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November 22, 2003

A MESSAGE FROM THE GROCERY WORKERS UNION....I don't normally have guest posts, but yesterday I wrote a short piece about the supermarket strike that generated quite a few comments. Today, Barbara Maynard, the chief spokesperson for UFCW Locals 770 and 1442, the grocery workers unions in the Los Angeles area, would like to respond to some of the comments. Take it away, Barbara:

Greetings everybody. Seems maybe the debate slipped away from the grocery workers themselves and into a referendum about unions? How ’bout we get back to the 70,000 grocery workers for a minute...

I’m quite involved in this strike and I’d like to share a few facts just to set the record straight. Let’s then debate these facts.

With regard to health care, I’ve heard people say over and over again that “everybody contributes something to their health plan — so should grocery workers.” Well, did you know that over the years grocery workers have given up pay raises in exchange for the assurance of having good health insurance? The employer's contribution toward healthcare has been a part of their compensation. The union could have negotiated it the other way. They could have agreed to higher wages and higher employee premiums...but the workers wanted a lower paycheck in exchange for fully paid health care.

OK, so that was then and health costs have been escalating. If this was about "contributing a little to their healthcare" there would be no strike. The employer proposal that led to this strike put so little money on the table that, in addition to the premium pickup of $5 to $15 a week, workers’ health benefits under their insurance plan would have to be cut 50% (which means that health care costs would be shifted onto the workers outside their insurance plan, meaning out of their own pocket). If the workers want to get the same insurance plan, it would cost them $95 a week or nearly $5,000 a year. THAT IS 25% OF THE AVERAGE WORKER'S SALARY. Is that what "everybody " pays out of pocket on a percentage basis? Hardly....

The fact is that most of these workers — at an average annual gross income of $20,000 — live paycheck to paycheck and earn their healthcare. If the cost to the worker is too high, experience has shown that workers "opt out" of insurance and roll the dice by becoming uninsured.

The bottom line regarding health care is that when a worker lives paycheck to paycheck she can only get her healthcare one of two ways: earn it or get it from the taxpayer. The answer as a taxpayer is clear to me: I would rather people earn their healthcare than get it from me as a taxpayer. What about you?

The companies have proposed to pay all new hires — and the stores have about 1/3 turnover each year, which means that there are a lot of new hires — $3 to $4 an hour less than the current employees. What does this mean? This means that new hires will be making Wal-Mart wages, which means that anybody with kids will be eligible for food stamps and taxpayer subsidized health care...

I hear a lot about these employees being “overpaid.” Did you know that the average hourly wage in the stores is $12.97? Did you know that 70% of the workforce is part time with the average number of hours worked per week just 30? That’s slightly more than $20k a year...hardly a big wage.

Having said that, there are some classifications in the store that make as much as $17.90/hour. There's no question that these are good jobs and the wages they make have been fought for. And because they're good jobs, they attract good people. People with customer service skills. (Have you gone into a store in Southern California with minimum wage workers lately? They don't care at all about you or their store!) Many grocery workers make a career in the stores and, as a result, they take real pride in the things that matter to me as a consumer: clean stores, well stocked shelves, knowledgeable staff (try asking a Wal-Mart worker where to find something like Devonshire cream — he would stare at you blankly and say "try aisle 46" ... without having any idea where it is).

Here’s the key question: Would you rather that these 70,000 middle class jobs become poverty level jobs filled by workers who have to turn to the taxpayer for healthcare and food stamps? That’s what the companies are proposing because that’s what Wal-Mart has. The CEOs of these three companies are just trying to keep up with the Waltons. Their combined operating profits have gone up 91% in the past five years...but Wal-Mart’s have gone up even more. Good lord — when is enough enough? At what price profits???

Posted by Kevin Drum at November 22, 2003 08:29 PM | TrackBack


Comments

Good for you, Ms. Maynard. Keep up the fight. An excellent post.

Posted by: Thersites at November 22, 2003 08:41 PM | PERMALINK

A question for Ms. Maynard:

What can sympathetic posters actualy do to help out?
Too often we just navel gaze on the web without accomplishing much of anything. If there's something we can do, let us know.

Posted by: WillieStyle at November 22, 2003 09:12 PM | PERMALINK

This is an excellent post, which frames the debate properly. This isn't about these particular workers - it's about corporate attempts to raise profits by getting yet more subsidies from taxpayers. Put like that, it's easy to know right from wrong.

Posted by: craigie at November 22, 2003 09:19 PM | PERMALINK

I second that. But one thing should be added: fights like this between workers and management over wages vs health benefits distract from the real problem, the high price of health care and health insurance. Schwarzenegger on workers' comp, Congress on Medicare and drugs, its all dealing with symptons rather than the essential problem of sky-high costs for drugs and medical treatment, and ever-worsening health services.

Paulo, http://whosecapitalism.typepad.com/

Posted by: paulo at November 22, 2003 09:21 PM | PERMALINK

there's a conspicious absence of righty ideologues on this thread. i guess they don't want to play when the debate can't be framed so as to simplisitically disparage the character of union members for wanting to *gasp* earn enough to live on.

Posted by: spacebaby at November 22, 2003 09:25 PM | PERMALINK

A classic case of one segment of the Left (unions) in conflict with another segment of the Left (trial lawyers). Union members face higher health care costs, due in no small part to the lack of tort reform for medical malpractice, which would put a lid on the incomes of trial lawyers (yeah, yeah, the insurance companies are also culpable) but also slow growth of health care costs. Which special interest group gets the higher priority? Right now, it's trial lawyers because they're the bigger political contributors. The losers in the equation are the everyday union folks like Ms. Maynard, who gets short shrift. She's getting squeezed by her own political party AND by non-union competitors AND by management that's trying keep up. A tough nut all the way around.

Posted by: Bird Dog at November 22, 2003 09:31 PM | PERMALINK

I donated what I could, Ms. Maynard, via the turkey fund. Is there anything else I can do?

I want to help, but I don't know how. I'm an Arizona resident, so I'm not sure how I can help directly other than what money I can spare...

Posted by: John Q. at November 22, 2003 09:33 PM | PERMALINK

bird dog, your entire line of reasoning has already been debunked on this blog and on many others. Malpractice caps will fix a TINY fraction of the problems. The real problem is the sheer greed that the invisible hand has allowed to fester inside of every segment of the marketplace that becomes "competitive".

Trial lawyers and unions are just straw men. The man behind the curtain is unthinkable and disgusting amounts of profit and greed...profits that kill the very lifeblood of the people that must be subjugated to sustain themselves.

Capitalism is a sickness. WHO IS THE ECONOMY FOR??? WHO ARE THE PROFITS FOR?????

TO WHAT END????

Posted by: sampo at November 22, 2003 09:40 PM | PERMALINK

A classic case of one segment of the Left (unions) in conflict with another segment of the Left (trial lawyers). Union members face higher health care costs, due in no small part to the lack of tort reform for medical malpractice, which would put a lid on the incomes of trial lawyers (yeah, yeah, the insurance companies are also culpable) but also slow growth of health care costs.

Ahem. Bullshit.

Do your homework before using a Republican talking point.

Thank you.

Posted by: tbogg at November 22, 2003 09:46 PM | PERMALINK

The trial lawyers would have less work if there was less malpractice.

And they'd have more work if most malpractive was actually litigated.

Apparently the right would prefer a system underwhich, in exchange for healthcare (paid for by the worker on way or another) the worker gave up the right to be made whole when malpractive actually occurs.

Typical.

Posted by: Rick at November 22, 2003 09:55 PM | PERMALINK

"Capitalism is a sickness. WHO IS THE ECONOMY FOR??? WHO ARE THE PROFITS FOR?????"

The economy is for those willing to work for it. Profits are for those who take risks and innovate. It's been demonstrated that if you take away incentives to innovate. Innovation dies. If they're going to pay you regardless of your output, might as well sit on your ass all day and read blogs, eh?

Posted by: out4blood at November 22, 2003 09:58 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, thank you for giving this space to Ms. Maynard. And thank you, Ms. M., for putting the facts in such a relevant context. People don't strike for frivolous reasons....there are significant social and economic pressures not to strike, so when relatively low-paid occupations like grocery store workers and hotel employees hit the picket lines, it's not because they're 'greedy'.

Posted by: jane Finch at November 22, 2003 10:03 PM | PERMALINK

[i]A classic case of one segment of the Left (unions) in conflict with another segment of the Left (trial lawyers). Union members face higher health care costs, due in no small part to the lack of tort reform for medical malpractice, which would put a lid on the incomes of trial lawyers (yeah, yeah, the insurance companies are also culpable) but also slow growth of health care costs.[/i]

I eagerly await your cite demonstating that the reason health care premiums have risen so quickly in the last 15 years is because of malpractice premiums. I also eagerly await your cite demonstrating that states that have implemented 'tort reform' have experienced health care savings as a result.

I don't believe you have such cites. That's because they don't exist. Your 'solutions' are nothing but a talking point. You are being used. Are you ok with that?

Posted by: NBarnes at November 22, 2003 10:26 PM | PERMALINK

Let me add my voice to the thanks for getting the particulars on the table here. The numbers are frightening. A 20% cut across the board in wages for new workers, and a 50%+ drop in insurance coverage for all workers. In the face of increased revenues and profits. No wonder we have a massive, drawn-out strike.

Oh, and may I also add that the 20k-a-year average salary figure should be discounted by the cost-of-living index. SoCal is the most expensive place in the US to live. I'd guess 20k there is worth about 14k in the heartland. Even with benefits, that's a sucky wage. Without them, it's less than a living wage. Minimum health coverage costs on the order of $2,500 a year. That would leave an average worker a COLA adjusted $11,500 gross, or $10,500 net.

Sick.

Posted by: epist at November 22, 2003 10:29 PM | PERMALINK

It's been demonstrated that if you take away incentives to innovate. Innovation dies.

In practice, what does this mean? So long as it's been demonstrated, after all.

Is there any limit to the power of incentive? Does the next hundred million matter more, less or the same as the first several billion?

Are all dollars created equal, and is the only incentive money?

Is it possible to create conditions (say lack of access to health care) that bury incentive in friction?

Just sort of asking.

Posted by: 16 at November 22, 2003 10:29 PM | PERMALINK

Barbara Maynard brings up a point that so many seem to miss. Regardless of your reasoning, if we make it standard practice to push the average workers wage down, down, down, until eventually it is below poverty, guess what happens?

An alarming number of people seem to think: those stupid, lazy, unmotivated morons in the low-paying jobs get what they deserve in their poverty-stricken misery. Screw 'em; if they want a better life, go to college and earn it.

Well, here is the other side of the coin, as Barbara Maynard point out / hinted at. These people become everybody's problem. People don't just crawl into a corner and suffer or die. In case you haven't noticed, this society of our is interconnected. These people who have been marginalized drag us all down. They require tax dollars to help them get medical insurance and food. The require government assistance to find housing. They have no liquid income, and therefore can not contribute to this consumer-driven economy of ours. They lower property values where they live, because nobody wants to live with the 'dirty poor people.' Some of them will turn to crime to make up the difference in what they need versus what they can get.

Ultimately, if we allow this to go on, the poor become a big enough problem that they drag the economoy down, they bog down the goverment, and the situation can ultimately lead to civil unrest.

