Morning Ed: Labor {2017.12.04.M}

[Lb1] Maybe in addition to trying to protect workers from their employers, we need to do more to protect them from you.

[Lb2] There are, it turns out, some pretty good reasons why women don’t report sexual harassment.

[Lb3] This reminds me of that pier video from Season Two of The Wire.

[Lb4] There are multiple problems here. At least three that I can count off the top of my head.

[Lb5] This is depressing and not at all surprising.

[Lb6] Nathan Robinson looks at the various forms of harassment, sexual and otherwise.

[Lb7] The future lies with nerds and nurses.

[Lb8] Bryan Menegus writes about how Amazon is being carried by the gig economy.

[Lb9] On promoting women in tech fields, you’re damned if you don’t, and possibly damned if you do.

[Lb0]


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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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80 thoughts on “Morning Ed: Labor {2017.12.04.M}

  1. Lb1: Mr. Capan might think he is making a free market point but many liberals and leftists do believe that employees should be protected from asshole customers. This gets right into the big problem with liberal and leftist thoughts on employment, most people are simultaneously employees and customers and get pissed off when provoked and put on in the role they are wearing at the time. This is why solidarity between working people isn’t always automatic.

    Lb2: Men committing sexual harassment tend to have at least mid-level power. Even if they don’t, employers are going to want to not rock the boat. If the harasser is at the top of the organization than your kind of screwed.

    Lb3: I think this a good idea. Human advancement shouldn’t come as a sacrifice to Moloch. Scientists should consider how their work is effecting people who already live.

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    • Lb3: The only reason scientists need to consider such things is because our political class are largely scientifically illiterate. These are political considerations, that our political class largely demands, through rhetoric and law, that they should handle.

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  2. Lb4: America’s tendency towards Calvinistic punishment continues. We really need to get rid of this streak in our national character. It doesn’t help and ends up causing more problems than it solves. People who can’t drive, can’t work in most of the United States. People who can’t work, can’t pay back their loans.

    Lb5: Its not just sexual harassment. Spring Break is seen as a hellish time to work because college students used to trash everything and tip badly if at all to.

    Lb6: What fillyjonk said. Future generations are going to wonder about man’s derpness to man if we get better. There are lots of people that just think they have the right to be jerks and a-holes to at least some people. Many people don’t even mind being on the receiving end of a-hole behavior because they assume all humans are a-holes and expect bad behavior. Treating somebody decently is either incredibly naive to them or it just means your trying to hide an agenda.

    Lb9: Life can be like this.

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    • I’m a college prof, and you’d think I’d be insulated from bad “customer” behavior because I am the one assigning the grades. But I have stories: the guy who stood in my office door and screamed at me because he thought it was unfair I assigned a homework over material he had been absent for. The students who leave a giant mess in lab despite my rules about “clean up after yourself.” The class full of students from another major where all the profs are men who were disrespectful to me, I can only presume because they weren’t used to a woman in authority….

      I put up with some of it even though I’m tenured because we’ve had bad administrators in the past who either retaliated or told the complainant to suck it up. (I did report the guy who screamed at me; I did not want the 6:00 news some night to have shocked people on campus doing the “We never knew he could get violent” thing, I really did think he’d maybe come back with a weapon. And I take points off for mess left in a lab, and my students know that, though I think in some cases they figure they’d rather sacrifice the points than wash their glassware).

      I was raised to be polite and friendly and nice and I do admit that doing that out in public almost always gets me better treatment – please and thank you ARE magic words – but I wish that I was on the receiving end of that civility all the time. It’s only a small percentage of people – the 5% one of the articles cited seems accurate – but it’s enough to ruin your entire day to have a run-in with someone.

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  3. Lb6: we have a hard time taking it seriously that their should be limits to the power of business owners and managers in this country. We do let bosses treat their companies like like fiefdoms too much. Even people who ostensibly find employee harassment problematic defend America’s uniquely horrible labor laws because of some mania towards creating jobs (mainly bad jobs) and an inability to put limits on private power.

    Lb8: The gig economy has way too many defenders. On the left, you have the weenier members who seemingly believe that creating jobs is most important but are willing to sacrifice human dignity and decency for this goal. These types listen too much to corporation. On the right, they just convince themselves that if someone takes a gig economy job, they must want it. This is intellectually dishonest and/or high stupidity.

    But lots of American semi-intellectuals and pundits and enthralled by the corporations and CEOs and too weak to question.

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    • I wonder where some of the coercive health-things fit in with the “too much employer power.” For example nagging fat employees to exercise or take advantage of discounted “diet center” plans (NB: most of those diet center things work poorly in the long term for most people), or requiring people to quit smoking (I don’t know if they do testing to monitor, but I understand the residue of nicotine will show up in a urine or blood test). Or other things.

