A Genuine Christian American Capitalist Thanksgiving November 27, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Humor.
Tags: Black Friday, consumerism, Humor, humour, roger hollander, satire, shopping, thanksgiving
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In Support of WalMart Strikers on Black Friday: “The Belly Button Theory of Economics” November 23, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Labor.
Tags: Black Friday, employee benefits, employee wages, labor, labour, roger hollander, solidarity, strike, trade unions, unions, walmart, walmart strike, workers rights
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Roger’s note: Several years ago while I was in Los Angeles, workers in three major supermarket chains were on strike because their employers wanted to lower them to WalMart standards of salaries and benefits. I spent some time at one of the picket lines and had the opportunity to speak with several of the shoppers who were crossing the picket line. It was disheartening to hear shoppers, working people themselves, complain that supermarket workers had benefits that they lacked and therefore deserved no sympathy. It reminded me of the world’s oldest political strategy: divide and conquer. Instead of advocating for higher standards for everyone, employer, politicians and the media play on the emotion of envy to promote the notion of lowering standards to the bottom. This experience inspired me to write the following essay, which I re-post here in solidarity with the striking WalMart workers.
The Belly Button Theory of Economics
Call it the belly button theory of economics, if you will. Every one knows there are two types of umbilicals: innies and outies. Well, when all is said and done, all complexities aside, doesn’t one’s economy simply break down into what comes IN and what goes OUT?
Let’s talk about the ordinary working person. She earns from her job (IN), and she meets her needs and pleasures by making purchases (OUT). The well-being of her “economy” depends upon there being at least enough IN to take care of all the OUT.
One might be tempted to say that both are equally important, that is income (IN) and the cost of things (OUT). Here is where I would argue that many economists miss the boat. I believe that what one does through her work to acquire the means to live (IN) is fundamental, whereas the cost of things (OUT), while important, is secondary. Think of is this way. If you are unemployed you sure appreciate a good bargain, but what you really need is a good job.
There can also be a “dialectic” between IN and OUT. Take health care. It is something we purchase (an OUT). However, for millions of Americans, their health care comes as a benefit attached to their work (an IN). In other words, health insurance as a benefit is an IN that offsets the cost of health care, an OUT.
That is why I believe it is so important for all working people that in the current labor dispute that grocery giants — Safeway, Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons — do not succeed in their efforts to cut drastically the wages (IN) and health benefits (IN) of their workers. They argue that this is necessary in order to compete with the Wal-Mart super stores, who pay their workers substantially less in wages and benefits. [note: cf. Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed On (Not) Getting By in America] Wal-Mart does this by keeping its prices (OUT) lower than anyone else. Interestingly, and here is that dialectic at work again, Wal-Mart is able to offer such low prices (OUT) by pressuring its suppliers to cut labor costs (their workers’ IN) in order to provide Wal-Mart with its goods at cut-rate prices.
In the end, you see, it always boils down to IN(come). Of course, the worker is also a consumer and naturally loves low prices. We all appreciate a bargain, and who can blame us? But if the price of bargains is that, in the long run, we don’t have a living wage (IN) that meets our needs to provide for our expenses (OUT), then the bargain is, in effect, no bargain. It is a cruel trick disguised as a bonus.
Human beings are by nature, first and foremost, producing animals. We produce the means by which we survive and thrive. Only then are we able to “consume.” I am no great fan of capitalism because it treats human labor as a commodity, just one more expense for the capitalist along with things such as materials, rents and other overhead costs. But as long as capitalism exists, working people have no choice but to demand wages and benefits that meet their fundamental needs. Health care, along with food and shelter, is one of the most basic of human needs. Because the United States government, the only one in the world of industrial nations, has not seen fit to provide universal health coverage for its people, then this need for most of its working people gets fulfilled through employer health care plans. It is not an “extra.”
I have spoken with shoppers crossing the picket lines at the supermarkets, fellow working people, who justify their non-support of the grocery workers on the basis that they too must pay part of their health care costs (“If I can’t have it, you can’t have it either”). This sad lack of worker solidarity is a product of the divide and conquer strategy of the supermarket chains, and it is in contrast to the solidarity the chains themselves have shown by sharing their profits amongst themselves, possibly in violation of anti-trust legislation. How ironic that the supermarket industry is turning around that famous dictum to read: “chains of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your workers!”