People would do well to think about the logical conclusion of what they wish for. Without unions and labor law, we all suffer, save for a very precious few at the extreme top. You may say to yourself, 'these striking grocery workers are just part of a greedy union.' You need to wake up and face reality. This libertarian fantasy of unbridled corporate interest has been tried before in America. It was around the end of the 19th century. It was not pretty.

Posted by: Timothy Klein at November 22, 2003 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

To Barbara Maynard and the good people at UFCW Locals 770 and 1442 - you have my support.

Most of the benefit structure that the majority of workers enjoy today, the "8 hour work day", paid overtime, a weekend, a minimum wage, employer contributions to health care and retirement, and social security are due to people like you who gave up their paychecks and risked their jobs to go on strike and demand fair compensation. Once organized labor won, non-union enterprises were forced to follow suit in order to be competative.

Business has tangible incentives to reward shareholders and executives but only intangible insentives to fairly compensate employees. Organized labor provides a much more tangible insentive.

Good employees make business profitable.

Posted by: dorsano at November 22, 2003 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

Are all dollars created equal, and is the only incentive money?

Absolutely not. I post this message right now from an operating system / GUI / web browser that was created by volunteers completely aside from any monetary incentive: GNU/Linux, with X Windows and KDE, using Konqueror. All of which are completely non-commercial software, and completely free.

Money is not the only incentive. There are also such things as presitge, power, aclaim, happiness, etc. Indeed, the Bill Gates of the world obviously no longer come to work for money -- they would be hard pressed to spend all that they have.

Posted by: Timothy Klein at November 22, 2003 10:41 PM | PERMALINK

It's been demonstrated that if you take away incentives to innovate. Innovation dies.

If this is true then explain Linux and the rest of the Open Source movement...

Posted by: Damond at November 22, 2003 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

I mentioned before that I used to work for Wal-Mart, and I would have had to send you to another store for Devonshire cream, because I'm sure it wasn't something we stocked. Customer service was one thing they did train us for, we were told that when it got slow we were expected to go outside of our department to see what is stocked in other departments, so that if we did have to help customers find something we could. Not only that, but if we didn't know where it was we had to go with that customer and look for it, or find someone in that department who knew where it was. You'd get your ass chewed if you were caught vaguely waving off customers, and if it became a habit, you'd be fired. All those things you named; clean stores, well stocked shelves, knowledgeable staff...you get that at Wal-Mart too.

If you want to bash them for how they treat their employees, you'll get no argument from me. I don't remember the cost for their health insurance but I do remember thinking that if I signed up for it, I might as well just sign over my check every week. Lucky for me, my husband is in a unionized (Teamsters) job and has excellent insurance.

It seemed to me that Wal-Mart knew there would be a high turnover of employees and mostly didn't care. They do drill it into you early...customer service, customer service, customer service...so that while you are working for them, you know that is your priority; but they make it unpleasant to work there so that you won't last long. Screwing with your schedule mostly, there is no set schedule and they do not work around other obligations. You have to find someone else to work your hours if you need the time they scheduled you to go to school, go to another job, etc. And most of us let them know exactly when we were available and they would still schedule us for unavailable hours with a "tough shit" attitude about it. There's lots of other stuff they would pull on us, but that was at the top of nearly everyone's list and the reason why many would eventually quit, including me.

Posted by: WIdemocrat at November 22, 2003 10:53 PM | PERMALINK

An alarming number of people seem to think: those stupid, lazy, unmotivated morons in the low-paying jobs get what they deserve in their poverty-stricken misery. Screw 'em; if they want a better life, go to college and earn it.

Well, a lot of these college-educated folks who haven't already figured it out are in for some rude news. According to a study done by the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley, some 14 million(!) white-collar jobs in America are at risk for out-sourcing overseas.

These aren't all "Hello, AOL customer-service, how may I help you" jobs in Panama City. A big chunk of them are computer programming jobs and the like. In India, you can hire a programmer for $8000 (good wages there) without benefits who you would pay $40,000(or more)-plus-benefits here.

Where ARE all those people who had so much to say on the previous thread about grasping strikers?

Posted by: Meteor Blades at November 22, 2003 11:04 PM | PERMALINK

Hesiod at Counterspin Central point to an article in Fortune about Costco:
Hesiod
Fortune

A quote:

Axiom No. 3: Take care of your employees. Sol Price actually invited unions in to represent Fed-Mart and Price Club workers. Following suit, Costco pays the top wage in retail, starting employees at $10 an hour. In the minds of Price and Sinegal, high wages yield high productivity, low turnover—Costco's is a third of the retail industry average of 64%, according to the National Retail Foundation—and minimal shrinkage; that's retail-speak for theft, which at Costco is about 13% of the industry norm.

Posted by: chris bond at November 22, 2003 11:22 PM | PERMALINK

Walmart service is awful, I occassionally have to go in that place and they are the most overburdened, least knowlegdeable workers I have ever seen-except for soviet Russia. I don't think its there fault, they just don't have the training or numbers.
But Albertson's customer service is almost as bad.

Posted by: CalDem at November 23, 2003 12:18 AM | PERMALINK

I feel that my family was locked out of my neighborhood Ralph's when the workers were. I've known some of the checkers for decades. At least for them it seems that working at a grocery store isn't such a bad job.

That's a good thing! In fact, shouldn't any kind of a job be at least tolerable? What work isn't worthy of our respect, and what labor is not worthy of its wage?

Posted by: bad Jim at November 23, 2003 12:29 AM | PERMALINK

All the innovation in the world won't help if people are too poor to buy goods and services. Too many poor people aren't good for business, I would think.

Posted by: aw at November 23, 2003 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

"Where ARE all those people who had so much to say on the previous thread about grasping strikers?"

they have their heads up their asses. they simply think that somehow someway, they'll be spared because of their own personal 'innovative' brilliance and initiative.

Posted by: spaceaby at November 23, 2003 12:37 AM | PERMALINK

I've had the same experience as bad Jim re: Ralphs. A small branch of my bank is in my closest Ralphs; when the pickets were withdrawn, I allowed myself to go in to make a bank deposit. Interestingly, the market was empty compared to pre-strike at that time of day. So even without pickets, people in this neighborhood aren't going to Ralphs. (It's true I live in a heavily Democratic district, so, perhaps that explains it)

Thanks Kevin for presenting Barbara.

What worries me, this has got to be costing the big markets a lot; that they're hanging on this long means they are really out to break, if not the union itself, it's power to genuinely bargain.

Posted by: Leah A at November 23, 2003 01:12 AM | PERMALINK

What a swarm of leftists! Do I dare post? I'll use the simplest possible argument I can think of.

1) Imagine the strikers get everything they want.
2) Imagine the products at WalMart being 10 percent lower as a result of #1.
3) Imagine the bulk of customers patronizing WalMart
4) Imagine the other grocery stores going out of business.

Far fetched? Crazy? Am I a wingnut for saying this? Does it sound like I hate store clerks? Perhaps the analogy of General Motors and Toyota in the 1980s (and today) is illustrative. Only through irrational buying habits (patriotism, perceived "masculinity" of U.S. autos, etc) have the Japanese carmakers not taken complete control of the American market.

...
Also, to the folks mentioning GNU: Have you read the GNU manifesto? Richard Stallman is surprisingly honest about effects of free software.

He admits "freely" that programmers will lose work as a result of GNU. This is EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what any union, any leftist, any programmer wants.
...

Also:
How much does rent cost in California? Here in Pittsburgh 12.97 is good money.

Posted by: me oh my at November 23, 2003 03:30 AM | PERMALINK

Last summer Brad DeLong was showing pity for us Europeans being deprived of wild capitalism aberrations such as WalMart (http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.cgi/1928).

I agree that beign able to buy things cheap is a good thing, specially for people with low wages. But then, how cheap? I mean, one should think WalMart is selling _below cost_ at the expense of its own workers. One may expect to pay an ever-decreasing price for goods produced by machines, that's ok, but we should be aware that human standards of living need to be above certain minimums.

In some way, a simmilar thing happens with tax cuts: Some people seem to believe taxes can always be lowered a bit more. But when you have that large portion of your population working long hours for minimum wage with unstable and incomplete health insurance (plus jobless and homeless), and you still call yourself a _developed country_, then it's when Europeans are the ones showing pity for Americans.

Posted by: DhB at November 23, 2003 03:40 AM | PERMALINK

Oops, this is the correct link:

http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/2003_archives/002084.html

Posted by: DhB at November 23, 2003 03:50 AM | PERMALINK

A nice chunk of Walmart's competitive advantage would go away if we had national health care.

Cheap and greedy employers are bad for the health of the country.

Back when I was a business owner, I used to have to explain that my company had to be the sort of place where I would want to work.

What other sort of company would anyone else put up with?

Posted by: bad Jim at November 23, 2003 03:52 AM | PERMALINK

Dhb
very soon your beloved welfare systems will go bust.What will remain is your lower productivity.
And then we will see who will be showing pity to whom.

Posted by: freedomlover at November 23, 2003 03:52 AM | PERMALINK

Ms. Maynard,

If the combined profits have risen 91% in the last five years, then the workers should strike for all they can get. The posters above who extol capitalism live in a fool's paradise and are incapable of truly understanding what fair capitalism is; not to mention that your right to strike is an important part of capitalism. Meanwhile, make sure evey worker registers to vote and votes for Wes Clark, or some other democrat who has expressed interest in eliminating the rampant corporate cheating from our economic system. It might also be a good time to educate the workers that if they voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger, they voted for the other side. At some level, the only recourse for all of us in with our vote.

Posted by: poputonian at November 23, 2003 04:33 AM | PERMALINK

Should those 70,000 jobs be at a poverty level?

The republican majority would say yes; that is
the market at work. Sadly for them, they can
not outsource the jobs to India. Bleep Wal-Mart.

Posted by: Bartolo at November 23, 2003 05:06 AM | PERMALINK

I mean, one should think WalMart is selling _below cost_ at the expense of its own workers.

WMT had earnings of $2/share, and paid out 33c/share as dividends to its owners.

it generates $8B/yr in after-tax profit (and pays $5B/yr in taxes).

pull the other one.

Posted by: Troy at November 23, 2003 05:22 AM | PERMALINK

me oh my:

4) Imagine the other grocery stores going out of business.

imagine living a society where the bulk of jobs available are walmart McJobs.

It's known as "race to the bottom". This is a long-known issue with unfettered invisible hand capitalism. Winston Churchill in his Progressive days in the Liberal Party gave some good speeches on the subject (welfare captitalism reform was partly behind his break with the Tories in the early 1900's).

Ruthless competition is good -- survival of the fittest and all that. Problem is it produces losers.

and yes, rents in LA are that high. IMV, real estate taxation reform, along with healthcare reform, are going to be necessary someday.

Churchill also argued for confiscatory taxation of the "unearned increment" of real estate speculation. Philadelphia is one of the cities that does this, and the rents are livable because of it.

Posted by: Troy at November 23, 2003 05:29 AM | PERMALINK

great post and great thread. We will be donating to the strike fund, too.-aimai

Posted by: aimai at November 23, 2003 05:33 AM | PERMALINK

"Where ARE all those people who had so much to say on the previous thread about grasping strikers?"