      My campus has a low-level “wellness program” where we regularly get reminded about things like routine bloodwork and quitting smoking and doing diabetes screening, but a couple years ago there was a rather intrusive “lose weight” program using really rather bad blanket statements (“Just say no to pizza” and the like) and….especially during a time of budget cuts and furlough days, it felt kind of like too much.

      I also agree the gig economy has way too many defenders, and I’ve seen too many news stories of late making “side hustles” sound like an across-the-board good thing. I mean, if you craft and sell things at craft fairs in addition to your regular job, that’s probably good and fun, but for me, the thought of something like driving for Uber on my “off hours” (usually 5 to 10 pm and Saturdays) makes me want to weep.

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  4. Lb3 and Lb7 together paint a dark view of the future.

    The geographical region that include in the swath of land stretching from the Mississippi River to the Blue Ridge Mountains, from the tip of Michigan to the Louisiana bayou” will see job shrinkage, and while it sounds cheery to think the former coal miners and truck drivers will transition into coding or nursing, that doesn’t correlate to how people think about their chosen jobs.

    When those voters chose Trump’s vision of coal over Hillary’s vision of job retraining, they were in fact saying that coal was “the soul of who they are”. And honestly, I can understand that. When people think of what they want to do for a living, the decision is framed as much by deep cultural affinities and personal history, as any rational analysis.

    The expanding future of personal care assistance is another stumbling block, at least for men. No matter how rational it seems, the job doesn’t appeal to men and that sense of white men being left behind by nonwhite women is I think a large part of the “economic anxiety” of blue collar white men.

    Ultimately it is going to require a couple of painful admissions both by the people in that region, and America as a whole.

    We collectively are going to have to accept that some form of universal wage support is necessary, either an outright UBI or expanded EITC or some other variation. We are going to have to admit that our economy is unable to provide middle class jobs in enough quantity to support the need.
    Even the traditional liberal suggestion of more education isn’t going to work since it is those very jobs, the analysts and managers and quantifiers which will be de-skilled and downsized by AI.

    The whole idea what work is, how we think about it, and how families are structured is going to be stressed and challenged.

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    • We are going to have to admit that our economy is unable to provide middle class jobs in enough quantity to support the need.

      No, what we need to do is dispense with the idea that the static middle class lifestyle is widely achievable with only a modest education. There is no more getting a good job out of high school at the factory and working that job until retirement or death. The middle class is going to become the realm of the flexible skill set and the skilled craftsman. The middle class will belong to the people who control their careers, rather than letting their careers happen to them. I think for such people there will be plenty of middle class jobs far into the future.

      What I have little faith in is our ability to reliably produce such people through our current educational systems. We still create too many people who leave high school unable to succeed in higher education or secure the training for skilled trades. In other words, we will have plenty of middle class jobs, but they are jobs that demand different things from those who will work them, and we are not preparing the next generation to meet those demands. We are creating enough middle class workers. And that is why we will need some kind of expansive public support (UBI, etc.).

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      • The economy isn’t even creating enough jobs to keep educated people busy.
        Wages even for educated professionals are stagnating, and have been for a while.

        Creating an even bigger supply of educated people won’t make the demand for their labor appear.

        This is why I think the threat of AI is being missed. AI is to managerial brain power what steam power was to muscle power in the 19th century, and what advanced machinery was to factory labor in the 20th.

        Its not that educated jobs are going to vanish; its that they will be steadily deskilled, requiring less and less education and training, combined with a larger and larger pool of potential employees as people flee manufacturing and retail.

        That combination makes for stagnating or declining wages.

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        • The economy isn’t even creating enough jobs to keep educated people busy.

          I believe this when H1B visas are sitting around unused.

          This is why I think the threat of AI is being missed.

          I don’t think it’s being missed, I think you are overestimating the state of the art and/or the pace of advancement of the art. For instance, AI is doing the bulk of our financial trading and transactions, and yet the financial firms still employ a considerable number of traders. It isn’t that AI isn’t useful, it’s that there are still only a handful of things people trust AI to take care of on it’s own.

          That trust is increasing, but slowly. I think people in general are pretty wary of AI. I’ll get worried when people are happier talking to their banks phone queuing system instead of an actual person.

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          • The threat from AI is not so much outright replacement, as it is deskilling.

            Having algorithms take over the grunt work of analysis and quantification means the human in the loop needs less skill, and therefore less pay.

            The guy on the phone when you call the bank isn’t a banker, and doesn’t need any great skill in understanding finance. In fact, the main skill of a call center operator is the [traditionally] female skill of being deferential and pleasing and learning to de-escalate conflict.

            Which is the sort of skill which AI cannot do, and which places women as a more desirable hire than men.

