And now, a word from George Will

I have noted before the significant number of respected conservative pundits and editorialists who have shared concerns over the President. George Will, a long time conservative, is among those who see the damage being done by the man in the White House. Like other conservative critics, his voice should be one that is heeded by those conservatives who are not totally in lock-step with the President.

In his most recent column called “Trump’s misery is also country’s,” Will is hypercritical of both the policies and behavior of the current President. He is also not too keen on the current Senate leadership for not doing their job to govern, being too interested in acquiescing to the President’s commands.

As for policy, he cited several examples, but two jump out. He is critical of the Trump and the GOP leadership as he notes, “Except that after two years of unified government under the party that formerly claimed to care about fiscal facts and rectitude, the nation faces a $1 trillion deficit during brisk growth and full employment.”

Will also notes concern over the US getting out of a trade deal designed to compete with China. He said, “The President’s most consequential exercise of power has been the abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, opening the way for China to fill the void of US involvement.” It should be noted the agreement went forward without the US and has become effective for six countries at the beginning of this year, with five others coming online later this year.

But, Will leaves his harshest criticism for the President’s behavior which has been destabilizing. He writes “Still the ubiquity of his (Trump’s) outpourings in the media’s outpourings gives American life its current claustrophobic feel.”  Will goes on to note that “He (Trump) is an inexpressibly sad specimen…He seems to have as many friends as his self-centeredness allows, and as he has earned in an entirely transactional life.”

As a result of Trump, Will notes the “GOP needs an entirely new vocabulary. Pending that, the party is resorting to crybaby conservatism: We are being victimized by ‘elites, markets, Wall Street, foreigners, etc.'”  This is what unfolds when fear is used as the key selling point. Principles are thrown aside, as exaggerations, over-simplifications, misinformation and lies paint others as bogeymen and the reason for any problems you might have.

As noted earlier, Will does not stand alone among conservative writers. My friends in the GOP and who have more conservative leanings need to pay more attention to people like him, Erik Erickson, Steve Schmidt, David Brooks, Michael Gerson, Ross Douthat and others, and less to those who the President seems to hold in high cotton. These are not Democrats who are raising concerns. These are people whose opinion used to matter more to Republicans and conservatives. They still should.

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A new word for an old problem

Wages in the US for the common worker have been stagnant for going on forty years. This disenfranchisement did not happen over just the last ten years. It is the culmination of various events and actions and not due solely to one or two causes or solvable by bumper sticker solutions. Yet, we have a new word for a major cause courtesy of the Economic Policy Institute – monopsony.

In essence, monopsony is the sister of monopoly. It is an employer who has so much clout in a region or area, it can suppress wages to its workforce. It can also move jobs away more readily be it through off-shoring, outsourcing, downsizing or relocation. This movement of jobs adds to an employer’s ability to manage wage increases. In essence, the word monopsony highlights the goal and ability of employers to chase cheap labor.

Per the EPI, much of the wage stagnation after 1970 has occurred at the low-end of the wage spectrum. An economist noted on a talk show to get an idea of what has happened, stand up and put both arms out in front of you parallel to the ground. The left one represents the bottom 90% and the right one the top 10%. Move the left one up at an angle by one inch, then move the right one up by twenty inches. That disparity illustrates what has transpired over these forty years in wage differential.

I have written before the efforts by the current President to create fear of immigration and trade deficits as the reasons for disenfranchisement in various areas over look the main two drivers – chasing cheap labor and technology improvements. Immigration is actually accretive to the economy, even illegal immigration as there are many jobs that Americans have said they don’t want.

But, if the President wants to solve an illegal immigration problem, he should begin with punishing employers who hire these workers. I have noted before about a textile company who went bankrupt and closed its doors. When career counseling people said in an auditorium full of workers that you had to have a Social Security Number to get access to benefits, 1/3 of the audience got up and left. The construction, agricultural and restaurant industries would have severe issues if these immigration wells dried up.

Yet, the two main drivers of wage stagnation and good paying jobs do not get talked about – chasing cheap labor and technology gains. An unnamed CFO said in the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us,” an employer would get by with no employees if it could. So, robotic machinery has been displacing workers for many years. And, now it is becoming even more efficient and affordable. We do much more manufacturing in the US today than in 1980, but with much fewer workers.

Yet, with these tools and possible actions available to an employer who has a monopsony in an area, good paying jobs are fewer in number. Mind you, high-tech manufacturing and similar jobs exist, but they are not in the same number with so much competition for wages. I make this last point as the disenfranchisement is real and not made up. To his credit, Trump went out and visited these areas. But, what they did not realize, he was selling on fear, over-simplifying the causes and highlighting the wrong major ones.

The disenfranchisement in the western world has a visual called the “elephant curve,” with a side view of an elephant with his trunk raised. The body of elephant is wage growth for the emerging and burgeoning international markets. The raised trunk reveals the rapid wage growth for the top 10% in the western world. The trough between the raised trunk and body, reveals the stagnation in wages in the western world.