This is something I've long felt back since the days when I was in the union movement:

When workers and their representatives are allowed to make their case and do so articulately away from the largely anti-labor filter of our "so-called liberal media", counter-argument is so utterly refuted as to be almost non-existent.

To those who made these snide and ignorant anti-labor comments, I have a question for you. How low must the grocery workers be made to sink before you'll say, "that's low enough"? If you can't answer that, your contribution to the debate is worthless.

Thanks, Ms. Maynard for an excellent argument, and thanks, Kevin, for publishing it.

Posted by: Steve Cohen at November 23, 2003 05:46 AM | PERMALINK

For me oh my:

Is it possible that modern American business can take a lesson from that notorious liberal leftist Henry Ford?

Ford paid his workers a wage that, for its day, was wildly above what comparable industries were paying. His reasoning was that his workers should be able to afford the products they make. And he was right: Ford workers bought Ford cars and contributed substantially to the company's early success.

The "race for the bottom" that employers are currently engaged in will have terrible long-term consequences not just for society, but for the employers as well. When wages and salaries for a majority of people have been driven below a critical point, the population is no longer able to buy the products its businesses produce. In the face of sagging sales, employers can hang on for a little while by further cutting wages and laying off employees. However, once the economy has passed that critical point, complete economic collapse becomes almost inevitable--companies with no sales close down.

Short-term, it is in the interests of the supermarkets to drive employee wages as low as possible. Longer term, they are working toward their own destruction by creating a population no longer able to afford the products the supermarkets are selling.

Posted by: Derelict at November 23, 2003 06:11 AM | PERMALINK

Troy:
WMT had earnings of $2/share, and paid out 33c/share as dividends to its owners.

Of course, with _below cost_ I was not meaning WalMart makes earings exactly = $0,00. Of course their CEOs make sure the company makes big money. But the same way they put pressure on providers to get lower costs, they put pressure on their workers to lower their income, which is regarded as any other cost. And since the cost of living increases every year, WalMart (and the like) workers are every year being brought closer to the survival income limit.

People's salaries should not be looked at as a portion of costs that may be pushed down. Earnings should at least keep up with inflation every year. This should be conventional wisdom: I thought the american dream was _not_ about seeing one's income decrease every year, but this is exactly the situation for many people nowadays.

Posted by: DhB at November 23, 2003 06:12 AM | PERMALINK

Anyone remember that article in the Florida Sun-Sentinel(now behind the pay for archive firewall) on the state senate's investigation into limiting awards for malpractive suits? They actually swore the witnesses in, with the implied threat of perjury charges for false testimony, and lo and behold....

"And so, the Senate Judiciary Committee told witnesses to raise their right hands and swear to tell the "truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

What happened after that "was pretty scary," said Sen. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, the Senate minority leader. "People who had testified before us on previous occasions got up there and told us different things."

Swear 'em in when they testify, and the testimony changes. Does that give you a hint about who might be lying about this issue?

Posted by: David Glynn at November 23, 2003 06:42 AM | PERMALINK

me-oh-my:Profits up 90 some percent? That tells me they have lots of room to be competitive without screwing the workers.

What realy gets to me, is the lack of concern for the morality of it all. When these people, who are screwing their workers...people who have invested time and energy into their job, laid roots in their community, have a morgage, etc...that is absolutly NOT acceptable to a society.

Most conservative think this is a-ok. That it's the free market at work. No, this is immoral. It should be socially frowned upon. If you think that it is not immoral, you should rethink your values, and think how you would like it if you were forced into that situation. (Which frankly, unless things change is NOT unlikely)

The party of "family values"...pfffft..

Posted by: Karmakin at November 23, 2003 06:56 AM | PERMALINK

Really good, informative post. Thank you.

Posted by: Anon2. at November 23, 2003 07:07 AM | PERMALINK

"the average hourly wage in the stores is $12.97? Did you know that 70% of the workforce is part time with the average number of hours worked per week just 30?"

Dang, do you know that grocery workers in rural midwest areas make 6-7 bucks an hour? CA has a higher cost of living I know, but still. These jobs require virtually no skills, it takes 2 days to learn how to run a till or how to bake rolls. These jobs are not hard work, unless you are unloading the trucks. They are inside all day. Of course the pay is going to be low. If you aren't happy get a new job. Most of the people I worked with for the 5 years I worked in grocery during HS and college were doing the same thing I was, using it to fund their education. If they werent also in school, then as soon as they figured out they weren't going to make assistant manager they left. Why stay in a job that goes nowhere?

People shouldn't owe you anything extra when they become employers, except to live up to their promises like anybody else.

Posted by: Reg at November 23, 2003 07:26 AM | PERMALINK

Paul Krugman in praise of Timid Workers, Feb. 1999

Posted by: DhB at November 23, 2003 07:31 AM | PERMALINK

Paul Krugman in praise of Timid Workers, Feb. 1999

hope this one works, sorry.

Posted by: DhB at November 23, 2003 07:41 AM | PERMALINK

"using it to fund their education"

Are you out of your freakin mind? In San Francisco - a 1 bedroom studio runs 800 a month. How the hell can a person that works in a grocery store making 12 an hour afford to pay for school - go to school, pay a babysitter to watch their kids, pay for transportation, and all the other costs of living when they make 12 an hour? You Republican pukes make me sick.

If the company's profits have increased substantially over the past few years, do you really think it is moral for the company to screw the people that actually earned those profits by shifting the burden of healthcare back onto the employees? Especially since the employees have not been taking pay raises so that they could get affordable health insurance? When is enough enough?

Republicans want a country full of poor workers with a tiny - exceedingly tiny segment of unbelievably wealthy owners. They think THEY will be part of the management. UNless they are already ruich, they are in for a rude awakening.

Posted by: Scott Fanetti at November 23, 2003 07:55 AM | PERMALINK

Karmakin
"society does not exist" did you know that? :)
i guess you also think that homosexuals are immoral along with hollywood and tv.

Posted by: freedomlover at November 23, 2003 07:57 AM | PERMALINK

what i hear : morality, morality, morality

are you all Popes or Jesus Christs ?

Posted by: freedomlover at November 23, 2003 08:01 AM | PERMALINK

soon retail industry will be completely automatized. forget about these workers

Posted by: freedomlover at November 23, 2003 08:02 AM | PERMALINK

Profits up 90 some percent? That tells me they have lots of room to be competitive without screwing the workers.

That depends on what game you're competing at. If your shareholders demand that profits increase by 100 percent, then 90 percent might seem like a terrible failure.

I say screw the shareholders if they make demands like that, but management doesn't have the luxury I do.

This is why we need unions.

Posted by: Evan at November 23, 2003 08:25 AM | PERMALINK

there can be no moral claim to something that would not exist but for the decision of others to risk their resources on its creation. What those who attack great private wealth do not undertsand is that it is neither by physical effort nor by the mere act saving and investing, but by directing resources to the most productive uses that wealth is chiefly created. And there can be no doubt most of those who have built up great fortunes in the form of new industrial plants and the like have thereby benefited more people through creating opportunities for more rewarding employment than if they had given their superfluity to the poor. The suggestion that in these cases those to whom in fact the workers are most indebted do wrong rather than greatly benefit them is an absurdity. Though there are undoubtedly also other and less meritorious ways of acquiring large fortunes (which we can hope to control by improving the rules of the game, the most effective and important is by directing investment to points where they most enhance the productivity of labour- a task in which governments notoriosly fail, for reasons inherent in non-competitive bureaucratic organizations.

Long live WalMart and McDonalds ! without them millions of unskilled and low productive
workers around the world would have had no job and food on their tables.

Posted by: freedomlover at November 23, 2003 08:47 AM | PERMALINK

Freedomlover:How did you extrapolate that?

#1. Society does exist. we take a large part of our emotions and feelings from those around us. (Ever hear of mob mentality?). Ever go to a concert and be lost in the moment?

#2. I support equal rights for homosexuals (Actually, if it were up to me I'd give them a damn medal, for not reproducing in our already overpopulated world!) TV and Movies? Frankly, in my opinion there's more overall healthy entertainment now than ever before. Sure, some of it is violent and sensual, but that doesn't even change the idea of the feedback that it gives you. (An overwhelming majority of it I would say is positive).

And I'm sorry, morals and honor do matter. It's how we co-exist on this little rock of ours. Mind you, I think the idea of "morals" has been so badly co-opeted by religion as a means of control. But I'm trying to help take that back.

BTW. I'm a long-time atheist/agnostic...sooooo...take that for what it's worth.

Posted by: Karmakin at November 23, 2003 08:48 AM | PERMALINK

That goes the other way too. Without labour, capital would be sitting on its ass, doing nothing.
Everything would grind to a halt.

It's a two way street. The investments that a worker makes in his community, doing what he is doing, is no less important than the investment that a shareholder makes.

And without the McDonald's and the Walmarts? There would be much more competition, and much more room for small businesses to shoot up, and actually thrive.

Maybe it's not "efficient" economically, (Although the current race to the bottom will result in the end of the American economic superpower, count on it) however, social concerns are extremely important, and should not be ignored.

BTW, if it were up to me, and I had the power to do it, then I would end the consumption/consumerism culture completly. Then people wouldn't feel the pressure to "keep up with the joneses", and that would solve a lot of these social problems. However, if we could do that, I don't think this would even be an issue..

Posted by: Karmakin at November 23, 2003 08:56 AM | PERMALINK

freedom: Nice theory, professor ... I enjoyed the mental masturbation. Someday study the heirarchical cheating and coercion that has become the norm in the boardroom (Enron, WorldCom, WalMart, pick your favorite) and then come back with another lecture. What you said today is passe.

Posted by: Poputonian at November 23, 2003 09:00 AM | PERMALINK

sampo,
Capitalism is a sickness.

Oh, and my views are debunked? By whom? ANSWER? The Socialist Workers Party? Like they say, capitalism is the worst system out there, save for all the others.

Posted by: Bird Dog at November 23, 2003 09:06 AM | PERMALINK

The idea that these jobs take no skills is belied by the fact that the people doing them are paid. In a capitalist system a product is rewarded for its value. If one is unable to think of skills required in service jobs, including that old hoary favorite, ditch digging, perhaps one needs to do some of them.

However, grant the premise: these jobs do not require "skills." What then should the worker be paid?

This assumption, carried to its logical end, posits slavery as the normal condition for labor, since labor itself is unvalued.

Posted by: clio at November 23, 2003 09:31 AM | PERMALINK

Good stuff here. The only question is, why can't the store owners realize this?

OK, they're worried that if they don't cut their prices and therefore their wages, everyone will shop at Wal-Mart. But don't they realize that if they cut their wages, they're working for a situation where nobody will be able to afford to buy anywhere but Wal-Mart? They'll go out of business more surely than the other way.

Instead, they should compete on service and selection. I regularly shop in about 6 different groceries, because each carries foods I want that the others don't. I don't go to places like Wal-Mart at all, because the selection is terrible and the price savings only really make up for this if I'm buying vast quantities that I don't have room to store at home anyway.

As WIdemocrat says, customer service is drilled in at those low-wage places. But what that means is, they want to be helpful but they don't know anything. I'd rather not ask, because it's more trouble than it's worth.

(Actually I don't think I've ever been in a Wal-Mart. My generalizations about service & selection are from Target & a couple visits to Costco.)