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            • Deskilling has been par for the course as humanity has advanced in technology, but for every skill that becomes obsolete due to technology, others appear and become in demand.

              So once again, the problem isn’t deskilling, per se, it’s that we can not simply rely upon a person learning a small specific skill set for that middle class lifestyle, they have to learn more and develop a more flexible and varied skill set. The danger is that automation will advance faster than humans can keep up. I don’t believe it will, but I do think that our primary education system is not up to the task of preparing the next generation to be that flexible.

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              • I keep remembering this scene in The West Wing:

                JOSH
                You knew we were for free trade. You knew it when you endorsed us five years ago.

                PARSONS
                Yeah, ’cause you told us we might lose old economy jobs – shoe manufacturing – to some dirt-poor country, but if we trained ourselves we’d get better jobs. Now they’re being vacuumed out of here, too.

                JOSH
                We’re going to fight for more job training, more transition assistance…

                PARSONS
                I have members on their third and fourth career. What are they supposed to train for now, nuclear physics? Cello playing? Or should they just give up and bag groceries for minimum wage?

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            • Having algorithms take over the grunt work of analysis and quantification means the human in the loop needs less skill, and therefore less pay.

              :Ahem: That’s not how it worked for us. I developed AI assisted/controlled algorithmic stock trading strats, full time, for years. When we moved to AI the required skill level increased. Keeping the AI sane and useful for trading is much harder than it sounds. The AI doesn’t understand, or care, when it’s wrong and the market is constantly evolving.

              Now there’s an argument it results in fewer humans around, but I’m not convinced that holds true here. This isn’t McDonalds where one highly skilled person running a robot is replacing multiple low skilled people. It’s easy for me to picture AI technology drastically increasing the average productivity of the trading office and also requiring data/software/AI engineers to keep things working (now granted the “gut feel” guy gets kicked out).

              Working with AI increases productivity, but it’s a lot of work to work with AI and it’s not easy. Trading is brutally competitive and deliberately staging your orders just to screw with others is definitely a thing. I have stories but they require a lot of background detail into the math and workings of market computers.

              The idea that trading companies will replace smart humans with unskilled humans to make more money is absurd. There are brilliant, “Dr Evil” minds at work fighting each other in the market. You can see their work in the math. None of those firms are letting Dr Evil go because some idiot AI is “better”, they need him to build next month’s AI.

              The guy on the phone when you call the bank isn’t a banker, and doesn’t need any great skill in understanding finance.

              That job function was eliminated decades ago, long before AI. The desk gal types the order into the (dumb) system and it’s automated (more commonly you interact with a computer form yourself). However I think over this same time frame the number of market jobs went up, not down.

              Cars destroyed a lot of horse related jobs, however cars also created a lot more jobs than they destroyed.

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              • As someone here pointed out, in the horse and buggy analogy, we are not the buggy makers, we are the horses.

                There will, absolutely, be the need for humans to do things.
                Just not as many, and not with the level of skill as previous.

                Remember that even a shift of a couple percentage points of unemployment is the difference between a booming economy and a depression. Even at its worst, in the Great Depression 75% of the workforce had jobs.

                So all those manufacturing workers in the articles, go to school to become coders, and now Jaybird’s resume has to compete with a few hundred more than previous, or they study law and now underbid Saul or they become writers or stock traders or hang around the Home Depot parking lot to scramble for piecework jobs.

                The point is, after asserting that the overall demand for labor will pick up somehow (just like with automobiles after buggies), no one is able to point to a region or an industry where that is actually happening.

                There isn’t strong wage growth that would suggest that the price of labor is rising.

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                • I don’t disagree with your argument, on balance I think I agree with you more than your interlocutors – but fwiw Jaybird has a diverse skill set and a fairly complicated job description, most of which is not coding.

                  Which I mention partly for accuracy’s sake, but also because it ties into Oscar’s point about people having to be really flexible and adaptable to do well in an increasingly automated setting. These folks would have to learn and do a lot of things to compete with Jaybird. And honestly, if they *were* flexible and adaptable to the degree we’re talking about, Jaybird’s big boss would be seriously delighted to hire them. Now or later. In addition to Jaybird, and working collaboratively with Jaybird, not instead.

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                • The point is, after asserting that the overall demand for labor will pick up somehow (just like with automobiles after buggies), no one is able to point to a region or an industry where that is actually happening.

                  Graphs are a great way to cut through rhetoric and look at large amounts of data at once. This one says good things.

                  http://static2.businessinsider.com/image/5931bcc3b74af4f83d8b5c17/jobs-miss-big-unemployment-rate-falls-to-16-year-low.jpg

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                  • “Graphs are a great way to cut through rhetoric”

                    Uh, visual rhetoric is just as rhetoric-y as any other form of rhetoric.