Think of this the next time you are tempted to support them by shopping in one of the on-strike or locked out supermarket chains.
Attention WalMart Shoppers: Cynical Hypocrisy In Aisle Two November 20, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Labor, Uncategorized.
Tags: abby zimet, Black Friday, labor, labour, poverty, roger hollander, shop local, walmart, walmart strike, worker rights
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by Abby Zimet
With more and more WalMart workers joining protests and threatening to join a nationwide walkout on Black Friday, the company has filed a complaint with the National Relations Board arguing that workers seeking a decent wage and reasonable working conditions have “created an uncomfortable environment and undue stress on Walmart’s customers, including families with children.” So if the lousy syntax wasn’t bad enough, the company that by some estimates pays its CEO more in one hour than it pays its retail employees in a year – a wage so low that most of its employees with kids live below the poverty line – is saying they’re worried about families with children? R-i-g-h-t. They also threaten to hold those uppity workers “accountable.” Accountable?! Now there’s an idea. More on why this strike matters. And a reminder: If you’re shopping, go local.
The Crisis: A Canadian’s Perspective October 29, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
Tags: Banking Crisis, Black Friday, Black Monday, economci crisis, economic crisis Canada, economic crisis McCain, economic crisis Obama, great depression, labor, New Deal, regulatory banking, roger hollander, self-regulating markets, stock market crash 1929, thomas walkom, unemployment, wages work, Wall Street
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Nineteen twenty-nine is the year no one wants to mention. We compare what is going on now in world stock markets to 1987′s so-called “Black Monday,” or perhaps to the Asian crisis of the late ’90s.
We desperately don’t want to draw comparisons to the granddaddy of them all, the stock market collapse that occurred 79 years ago this month. The implications are too grave.
The crash of ’29 wasn’t just a stock market bust. It was the trigger for 16 years of misery. In North America, it led to mass unemployment. In Europe and Asia, the depression it sparked laid the foundation for world war.
The lives of an entire generation were scarred.
Yet there are real points of comparison between the events of 1929 and those roiling world markets today. The two are not identical. Indeed, optimists can take heart at the fact that stock declines to date have not yet matched those of the 1930s depression.
Still, there are eerie and unsettling similarities.
Then, as now, the world economy was beset by fundamental imbalances. In the ’20s, the world’s premier imperial power, Britain, was politically strong but economically hobbled. Today, the U.S. plays the role of the weakened imperial lion.
Militarily, America remains ferocious. But in economic terms, it suffers from a multiplicity of weaknesses – a trade deficit that has sent middle-class jobs abroad; a fiscal deficit that relies for financing on the good will and confidence of foreigners; a savings deficit that has encouraged ordinary citizens to borrow beyond their means.
In 1929, like today, the self-regulating markets that were supposed to keep the economy in equilibrium only accentuated the crisis. Then too credit markets froze and commodity prices tanked. In 1929, prices of commodities such as wheat and minerals were already low (a singular difference from today). But as Charles Kindleberger writes in his masterful history of the period, The World in Depression: 1929-1939, the crash of ’29 accentuated this trend, driving down, among other things, the value of the Canadian dollar.
Then, as now, attention focused on the markets. Politicians railed against the greed of speculators and vowed tough new regulations.
But then too, there was too little heed paid to the real economy of wages and work. Political leaders, while acknowledging that the crisis was forcing government finances into deficit, kept trying to balance the fiscal books, thereby making matters worse.
No leader, including then U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt, was immune. Indeed, most historians reckon that it was not Roosevelt’s flawed New Deal recipe of public works that pulled America from depression but World War II.
“Often, no one in authority had any positive idea of what to do and responded to the disaster in … policy clichés,” writes Kindleberger.
And so it seems today. In the U.S., both presidential candidates propose populist non-solutions: Barack Obama wants to save the middle class in some unspecified way; John McCain promises to get tough with greed.
In Canada, the federal government focuses on the country’s financial sector rather than the economy at large, arguing on the one hand that the banks are strong and on the other that they need massive government aid.
Internationally, there are meetings. The great economic powers – Europe, Japan, China and the U.S. – are not yet at odds with one another. Yet neither are they pulling together to mitigate the recessionary forces now careering around the globe.
That too is eerily familiar.