Posted by: Simon at November 23, 2003 09:35 AM | PERMALINK

Anybody who shops at Wal-Mart should be ashamed of themselves. We stopped shopping there ages ago because of the way they treat and pay their employees. Also, look what Wal-Mart does to the Mom and Pop stores, put them out of business!

Posted by: Geo. W. at November 23, 2003 09:41 AM | PERMALINK

We're doing our part here in NorCal to support the strikers. Thanksgiving this year is at my mother's house in Westlake Village (an LA exurb, if you're not from around here). She called me the other day to tell me that she's thrilled with the response to the strike in her affluent neighborhood -- nobody, it seems, is crossing the picket lines.

But there's still the matter of groceries for the feast. So I'm going shopping today, packing my motorhome fridge and pantry with union-supported, non-strike turkey and fixings for import into SoCal. My aunt in the East Bay is doing the same. Think we can do dinner for eight without a single run to the store? We'll see.

And, yeah, we'll put some money in the strike fund while we're down there.

On a wider topic, it's high time everybody in the country heard and understood Barbara's point about taxpayers subsidizing the support of underpayed corporate employees. It's a critical meme, and the implications are huge: Every time a Wal-Mart employee gets food stamps or care at the county clinic, the Walton family is getting a direct subsidy from the US taxpayer. WE are paying for THEIR employees.

Why should we keep making it possible for corporations to suck down our taxes this way? ALL welfare is corporate welfare. Every cent we pay to help the poor is another cent some shareholder somewhere gets to keep, because they're excused from paying a fair wage and good benefits.

"Freedomlover," those McJobs you extol the virtues of do not promote freedom or well-being. A vast number of the people who have those jobs are on food stamps -- which means you and I are putting the food on their tables. Those "innovators" you so admire are beneath contempt: power and wealth go hand-in-hand with responsibility. These guys are willfully shirking their duty to the commonweal, in ways that impoverish us all.

If you can't see the moral wrongness of this, there is probably no hope for you.

Posted by: Mrs. Robinson at November 23, 2003 09:49 AM | PERMALINK

in ways that impoverish us all

speak fer yourself, sucker.

Posted by: Corporate FatCat at November 23, 2003 09:54 AM | PERMALINK

Clio wrote The idea that these jobs take no skills is belied by the fact that the people doing them are paid. In a capitalist system a product is rewarded for its value.

Clio, when I say these jobs have no skills, I mean that everybody is able to do them, not that they have no worth.


If one is unable to think of skills required in service jobs, including that old hoary favorite, ditch digging, perhaps one needs to do some of them.

Former jobs have included grocery stocker/bagger/cartpusher/meat/produce/frozen and cashiering & factory work on a line and in janitorial & working in a field detassling seed corn & landscaping. None of these jobs require skills, anybody can do them.


However, grant the premise: these jobs do not require "skills." What then should the worker be paid?
This assumption, carried to its logical end, posits slavery as the normal condition for labor, since labor itself is unvalued.

This is just dumb. Capitalism doesn't reward people on the basis of their skills, but on the basis of their worth. A grocery store worker who shows up every day, is clean and doesn't smell, works hard, and doesn't steal merchandise is WORTH more than one who doesn't shower, smells, shows up late, steals, is careless and is rude to customers. (I've seen all of those)

Unions just raise up the current workers over those who do not have jobs. Those lucky enough to be in a union are are using government backed force to prevent those who need work from having a job. Also, it artifically raises wages and costs employers more money which means less people have jobs.

Posted by: Reg at November 23, 2003 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

freedom lover invokes a favorite chestnut of the right that, somehow, treating people fairly and with respect undermines the "incentive" of entrepreneurs. Would that there was a shred of evidence to support this one, but there simply isn't.

Was Henry Ford somehow destroying his own incentive when he payed his workers well? Apparently not.

How about Westinghouse? Edison?

Conversely, let us look at WalMart where freedom lover's axiom is apparently hard at work. What, exactly, has WalMart "innovated?" Strong-arming suppliers (some of which have gone out of business trying to meet WalMart's pricing demands)? Figuring out a method for plausible deniability when employing illegal alien labor at slave wages? Entering communities with predatory pricing that wipes out the economic base of the local area?

The point freedom lover and so many other worshippers at the altar of capitalism seem to forget is that capitalism completely breaks down in the presence of predatory monopolies. Incentive to innovate is crushed when competition disappears, and predatory monopolies do nothing other than crush competition.

The end result is a combination of the worst of capitalism and Soviet-style communism--shrinking consumer choice being made by corporations that have every incentive to cut corners in dangerous ways while depriving the public of recourse and resources.

Does that sound like utopia to you?

Posted by: Derelict at November 23, 2003 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

Unions just raise up the current workers over those who do not have jobs.

... devolving into libertarian claptrap.

why are we refighting the collective bargaining battles of 100 years ago? Didn't we learn anything then?

Posted by: Corporate FatCat at November 23, 2003 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

there can be no moral claim to something that would not exist but for the decision of others to risk their resources on its creation

It's all about the Benjamins, then.

The only resource fascismlover recognizes is money.

What a sad and barren philosophy; and an interesting take on morality.

Posted by: 16 at November 23, 2003 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

I dunno. Regarding your comments about customer service: the scabs at my grocery store are slower than the usual people, but they are pretty nice. I think that's a big part of "customer service."

Posted by: Patterico at November 23, 2003 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

"Unions just raise up the current workers over those who do not have jobs. "

Really? Is that why they're striking over the corporations' plan to drastically cut the pay of new hires?

The unions' striking workers are holding themselves above those who don't have jobs by telling the corporations they shouldn't be able to massively cut the pay of those who don't have jobs... is that right? So confusing.

Posted by: Anon at November 23, 2003 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

Derelict at 6:11 brought up the case of "that notorious liberal leftist Henry Ford.." hardly the best example of industrialist foresight to cite! Yes, Ford was the first major automaker to pay his workers a wage high enough to afford to buy his own product (a Good Thing): but Old Henry also tried to keep the wage frozen for years, bitterly resisted any attempt by Ford workers to get any raises or benefits out of the company, fought bitterly to keep unions out of his plants, and when he found he couldn't, dealt with a strike (in 1938) by hiring goon squads to break the strike with an astonishing level of violence. Not to mention holding social and political attitudes that were considered embarrassingly reactionary, even in the 1930s.
Unfortunately, too many contemporary corporations seem to be following the latter path in emulating Henry Ford, and ignoring the former: the "race to the bottom" in wages may boost a company's bottom line: but if the workers thus shorted end up as the merely "poor", vs. the "working poor", it is difficult where society is much served by that. Thanks to Kevin and Barbara Maynard for pointing this out.

Posted by: Jay C. at November 23, 2003 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

I love a good debate. I love it when one side makes a point, and the other side attempts to disprove it.

That is not happening here.

The "libertarian claptrap" mentioned above was actually pretty standard economic thought...you could just as easily denounce the law of gravity "libertarian claptrap." But you're just proving yourself ignorant as a result.

Listen: "The Race to the Bottom". This is a slogan, with no bearing in reality. The RACE is to the equilibrium market price, where the quantity demanded and supplied are the same. Prices drop, and number of workers increase until the market is satisfied.

Listen...this is standard economic thought, and spouting an unrelated slogan doesn't disprove it.

The legal responsibility of a company is to act on behalf of shareholders. No surprise there, since shareholders own the company. The workers are 100 percent free to go and start a collective...and I'll wish them well.

...

800 dollars a month for an apartment in San Francisco? I thought that was the most expensive area. That's not too bad. In Northwest Pennsylvania apartments are about half that.

In NW Pennsylvania HIGHLY TRAINED MACHINISTS are lucky to get part-time work at 12.97! Can you bar-code scanners get that through your head?

Count your blessings. It's a hugely inflated wage, and it hurts the customers.

Posted by: me oh my at November 23, 2003 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

me oh my:

Read some Churchill in his Progressive days. He explicitly used the term "race to the bottom", nearly 100 years ago. The English had a good long taste of unfettered free market capitalism, and welfare capitalism was universally found to be a better social compromise between capital/employers and labor/employees.

The issue now is monster companies like walmart can just slough off living wages burden onto the social state, and/or really race to the bottom by hiring illegal workers who get one day off per year.

Perhaps corporations should face a higher progressive tax rate, 60% or so. This would bring the system more into balance.

The $800/mo was for a studio in SF. California is a very desirable place to live, right now in Santa Cruz it is sunny, in the 70's. That real estate, wages, and prices are higher is not surprising.

What was libertarian claptrap:

Those lucky enough to be in a union are are using government backed force to prevent those who need work from having a job. Also, it artifically raises wages and costs employers more money which means less people have jobs.

"government backed force". ooh come see the violence inherent in the system. help help I'm being repressed.

An employer's "artificially raised wage" is an employee's quality of life.

Workers should have every right to organize, and walmart should not have the right to pay its people less than a living wage for the region.

Posted by: Troy at November 23, 2003 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

It's a hugely inflated wage, and it hurts the customers.

$13/hr, say $26 to the employer with associated benefits/ FICA factored in.

I think the average metric is 26 customers/hr in a store.

Checkers works out ~$1 customer. Cutting it down to wallmart level, $6.50 for a total of $15/hr, we get the labor cost to 50c/customer.

Ooh 50c penalty on something incurred once a week or so. The pain!


Posted by: Troy at November 23, 2003 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

Troy
when you say that WalMart does not have a right to pay its people less than a living wage, you are advocating the end of free market capitalism.
Nobody is dragging those workers to work at WalMart. If you dont allow WalMart to freely negotiate the terms of its contracts with employees next thing that will happen is that you will not be able to sell what you want on eBay at prices acceptable to you (perhaps you sell or buy them at prices predetermined by government)
think about it there is no difference between you and WalMart, you both are subjects of the same civil law which gurantees the freedom of contracts.

Posted by: Freedomlover at November 23, 2003 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

Troy:

I think by "government backed force" he was talking about union laws. There is no equivilent law that forces me to patronize the more expensive of two different retailers, the way companies are (sort of) forced to go with the more expensive workers.

If such a law was put into place, (forcing you to go to a certain retailer) I think you would understand the injustice of it.

You said:

"Ooh 50c penalty on something incurred once a week or so."

Imagine if WalMart was coerced into buying $100 push brooms, or $1500 uniforms, or $75 lightbulbs, etc, etc, for all of the various costs of doing business. This sounds ridiculous...but all of these items (just like food) were made by labor. The glass workers get 12.97, the filament-makers get 12.97, the bulb assembly people get 12.97, the packaging people get 12.97...if everybody demands an inflated wage, you get this sort of snowball effect. If ONLY store clerks demand it, the effect isn't huge, no. That doesn't make it right.

You would take a limited view by saying, "Oh, it's just 50 cents a week cost for the customer to pay for those $75 lightbulbs". But if everything in the store costs customers an extra 50 cents a week...flour is going to cost 5 dollars a pound.

Posted by: me oh my at November 23, 2003 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

when you say that WalMart does not have a right to pay its people less than a living wage, you are advocating the end of free market capitalism.

yup, welcome to the 20th century and HAND.

Posted by: Troy at November 23, 2003 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

If such a law was put into place, (forcing you to go to a certain retailer) I think you would understand the injustice of it.

I also understand the history of labor relations in this country.

Posted by: Troy at November 23, 2003 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

me oh my -
Save the crap about debating tactics.