So, immigration and global trade have an impact, but the key drivers are chasing cheap labor and technology. And, the last one will grow even faster than before. Yet, chasing cheap labor will continue to be a driver as well. It is the culmination of pounding on unions to weaken their voice. It is the active fight to keep minimum wages down over time. It is making tax changes dating back to the 1980s (and last December) that are more advantageous to the top 10%, giving them a chance to invest in technology and places to house cheaper labor. It is threatening to move jobs to gain wage limits.

Since the housing recession in 2008 and early 2009, we have seen unemployment decline and stay down. Wages have gone up some, but not near enough to track other increases in costs. We need to be discussing retraining impacted workers building off some success stories around the country. We need to renovate and repurpose deteriorated assets to create new jobs. We need to invest more in our infrastructure and jobs of the future. We need to stabilize the ability for employees, whose hours are limited, to get affordable healthcare, since employers hire more part-time and contractual employees to restrict them from joining their healthcare plans.

The disenfranchised employees and areas need a real voice who will speak to real causes, not over-stated ones. Monopsony is a hard word to say and is a hard word on these people. They deserve better than what they have been hearing.

 

 

A fix up story from my past

A few days ago I wrote a post noting “We are ALL fixer uppers.” I shared a story with my oldest son yesterday about when life knocks you down. This one now seems small, but when it happened to me as a high school senior, it hurt.

I was a varsity basketball player who started for a very good team. I was a co-Captain, but not our best player. I was the one who focused more on defense, rebounding and passing. About 1/3 of the way into the season, I was moved to the second team as we had several pretty good players.

I had two paths in front of me. I could sulk and go throw the motions. Or, I could work hard in practice to make our first team better and try to win back my position or playing time. I chose the latter – life knocked me down and I got up and tried harder.

Everyday in practice scrimmages I would set out to keep our best tall player from scoring. Playing good defense requires effort. It should be noted that our best tall player would only wash his practice jersey periodically, so extra effort was required as I had to stick my nose into a sweaty, smelly jersey as I guarded him.

In short, he got a good practice work out and the coach saw my effort rewarding me ample time as the sixth man, the first substitute. Eventually, I would start again.

I shared this with my son to let him know we all fail. I have failed at other things as well. The key is what we do about it. We can mope or we can get back up, dust ourselves off and keep going. If you do otherwise, you let yourself down. And, you might even let your teammates down.

So, my 2019 wish for everyone is if (and when) life knocks you down, ask yourself the question, “what am I going to do about it?” Then, get up, dust yourself off and keep going.

Remember who passed you the ball

Legendary college basketball coach Dean Smith preached to his players who scored to acknowledge the player that passed them the ball. Think about why that is important in a team game.

It can also apply to everyday life. So, at this holiday time, let’s acknowledge those who pass us the ball. Or, we could honor them by paying their kindness or help forward. Here are a few random thoughts.

Let’s start with teachers, who do not get paid near enough to do the many things they have to do. Parents should not expect perfection, but hope they have teachers who care and can reach the hearts and minds of their students. They deserve thanks.

Let’s move on to healthcare workers who tend to the basic need of patients whether it is at a hospital or long term care facility. They are not paid a King’s ransom to put up with people’s s**t, literarally and figuratively. Yes, we want our loved ones taken care of, but we should put what these folks do in perspective and offer them some appreciation.

Wait staff in restaurants are not on any highest paid lists. No question, we should want good service in a restaurant, as we are spending our hard earned monies. Being a waitress or waiter is hard work, especially when someone does not show-up and people have to cover for them. But, two golden things might help us all – that golden rule is one, while the other is honey. Treating service people with dignity and as a person, will improve your service.

I picked these examples as we seem to live in a world where people are more demanding and less kind to service providers. Of course, we should want good service, yet we could do ourselves and others a favor to understand the context. Acknowledge those passing the ball. It would be a nice birthday present to the guy who said that golden rule thing.

There’s a lot of “money” in songs

After hearing me sing (of course singing is kind) a few lyrics to “Money,” by Pink Floyd, my daughter suggested a post on songs with “money” in the title. The song begins with a cash register ringing up sales, then proceeds with a well-known base guitar lick. Here are the first few lines:

“Money, get away
Get a good job with good pay and you’re okay
Money, it’s a gas
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash”

I think the most famous money song is by The O’Jays called “For the love of money.” It is based on the biblical verse from Timothy, “For the love of money is the root of all evil.” The song starts with the words “Money, money, money, money…money,” Then they repeat it five more times before heading into the gist of the song. Here is a verse late in the song:

“I know money is the root of all evil
Do funny things to some people
Give me a nickel, brother can you spare a dime
Money can drive some people out of their minds”

Another favorite is courtesy of Donna Summer. “She works hard for the money,” is a pulsating disco song that she is known for, but this one has more meaningful lyrics like this one:

“It’s a sacrifice working day to day
For little money just tips for pay
But it’s worth it all
To hear them say that they care”

Shifting gears to rock-n-roll, an early Dire Straits song poked fun at MTV with “Money for nothing.” Mark Knopfler was joined on this song with a haunting harmony from Sting. In essence, it is hard-working people wishing they were MTV singing stars as they lament without realizing the hard work and dues they had to pay:

“Now that ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
Lemme tell ya them guys ain’t dumb
Maybe get a blister on your little finger
Maybe get a blister on your thumb.”