                    That’s like saying “Arugula is a great way to cut through vegetables…”

                    (I could draw you a graph of this claim, but I will spare you that, at least.)

                    Apologies if this sounds snarky; I don’t mean to be snarky, but I don’t know a more straightforward way to put it.

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        • There are other trends driving wage stagnation beyond automation, though, and beyond globalization, for that matter.

          I thin is partly right—our educational system isn’t working properly to meet the demands placed on it. But I also think there are a lot of policy choices, and choices in terms of business culture, that also contribute and make things worse for workers than they need to be, often (I suspect) at the cost of improved productivity.

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                • I don’t know that this is widely true. We have a lot of H1B holders in our office, and I haven’t found any of them who are not getting paid the same salary as us citizens. I know there is a belief that H1B holders are paid a lot less, but if that happens, it strikes me as something that is possibly limited to a handful of employers.

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                  • I think you need to be careful when talking about HB1 applicants because:

                    1. How do you separate truly needing someone from abroad from “needing” someone from abroad? Surely you know about the want ads where a company asks for 5 years of experience for something that has only been around for 3 years. A lot of this is to game the system and say “We tried. We couldn’t find anyone. We need an HB1 visa.”

                    2. Disney got in trouble at the end of last year for trying to replace their entire IT department (one that was successful and under budget) with foreign workers on HB1 visas. The workers would then go back home and run Disney IT from countries where the COL is much lower.* How often do companies get away with doing this?

                    *One of the interesting reactions to the L v. R on labor is that the right seems to think the U.S. can only be competitive again by radically lowering the COL and salaries. I’ve seen salaries for office managers in countries like India. We will never be able to get our COL that low.

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                    • I’d love to see some kind of study regarding how H1-B holders are paid. I do wonder why exactly some companies seem intent on hiring from overseas for positions they could certainly fill domestically. We do it because finding the right combination of desired disciplines in a single individual is a tall order, so we recruit world-wide. I suppose other companies could have similar needs, but I doubt they all do*. That said, I bet we have some squeaky wheel bias going on when it comes to H1-Bs.

                      Still, that wasn’t my point. If AI is killing the middle class knowledge worker jobs, H1-Bs would start falling off.

                      *I suspect the real issue is less about pay and more about attitude. This is purely speculation, but if my hypothesis has value, overseas employees might be more desirable because they are more flexible in the ways that companies want. I remember being at the Lazy B, and the knowledge workers there had a nasty contagion of “not-my-job-itis”.

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                      • I think it probably depends. I have known HB-1 holders who got paid really well perhaps on par with what an American would get paid in the same position. But these people are the elite of the elite, at least in terms of credentials. They went to top high schools, top undergrads, and top graduate programs.

                        But then you probably also have Disney trying to pull a fast one and replace their American IT staff.

                        There could be a bit of the attitude issue.

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                        • IIRC, Disney took it on the chin for trying to pull that fast one. I can’t remember if they ever finished that transition, but I do remember them getting a lot of bad PR for it.

                          So perhaps the thing to look at is how often H1-Bs are used for common skill jobs*?

                          *Not to say that IT is easy work, only that finding people domestically to staff an IT department shouldn’t be a stretch.

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                          • As an H1-B visa former beneficiary, I can add something to this conversation

                            Like says, my former company hired an a global basis, with little concern about the immigration status (they assumed that will be solved later). I was paid exactly the same as legal residents, and the company took upon itself the burden of getting and renewing the visa

                            And as also pointed above, the paperwork to get my visa was tailored exactly to my exact degrees and CV, up to and including, not only being fully English/Spanish bilingual, but also having advanced French proficiency, which I have, but have never used in my job.

                            Did I take some guy’s job? I don’t know, but I’ve been in the USA for 20 years, and I’m a citizen now, and man, do I pay a boatload of taxes

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                            • Did I take some guy’s job?

                              Yes, simply by being possible.

                              If automation widens the potential labor pool by deskilling, outsourcing and work visas widen the pool even more.

                              For the record, I’m not opposed to immigration anymore than I am opposed to global trade.

                              My point is that between automation, AI, and global access, our economy is capable of producing stupendous amounts of wealth with very little labor.
                              So we need to challenge the old notions that wealth rightfully accrues to work.

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                              • Did I take some guy’s job?

                                Chip: Yes, simply by being possible.

                                You’re assuming his taking that job didn’t create other jobs.

                                Example: In my company we’ve got a real bottleneck for one type of engineer. That lack implies certain projects simply won’t happen. Projects not happening means not-good things for local general employment, and even profit. That doesn’t mean things suck, actually they’re great, but you don’t notice what doesn’t happen and I know darn well we’re leaving money on the table.