I didn't catch you or any of your fellow libertarians addressing MY point:

If we're not racing to the bottom, then just what is the proper price below which grocery store label should not be expected to sink? $2/hr? 0? What? Where is it we're racing to? And if we don't like that, are we not entitled to question it?

And what if this "equilbrium point" falls below the cost needed for this labor to reproduce itself?

If standard economics cannot answer these questions, I question its right to call itself "standard".

Posted by: Steve Cohen at November 23, 2003 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

Imagine if WalMart was coerced into buying $100 push brooms, or $1500 uniforms, or $75 lightbulbs, etc, etc

imagine them employing workers who get one day off a year. Oh wait, I don't have to imagine that.

Posted by: Troy at November 23, 2003 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

That doesn't make it [collective bargaining] right.

There needs to be a balance between labor and capital -- both sides are capable of gaming the system.

Also, being a quasi-Georgist, I'm aware that if we just pay everybody more the end result will be richer landlords, for they, in the end, will pocket the increased wealth via their "mother of all monopolies"... livable land.

Posted by: Troy at November 23, 2003 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

One point wrt freedom-lover -- what's the point of paying people (of adult age) less than substenance (sp?) wages -- all this results in is that they have to find multiple jobs to make ends meet and a roof overhead.

But perhaps high prices are a sign a given locale is over-populated, and a hint that poorer people should move out to more affordable areas.

The SF bay area is seeing the hollowing out now -- many of our public sector employees (firemen, etc) commute from hundreds of miles away, as an entry-level house here is $300k+.

Posted by: Troy at November 23, 2003 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Steve:

"Where is it we're racing to?"

Ideally, we're racing to the equilibrium market price. I said that already.

"then just what is the proper price below which grocery store label should not be expected to sink?"

I'm not sure I follow you, but if WalMart (by whatever machination) manages to employ people below market value, for instance with illegal immigrants, then such behaviour should be stopped. But when ordinary (uncoerced) people are willing to work at a place, they are admitted that the price is acceptable. Not with their mouths, maybe, but with their actions. This is true, even if the people are scabs.

"the cost needed for this labor to reproduce itself"

This concept seems a little silly. What is that cost? A "living wage" I suppose. Well, I've known families who lived well below 12.97 an hour. If labor genuinely can't reproduce itself, then a shortage of workers occurs and...as if by magic...labor prices rise on their own.

Posted by: me oh my at November 23, 2003 01:03 PM | PERMALINK

Steve,
where did you get this idea of "racing to the bottom" ? The opposite is true:
read Dickens (or Das Kapital)
and compare the life of the workers in those times of good old Britain with the life of modern MsDonald workers. If you call that a bottom, i can assure you there is still a long way to fall.
But of course, nobody will want to fall that far back, they will simply move to other jobs.
Which jobs? i hear your indignant voice. I dont know I will answer you. I trust the free market capitalism to create more and more jobs, both skilled and unskilled. Thats what happened so far for three centuries and i dont have any reason to think that it will not happen again.

Posted by: Freedomlover at November 23, 2003 01:12 PM | PERMALINK

Me oh my, love that country pie. But really, it's the same old BS.

The fact that someone is willing to take a job means nothing outside the context it occurs in. I have just lost a job as a java programmer. Hopefully, I'll find another. But I might not. I'm 50 years old. I might yet have to accept a job at a WalMart or a HomeDepot. You can't tell me, if that happens, that this is a economy that uses its resources efficiently.

Be that as it may, before you ask people to follow the path you are advocating, you ought to be able to tell them where they'll be heading if they follow your suggestion. Making people work for their "equilibrium wage rate" may sound good in an economics classroom, but I doubt it will make it into the platform of the Republicans, the Democrats, or even the Libertarians.

Posted by: Steve Cohen at November 23, 2003 02:27 PM | PERMALINK

Steve,

I'm not being a moralist. Depending on where you stand, gravity seems pretty immoral, too. I'm an engineer, and yeah...the market could fuck me in a real profound way. I know. I know.

Young women (especially) who work at WalMart can take this advice: Go to nursing school, and you'll be making 70,000 dollars a year easy. Not everyone wants to be nurse, of course...I'd rather stock shelves, actually.

What more can I say? Let's let Nikita Kruschev get a word in:

"Your grandchildren shall live under Communism"

Nikita's OWN SON became an American Immigrant...he obviously didn't come for the guarantee of employment. Security and opportunity are a trade-off...I know it's not a perfect one.

P.S.

Go into customer service--not glamourous, but there's lots of easy jobs.

Posted by: me oh my at November 23, 2003 02:42 PM | PERMALINK

Steve,

Let me make another prediction: If you did take that Walmart job, you'd be a manager in a year or two. They move people from within.

Posted by: me oh my at November 23, 2003 02:53 PM | PERMALINK

I should probably just tell you to fuck off, me oh my, and go do something useful like twiddling my resume some more.

But you started this with your remark that only one side was arguing the points raised by the other side, and then you've proceeded to ignore all my substantive points with a bunch of pure snark. So drop the "moral debater" pose already.

And once again, I'll ask you the question: If not to the bottom, why won't you honestly tell those now being pushed down under this regime where it is they're racing to? If $12.97 an hour is too steep for their services, what is fair?

And just to raise another only mildly related issue, why is it that libertarians are so solidly convinced that "re-regulating" the securities markets is such a terrible idea after all the abuses we've seen in the era of de-regulation? Hasn't the deregulated securities market had its chance to show what it could do -- and flunked?

Posted by: Steve Cohen at November 23, 2003 03:14 PM | PERMALINK

me oh my,
$70K a year for an easy nursing job?

Where?

Posted by: Tripp at November 23, 2003 03:16 PM | PERMALINK

Steve,
Some libertarians remind me of the communists of old. They have this absolutely great-sounding system on paper that would be utopia if only everyone would follow it perfectly.

"If everyone would simply work at their equilibrium point, how wonderful the absolute efficiency of the system would be."

"Imagine if we could re-order the world and then, look at that, there I am at the top!"

Posted by: Tripp at November 23, 2003 03:20 PM | PERMALINK

me oh my- You are a fool, not worth the responses you have gotten. "Go to nursing school, and you'll be making 70,000 dollars a year easy." -mom

The standard pay for nurses is nowhere near $70,000/year. You state a simple fact and can't even get it right. Nationally, actual average annual earnings of RNs employed full-time in 2000 was about-Texas Nursing Association.

Everyone can't live the life you deem them capable, some people have limited means to education, and some people don't have the intelligence. If you can't understand the need for a living wage, may your job be outsourced to India.

Posted by: Scott at November 23, 2003 03:51 PM | PERMALINK

Nationally, actual average annual earnings of RNs employed full-time in 2000 was about $46,800-TNA

Posted by: Scott at November 23, 2003 03:52 PM | PERMALINK

I still haven't seen the libertarians respond to a few key points argued above.

In continually chasing the cheapest labor around the globe and/or laying people off and/or keeping wages down - who exactly will afford the products and services being sold?

If Wal-Mart pays such low wages that a high percentage are forced onto food stamps, isn't Wal-Mart contributing to the drain on YOUR taxpayer dollar?

And let me add something of my own . . . why do companies insist on paying executives huge salaries? (and now large universities are starting to hike the pay of their presidents.) I'm sure they can find competent people to head a company for $200,000 instead of $20,000,000 a year. The competition steals your CEO? Hire somebody else. Where is the invisible hand of capitalism flattening CEO wages which cost the shareholders so much?

Posted by: Librul at November 23, 2003 04:04 PM | PERMALINK

"Some libertarians remind me of the communists of old. They have this absolutely great-sounding system on paper that would be utopia if only everyone would follow it perfectly."

At least commies got to try their system. And I don't think any libertarians say that utopia would result, I think most libertarians are libertarians because they don't believe in utopia.

Posted by: Reg at November 23, 2003 04:17 PM | PERMALINK

The resident ibertarians are wrong where it comes to skills involved in being a cashier. Skills such as speed and dealing with people are important, they add value to the customer's overall shopping experience. I speak from some experience; I worked as a cashier at McDonald's one summer, and then two summers at Wal-Mart. I was terrible when I began, by summer 2 at Wal-Mart I was definitely better - a faster worker, and better at dealing with people. I saw from the get-go that my older coworkers who had been there longer were, by and large, much better at EVERYTHING than I was -- twice as fast at scanning items, at coping with difficult customers, etc.

Would you rather be in the line with the slouchy, slow, disrespectful teenager and save .10 on your bill, or be in the line with the middle-aged person who checks you out quickly, efficiently, and pleasantly? I'd rather pay a little extra and have less frustration in my life.

Posted by: Librul at November 23, 2003 04:24 PM | PERMALINK

Make that libertarians.

Posted by: Librul at November 23, 2003 04:27 PM | PERMALINK

As usual... I'm late to the topic, but GREAT POST! Support the workers. Don't cross the pickets and contribute to the strike funds.

I said it yesterday and I'll say today:

If you reduce actual wages and benefits for the same work on current workers, you will get a revolt. ...and any schmuck who thinks that work that doesn't require a degree is easy can bite me.

As for Wal-mart promoting "good" workers...ahahahahhahahhahhahahahaha Yep, you too could be get $28k/year for 70 hour weeks and borderline legal activities. I would bet that at the average Wal-mart Supercenter, those who earn more than $50k year could be counted on one or two hands.

Me Oh My... you should stop using automotive analogies. You don't know what you're talking about. It would probably surprise you to find that American automakers compete VERY well on the playing fields of price and quality. Those who question that data are the ones with misplaced perceptions. (FYI. GM makes very little money off their cars. They make HUGE profits financing them through GMAC.)

However you do illustrate a very good point. Markets are emotional not rational.

Posted by: def rimjob at November 23, 2003 04:28 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp
Some libertarians remind me of the communists of old. They have this absolutely great-sounding system on paper that would be utopia if only everyone would follow it perfectly.

Exactly so. I made the same point in another thread.

Reg:
At least commies got to try their system. And I don't think any libertarians say that utopia would result, I think most libertarians are libertarians because they don't believe in utopia.

Nonsense. You ignore the whole depressing experience with laissez-faire economics from the end of the civil war up to the new deal. Granted this was not the full libertarian utopia, but it was close as they dared to come. If libertarians think they don't believe in utopia they're kidding themselves - they simply choose not to see that the wealthy are actually the net winners with government; it's their property that's being protected. There's a reason conservatives haven't dared go further in a libertarian direction - it would scare them to death.

Posted by: Steve Cohen at November 23, 2003 04:39 PM | PERMALINK

First of all: I'm not a libertarian. The government must make policy to encourage a genuine free market. This would result in things you may well support, such as an eventual break-up of WalMart.

Concerning nurses:
I got my number (70,000) from anecdotal evidence. If the actual number is 46,800, fine. My point is: Grocery stores are full of people IDEAL for nursing, and they don't need to hear, "Strike, strike, strike," but "School, school, school." Okay? Disagree with this if want...I'm not arguing it any more.

Concerning CEOs:
They make super-big money because shareholders are spineless. Japan has a more reasonable system, and one we should imitate.

To Steve:

Please don't tell me I'm answering your question with a "bunch of pure snark", and then ask a new question like "what is fair" concerning prices. Answering this question is the job of central planning boards, not me. That's a command economy.

