Archive for Economy
You know, when I saw that headline in the Guardian, I thought I was looking at a decade-late review of the 2004 Vin Diesel film, The Chronicles of Riddick. If you missed Chronicles on cable, the film’s Big Bad (h/t to you Buffy fans) is a murderous group of interstellar religious fanatics called the Necromongers. They rampage across the galaxy, like ISIS in space ships, converting or killing everyone in their paths. They also “believe heavily in a philosophy that says ‘you keep what you kill’, believing that ending another’s life entitles you to their property and position.” Having screwed investors, thrown families from their homes, brought the planet to its economic knees, and demanded tribute (bailouts) lest they take us all down with them, that pretty much describes Wall Street’s philosophy these days, too. Which is why, as Suzanne McGee writes, “’You eat what you kill’ is the motto on many a trading desk.”
What Wall Street doesn’t believe in is its own bullshit, business school catechism about how in a meritocracy pay is a function of celestial mechanics that must not be perturbed lest we offend the Market gods – pay is an elegant function of one’s contribution to the enterprise’s bottom line. How do we know they don’t believe this?
… Wall Street’s profits aren’t what they used to be. Pretax profits fell 4.2% in 2014 to $16 billion, according to New York’s office of the state comptroller. If you think that sounds like a relatively modest decline, consider that 2014 profits were 33% below 2012 levels, and a whopping 74% below 2009, when Wall Street posted record results as markets zoomed back to life after the crisis and banks profited from ultra-low asset values and interest rates.
So what? Well, in spite of the falloff, bonuses rose for the second straight year, with “a 30.1% decline in profitability, and a 15% increase in bonus payments” in 2013, followed by a more modest 2% increase this year.
Somwething Digby posted today is worth reposting for the North Carolina audience. FL Gov. Rick Scott’s tweet yesterday (I assume) is intended to convince the uncritical reader that Florida’s economy must kick California’s ass. Digby notes that the same day, Bloomberg posted this:
There are plenty of reasons to presume that California must be a bad place to do business. The Tax Foundation says the state’s tax structure is the third worst for business in the U.S. Forbes ranks California’s business costs fifth highest among the 50 states and its regulatory environment the eighth most burdensome.
Just how burdensome, you ask? (Emphasis mine.)
The exceptional performance of California companies helps explain why (with no official gross domestic product data available yet) the state would have the world’s seventh largest economy if it were a country, bigger than Brazil’s, which saw its GDP decline in 2014. Here’s the rough calculation: Companies based in California grew 4.7 percent during the first three quarters of last year. Using 4.7 percent as a proxy for the growth of the market capitalization of California, the total market cap of the state grew to $2.3 trillion from $2.2 trillion in 2013. (Brazil’s GDP declined 1 percent from $2.25 trillion in the first three quarters of 2014 as its exports of raw materials fell.) As of March 10, 33 California companies are included in the 500 largest companies in the world. At the end of 2009, when the U.S. was recovering from the worst recession since the Great Depression, there were only 24 California companies in the Global 500, according to Bloomberg data.
As unemployment declined to 7 percent in December from a peak of 12.4 percent in 2011, California’s growth was substantial enough that during the 24-month period ended Sept. 30, 2014, the jobless rate fell the most of any state. This helps explain why California remains the No. 1 state for manufacturing, producing $239 billion, or 12 percent of all manufacturing in the U.S., according to Bloomberg data. Texas is No. 2 with $233 billion.
If taxes are really the bane of California existence, why aren’t they preventing rich people from making the state their primary residence? Some 123 of the world’s wealthiest 400 people live in the U.S., and 28 of them, or 23 percent, are California residents, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. New York is No. 2 with 22 billionaires, or 18 percent, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index.
Uh, because they’ve hidden so much of their wealth offshore?
NC Gov. Pat McCrory has been following the playbook of ALEC, Scott-free Walker and Sam Brownback. Consider the above next time he brags about his Carolina Comeback. Is it even a halfback?
Demos research associate Sean McElwee’s post this week reviews economic research showing that “Democrats make the pie bigger for everyone, while Republicans redistribute income toward the rich and whites.” But you already knew that. Still, McElwee’s link-filled column at Aljazeera compiles a lot of supporting studies in one convenient location.
