, unrelenting drumbeat for squeezing nearly everyone in this society who wasn't born rich. The Powell Doctrine project didn't happen overnight--there would have been a revolution if it had.

Besides, classic "capitalism" requires a functional market that discovers prices to keep capitalists honest at least amongst themselves. But our markets are just another means to manipulate commodities, equities, bonds, labor, and their derivatives into money for the manipulators, so price discovery doesn't actually ever occur. What is the value of a rupee in a market where you're sold sawdust instead of concrete, and the local cops demand bribes? It's worthless. I think that's why a lot of investor types are going nuts--there's nowhere to hide, no safe store of value.

Submitted by lambert on

... are saying the same thing in different words.

If we compare this era to the Gilded Age, the difference is the growth in productive forces then, and the diminishing returns. Then, electricity, the light bulb, the telephone. Now, the iPhone, and decaying infrastructure.

Jay's picture
Submitted by Jay on

Decaying infrastructure, disappearing resources, increasing pollution problems, climate catastrophes, economic and political instability, and a looming World War III. With nukes. Why would their handling of the economy be any less shortsighted, obtuse, and doomed to failure? I am reminded of the inbred, backwards-thinking aristocratic officer class in charge of World War I. Utter, ridiculous failures with no credibility.

Submitted by lambert on

I think most of the issues you are describing come from disinvesment in this country. The owners of capital have decided either to invest it elsewhere (at a greater return) or hoard it. I'm not sure of the dynamic here.

I think this is called a crisis of over-production; we (that is, the owners of capital) have a huge excess of capital that "we" cannot invest at a decent return. The classic way to destroy capital to allow the process of accumulation to reboot, is a war.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

The "owners" of "capital"? This is exactly what I'm talking about. The "owners" of "capital" are generally speaking everybody with a government or private pension, 401K, or private investment plan, which is owned/managed by some low to mid level sleazebag flunkie at Fidelity Investment. Those people in turn are fascinated by the next shiny bauble (repackaged investment instrument) trolled behind by the financial "geniuses" at the big houses like Golden Sacks.

Submitted by lambert on

Looking at wealth distribution, I don't think it's true. But I can address that issue later.

This post is about explaining the wage relation, and making the amaze balls that Walmart has actually driven wages below the level of subsistance as amaze balls as it is.

I don't see a reason to build a model of the entire American economy right now. Though it would be fun to build it up layer by layer. Perhaps I'll write a plan of attack tomorrow.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

The capitalism vs. financialism thing has been a bit of a tangent. Mostly. Like describing the nature of the ocean we are all drowning in. Is it salt water, or fresh? In some ways that matters, in other ways, not so much. That said, it has a strong impact on the framework of your post, as well as the diagram, which needs to have a vortex coming off each element for financial tithing.

The financialism aspect mainly comes into play when we would talk about meta stuff like MMT. There can't ever be enough surplus capacity in our economy - surplus of people's labor, surplus of capital, surplus of time and ability to produce meaningful goods - if financiers can drain it off immediately.

In my view, Walmart, et. al. can pay non-sustainable wages because our "safety net" is insufficient to support people on the margins of the workforce. Therefore seniors, teens and students, etc., are forced to take part time employment, they are somewhat subsidized but not enough. Then there is just a huge effort by insurance companies (financiers) and the government to render vast portions of our population unemployable for all but low-paying jobs. Have you had a DWI? The data is very hard to find, but some estimates are that around 20% of our working population has had one in the last ten years. If you have, you cannot be insured to drive a company car or paid to drive your own car on company time. So no delivery, construction, consulting or mechanic job for you. Mandatory drug testing, invasive criminal and credit background checks, these also reduce employability, especially for minority populations. Ever wonder why all the ads for CDL drivers? DWIs, drug testing, medical surveillance testing, etc.. And all of that is driven by insurance lobbied federal rules and regulations.