The GENUINE fair price is a variable...whatever a buyer and a seller agree to. If I sell my car to you for 10,000, and neither of us are coerced, then that's the fair price.

To Librul:

"In continually chasing the cheapest labor around the globe and/or laying people off and/or keeping wages down - who exactly will afford the products and services being sold?"

Marx predicted that eventually, no one would be able to buy the goods of the capitalists. You share this concern. But does it really play out?

Well, in addition to predicting it, Marx came up with a solution to it. The solution has been attempted.

Over 20,000,000 dead.

...And bread lines.

I've been poor, damn poor, and down-and-out, but I have NEVER stood in a bread line. I've known more than a few people who made under $10 an hour, had cars and/or motorcycles, decent housing, and fat on their bones. That is a result of a free-market economy, no matter how much you call me a "fool".

I don't get my opinions from Rush or Harry Browne or any of them. Go to your library, check out "The Gulag Archipelago" and read it.

Posted by: me oh my at November 23, 2003 05:00 PM | PERMALINK

Librul said:

"The resident ibertarians are wrong where it comes to skills involved in being a cashier. Skills such as speed and dealing with people are important"

...

In Pittsburgh they have automated check-out lines, and guess what? I was AS FAST as any cashier I ever witnessed...on my FIRST TRY. I wasn't very courteous, though.

***

def said:

"American automakers compete VERY well on the playing fields of price and quality."

Consumer Reports disagrees, and (with your permission) I do as well. Toyotas typically run 200,000 miles...my Ford dropped anchor at 4000. And this (as you suggested) is combined with GM's and Ford's nonexistent margins on car sales.

My own fault, of course.

Posted by: me oh my at November 23, 2003 05:15 PM | PERMALINK

I've been poor, damn poor, and down-and-out, but I have NEVER stood in a bread line. I've known more than a few people who made under $10 an hour, had cars and/or motorcycles, decent housing, and fat on their bones. That is a result of a free-market economy, no matter how much you call me a "fool".-mom

Mike are you mom? I knew a guy from Pittsburg who had a car, decent housing, plenty of fat on his bones, and he made $10/hr five years ago. He ended up in debt he couldn't pay, had is car repossessed, lost his job and lost his home. So sure you can make all the anecdotal points you want, but unless you know everyone's circumstances don't be so sure people can make it on $10/hour.

Posted by: Scott at November 23, 2003 05:20 PM | PERMALINK

Scott said:

"don't be so sure people can make it on $10/hour."

I have made it on LESS THAN TEN DOLLARS AN HOUR. It is NOT DIFFICULT!!! Yes, there are people who make 1,000,000 a year and go bankrupt, but that's because of fiscal mismanagement. It doesn't mean 1,500,000 is required to get by.

How many people in this country at 10/hour go on the dole? A few. How many have cars/good housing/etc? Millions. Okay? You need some historical perspective.

Posted by: me oh my at November 23, 2003 05:46 PM | PERMALINK

me oh my -
You're full of it. You might be able to handle one or two items efficiently, but there's no way you'd handle a large order as efficiently as experienced checkers.

I've gone into the self checkout lines too. Standing behind some other fool fumbling with the keyboard. What an idiot! Then my turn, and guess what, I fumbled just as much! Poorly written instructions, unfamiliarity with the locations of various things. Incompetent bagging. Granted, I'll improve if I use this line once a week, but I doubt I'd ever be as good as an experienced checker. They'll never be able to get rid of the checkers. Imagine if they did and you had to stand behind someone feeding 12, with two carts full of merchandise and fumbling with the interface.

Posted by: Steve Cohen at November 23, 2003 05:47 PM | PERMALINK

I don't buy that "because you share the same concern as Karl Marx you are a communist and responsible for millions dead" line. Following that specious line of reasoning, I could say that since Karl Marx concerned himself with wiping his ass many times in his life, your ass is either very communist or very crusty.

I do however see the forces of capitalism turning this country into something that is effectively very similar to communism, a country rife with misery, a low standard of living, lousy products, rampant pollution, and crappy architecture. And lots of people herded into gulags (privatized prisons where the inmates are used as slave labor) for things that shouldn't be crimes (possession of small amounts of drugs). Oh wait, we're halfway there already.

Posted by: Librul at November 23, 2003 05:52 PM | PERMALINK

A race to the bottom? That can't happen. You all act like these profits aren't going anywhere. Someone gets them. Someone spends or invests them. That is why it still benefits the economy. If the wages at WalMart get so low that people can't support themselves, they won't work there. Already Walmart service is shitty and the store is crowded and messy. Lots of people boycott it because it sucks and they would rather pay a few bucks more for a nicer, cleaner place to shop.

Why don't you lefties start your own company and pay people high wages? No one is stopping you. Some companies do that and survive. Fast Company magazine just ran a piece on Fetzer wine and how they pay 3 times the industry average, produce zero waste and are still profitable. Stop looking to the government to fix everything because those assholes are as selfish and corrupt as the rest of us. Change lies in the hands of the people. If you own shares of stock, go speak at the annual meeting. I think that most of you are criticizing something you know very little about, and haven't looked into the other side of this debate. You see profit and you have a knee jerk reaction, without understanding that profit and social responsibility go together.

Posted by: Businesspundit at November 23, 2003 05:58 PM | PERMALINK

me oh my -

Well, at last you've answered my question. It wasn't a new one, though, I asked it many times before.

No coercion. The libertarian mantra. Your mantra.

You're free to take this job, find another or starve.
No coercion there.

Did we cut your wages? If you don't like it, leave. No coercion there.

(And let's not think about the systems of labor in the low-wage havens we're exporting your job to. Is there coercion there? Not by us. Maybe by the people we contract with but that's just "local custom", heh heh.)

If you complain, you're fired.
No coercion there. You know the rules.

It's a wonderful system. No one who ever honestly laid it out would ever be elected. It can only be sold by bait-and-switch tactics and propaganda.

As has been said many times, there's not much difference between the starry-eyed marxist and the starry-eyed libertarian. Both promise utopia we accept a life vastly different from what we know. Both have the same excuse that existing attempts to implement utopia don't count because they didn't do it right.

Posted by: Steve Cohen at November 23, 2003 06:00 PM | PERMALINK

No, businesspundit, we don't "see profit" and have a conniption fit.

We see a lockout. We see profitable companies trying to take a bigger share of the pie from people who have worked hard for these corporations for years and don't have a lot of room to give. Until the lockout, no one complained about the stores' profits.

Posted by: Steve Cohen at November 23, 2003 06:04 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, and businesspundit, how is it that YOU know so much about conditions that you can just gloss over the very sensible arguments put forward by Barbara Maynard. Go argue with HER. Tell me why her points are wrong, oh wise one.

Posted by: Steve Cohen at November 23, 2003 06:09 PM | PERMALINK

Librul said:

"And lots of people herded into gulags (privatized prisons where the inmates are used as slave labor) for things that shouldn't be crimes (possession of small amounts of drugs). Oh wait, we're halfway there already."

I'm glad to see that we agree on something. But, as stupid as drug laws are, it's not the same as 20 years of labor in a coal mine for criticizing the head of the party.

However, the idea of people not being able to buy products because of low wages shouldn't be taken seriously...it's a scare tactic. If people can't buy the products, then their price goes down...either through a drop in dividend payouts or costs. Actual occurances are hard to imagine...I could see it happening with, say, Vacuum tubes in amplifiers. It's a small market, but requires a big factory for production. You might (someday) not get costs low enough for a reasonable retail price.

***

Steve said:

"You're full of it."

Hey, there are dozens of grade-school rhymes I could use to counter that.

To BusinessPundit:

Good luck...I already advised them to start a collective, and they ignored me.

Posted by: me oh my at November 23, 2003 06:10 PM | PERMALINK

Slavery made plenty of good economic sense, too. And yet, the case for its abolition rested almost solely on moral grounds. This morality is traceable to what is at least a pseudo-religious view that man should be accorded some basic rights. Adam Smith and other liberals of his time understood this well. This country was founded on such principles, which are alleged to be self-evident.

We, directly or indirectly, deny these basic freedoms to people all over the world to maintain our high standard of living.

But those palm pilots sure are nifty.

All markets are based on rules, as is society. Even if we view society as purely a construction of self-interest, it's what makes us stop at red lights.

Those that argue that minimum wages and the like inhibit incentive should also consider that unlivable wages provide a strong disincentive to work and a strong incentive to crime.

"There needs to be a balance between labor and capital -- both sides are capable of gaming the system."

Labor has one ace up its sleeve, which has been seriously weakened by mobile capital. This country finds itself in a fortunate position, starvation is a rarity--thus mitigating the urgency of the strike, and so pressure continues to turn the screw again. What we don't often realize is that this in turn puts huge pressure on businesses to follow suit in other countries, so that they can compete with walmart and other MNCs. And austerity programs are imposed from within or without, environmental and labor laws are either nonexistent or unenforceable for lack of funds, or because lax rules attract business. This is the race to the bottom. It is not an empty canard. Shit happens. People starve. Even the staunchest free mousketeers need to take negative externalities into consideration.

It's all interconnected.

Posted by: invisible hand slapping at November 23, 2003 06:20 PM | PERMALINK

"In Pittsburgh they have automated check-out lines, and guess what? I was AS FAST as any cashier I ever witnessed...on my FIRST TRY."

Perhaps you should rethink your line of work.

Those cashiers never had it so good, after all.

Posted by: invisible hand slapping at November 23, 2003 06:29 PM | PERMALINK

Hello i.h.s.,

Can I offer a general objection to what you said? You talk about many different things (environmental laws, for instance) that don't necessarily matter in respect to an alleged "Race to the bottom." Even an environmentalist realizes the advantage of pollution-controls is in either cost savings (by reducing cancer, etc.) or in aesthetics (which doesn't profit workers or companies).

Can you strip away the fat of what you said? Since Multi-national companies seem integral to your argument, can I just say, "All right imagine total protectionism...no trade with any other countries." How would this prevent a "Race to the bottom"?

Posted by: me oh my at November 23, 2003 07:02 PM | PERMALINK

Steve said (among other things):

"Did we cut your wages? If you don't like it, leave."

C'mon man, you're not an idiot. Do you find it IMPOSSIBLE to imagine yourself running a business? Leaving is a powerful right the people have. There have been times and places (uh oh, here comes my historical perspective again) where if you didn't like your job, or your pay, you COULDN'T LEAVE.

Try, try, try to imagine: You OWN a business. You STARTED the business. You SIGN your employee's checks. You have new COMPETITION requiring cost-cutting. ...if some external force says, "Nope, you've got to buy labor at a hugely inflated price," you are getting VERY PROFOUNDLY SCREWED...in a way that endangers the entire business and all the employees.

Posted by: me oh my at November 23, 2003 08:05 PM | PERMALINK

me oh my- Perhaps you should check out the JD Power quality ratings. American cars do very well. So do Japanese and so do German. Your bias is stuck in 1982. And since you talk about your Ford crapping out at 4000 miles, lets talk about the '87 Cavalier that I put 280,000 miles on or the Beretta that my Dad put 210,000. Or what about the Honda that my sister blew up at 40K? Dude, save the anecdotes.

The fact of the matter is that you are convinced that labor markets are merit based and I disagree. They are based purely on emotion...