Examining changes in poverty, unemployment and income under every president since 1948, political scientists Zoltan Hajnal and Jeremy Horowitz found that blacks, Latinos and Asians fare better under Democratic presidents. But so do whites:
“Put simply: However measured, blacks made consistent gains under Democratic presidents and suffered regular losses under Republicans,” the authors said. While there’s limited data, the findings hold true for Latinos and Asians.
Princeton economists Alan Blinder and Mark Watson found that for the same period, “gross domestic product, employment, corporate profits and productivity grew faster under Democrats than Republicans.” Income too — contrary to shrieks by Republican flacks that if their opponents are elected, Democratic Dorothys will throw buckets of water on all their beautiful wickedness.
— Sean McElwee (@SeanMcElwee) February 27, 2015
On a more local level, US Uncut’s Carl Gibson details how under governor Mark Dayton’s Democratic policies have treated Minnesota. Gibson writes:
Between 2011 and 2015, Gov. Dayton added 172,000 new jobs to Minnesota’s economy — that’s 165,800 more jobs in Dayton’s first term than Pawlenty added in both of his terms combined. Even though Minnesota’s top income tax rate is the 4th-highest in the country, it has the 5th-lowest unemployment rate in the country at 3.6 percent. According to 2012-2013 U.S. census figures, Minnesotans had a median income that was $10,000 larger than the U.S. average, and their median income is still $8,000 more than the U.S. average today.
By late 2013, Minnesota’s private sector job growth exceeded pre-recession levels, and the state’s economy was the 5th fastest-growing in the United States. Forbes even ranked Minnesota the 9th-best state for business (Scott Walker’s “Open For Business” Wisconsin came in at a distant #32 on the same list). Despite the fearmongering over businesses fleeing from Dayton’s tax cuts, 6,230 more Minnesotans filed in the top income tax bracket in 2013, just one year after Dayton’s tax increases went through. As of January 2015, Minnesota has a $1 billion budget surplus, and Gov. Dayton has pledged to reinvest more than one third of that money into public schools. And according to Gallup, Minnesota’s economic confidence is higher than any other state
Dayton’s GOP adversaries, of course, warned that billionaire Dayton’s plans to raise taxes would offend “the job creators.” (Luckily, there are no volcanoes in Minnesota, or the Job Creators would demand virgins.)
What caught my attention most was this from McElwee:
Similarly, in absolute terms, whites do better under Democratic than under Republican leadership. But that doesn’t really matter. People weigh their well-being relative to those around them. There is strong evidence that whites often oppose actions against inequality because of “last place aversion,” the desire to ensure that there is a class of people below oneself. Among white voters, racial bias is strongly correlated with lower support of redistributive programs. For example, research shows that opposition to welfare is driven by racial anger. Approximately half of the difference between social spending in the U.S. and Europe can be explained by racial animosity.
Chronic lefty complaints about working-class whites “voting against their best interests” has long set my teeth on edge. Born of frustration, it’s just an intellectual-sounding way of calling them stupid, and no way to win friends and influence voters. Voters see right through it. Besides, progressives don’t really want them voting what’s best for No. 1. But last-place aversion (a term I’ve not seen before) offers an alternate explanation for why, in spite of the economic data above, many working-class whites vote Republican. President Lyndon Johnson long ago demonstrated an intuitive understanding of last-place aversion as one element of the Republicans’ Southern Strategy:
If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll even empty his pockets for you.
Two of McElwee’s links go to Stanford studies suggesting how last-place aversion explains why, for example, “individuals making just above the minimum wage are the most likely to oppose its increase.” (Last-place aversion, by the way, holds “for both whites and minorities.”) It works like this (emphasis mine):
By the logic developed in the above evolutionary models, not only would humans care about relative position in general but a strong aversion to being near last place would arise because in a monogamous society with roughly balanced sex-ratios, only those at the very bottom would not marry or reproduce. Indeed, being “picked last in gym class” is so often described as a child’s worst fear that the expression has become a cliché.
That explains a lot.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
Paul Krugman this morning smacks down three of the right’s preeminent purveyors of supply-side voodoo. The column is sure to leave them fuming.