-Edited-

Submitted by lambert on

Yes, as you can see, this is a directed graph. There is a name for the kind of graph where connections can be made to the arcs. The arcs are in this case C-M and M-C and if I add a dotted line to M->C I can represent the siphoning off (and hopefully connect those arcs to... something else. For example, the M has to be "recylcled" back into the real economy at some point....

More interestingly M->C the DWI shows a dotted line also, as in gatekeepers owned by the financiers as your DWI example shows. That is a brilliant topic I knew nothing about.

Jay's picture
Submitted by Jay on

They--TPTB, the MOU, the international Versailles courtesans.

If you stop attributing value to money, and recognize it as an accumulation of social impetus, persuasion if you will, or influence, I think you will be much closer to the truth. No one "owns" land any more than they own the air they breathe. What money does is persuade the people around you to recognize that you "own" that land. And what makes the influence especially confusing is that the medium of exchange can be divided and subdivided into excruciatingly exact amounts--$378,207.24 for a parcel of land, for example. That is what the land is "worth," or at least how much it takes to persuade people it belongs to you. Many people get stuck on this, propertarians for example. But like like Einstein's theory of relativity, just as space time can be elastic, money can change value. Money can be inflated or deflated. Propertarians can understand changing prices due to supply and demand, but when you change the rules--change the goalposts--by inflating or deflating the medium of exchange, it makes their heads hurt and they hate it.

In an environment where there is no place to profitably invest, you can make your own pile worth more by reducing or eliminating everyone else's pile. Call it, the Goldfinger principle. If you live in a prosperous country of five-cent cigars and a chicken in every pot, you will find great advantage in salting the land where tobacco is grown, stealing chickens, and shitting in everyones' wells. Then they will come to you for their needs. If you can't corner all the world's gold, you irradiate fort Knox and make the gold bars there worthless for a thousand years. If you are prevented from slave labor practices, you destroy productivity through private equity by buying competitors, loading them with debt, taking fees, declaring them bankrupt, and laughing all the way to the bank. Then, the labor force eventually will reduce their expectations to something approaching, if not approximating, slavery, serfdom, and political, economic, and social domination.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

What makes us no longer a capitalist economy is that capitalists are no longer in charge. The economy is run by managers who do not depend on profits as capitalists would, but on power to extract so-called compensation. Actually, as soon as an enterprise becomes complex enough that managers rather than owners make decisions, the worker's job and pay depends on the managers' interests rather than any productivity. This means that those adept at sucking up to the manager succeed, while more productive employees may not. With CEOs, the game has to do with boards of directors and stock market analysts. Thus, reorganizations, cutting the workforce, expanding the workforce, acquisitions, sales of divisions, just plain fraud, and the like are pursued even though studies have shown that all of these things generally lower the value of the company. But they are the propaganda that supposedly justifies outrageous pay for the the decision makers, who, again, are not the owners.

The theoretical explanation of capitalists and workers no longer reflects the real economy, nor the experience of most employees.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

Awesome. That is a great example of what I'm talking about.

Here is another, a modern family farmer is literally one of the biggest "capitalists" around. They have loads of very expensive capital equipment, high-worth land, etc.. They may churn a million or two or three million dollars a year, on a capital investment of something equal to that or more. And they labor their ass off. But do they make money? Often times, not so much. They may actually lose money in most years. And why? Because speculators, financiers, insurance agents, accountants, lawyers, and other members of the finance economy suck every bit of value on the back end, while commodity speculators, agri-business financiers, etc. suck every bit of value on the front end. The farmer is a capitalist, in the literal sense, but is basically powerless in the current economy which is controlled by the financiers and speculators.

Alexa's picture
Submitted by Alexa on

What makes us no longer a capitalist economy is that capitalists are no longer in charge.

The economy is run by managers who do not depend on profits as capitalists would, but on power to extract so-called compensation.

Actually, as soon as an enterprise becomes complex enough that managers rather than owners make decisions, the worker's job and pay depends on the managers' interests rather than any productivity. . . .

The theoretical explanation of capitalists and workers no longer reflects the real economy, nor the experience of most employees.