                                Fixing this sort of thing is actually what the H1B is supposed to be all about.

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                                • In the entire land of America, 330 million strong, there are no engineers of this type?
                                  None who could be induced to relocate to your city and accept a position?

                                  “This thing” which is to be fixed, is the marketplace signaling that this certain type of engineer should be paid more money.
                                  Instead, Congress has decided to artificially increase the supply so as to keep wages low.

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                                  • is the marketplace signaling that this certain type of engineer should be paid more money.

                                    The signal is too quiet. My employer needs people who are not only stronger software developers, but also engineers with strong backgrounds in numerical analysis (CFD/FEA). We are well paid, quite a bit above average, but the need is very limited to a handful of employers around the world. The demand isn’t powerful enough to really rise above the demand for all the other kinds of engineers needed. At least, not without paying so far above the market average as to be a clear outlier, which would suddenly flood the market in new engineers chasing that wage, which would very quickly result in pieces in Slate and Salon talking about all the new engineers with the high value double specialty who suddenly can’t find work using both and making that sweet salary.

                                    So before you start increasing the salary to noisy levels, you look around to see if there are any markets around the world that might have the kind of person you need.

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                                    • You’ve seen those arguments floated occasionally by libertarians about why price gouging in emergencies is a good thing?

                                      Ever wonder why that never seems to apply to labor?

                                      I mean your worst case is that we end up with a lot of highly paid engineers, followed by a glut. In other words, normal market functioning.

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                                      • Recall the housing bubble, and the screaming about the idea of “jingle mail”.

                                        Perfectly legal (at least in many states), perfectly rational decision that any business would make in a heartbeat. Yet individuals were shamed for even thinking about it, the arguments couched in moral terms.

                                        Forget that the contract and the law both covered the situation, it was immoral for a homeowner to decide cut his or her losses.

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                                      • But it does apply to labor. When an area hit by hurricanes needs a bunch of linemen to help get the power back up, those linemen who answer the call can make bank.

                                        What my employer is doing is the equivalent of finding the local town cleaned out of a given thing, so the shopper goes online to find it from someone further away. The need for the item means they will probably pay a bit more for shipping, and have to wait a bit for it to arrive, but they can get it at close to market rate.

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                                      • You’ve seen those arguments floated occasionally by libertarians about why price gouging in emergencies is a good thing?

                                        A very good thing.

                                        I mean your worst case is that we end up with a lot of highly paid engineers…

                                        Interesting point. I like it a lot. I suspect this is the solution… but I’m also hardly an unbiased party here.

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          • But I also think there are a lot of policy choices, and choices in terms of business culture, that also contribute and make things worse for workers than they need to be, often (I suspect) at the cost of improved productivity.

            This is also certainly a factor. But I find the education issue a sticky thing in my mind simply because things change so rapidly these days that people have to be extremely flexible and proactive when it comes to work/careers. And Chip isn’t wrong about AI & automation, but I don’t see it as dire, I merely see it as another shift, or perhaps the end stage of the shift, away from the industrial age and fully into the information age. We have two, perhaps three generations still of working age who came of age during the industrial age and the opening movements of the information age that we will need to take care of, and honestly I think all of our political leaders are unable or unwilling to accept this truth. Those people will not be getting their careers back, nor will they be retrained for the current or future economy. We kinda got away with things when we shifted from Ag to Industrial because Ag workers could transition to Industrial, and those that couldn’t didn’t tend to live long anyway. This time, those workers are not going to transition well, nor will they die off quickly.

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    • And yet two of the biggest areas for growth are solar panel installers and wind turbine techs – both jobs that coal miners, and WWC men in general, could retrain to fill without having to feel like they were giving up whatever part of their self image would be hurt by taking a job that involved caring for others.

      As to the ‘soul of who they are’ being tied to coal, go 2 generations back and my family is evenly divided between coal miners and steel workers. My mother’s grandfather was a coal miner and his family had lived in WV since before it broke from VA during the Civil War, and the vast majority of them had also worked in the mines. BUT after his father died from a mine accident, my grandfather decided coal wasn’t worth his soul and left. And if you go back further, those coal miner ancestors mostly came from Ireland where they’d mostly been tenant farmers, where the land was the ‘soul of who they were’ …until violence and poverty made moving elsewhere and doing something else worth pursuing.

      I can never understand the hypocrisy that says poor people in cities or poor people of color wherever they might be should ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’ but white guys in coal fields and other failing industries need pity and government hand outs to prop up their chosen occupation. And if they can’t have those, we have to give them some sort of stipend so they don’t have to go pursue other types of work.