Two other songs about money are worth mentioning. AC/DC sang of money in “Money talks” and Notorious B.I.G. rapped on about “Mo money, mo problems.” The former speaks of how popular one is with money noting all the things they can buy, while the latter speaks to how that popularity causes more problems with folks coming out of the woodwork asking for some.

Let me close with a song which comes from the play and movie “Cabaret.” It is quite the comical farce and force in the play with a title similar to that of Pink Floyd’s, “Money.” Here is a sample:

“Money makes the world go around
The world go around
The world go around
Money makes the world go around
It makes the world go ’round.”

Money is needed to provide a roof over our heads and feed and clothe our children. These songs look at its acquisition and power from a variety of views. From the documentary movie “I AM,” the key lesson is money cannot make you happy, but the absence of money can make you unhappy. That sums it up nicely.

Let’s rise up

A terrific singer named Andra Day provided an anthem for women, but also forward thinking men as well. It is called “I’ll rise up.” Here is the final chorus which says let’s all rise up.

“Rise like the day
I’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
I will rise a thousands times again
And we’ll rise up
Rise like the waves
We’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
We’ll rise up.”

There has been a building crescendo worldwide, but especially here in the US, to say women matter. Women are tired of being taken advantage of by sexual predators, violent and controlling partners and men in power telling them what they can do with their bodies. Women are tired of people ignoring or demeaning them when they complain or accuse a violator. Women are tired of kitchen table issues like equal pay and healthcare gettimg ignored. Women are tired of nothing being done about gun governance which takes to many of their children and themselves.

Women are tired of being kidnapped and trafficked as sex slaves or servants. And, more globally, women need to be supported for saying we are not a possession to be sold, beaten or killed and we need not go through genital mutilation to satisfy an archaic religious practice written by a men.

Now, is the time to rise up. Women are running for political office in tremendous numbers in the US. They are reacting to a misogynist bully who shows what leadership does not look like. Their global sisters are using the opportunity to make a stand.

Rise up and vote. Rise up and take a friend to vote with you. Rise up and make sure your family votes. Rise up and vote for equal rights for all, for our environment which is being destroyed and for our future which is threatened by existential crises like climate change, poverty and inequality. Rise up. It is time to make a huge statement. I am with you.

Thursday thumbnails redux

Since I am kicking around several topics, let me throw a few together for your reading and reaction. Your thoughts are welcomed and appreciated.

  • It would be terribly unfair to say Republicans are racist, but it seems there are more than a few racists running for important offices in various states under the GOP banner. In Virginia, Illinois  and Florida, for example, a few candidates have a history of racist comments and associations. To their credit, the GOP leadership is not backing all of these candidates, but they should not back any and should condemn their words and actions in no uncertain terms. It is disappointing that the US President has done neither and has greased the skids for white supremacist hate groups who now feel empowered. Trump had a truly a low bar to step over to condemn white supremacists last summer and he tripped.
  • Sexual assault is a heinous crime, yet the accuser does not often come forward given the backlash they get. So, for it to take years to come forward is not uncommon. The fact they do so when the accused is being considered for high office, should reveal a greater sense of character. Professor Blasey Ford deserves due consideration and time for her accusations of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Call me crazy, but we should take the time to get this right as this is one of the nine most important people in our courts. Because we did not take time back in 1991, we may have a man guilty of sexual misconduct on the bench already.
  • I have written before that Democrats are lousy marketers. Even when they have a better story to tell, they often let Republicans define the talking points. The Democrats have many fine candidates running for office. Some are running uphill battles in gerrymandered districts, but they are running well. What should be shouted from the rooftops is they will help improve and stabilize the ACA as it continues to be sabotaged by the GOP making premiums even higher, they will protect our environment against the further roll back of regulations enabling polluting and stay committed to the Paris Climate Change accord, they will make sure we do not devalue our allied relationships and retrench further from our global leadership role, and they will advocate for rights of all citizens, especially those in poverty. And, to be frank, since the GOP has ceded its leadership toward addressing the debt and deficit, the Democrats can be seen as better financial stewards.

Truth be told, the President touts what he has done with the economy, but what he fails to tell people is we are in the 113 consecutive month of economic growth, the bull stock market traces back to March, 2009 and unemployment was low when he took the reins. What has been done, is he is borrowing from our future to make a good economy a little better, but the cost is doing nothing but add fire to our burning debt.

Presidents get too much credit and too much blame for the economy. They do provide headwinds and tailwinds, though, and this President has done both. The headwinds will show up later as noted by most economists, while the tailwinds add today.