Well said.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

The actual "capital" itself is completely meaningless. It is the paper that speculates on that capital which is important. Likewise, in this economy, the labor, the commodity, the product, none of it has intrinsic worth unless it can be speculated on. What controls our society is the investment "instruments", a fact which has been proven over and over again, from Enron and World Com, Bernie Madoff and Tom Peters, through the mortgage banking collapse and TARP and the response which only shored up the investment devices.

That is why I say we live in a "financialist" society, not a "capitalist" one.

Submitted by lambert on

Paper and devices never destroyed anything, any more than health insurance gives health care.

"Soylent green is people." Capital, whether industrial (Andrew Carnegie) or financial (Warren Buffet) is always a relation between people. There may be a complex chain of intermediaries, but always a relations between people.

Imagine a science fiction world where the South won the Civil War and then 150 years on, the plantations are run with digital technology. Who's running the society? The bits and bytes, or the slaveowners?

Jay's picture
Submitted by Jay on

The distinction between those with money and those without is indeed a social construct, and an artificial distinction. We impute authority to those with money without any real justification, much as one might lift up a rock and assign arbitrarily distributed numbers--and thus preference--to individual potato bugs. But no potato bug is irreplaceable, even the ones who won the lottery of privileged birth. And the significance of an individual potato bug's arbitrarily-assigned number only becomes meaningful when the bugs around him or her bugs allow it, not unlike skin color.

Some people should be able to accumulate wealth, but not to the detriment of everyone around them, nor should that wealth dictate the terms of everyones' existence. Until Americans stop adulating wealth and its possessors--the Mammon worshippers--our problems will continue.

Submitted by lambert on

I don't like the "artificial distinction" because that implies that social relations are easy to change. Gay marriage, for example, took a generation to do, and was (I think) driven partly in the "forcing house" of a terrible epidemic.

Still, a generation is not long in historical terms.

Jay's picture
Submitted by Jay on

Dubious artificial social distinctions may not be easy to change. That doesn't change their invalidity. We could make any number of such distinctions and arrange our society around them. Blue eyes vs brown eyes, lefties vs righties, strawberry lovers vs raspberry lovers, rich vs poor. It's all bullshit. We should have an egalitarian society, not a caste system made exclusively of rajahs, their administrators, and peasants.

Submitted by lambert on

I think somewhere between a caste system and egalitarian is more do-able. Heavily toward the egalitarian side of the spectrum.

Submitted by lambert on

"if you want to solve the maze, start at the treasure and work your way backwards to the pirate."

So, the 12 points are the treasure. We are working on the pirate. This is another way of answering V. Arnold's question.

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

""But what stuff (C) am I selling?" you ask. Well, you aren't selling yourself; that would be slavery (or indentured servitude)."

Well, in fact there is a case to be made that is exactly the situation for most Americans.
I call it neo-feudalism, embracing neo-serfdom.
The life of a serf, back in the day, was, in some ways, better than many present day Americans are afforded. The myriad homeless across the states being an example.
One can hardly call America the home of the free under the present rule and economy.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

Why don't the serfs all just move to Thailand? Where they can become great Western ex-patriates and look down their noses at the sheeple?

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

...pretentious reply!
Who are you to judge and you have no idea, absolutely no idea, why I moved here!
I don't suffer fools, which describes 99% of Americans (and Canadians). I came here; oh wait, why do I owe you an explanation? And your presumption of my position is just bullshit!!!! Fuck you! You do not know me or anything about me, so shut the fuck up!
Wouldn't it have been more prudent to ask some questions? like, why do I speak as I do? Rather than launch into some assumed knowledge of who I am?
You have shown yourself to be just silly...

Serfs have no power, no mobility, and no freedom.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

I don't suffer fools, which describes 99% of Americans (and Canadians).

Who isn't looking down on sheeple again? This is just the latest example. Almost every comment you have is similar. I'm not judging you, I'm judging your comments. I have zero interest in your back story or history, they are irrelevant to that just like I don't care if an artist who produces bad art has a compelling back story. Their art still sucks.