      That’s not to say that I think universal wage support is a bad idea, but I doubt it would be politically possible unless given solely to the WWC because the rhetoric seems to consistently talk about everyone else who can’t find decent jobs as lazy worthless bums.

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    • A month ago or so, Gothamist and DNAinfo shut down after they voted to unionize. In the fallout, one of the writers wrote a (now deleted) tweet saying something to the effect of “quit tweeting that I should learn how to code!”

      Well, in the fallout to that, Clarkhat pointed to a short tweetstorm dissecting the journalist’s tweet and, despite a handful of problems (e.g., “renumerative”), it had an interesting set of observations.

      If I were to restate the argument and kick it up a level of abstraction, I’d say that most career-type jobs have a lot of things going on when it comes to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Sure, most jobs do the thing where they cover such things as food, water, rent, and other safety stuff, but also belonging and esteem and self-actualization.

      Hillary’s problem with her job retraining soundbite was not that it wasn’t something that should have been done but it was being sold in such a way that was an affront to the belonging, esteem, and self-actualization of these miners. If it was just a job that could be swapped out with any other job, sure. But treating it the way she did turned off a *LOT* of people who heard that soundbite. (And they heard it over and over and over and over and over.)

      The argument against my pointing this thing out in the past was always some variant of “are you saying that she should have *LIED* to them? THE WAY TRUMP DID!?!?!?!?” rather than addressing the somewhat less controversial issue of how tone deaf it was. Back around November of last year, Brother J_A had an *AWESOME* comment that had a tone that struck me as the tone Clinton should have used.

      It did something simple. It showed solidarity with the miners despite embracing the hard truth about how the mining jobs would be going away and never coming back. It communicated that it had compassion for the lost belonging, esteem, and self-actualization that the loss of these careers would bring… something that Clinton’s statement did not have (even if it was part of a discussion of how awesome it would be when Clinton got the miners new job training).

      Now, I suppose, we could mock these miners as being special snowflakes that need compassion under these circumstances (I mean, above and beyond the issues related to how this sort of thing is why OH, and PA, and MI, and WI were lose) but that would do a very good job of communicating to these other people stuck in this iterated prisoner’s dilemma game with us that we are totally defecting.

      When you take into account how we’re going to be stuck in this iterated prisoner’s dilemma game with them for the foreseeable future, that becomes a pretty big problem indeed.

      Or maybe not. The Republicans seem to be poised to lose a wave election in November coming up. So no problem.

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      • Like I said, it is going to be a painful readjustment on the part of a lot of people.

        I read an interesting essay on fascism, that it is actually a logical way to ration scarce resources by restricting them to a favored ethnic group.

        One response by the left-behinds in the manufacturing belt is to suck it up and accept that the old way of life has passed and a new one needs to be embraced. The other one has some really unpleasant historical precedents.

        Sympathy and compassion is a good approach to help them make this decision, but that compassion needs to be contingent upon them not veering into the other direction.

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        • Sympathy and compassion is a good approach to help them make this decision, but that compassion needs to be contingent upon them not veering into the other direction.

          I’m going to restate what you’ve said here in the language of the prisoner’s dilemma, if you don’t mind.

          (Collaboration on our part) is a good approach to help them make this decision (to collaborate on their part), but that (collaboration on our part) needs to be contingent upon them not (defecting against us).

          Is that a particularly unfair restatement? (I don’t think it’s unfair, for what it’s worth.)

          Assuming it’s not, let’s move a bit forward:
          We’re in a place where they think that we’ve defected against them.

          We’re also in a place where they think that we’re going to continue to defect against them.

          And your statement is saying something to the effect of “they have to quit defecting first”.

          And I don’t think that your tactic of how to play will work, given that they think that they’ve been defected against (and have been being defected against for a long while).

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  5. California (and some other states) do have laws that hold employers liable for customer harassment of employees under certain scenarios. In California, the employer needs to take “immediate and corrective” action once aware that a customer is harassing employees or interns.

    Of course, what counts as “immediate and corrective” action is a matter of litigation between the plaintiff’s bar and the defense bar and the courts.

    The problem I see with hotels is that a lot of their guests are transient unless except for a small minority of regular business travelers and/or loyalists.

    Going back to Amazon and the “gig” workers: Lee strikes it right above. We are both employees and customers. Yet the success or not in American corporate life is to get people to view themselves mainly as customers. Why does this happen? Obviously there are a lot of Amazon customers who are at very low risk of ever needing a last-end job. Others might be aware of precarious their place is on the middle-class ladder and they decide that the best way to maintain their status is to kick those below. Or lots of other reasons. The trick is getting to see people to see themselves as workers even if they are college-educated and white-collar. Though organizing white-collar workers is extremely hard.