Rarely can any worker in a large operation quantify their their worth. When a business does salary analysis it's pretty simple: working class, "How low will they let us get away with"; For CEO's its, "How much can my lawyer negotiate." ... and for white collar middle manager/tech types, you fall somewhere in the middle. (and your jobs are next!)

Posted by: def rimjob at November 23, 2003 08:17 PM | PERMALINK

"Try, try, try to imagine: You OWN a business. You STARTED the business. You SIGN your employee's checks. You have new COMPETITION requiring cost-cutting."

Sorry, but when did Albertson's, Ralph's, and Von's become small businesses rather than huge corporations acting in collusion to lock out employees and share profits?

We're not talking about small businesses here. We're not talking about some guy who started his own company and hires his employees and signs their paychecks and is scraping just as hard as they are to get by.

Corporations such as these HAVE options other than screwing over their employees when it comes to cost-cutting and competition. They have plenty of options, in fact... but the easiest way is always to jab a knife in the people down at the bottom.

Posted by: J. Bryan at November 23, 2003 08:20 PM | PERMALINK

J Bryan said:

"We're not talking about small businesses here. We're not talking about some guy who started his own company and hires his employees and signs their paychecks and is scraping just as hard as they are to get by."

Your moral seems to be: When a business stops being small and struggling...when it becomes large and successful, it should change its habits and become...not a charity exactly...but an organization who considers "What's good for the workers?" before considering any cost-benefit analyses?

I don't buy it. The sparrow and the ostrich both have to look out for themselves. Don't criticize one for what you tolerate in the other.

As I said earlier, though, if a business gets too large, it should be broken up. This gives customers and employees both more options.

...........

Def said:

"Your bias is stuck in 1982"

You're right, it is. But 1982 is still illustrative, is it not? The companies had to change (in respect to a number of things).

'For CEO's its, "How much can my lawyer negotiate."'

Something like that. Simply put: Shareholders need to do to executives what executives do to workers. Costs should be cut all along the line.

Posted by: me oh my at November 23, 2003 08:41 PM | PERMALINK

"Your moral seems to be: When a business stops being small and struggling...when it becomes large and successful, it should change its habits and become...not a charity exactly...but an organization who considers "What's good for the workers?" before considering any cost-benefit analyses?"

No, my moral is that I believe it necessary to support small businesses -- struggling entrepreneurs who are, through their determination and innovation, aiding the nation and its economy. I don't think large corporations need that aid, that welfare.

And I didn't say corporations should consider the workers before any other cost-benefit analysis, and in fact I explicitly said the opposite, and thanks much for twisting my words. What I said was that there are plenty of options available to them -- options which are NOT available to small businesses -- which they can utilize without screwing over their own employees.

Why is it always an option to penalize the low income or middle income workers rather than the high paid executives? Gosh, I must be some kind of commie for suggesting that corporate executives are sickeningly overpaid in terms of their actual salaries, their benefits packages, the waste that is spent on them (those first class flights, nice hotel rooms, and fancy rooms sure are nice treats, but they're hardly necessary expenses in the company's efficient cost-benefit analysis -- and you know that full well).

You people act like its a treasonous sin to the mighty god Free Market for someone to suggest that laborers should be fairly paid for the work they do. Well, guess what? We don't live in a purely Free Market based country. We live in a country with a free market tempered by societal morality and safety nets and so on. And you know what, I say, throwing back the words of your buddies right at you?

If you don't like it here, you can leave.

Posted by: J. Bryan at November 23, 2003 08:58 PM | PERMALINK

Shareholders need to do to executives what executives do to workers. Costs should be cut all along the line.

I'll believe it when I see it. John Dasburg was given a $700,000+ bonus for sucesfully negotiating hundreds of millions in concessions from Northwest Airlines employees.

I guess it was his commission.

When he was asked what the employee got in return, he replied, "They got to keep their jobs."

What an asshole.

Posted by: def rimjob at November 23, 2003 09:10 PM | PERMALINK

J Bryan:

"If you don't like it here, you can leave."

[With teeth grinding] Yeah, I do like it here. I like it so much I want to improve it. If you see me washing my car, don't tell me, "If you don't like it, buy another one." Thanks.

"What I said was that there are plenty of options available to them -- options which are NOT available to small businesses"

All businesses have the same basic methods of cutting costs: Lowering business expenses, lowering capital expenses, lowering pay, cutting workers, cutting dividends (or one's own profits, in the case of sole proprietorships). Small and large function the same. When Ma and Pa fire Joe the clerk, no one complains, "You had other options!" Why not? It's their business. If they made a bad decision, the market will punish them.

"Why is it always an option to penalize the low income or middle income workers rather than the high paid executives?"

As I said in an earlier post, this is the fault of spineless shareholders. We agree: CEOs make ridiculous money. But it's the shareholders' money, not the employees', not the government's, not society's, not your's.

"You people act like its a treasonous sin to the mighty god Free Market for someone to suggest that laborers should be fairly paid for the work they do."

WHAT IS FAIR??? I define fair as this: When a buyer and seller agree on a price, that is the fair price. What is your definition of fair? Whatever it is, there are 280,000,000 Americans who are going to come up with a definition that better suits their self-interest.

"No, my moral is that I believe it necessary to support small businesses -- struggling entrepreneurs who are, through their determination and innovation, aiding the nation and its economy."

Whether you like it or not, everybody who WILLINGLY drives up to WalMart and purchases its goods is saying (through actions, not words) that WalMart is aiding the nation and its economy. Drop the attitude that the little guy is always good and the big guy is always evil.

Posted by: me oh my at November 23, 2003 09:30 PM | PERMALINK

About the motivations for libertarianism. . .

It seems to me that either you're a libertarian because you belive that such a system would be better in a materialistic sense, i.e. it would produce more goods, make people richer, etc.; Or because you believe that liberty is a human value of sufficient importance to warrant the sorts of societal rules that libertarians propose; or some combination of the two. These are the only two justifications for libertarianism that I know.

The first is not obviously moral, although a claim can be made (especially if you are a utilitarian) that it is. The second, however, obviously is moral. Why should we order society along libertarian lines? Because it would be the right, morally right, thing to do. This is all we can mean when we say that 'liberty' needs to be protected. The normative force here can only come from morality.

Libertarians who favour the second line of justification usually belive that liberty isn't just an important human value, but that it is a paramount value, one that trumps other values. So in one sense, these libertarians are truly utopians, i.e. they believe that if their system of governance was implemented, the resulting society would be the most morally decent society possible.

And since most libertarians also believe that material indices would also rise under a libertarian system (after all, it's hard to imagine a viable political movement premised on the idea that things would get worse under them, but that that would be the moral thing to do), I think it's pretty fair to call those people who belive both things utopian full stop. They believe that they have a political system which, if implemented, would make the world almost perfectly fair, and much, much happier.

Of course, this isn't to say that the libertarians are all naive panglossions. Many make much more modest claims about the benefits, moral and material (cf Nozick), but many others, including very prominent writers and thinkers in the movement (like Friedman and Raynd, for example) do seem to have this utopian outlook.

And given the actual lines of justification, it hardly seems like the sort of thing a libertarian should get huffy about. After all, if libertarianism isn't going to give us major gains on the material or moral front, why bloody bother?

Posted by: epist at November 23, 2003 09:42 PM | PERMALINK

Epist:

"Because it would be the right, morally right, thing to do. This is all we can mean when we say that 'liberty' needs to be protected. The normative force here can only come from morality."

Hey, you're right. Economics, unlike physics, allows the injection of values. If a person openly declares, "The most important value is full employment" then he's got me. Communism cannot be beat in that respect.

If someone else says, "Economic freedom...the ability to buy and sell what I want" is the most important value, then Libertarianism can't be beat.

If someone says, "Economic growth is the highest value" then Free Markets moderated such to reduce business cycles is the most important thing.

That last one represents the Status Quo. History has shown that #1) Free markets cause #2) economic growth, and that #3) growth causes employment. That's why a part of the status quo is allowing free markets.

As you force prices up and down, you screw with #1), and by extension #2 and #3. If you force employment up, you are removing the necessity of #1 and #2...so while people are employed, there's little growth.

Posted by: me oh my at November 23, 2003 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

A vast number of the people who have those jobs are on food stamps -- which means you and I are putting the food on their tables. Those "innovators" you so admire are beneath contempt: power and wealth go hand-in-hand with responsibility. These guys are willfully shirking their duty to the commonweal, in ways that impoverish us all.

So what about some program that punishes them?

I imagine something like this (And forgive me for not really knowing how the whole system works, so I don't even know if there's enough in here): a situation wherein the burden is automatically shifted back onto the company. So say a company employs someone without paying them enough to, say, live. Well, when they go and get food stamps, or some other service, the company is hit with a fee. It's their punishment for trying to make taxpayers pay for corporate welfare without even bothering with legislating it. And theoretically, they'll start raising their wages to a living wage in order to avoid it.

As I said, I don't know much about the labor situation, so it's probably full of holes. That's one idea I walk away with when looking at this problem, at least.

Posted by: zhermit at November 24, 2003 12:00 AM | PERMALINK

Try, try, try to imagine: You OWN a business. You STARTED the business. You SIGN your employee's checks. You have new COMPETITION requiring cost-cutting. ...if some external force says, "Nope, you've got to buy labor at a hugely inflated price," you are getting VERY PROFOUNDLY SCREWED...in a way that endangers the entire business and all the employees.

And having no health insurance doesn't endanger the employees? This sounds like a great argument for government intervention. Require all businesses to provide health care or a livable wage based on a consumer price index (which takes health care into consideration), and it ceases to be a competitive issue. Accomplishing this on the international level is more difficult, but inevitable, I believe.

Regarding the big business v small business argument--If the idea is to maintain rigorous competition, then there's a strong argument for redistribution of resources. Businesses tend towards monopoly. Money agglutinates. Capitalism doesn't do a good job of spreading the wealth around. Our current system is set up so that bigger businesses are often taxed less than smaller businesses. For example, MNCs earning income abroad simply funnel these monies through foreign sales corporations (offshore tax havens), and not only have economies of scale as a competitive advantage (which may be deserved), but are given additional tax breaks to boot. This is by design. How is this a free market? If you're gonna give the keys to the kingdom to Walmart, you'd damn well better get something in return.

To summarze and clarify my previous arguments, me oh my, some government intervention in markets is necessary. CEOs are pressured to make decisions that adversely affect the public interest all the time. It's the nature of the beast. Capitalism rewards bad behavior, seemingly even disproportionately more than good behavior.

I should add that I'm not advocating protectionism, even though the success of the west and Japan are built on it (even today). Protection is what our tax policy amounts to--indirect subsidies. The standard of living in this country is so high that it is politically feasible to keep arguing for lower and lower taxes. This then results in net capital flows into the United States, which we turn around and spend on guns and more subsidies, and the country gets richer at the expense of the rest of the world. Low taxes are our competitive advantage. The rest of the world has to follow suit and begin to dismantle their safety nets so that their industries can compete. When they can't compete anymore, then they bend over backwards to make their countries attractive to foreign investment--they suppress their labor and sell their land. The top few build fortresses to keep out the angry masses.