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

You didn't attack my comment, you attacked me. You are a Sophist.
Sheeple? How contemptuous is that? And you accuse me of "looking down".
I don't look down on anybody, but I'm furious with my fellow countrymen for allowing the crapification of the 99% by the 1%.
As MLK said; America is the largest purveyor of violence in the world and I'll have none of it.
Enjoy your ride to hell...

Submitted by lambert on

... and it was not your comment that was attacked.

See my comment below for more.

* * *

Personally, I think if one is going to ask people to die on the ramparts, there had better be good reason for doing so. It's always possible to make things worse, and arguably many of the great uprisings of the 20th C did so. So I'm not really much interested in fury. I haven't been blogging daily for 10 years for my health or money; I just try to subliminate and channel my feelings into something useful.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

"Accuse" you of looking down? You freaking right out called 99% of Americans and Canadians fools that you wouldn't suffer! For fuck's sake. How could that possible be construed as anything OTHER than "looking down"?

Did I attack your bullshit statement(s) about the (aka) Great Unwashed being somehow mindless "serfs"? Hell yes I did. Did I mock the superiority of geography that you historically employ? You betcha, guilty as charged. Do I think you are uneducated or uncomprehending or a fool or have base motives? Hell, NO! I do not think any of those things and never said anything of the kind.

But ya know what? This thread ain't about you or me, so I'm done with engaging you on that front. Your original comment was an unhelpful derail of a conversation that you have no interest in, as you have said, and so is this.

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

Unfortunately, that would only be several hundred million people (around 320 mil (?), plus however many Canada is up to these days). As unjustifiable generalizations go that is a pretty expansive number, but you will need to get to over a billion before you can hope to match the sweeping grandeur of such as Palin in these matters. She, for example, thinks that a billion "Muslins" spend their days plotting new and exciting ways to make her fear them. Now, if you had added in American and Canadian pets, or livestock, or even American insect species, you could then have arrived at a respectable number worthy of notice.

Now that is how it is done by the professionals. Go big or go home, so to speak.

So, attaboy! Not quite in the Sunday Morning talking head class, yet, but I have faith that with time and perseverance you can eventually make it into the Big Tent. You have the talent, it just needs to be matured.

*Snark

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

Well, you explain how 1% can drive the beast to torture, war, rendition, and more violence than the rest of world combined. It would seem the 99% are mia, no?
The devil is in the details and the details are falsely manufactured in a cynical and calculated way by our ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES.
Maturity? I hope I never gain the kind of maturity you apparently represent.
You think commenting on blogs will change the world? Then, you do not understand the difference between acting and action...

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

I actually read blogs because I believe that finding different perspectives upon the issues of the day is important to the creation of a balanced world view. It seems clear to me that no one viewpoint can give a full picture of what is going on, and that those we are mass fed can be reliably controlled by the people for whom they are manufactured. I comment on those blogs I frequent because it amuses and, hopefully, educates me to do so, not because I believe it will change anything.

So, I do not believe that my commenting on blogs will change the world, nor do I believe that any actions I might take would be of the slightest import at this point. Recent University studies have conclusively shown that that boat sailed a long time ago; before I even graduated from High School, in fact. Further, I fail to see how commenting on blogs from Thailand renders you any more effective than I might be right here in the States. Your high flown, self congratulatory rhetoric, therefore, seems unmerited. I may be wrong, but I doubt it.

The 99% are not MIA, they are misinformed. They are not fools, they are disempowered.

The arrogance you so routinely display seems to ignore those issues in favor of a self regard that is ultimately destructive to both yourself and your online reputation; attitudes like that are unlikely to change even the small world you personally inhabit, and may in fact be a contributory factor to how small it actually is. And, finally, if you cannot take a joke, well, you should know the rest of that old saw by now. You are, after all, unlike my own foolish self, apparently an Ubermenschen par excellence if not non pareil.