“Charlatans and cranks,” Krugman suggests, invoking a phrase used by former George W. Bush chief economic adviser, Greg Mankiw. The occasion was Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s appearance at a New York dinner featuring supply-siders Art Laffer (of the eponymous curve), CNBC’s Larry Kudlow, and Stephen Moore, chief economist of the Heritage Foundation. Making obeisance before the high priests of bunk – like questioning climate change, evolution, and the current president’s American bona fides – has become a “right” of passage for Republican presidential contenders.
Reality takes a holiday. Ideology takes precedence. Because, to riff on a song, it’s all about that base. But we’ll come back to Krugman later.
The New York Times also reports this morning on something I’ve mentioned before. The University of North Carolina’s Republican-appointed Board of Governors is closing several academic enters on its campuses dedicated to studying poverty, climate, and social change. It couldn’t also be about ideology, could it? The Times writes:
Nice to see Matt Taibbi back at Rolling Stone. But not so nice for the financial services industry.
Taibbi reports on a memo from Jason Furman, Chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, detailing the stings and errors average investors fall prey to from their brokers. “The current regulatory environment,” Furman explains in the document obtained by Bloomberg, “creates perverse incentives that ultimately cost savers billions of dollars a year.”
“For instance,” Taibbi writes, “it might surprise a lot of Americans to know that brokers handling retirement funds aren’t required by law to act in the best interests of their clients.” In nontechnical jargon, you might call this a “red flag.” When brokers “churn” accounts, performing needless trades to rack up fees, long-term investors can lose as much as 1-3 years worth of retirement withdrawals.
The Obama administration is proposing to fix the problem by changing the rules and imposing a fiduciary duty standard on brokers, forcing them to act in their clients’ best interests. If this Labor Department proposal ever gets past the 50 yard line, expect the financial services lobby to carpet-bomb Washington with studies showing that apart from nuclear winter or inviting al-Qaeda to occupy the White House, nothing could be worse for America than forcing brokers to act in the best interests of their clients.
Bloomberg has more details.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
Thinking about the Keystone XL pipeline. Perhaps you’ve seen a similar scenario before. It could be General Motors or a new real estate development or Goldman Sachs or infrastructure privatization or, really, any other business with political clout. The company insists that the public financially back the venture, or pass legislation to allow it, or amend existing rules (others must abide by) to permit it, or subsidize it with public services, land, or tax breaks, or bail out its failure.
The public – voters – object, citing a multitude of reasons. Good reasons, maybe. Bad reasons, maybe. It’s our community and our right to whatever we damned well please reasons. Maybe We the People simply don’t like your looks or the smell of the deal.
Executives behind the proposal paint objectors as Luddites or communists or NIMBYs or tree huggers or all of the above. How dare citizens stand in the way of unbridled progress, profit, Manifest Destiny? How dare they impede job creators? (“Stand aside, everyone! I take LARGE STEPS!”) Why, if the rabble don’t accede to their wishes and soon, the project will be stillborn. The business model won’t work! Profits and jobs and tax revenues will be lost.
Exaggeration? Of course. And so familiar.
Self-described risk-takers think it impertinent of mortals to question their assumptions, but We the People should anyway, especially when their plans impact our communities. Here is a question rarely asked and less rarely answered:
“How is the success of your business model our problem?”
File away for future use.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
This is getting to be a Buffalo Springfield kind of thing, ain’t it?
Fast food workers in at least 150 cities nationwide will walk off the job on Dec. 4, demanding an industry-wide base wage of $15 per hour and the right to form a union. Workers unanimously voted on the date for the new strike during a Nov. 25 conference call, held shortly before the second anniversary of the movement’s first strike.
The first of the recent fast food strikes took place on Nov. 29, 2012, in New York City. Two hundred workers from various fast food restaurants around the city participated in that strike, making it the largest work stoppage to ever hit the fast food industry. Since then, the size of the movement has ballooned several times over: With the backing of the powerful service sector labor union SEIU, the campaign has come to include thousands of workers in the U.S.