Even if markets did always result in equilibrium and lowest prices (i.e. there was perfect information and no monopolies); as well as no negative externalities, achieving this libertarian ideal of total world equilibrium (sounds a bit ridiculous, doesn't it) would most likely require some serious carnage. After all, there is an ideal equilibrium number of people that the planet can support. But those people at the bottom don't go happily or willingly, do they? They go out fighting. And so the markets are turned upside down by war and the fun continues.

Posted by: invisible hand slapping at November 24, 2003 12:54 AM | PERMALINK

The United States of America as of today is my libertarian "utopia".
I will be perfectly contented if you do not meddle with the market system. Of course, it would be nice to do away with "welfare" state, War on Drugs, and ban on gay marriage altogether speedily, but that is only question of time.
Do not meddle with free trade, capital mobility, and market competition and in due time all
those libertarian grievances will disappear.
Now, who is utopian? It seems to me that libertarians are certainly not utopians as opposed to some social reformers.
In case you did not realise it yet, welfare state is collapsing and not because of Shrub. Time is working on our side. Libertarians are looking forward to what is going to happen. Now, of course, the oppressed masses abetted by well
intentioned but clueless agitators may well do very nasty things. They can destroy the most successful nation in the history of mankind, but they will never be able to build anything worth having in its place.

Posted by: Freedomlover at November 24, 2003 01:00 AM | PERMALINK

13 an hour, 30 hours a week, 4.2 weeks per month yields 1638 gross. A 20% tax burden sounds about right.

That comes to $1310.

According to Craig's List, housing is more expensive down there in S. Cal than I thought. It seems $850 is about the minimum one can pay. Probably another 50 a month for utilities. A car is a necessity in California, so 20 cents a mile at 1,000 miles a month is $200. Give them $7 a day for food and 30 days of food will cost $210.

That totals $1310.

They'd better not get sick.

Posted by: McDruid at November 24, 2003 01:32 AM | PERMALINK

i.h.s.:

"some government intervention in markets is necessary"

I never said otherwise. Public works, environmental laws, anti-trust laws, military development, FDA, inflation controls, are all interventions that are here to stay.

"Capitalism rewards bad behavior, seemingly even disproportionately more than good behavior"

I must disagree as strenuously as possible. Nearly everything you buy is a direct result of capitalism. Unless you're living in a cave wearing homespun, I'll assume you have the trappings of modern life. Everything you possess you...by your act of acquiring it...have defined as good. Is it good behaviour for a capitalist to make something good? Obviously.

Do companies break laws? They sure do. But big offenders (Enron, etc) are outnumbered by big producers 10,000 to 1.

Posted by: me oh my at November 24, 2003 02:04 AM | PERMALINK

Unlike Ms. Maynard, I do see this strike as a referendum on unions -- in the most practical sence. The viability of unions is being tested here. People who are following this strike realize that this is going on where grocery contracts come up across the country. Apparently, we can expect a strike up here in Northern California next year, depending...

Despite Ms. Maynard's post, I think the union has done a terrible job of PR, here. That said, I realize that Orange and San Diego counties are not hotbeds of union support. But, the workers are ill-informed to speak to the basis for the strike and come off as being manipulated.

Nor is the public well-informed. I have looked at primary materials [i.e. contracts and contract proposals] and am dismayed by how neither side is presenting the full story. As to Ms. Maynard and the unions, I'd ask, where is the basis for the claim that benefits are to be cut by 50%? Because I don't see it evident in the published proposals.

The grocery corporations, equally, minimize the issue by saying that the health care costs being passed on to the workers are insubstantial. What they aren't saying is that there is a clause to modify and the two-tier system they'd like to set up is a recipe for underfunding the insurance trust so that modifications are inevitable. This truth is not being disclosed with their reassurances.

I am immovable in my support for unions. And my criticisms here are motivated by the desire that they not undermine themselves. Any validation of the public perception that unions are shady in these unfriendly-to-liberals times is dangerous.

Posted by: Chispa at November 24, 2003 02:14 AM | PERMALINK

Chispa:

"I am immovable in my support for unions."

Really? Nietzsche tells us not to have the courage of our convictions, but the courage to question our convictions. What if someone presents new information to you proving that unions are bad for the aggregate of people? Is your immovability such a virtue?

Posted by: me oh my at November 24, 2003 02:55 AM | PERMALINK

Freedomlover,
"Time is working on our side. Libertarians are looking forward to what is going to happen. Now, of course, the oppressed masses abetted by well
intentioned but clueless agitators may well do very nasty things. They can destroy the most successful nation in the history of mankind, but they will never be able to build anything worth having in its place."

What are you going to do with, as you put it, the 'opressed masses?'

I've never really heard a clear answer on this. Like the disbanded Iraqi army, they won't vanish into thin air. They will stick around and cause problems if they don't have something useful to do.

So what is the libertarian answer to this question of social darwinism? How do you keep the peasants from revolting?

Posted by: Tripp at November 24, 2003 08:31 AM | PERMALINK

Tripp: So at long last, the welfare state is just a sort of extortion racket? Give us what we want or YOU will be the first on the wall when the revolution comes? Extreme libertarians have been ranting that this was the case for years, but now it is the last line of defense by the socialists as well?

Seriously, in a free-market, the oppressed masses do what everyone else does - get a job, scrimp, save, learn new skills, get an education, and get ahead. The oppressed masses are not, in the end, actually OPPRESSED. They just have to be productive - that is, work - to get what they need and want. So do the rest of us.

Posted by: rvman at November 24, 2003 09:16 AM | PERMALINK

birddog: "higher health care costs, due in no small part to the lack of tort reform for medical malpractice"

The one surefire way to bring down the number of big-payout lawsuits is to reduce the number of those doctors who inspire most of them. Some 5% of doctors cause over 50% of all malpractice payouts - tort reform isn't the issue, the fact that those 5% still have malpractice insurance at all is. Likewise it's just built into the system that insurance costs rise whenever the stock market crashes, because the insurance companies take losses against their invested reserves.

Posted by: buermann at November 24, 2003 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

After reading Barbara Maynard's post, i am ashamed at crossing the picket line to get a turkey. Honestly, I really didn't know where to get a turkey. Trader Joes doesn't have 'em and I would rather not buy perishable food at Food 4 Less (this after numerous personal experiences).

Sorry guys, I really though that management was just asking you to kink in for health-care as I do to the tune of $80.00 a month (Up 30% from last year might I add). $95.00 a week is too steep for some with a salary of say #13.00/hr. I know how it is in California. A studio apartment in the San Gabriel Valley cannot be go for below $700/month. On the west side, that figure rises to somewhere over $1,000. Want a bedroom? Want one for your kids? Want to live in an area relatively free of crime. Good luck!

Solutions? 1. Organize WalMart 2. Fix those damned HMOs so that they are not in business to raise THEIR profits enormously by socking it to businesses and consumers.

Posted by: Catracks at November 24, 2003 01:31 PM | PERMALINK

1) Imagine the strikers get everything they want.
2) Imagine the products at WalMart being 10 percent lower as a result of #1.

Ten percent? Care to show your work on that?

Posted by: McDruid at November 25, 2003 01:39 AM | PERMALINK

The stalking horse for the anti-unionists seems to be named WalMart and the suggestion that WalMart can undercut prices by a smidgen to take customers away from supermarkets. But one of the most significant reasons for choosing one grocer over another is not price, it is convenience. In general, people go to the closest store, it is not really worth anyone's while to drive an extra 15 minutes to pay 2% less on a typical basket of groceries.

Since it is WalMart's policy to build on cheap land away from the city center, they are not going to be convenient for most people. (In San Jose, the only WalMarts are on the outskirts of town.)

I find it amusing that the "pro-business, pro-free market" voices don't ever seem to understand markets - everything is reduced solely to a price measurment.

Posted by: McDruid at November 25, 2003 02:00 AM | PERMALINK

I feel sorry for the grocery workers. However, my wife and I pay $750.00 per month for our Health Care Insurance. Barbara Maynard talks about most of the checkers are part time emolpoyees making $12.97 per hour.

My youngest daughter has a college degree works two jobs, neither of which have any benefits. and makes less than that. Of course my daughter is looking for a full time job with benefits. I would suggest the checkers do the same.

If the checkers were to get full time jobs at the higher price Barbara quoted, they would be making $37,232.00 per year. The grocery stores would have to find and train new employees and everyone would be happy.

Mark

Posted by: M Yochim at December 18, 2003 04:44 PM | PERMALINK

(Have you gone into a store in Southern California with minimum wage workers lately? They don't care at all about you or their store!)

I've actually found the people working in the stores now to be extraordinarily nice, even on the day before Christmas when the store was jam packed with people.

Posted by: Ron at December 29, 2003 02:15 PM | PERMALINK

I have read the majority of the posts, and while most of you say it isn't personal it isn't this, or that. It all boils down to the same thing. My husband has worked for Ralphs for 14 years. And we have struggled many times to support out children. While we did not have college educations, or financial means of going to college when we were younger it took years to work his way up to a decent wage we could live on. We now have three children and we both have to work full time to support them. Even though he has been there for 14 years he is not technically considered a full time employee, and now the threat that they may use lower paid employees to do his job and his hours would get cut to as low as 20? On the wages he makes, there is no way we would survive. As we struggle through this strike I have heard primarily about the medical coverage, this is a concern. However the major concern is letting management, and lower paid employees take his hours, even though he has seniority, and on top of this they want us to pay for health insurance. Now if they cut his hours to 20 a week, and we still have our living expenses, how are we supposed to afford that health coverage? Not pay our rent, or dont' buy food. Tell our children who have sacrificed holidays without their father, because he was working, that we can no longer afford college? All the sacrifices that many of these workers made with their future, because they had promises of health coverage, raises at specific times, and the strength of seniority to hold their positions that now they have no job security at all.
And for those of you who have sent your children to college, and they work two full time jobs with no health coverage. Here is a key word for you. Next time tell them to get a job in a supermarket. I am tired of hearing people say that supermarket employees are greedy. If they thought their positions would be so unstable, do you think they would have stayed working for a supermarket for most of their lives? It is not easy work, it is hard labor for the majority of the positions. My husband has now been out of work for close to three months, and while most people out there are saying I am tired of this, imagine how all of those employees feel.... We are paying out of pocket for health insurance, we have little money coming in. Christmas was not easy, but thankfully my Children understood. Thanksgiving, was not easy, but at least we still have a roof over our heads. Some are not so lucky. There are single moms who are on strike, struggling to meet their bills, and regular shoppers are tired of this? Think of that cashier who greets you by name, remembers when you had your first child, or says hi to you in a local restaraunt or park. Or the produce clerk who makes sure you get quality produce, or there is a certain fruit in stock. Or the bagger who knows you need help to the car without asking. These workers have slowly became a part of your life, whether you realize it or not, and hopefully you will give them your support.

Posted by: Dawn Martinez at January 8, 2004 01:52 PM | PERMALINK

Dawn, I understand your plight. You're husband needs to go back to work without giving up the seniority or the wages. He along with others in the union can demand that the union leaders (who make hundreds of thousands per year) stop holding out for thier own benifit and starts representing the union members. The walmart threat is real. If the union went back and said they would take the deal re: new employees but existing employees would need to keep the status quo, the stores would have a hard time turning it down. The truth is in the future working in a grocery store will not be the great career move it always was. The Union can deal with this and still take care of business, but first the members have to hold their leaders accountable.

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