Submitted by lambert on

1) For one thing, people have certainly contributed to changing their own country by writing from exile; examples abound. And good work can be done all over the world. The P2P Foundation, for example, which does interesting work (IIRC) on Common Pool Resources, is based in Thailand.

2) For myself, what I am good at is blogging and blogging. Period. That is my talent. I am not good at raising a crowd, I am not good at retail politics, and I am certainly not qualified, being both old and poorly sighted, for anything other than civic engagement (which I do on landfills).

3) I could write and blog from anywhere in the world, and may well end up doing so, simply to be able to afford to live. Plenty of people do currency arbitrage in other countries, and I might be one of them. Thailand is lower on my list now than it was, but it's nevertheless a pleasant place, and I worked very effectively there.

4) What I really do object to is (a) posters who ask, even by implication, people to do work that they won't do themselves, if the suffering is significant. For example, I don't feel bad about recommending to the people of Ferguson that they hold a people's court and try the cop. However, I wouldn't recommend to the people of Ferguson that they let the police set the dogs on them as a media event. I have to make the basic assumption that the people on the ground are doing their best, and I'm in the peanut gallery. Not to say that I can't throw peanuts, or educate my readers, but I try to keep a sense of proportion about my importance as opposed to theirs. I also object to (b) the whole "sheeple" concept whether the word is used or not. It's at once disempowering (no change can happen because people are dumb) and arrogant (I am so smart). Of course, these strictures don't apply to elites ;-)

Submitted by lambert on

You don't see Gene Sharp's Tactic #198 as being being empowering? That seems odd.

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

I'd opt for seizing the actual reigns of power. Two of the six City Council seats are up for election each April in Ferguson, the mayor's position, which is little more than a seventh Council seat, is up for election every third April (and not again until 2017). Blacks make up 65% of the Ferguson population and could have control of the Council by April 2016 while courrently there is one black Council member. The Council selects the City Manager, the City Manager selects the Police Chief.

Of course, at Kos, the New York Times, and elsewhere where the can't do left meet they think it's too much to expect of oppressed black that they register, if necessary have a photo id, and go to the polls in April, a month that causes some sort of debilitating confusion we're told. Says Jeff Smith at the Times:

But because blacks have reached the suburbs in significant numbers only over the past 15 years or so, fewer suburban black communities have deeply ingrained civic organizations.

That helps explain why majority-black Ferguson has a virtually all-white power structure: a white mayor; a school board with six white members and one Hispanic, which recently suspended a highly regarded young black superintendent who then resigned; a City Council with just one black member; and a 6 percent black police force.

In other words, blacks have it horrendous in Ferguson, just not horrendous enough to get the polls even with what one would expect to be the help of a Jesse Jackson, an Al Sharpton and the other concerned folks at MSNBC, or with whatever organizational talents the Congressional Progressive Caucus or the national Democratic Party or the Missouri Democratic Party could bring to bear.

Submitted by lambert on

just like me, I'm showing you a way to get on the train. (And did I say my recommendation was the only one? No!)

If you think that Blacks taking over the city is going to do much of anything, you're dreaming. The entire St. Louis area has structural problems that must be addressed; jurisdictions, land use, highways, deindustrialization. It's a mess. Ferguson's financial problems will persist regardless, even if the cops aren't arresting Ferguson's residents as a form of tax collecting.

Incidentally, typically, rhetoric like "seizing power" is associated with, well, ideas like parallel sovereignty (#198), and not winning a municipal election. Just saying.

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

...the Brown shooting raises is about how the Ferguson police department is run. Taking control of its operations would go a long way towards addressing that. And I wouldn't think setting up a people's court to try that cop is any more of a straight line to economic reform than, for instance, winning control of a city council.

Submitted by lambert on

I propose that the community frame it, and in a way that enhances their political power locally, and provides an excellent frame for the national media. In each way, it enhances the power of the people of Ferguson and scales out nationally.

I don't see why you have a problem with this, it doesn't contradict anything else you want to do. Probably would help them win the city council and get seats on the new police review board.

