Told We Need the Bailout Right Now

2008-Sep-23

Mr. Paulson said in prepared remarks to the Senate Banking Committee:

We need to build upon this spirit to enact this bill quickly and cleanly, and avoid slowing it down with other provisions that are unrelated or don’t have broad support.”

FDR: The First Inagural Address:

Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.

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Employees as Commodities

2008-Sep-22

In an otherwise “standard normal” article about American workers being replaced by guestworkers and forced to train their replacements, one quote struck me:

“Any individual employee in the macro sense is no better than any other employee,” Habib said in his office.

Habib’s quote is important, not because he is being unusually obtuse in seeing workers as a commodity rather than as unique human beings with unique skills and talents, but because he is uttering the “new normalcy”. Managers truly believe that their workers are just as much a commodity as the computers on their desks, and can be swapped out and replaced as easily as keyboards.

I was dumfounded last year as I talked with my borker (contract broker), when he told me that contract agencies are getting pressured to offer commodity pricing on contract programmers:

They want us to charge them the same rate for all our contractors, the same rate for a novice Visual Basic programmer as for someone with ten years of SAP or Java. They don’t see why there should be so much of a difference as there is.

I’ve been around a while. I can remember when managers were competent, when most of them at the Fortune 500 level received training in management theory and practice, and were hired and promoted on the basis of their ability to manage people rather than their ability to run Microsoft Project or one of its bastard progeny and get the projected numbers to come out right. I actually was a project manager for years, but I got out and went back to programming when they no longer cared that every project I managed came out on time, under budget, and of higher quality than they expected, but instead they only wanted to see actuals (faked final numbers) align with projections (faked predicted numbers). I remember getting dinged on an annual appraisal when my intrapreneurship got a profit higher than I had been asked for. That’s when I saw the handwriting on the wall and knew that competence was no longer an asset for a manager of a company in this country.

Sometime several decades ago things went out of whack. Those who ran companies decided that people were widgets. They decided that only they themselves at the top were humans and to be allowed freedom and dignity, while the rest of us were “resources” to be exploited. It looks like it is all about to come crashing down. Unfortunately, too many of us allowed ourselves to be commodities to be exploited and we will be the ones to suffer most as the edifice topples into rubble.


Bailout: Heads You Win–Tails We Lose

2008-Sep-21

The Great Bailout means we will be paying for the losses of the rich.

The stock market is a legalized gambling arena. It is not investing. Only buying into IPOs (Initial Public Offerings) is investing. Everything after that is just gambling whether prices will rise or fall.

And in the last few decades the market has created ways of gambling to allow rich people to gamble even more than they own, lately called “derivatives” which are ways to leverage bets so you can bet more than you own. Well, the high rollers gambled trillions of dollars, and they are now losing.

What happens when we gamble and lose? We lost everything. What happens when they gamble and lose? They ask the government to make us pay for their losses. When they won, and made billions of dollars for themselves, did we get any of that? Now that they are losing, are we going to make them use their winnings to cover their losses?

Don’t you wish you could gamble money you don’t own, and when you win you keep it, but when you lose then just make someone else cover your losses?

And we are going to let the people we voted into office do it to us.


The Surge or Ethnic Cleansing?

2008-Sep-21

Juan Cole, who knows more about the Middle East than most of us, doesn’t think it was the Surge:

Satellite imaging that shows Sunni Arab neighborhoods in Baghdad dark gives evidence that the ethnic cleansing of the Sunnis by Shiite militias accounts for the fall in violence in Baghdad, not the extra troops Bush sent, called the ‘surge.’


Executive Compensation…uh, Overcompensation

2008-Aug-10

I’ve been reading economics blogs lately to see how we will soon become just another third world country. Just came across this tidbit from The Automatic Earth:

What’s wrong with Wall Street? …:
* Rewards employees, not shareholders – It pays as much as 76% of its revenues to the people who work there (e.g., in 2006 Merrill paid $17 billion in compensation and its revenue totaled $22.4 billion). That pay is linked to revenue, not how much money their deals make for customers.

That money is not going to the real employees (the ones who do all the actual work). It is going to the leeches, those CEOs and top execs who get paid many millions, with multimillion golden parachutes beyond that) to take the companies for every dime as they ride its stock down into oblivion.

Decades ago one of my bosses said to me, “Well, a company can make money by selling things or by cutting expenses. And we are in the phone business and everyone has a phone, so our only choice is to cut expenses. And thirty percent of any company’s expenses are employee pay. So if the executives want to get paid more they have to cut rank and file employees. And that is what we are doing.” And the company laid off a quarter of a million employees while I was there, from 355,000 employees down to 120,000 (and many more since).

But right now, look at that thirty percent going to employee wages. That is management and non-management. But that was back in the 1980s, just as the era of downsizing was beginning. Since then per-employee productivity has been rising drastically, as huge numbers of employees have been cut and the remainder forced to do the jobs of those who left…or suffer the same fate themselves. And at the same time CEO pay has skyrocketed from about 30 times the average wage in 1980 to over 350 times now.

Now it appears that not only are CEOs and high level execs getting a much greater cut of employee pay, but now many execs are taking money that would have gone to stockholders or better or cheaper products and keeping it for themselves.

And you and I are paying for it…


The Two Political Spectrums

2008-Jul-24

For decades we have assumed the political spectrum ranged from Liberal to Conservative, and assumed that all political groupings from the Klan to the Commies could be squeezed into that spectrum.

Well, we are about to discover that the importance of the Liberal/Conservative spectrum is becoming secondary to the far more primordial spectrum, that of the Haves vs Have-Nots. Yes, we will still have elections decided on the issue of whether gay guys should be able to have abortions on demand, but when people have to decide whether their kids will get food or medicine this week, at least some of them will get the picture that they must (at least temporarily) set aside their differences and concentrate on physical survival.

We used to have a middle class in this country. But no one will die middle class any longer. In a generation, all middle class jobs will be done by cheap imported or offshored labor for a fraction of their current wages, and anyone who manages to last until retirement will find anything they saved will be eaten up inflated food or energy or transportration costs, by medical costs not reimbursed by their medical plan, or they will have to sign over all their assets to some nursing home.

No need to worry about the “death tax” because only the super-rich will have anything left but debts when they die.

I’m seeing small groups of people starting to get together, getting past old differences, and cooperating on getting ready to survive the coming hard times. I’m seeing networks where leftie Pagans are getting with right-wing Fundie Christians on common issues.

The coming wars (acknowledged or not) will be between the top one tenth of one percent who will own everything and the rest of us who will own nothing…not even ourselves.

If those of us who are prey can get together soon enough to defend ourselves from the predators, we have a chance to make a society with a substantial middle class again and lessen the growing inequality. But so far it’s just a chance…


The (Former) Economics of Child Care

2008-Jul-18

When I was a rug rat, my mother got divorced and got very little in child support. She managed to get a job at the “Five and Dime” and got paid a dollar an hour (this was a while ago…), making forty dollars a week.

She had to find a babysitter for me. The babysitter she found got paid twenty dollars a week, and babysat four children, making eighty dollars a week total. Twice what my mother was getting. Half of my mother’s weekly wage. Back then babysitting was a reasonable job. Not any longer.

At one time, service jobs paid a living wage. Until the “haves” decided that they could get away with paying less than a living wage. When there are ten jobs and nine workers, wages and benefits rise. No matter what laws you pass. When there are ten workers and nine jobs, wages and benefits fall. If you bring workers in from other countries, you can guarantee a surplus of labor, and you can guarantee that wages and benefits and worker protections will fall. No matter what laws you pass.