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      • Potentially. I noticed that organizing certain white-collar workers is easier than others. Journalists and Professors seem most likely to organize themselves (see Vox) but even then there is dissent (see German Lopez) or risks (the shutting down of DNA Info and Gothamist).

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        • Journalists and professors are, as a class, more inclined to believe in the power of organizing (they’ve already drunk the kool-aid, so to speak), so the normal rhetoric works for them. And they are both professions who are both expected to be loudly opinionated and are at increased risk of being retaliated against for those opinions, so organizing in some fashion is strongly in their self interest.

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    • There are historical reasons why organizing white collar and to a lesser extent pink collar workers never really took off. For most of the history of organized labor, most people placed white collar workers and to a lesser extent retail workers in the bourgeois realm for good reason, nobody envisioned an economy where white collar workers became a large part of the workforce and clerks were generally seen as business people in training. Why would anybody organize future business people? Raising up in the management ranks is possible for white collar workers even though it is less likely than in the past.

      It wasn’t corporations that caused people to perceive themselves primarily as consumers and not feel solidarity with fellow workers in unrelated industries at least not entirely. Nobody likes to be inconvenienced and people can be short-sighted. When your threated as an employee, you act as one. When your threatened as a consumer, you act as one. That’s all there is for most people. Few people are going to look at strike that effects them and say “even though this is going to hurt a little, I a generic white collar worker, am going to stand by and support my fellow workers at the grocery store.”

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    • Were I more cynical I would suggest that the emphasis on viewing people as primarily consumers has the purpose of creating policy which sees declining wages as a good thing.

      But as with most conspiracy ideas, that assumes too much credit and foresight.

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      • Yeah too much credit and foresight in that mode. Lee gets it right above probably with me. No one likes to be inconvenienced and sometimes a strike can be really inconvenient. I was in NYC during a transit strike in 2005. It was bitterly cold that week and I had finals! I lived far from campus. NYC is walkable so that was a plus but I did not like the 70 plus blocks I needed to walk twice a day in bone-cutting cold.

        There is probably a large amount of education (and this would be real social engineering education) needed to get people into worker solidarity over the consumer model.

        Plus as a problem for the left, Americans have always been materially aspirational. There might be people on LGM who talk about how we are addicted to “shit you don’t need” but that is still a minority view in the United States.* Americans like material things despite how much crying the farther left can do about corporate control and/or neo-colonialism.

        *This might be a universal problem. The British Left disliked how much the British Working Classes went for Hollywood culture instead of the romanticized view of British culture that the Intellectuals had. William Morris might have made pretty things but his hand-crafts required the money of the well-to-do.

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  6. Going off on a tangent related to labor and AI, the combination of increased automation and AI and inequality will [I hope] force us to re-evaluate our assumptions about the connection between work and wealth.

    For example:
    When someone hails a ride from Uber, what work is done by the Uber managing staff and shareholders?
    They don’t drive the car; an independent contractor does that;
    They don’t dispatch or oversee the trip; algorithms do that;
    They don’t handle the billing; the algorithms do that and assign the charges third party vendors who coordinate with credit card companies;

    So, what exactly does the Uber team of employees actually do, that justifies their share of the trip fee?
    Basically, they own the proprietary software and brand name, and pump in the capital needed to keep it running at a loss.

    So, is it possible that cities could operate their own ride hailing software?
    With a stroke of the pen, we could put Uber software, Google marketing algorithms, or any other software in the public domain.

    The City of LA already has a system of bikes that are operated almost entirely autonomously; Software controls the bike rental, billing, inventory tracking and loss prevention with minimal human oversight, and no need for profit.

    The traditional argument for private enterprise was that entrepreneurial managerial skill was superior to government bureaucracy; But when the manager is an algorithm, what does it matter who it works for?

    So how much of the wealth generated in today’s economy is created by labor, versus rentseeking?

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    • So how much of the wealth generated in today’s economy is created by labor, versus rentseeking?

      Man, that does seem like one of those things that says, “here be a bubble”. I imagine an adjustment is on the horizon for such services. I can certainly see the progenitors of such a popular service enjoying considerable profits both to payback investors and to allow them the fruits of their risk and efforts, but at some point, those scales will tip, or someone else will ursurp the established players.

      When it comes to software, we don’t need a stroke of the pen*, we just need someone to build an open source version.

      *Assuming our FUBAR’ed patent system hasn’t granted Uber or Lyft some ridiculously expanse software patent.

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    • I mean, , I’ve brought up some of the same kind of arguments before to people and the pushback I’ve gotten falls into either –

      1.) Algorithims and such need updating, so you need to keep engineers employed
      2.) Why would you create the algorithim in the first place without the profit incentive?
      3.) What about the people who supplied the capital in the first place?
      4.) Generally the government won’t be able to be as effective as Uber et al

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      • The growing inequality isn’t just a gap between people.
        It is a demonstration of a yawning gap between the vast wealth created, and work necessary to create it.