I don't have any problem with the proposals you are making to use existing power structures, like Council elections, to empower the people of Ferguson. I just don't think they will go very far. So I propose the development of an additional, parallel power structure.

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

Occupy Wall Street than you did. Its organizational short comings - rule by consensus, no designated spokesperson, no explicit agenda as examples - seemed inescapable. Likewise the theater of a people's court climaxed by an issuance of an unenforceable ruling in the Brown matter, in my opinion, would be a distraction from some possibly useful action and, ultimately, dis-empowering.

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

It probably is a red herring and I have no doubt that blogging can bring change. My point, if inelegantly made, is that I do not believe that I can bring change through my commentary, no do I believe that commentary from Thailand which unjustifiably insults 99% of the American and Canadian populations will do so either.

There are bloggers who have and are changing the world, I am proud of what they do and lend support for them whenever it is possible for me to do so. I, however, am not one of them and this is a truth that I am comfortable with. I am not a Julian Assange, and there is nothing wrong with that. I am what I am and I do what I can.

You, as you say, ARE good at blogging. I have never claimed differently and it is one of the reasons that I appreciate your site. You are doing good work.

I am good at facilitating design projects within the limited parameters I am usually faced with: in short, I am good at finding bricks for cheap. That is not a useless activity, and one that I engage in for public purposes, gratis. I have also been told that I have a talent for the long form insult. Maybe not a particularly interesting talent, but one I sometimes enjoy making use of when slighted for no better reason than an ill mannered fit of pique.

We are all who we are. We should be honest with ourselves and others about both our abilities and our limitations. I ask no one to hide their light under a bushel, and am thrilled when they find their talents recognized, nor do I ask them to do anything I would not do myself.

I have no doubt that V. Arnold has many worthy qualities, but his propensity for staring down his nose at others is what is actually on display when he insults virtually the entire population of the North American continent. That is not helpful, whether it is broadcast from Maine, Georgia, Thailand, Greenland, Tanzania, Madagascar...........Where it comes from, in fact, matters nearly not at all. What matters is the sneering purpose behind it. We have our problems, true, but they are not made better by the dehumanizing divisiveness of the very people we go to our preferred blogs to find relief from.

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

Funny, that's my perception of you.
Perception being the byword and something very hard to change.
I'm done with this thread.
The really interesting thing is nobody here knows me or my history. I served my time "in the trenches" so-to-speak.
Eleven+ years as an expat gives me a POV that is not a prisoner of conditioning. I do not hang out with westerners or live in little America. I've upset two posters here who have perceived me in ways I am not. That remains your problem, not mine. Don't agree with me fine! Just leave out the personal crap.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

Your history and the time you served "in the trenches"? Did you mean to say your position of authority?

Maybe nobody asked you because we (possibly) have already been there, done that?

And then your 11 years as "an ex-pat", where other people may have experience which is, well, more substantial?

Not saying, but, y'know, just saying....

But let's get past that to the crux here, which is....

Submitted by lambert on

... in the trenches.

Right now, all we're hearing is your conclusions. Absent evidence, they come off as claims to authority with no backup.

That's not helpful to anybody, and the claims are so generic that they're off topic to the thread, which is now degenerating into a series of personal assaults, and that makes the blog look bad.

For a dish to be tasty, there need to be more flavors than sour and bitter; that is how these comments read, which makes me unhappy, because they communicate suffering (and engender it, too, as we see from the ad homs).

Submitted by lambert on

You write:

ou think commenting on blogs will change the world? Then, you do not understand the difference between acting and action...

1) Blogging, and commenting on blogs, is a form of collective authorship. It's writing. A moment's thought will produce many examples of writing that changed the world: Candide, Uncle Tom's Cabin, committees of correspondence in the pre-Revolutionary US and 1830s Britain, Das Kapital, The Life and Death of the Great American Cities, the Whole Earth Catalog, and on and on and on. The distinction you draw is both false, and disempowering.

2) In the particular case of blogs, I know for a fact that blogs in the 2003 era demolished the pretensions of the Bush administration on WMDs. It's true we didn't stop that war. But this war is in part harder because of that work. The same goes for Naked Capitalism in some of their work on finance.

3) I know of, but cannot in good conscience cite, cases where Corrente intervened directly and only through blogging in political matters and affected outcomes.

Finally, if you've noticed, I tend not to assign tasks and don't like tasks assigned to me. I just outright reject the formulation at 99% of the American people are "stupid." For example, most people have hostages to fortune. If I were married, for example, and joining some vague and ill-defined revolution would jeopardize that marriage, I would certainly think twice, and would resent, rightly, having such a task assigned to me.

I think the failure here is not the American people's, but the left's, which has failed to present a coherent, well-worked out, and pragmatic alternative.

You will notice that is exactly what the 12 Points are designed to provide.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

I know; blogging is meaningless talk on the internets. Blogs and blog comments are a meaningless and powerless exercise, just like speech in general. The difference between action and acting or actual.

Bit unclear on that, but just going with it. There's a difference, dammit!

Yeah, Ok.

See, this is the problem: what is the alternative? Silence? Oh yeah. That is much better. And even better that we should preemptively silence each other. Folks, this blog has historically been pretty damn good at self-correction. If you have been here a while, you have had to "check your perimeter" and readjust your program at least once. I know I have, lots. But what has the purpose of that been, ultimately? In my mind, it revisiting and adjusting my commenting has been a positive for me personally. It has helped me be more understanding as a person. And that process generally for us all (I think) has been to help create a venue enabling better tools to foster dialogues that don't happen elsewhere. Dialogues that can affect the change we collectively would like to see in the real world. Do the conversations and information flow which are available here happen elsewhere? If so, fucking I would really like to know! But I think most here would agree that this joint is unique.

Unfortunately, as part of this place, we need to self-police, and bullshit gets smacked down, sometimes impolitely, and by people within this community.

It is a delicate balance. I don't want to create waves in the community, but I get tired of repeated bullshit posts and comments. Posts and comments that lack rigor or evidence, are contrary to the non-tribal methodology that has become the bellweather of the site, or are basic conspiracy theory fodder.

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

I am so glad you mentioned that one. Swift's "Modest Proposal", virtually anything by Twain....I do believe that literature has changed the world, and that the internet is just the newest and most accessible incarnation of the genre. Its' value lies in its' ability to educate and amuse, just as does "the greats" satirical works of earlier generations.

I don't think the left has failed so much as its' leadership was coopted while they were otherwise engaged in making an increasingly difficult living. There is a point at which the balance fails and a new paradigm is required, however, and all of the aforementioned satirical authors saw this and made that moment their own, just as many bloggers, such as yourself, have made this one yours.

That is something to celebrate, and the commentary, cacophanous as it may sometimes be, is a great sounding board in real time that Swift or Voltaire would have been thrilled to have. Action, whether in the eighteenth century or the twenty first, can only happen when the pressure caused by such observances as you provide overcome the inertia inherent to all human societies, which are and have always been basically conservative. I see no failure there, just a historical fact.

Nothing ever happens as fast as one would like but, realistically speaking, I think you are actually right on schedule.

Submitted by lambert on

Feudalism is not capitalism. Different social relations, different societies, different context. Peasants are not wage laborers are not slaves. The end.

People tend to use words like "feudal" to express their feelings. "This is what a slave must feel like." Well, now, if you read slave narratives, or you read worker's narratives, it isn't. Language usage like that is sentimental and sloppy.

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

I liked your concise explanation of the rationale behind the $10.10 minimum wage debate and how, or where, it moves the ball using Wal-mart as the vehicle. Well done!

And, as ever, the cheerful diagramming. I think there is a lot to be said for simple and cheerful these days.

Submitted by lambert on

I think I will make two, then combine them into one.

I might also make them black and white. Or do they work as is? Since I'm going to need a lot of diagrams, I need to get the conventions right at the beginning, because I will not be able to chance once launched.