        As machines and AI produce ever larger amounts of wealth, the question will become, who owns them, and why?

        the old logic that connected labor with wealth was intuitive, and persuasive; I chopped down a tree, trimmed it into lumber, and constructed a table. Intuitive it is easy to say “I own this table!”

        When all that work is done by a magic genie of robotics and software, the logic of who holds title to the table becomes arbitrary, a matter of legal engineering rather than moral intuition.

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        • Pay a team of 40 guys to build a car, each of those 40 guys pay taxes. After a year, they each, all 40 of them, pay a years’ worth of taxes.

          Replace those guys with robots.

          How many taxes do the robots pay? (Granted, they use a lot fewer benefits as well…)

          There’s a problem somewhere. It might be with how many taxes we need. It might also be with how current taxation is still assuming an old world economy.

          (And that’s without getting into stuff like how GM is worth 60 billion and employs 200,000 people and how Facebook is worth 500 billion and employs fewer than 20,000.)

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        • Is it possible that there was a time wherein people looked at you — what with your fancy tools that allowed you to build the table independently… tools you didn’t create or have any hand in developing — and thought you got your work done with magic and genies?

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          • Yes, which is why the laws allowed anyone to construct an ax or saw, without having to pay royalties on the inventor.

            Masons had secret knowledge of how to hew stone, but that knowledge was not protected by government power.

            What if we limited IP rights to a short term, after which they went into the public domain, like an ax or a saw?

            What if the internet was a public utility, and small businesses could use public libraries of free designs for 3d printable objects for anyone to use to construct their own robots?

            What if there were municipal roboticized farms that were connected to on-demand software and driverless vehicles, where you could order produce from your smartphone, and a day later a robotic vehicle pulled up to your house with fresh vegetables? All for free?

            Come the revolution…

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              • The interesting part — as is almost always the case — is how to get from here to there. Who provides the first robot lumberjack? Who builds the energy infrastructure to power it? Who kiln-dries the 2x4s so that they’re stable enough to use? Who transports them to where they can be used? The traditional answer to those is “The lumber company.” Hires the lumberjacks (and support staff, like my great-uncle the camp cook), moves the timber, runs the sawmill and kiln, handles sales, and (possibly) arranges for transportation.

                At some point, sure, everything the 9B or so humans needs is produced by automation. Getting there is… interesting.

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            • So many points of interest here.

              1) Yes, US IP law is FUBAR’d. I have no clue what it would take to get enough people to care about it to cause a sea change toward making it more equitable. Very few people feel the first order effects of how screwy it is, it’s all second and third order effects, which are largely diffuse.

              2)There is a disconnect between the compensation of the progenitors of value, and the creators of it. Uber is certainly impressive, but without the drivers, it creates no value. Uber is merely a set of tools. Certainly those tools permit the creation of value, but not by themselves they don’t. The value of those drivers could probably be more, but it’s up to the drivers to demand it[1].

              3) You know that you can’t have free resources like that. Lower cost, perhaps, but robots cost money to build, and power, and maintain, as do autonomous cars, etc. Such operations also need to be able to build capital for expansions and improvements, etc. Remove the price signal by making things ‘free'[2] and you have to switch to rationing.

              4) Our disconnect, IMHO comes from the investment/financial class. As much as I see the need for people to manage the flow of money through an economy, they seemed to have managed to game the flow for their primary benefit. I always have the feeling that they money they control just keeps flowing around through those institutions, with just enough coming down to fund real world investments to keep the value on the increase. And I don’t even think it’s about being wealthy for that class, I think it’s about the power and control. But I don’t know enough about that part of the economy to have any clue what to do about it that doesn’t quickly devolve into yardarms and ropes.

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    • I spent part of the morning reading a few stories about Dollar General and got really depressed. Both about how they treat their workers (which seems to be par for the course in big retail and maybe small retail now) but also just the general attitude of the company.

      And yes. I live in a town rife with dollar stores and that is economically depressed enough that wal-mart is where the “better off” people (like me, at least when I can’t make the hour’s round trip drive for Kroger, which I VASTLY prefer) shop.

      (Aldi is somewhat better than dollaramas/ wal-marts and I WISH we would get an Aldi, I think it would be very profitable here)

      My major problem with wal-mart et al. is that the goods that are supposed to be at least somewhat durable really AREN’T – they’re cheaply made, so you get them cheap, but then have the cost and effort of having to replace them sooner than a better-quality item would require. While Dollar-Marts are fine for stuff like paper towels and greeting cards….I’d never buy shoes or an appliance from one.

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