Also, are C and M confusing? I thought of using $ for M, but I think in fact that would be more than confusing.

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

in much the same way as I like to read Hawkings' "Brief History of Time". I feel that there is the potential for me to understand what he is talking about, but wouldn't dare take the test yet. Ask me those questions in a few years and I may be qualified to give you some qualified answers. :)

In the meantime, I think this is an awesome project. Both your premises and the peer review are going to be fascinating to read....

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

though I didn't rely much on the diagram. And whereas the shorthand symbols C and M are useful for squeezing information in on a diagram I don't think they're necessary in the text of a discussion of the basics this side of Naked Capitalism and some of the other econ blogs. Until an awful lot of people are fluent in these matters I think Goods and Services and Money would be the more (didactically;-)) useful terms to be using to identify things of intrinsic value which are purchased in the market and the medium of exchange used to make those purchases. Whereas the readers here are quite engaged, hopefully some of us will be sharing these ideas with others who aren't and we want to be in the habit of being readily comprehensible to them.

Submitted by lambert on

I was struggling for a substitute for C and couldn't find one. Now we have a hook to the service economy subject area right in the notation.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

If I'm reading right, this is your basic point:

Finally, people on the street are asking for a $15 minimum wage. But Obama and the Democrats are proposing a $10.10 minimum wage. Why $10.10?

For all Walmart workers, if you do the math: M = Wages at $7.25 per hour + Public Assistance = Wages at $10.10.

In other words, the minimum wage at $7.25 plus public assistance equals the minimum wage of $10.01 and no public assistance. So the Democrats are just playing a shell game, and there's no more money in your pocket.

Readers are like cats -- show us a piece of string and we're off to play with it. I'm certainly guilty of thinking of all the things the simple model leaves out, and then inflicting them on everybody in comments. You're welcome!

The problem here is the "subsistence" level. As you note, it varies from society to society, and from time to time. When minimum wage was first designed to insure a worker a living wage. It was much higher than now. Pay has gone down. The working poor simply live more poorly. It can go down again. The theoretical model assumes that dropping below the "subsistence" level would mean a failure to reproduce labor power, but it would just immiserate the poor more.

You've made the strong basic point (for a society that doesn't have a guaranteed basic income) -- the taxpayer is subsidizing any employer who pays workers so little that they need means-tested public assistance. A theoretical model of the economy may be an interesting project, but I think it distracts from the basic argument.

And I think there's a moral argument for higher incomes.

Submitted by lambert on

The discourse is so wholly fucked that some sort of conceptual tool is needed to shovel the bullshit away. I've got 12 points and 12 reforms to write up, remember. There's no way I can improvise my way through each one. So I need some sort of framework to build on. It doens't have to be complicated, as you see.

Yes, subsistence is a political choice!

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

Let's be careful that fundamentalist articles of faith aren't mistaken for conceptual tools. One of the religious precepts of capitalism is that men act pretty exclusively on rational utility-maximising decision rules. This is the economic man on which the economy is based. This premise is a fiction. I find it counterproductive.

Employers do not try to drive all wages down to some imagined subsistence level. They pay women less than men, blacks less than whites -- it costs as much for a black to live as for a white. What's going on isn't subsistence; it's reproduction of power relations. We could cite lots of other examples, based on the social definition of the job rather than the need for a subsistence wage to draw employees. A formula or diagram that shows all social actors as the same and all economic transactions as rational maximizing of economic self-interest mystifies the power wielding and justifies its continuance. It makes sure that "reforms" will be minor and easily undercut.

In short, the conceptual framework is inaccurate.

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

...even if you do lose the use of the acronym BIG. I'm not sure if you would differentiate between those two terms Nihil Obstet, but I don't want to subsidize just the people in poverty. I want everyone to be receiving a basic income and those choosing to participate in the supply side of the market doing so not out of a sense of necessity, but because they want to earn more buying power than that afforded by a basic income.