Laura Clawson for Daily Kos Labor:
The fast food strikes and other actions by low-wage workers have been a major source of momentum behind increasing the minimum wage. No one was talking about $15 an hour until fast food workers started fighting for it in late 2012. The Democratic proposal of a $10.10 federal minimum was generally portrayed in the media as a reach, the grounds for a compromise to something lower. $15 sounded impossible, yet now two major American cities—Seattle and San Francisco—are on their way there, while Chicago is about to pass a $13 an hour minimum wage, Oakland has approved a $12.25 wage, Washington, DC, and neighboring counties in Maryland are on their way to $11.50, and Massachusetts is going to $11. Doubtless some or all of these cities and states would have done something about the minimum wage without this level of worker organizing, but there’s no way we’d be seeing so many places going above $10.10.
Chicago passed its $13 an hour measure yesterday.
Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and Moral Mondays organizer, spoke on the conference call, saying, “The battle for fair wages is as critical as the battle that young people waged in the 1960s when they came into the sit-in movement.”
The particulars of these events are not as important as what they represent: a growing sense of frustration with economic and social conditions. These actions are symbolic, intended to break through the “everybody knows” noise generated by the mass media.
Millions of people make $8 to $10 an hour working as cashiers or in restaurants, or providing elder or child care – a far cry from a living wage. Despite working hard, many of these people live in poverty or on the edge of poverty.
This isn’t what America is about, and it can’t be reconciled with political rhetoric that says if you work hard and play by the rules, you will succeed in the United States.
In a season when the western world empathizes with Bob Cratchit’s struggles – with no heat for his office – to feed his fictional family, real families working for miserly wages and hours must choose between buying food and heating their homes. Food banks are sorely taxed. With every succeeding year, Dickens’ morality tale looks more and more like a quintessentially American story.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
Traditional anti-consumerism boycotts of Black Friday have company this year.
In the wake of the grand jury decision not to charge Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, activists are encouraging black consumers to turn to economic activism and boycott the busiest shopping day of the year.
Under the title “No Justice, No Profit,” the boycott aims to capitalize on the purchasing power of the black community, which Al Jazeera points out is about $1 trillion, and prove, in a language businesses will understand—money—that injustice doesn’t come without consequence.
Dacia Polk of the Justice for Michael Brown Leadership Coalition explained the boycott to St. Louis Public Radio, saying:
“There will be no business as usual while those who are supposed to protect and serve us,” she said. “Until this nation begins to place value on black lives, there will be no value placed on this business because black lives matter.”
Protesters are urged to avoid large retailers and to support instead local, black-owned businesses. Hashtags: #BoycottBlackFriday, #BlackOutBlackFriday #HandsUpDontSpend, #NotOneDime, and #BrownFriday.
Walmart, the crown jewel of the low-wage economy, is still in the running for “worst corporation in the world.” Again this year, the home of low, low wages faces Thanksgiving and Black Friday protests from community activists and its own employees — I’m sorry Associates:
OUR Walmart first burst onto the scene two years ago, when it used Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, to launch an unprecedented, nationwide strike against Walmart. The group originally demanded that Walmart pay all employees a base salary of at least $25,000 per year, but has since joined with striking fast food workers in demanding at least $15 per hour.
As with OUR Walmart’s first major action in 2012, this year’s Black Friday protests will not be a typical strike. Many of those picketing Walmart — perhaps even most — will be outside supporters of the OUR Walmart campaign, not store employees themselves. Those employees who do walk off the job will likely do so for just one day. Yet OUR Walmart has said that their prior work stoppages are legally protected strikes, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has agreed. Strikes over wages and working conditions, or over an alleged ULP (unfair labor practice), such as illegally retaliating against workers, are protected by federal law.
Besides fringe benefits like missing Thanksgiving and Christmas with families, Associates also miss meals:
This year’s protests by Walmart workers will kick off on Thanksgiving with a 24-hour fast by 12 protesters. The fast, which is protesting the hunger suffered by some Walmart workers who can’t afford food, will be staged outside a Los Angeles store.
One of the workers participating in the fast is Richard Reynoso, an overnight stocker at the Duarte, California store. Reynoso is one of those workers who cannot afford to purchase three meals a day. As a result, he only eats once a day on his lunch break.
“Sometimes all I have money for is a can of tuna and crackers,” he said.
But progressives need to be careful. Even as living wage advocates demand higher wages from big-box retailers, such protests can pit them against the very communities they hope to help. Those everyday low prices enable the Waltons’ clientele in poorer neighborhoods to stretch their limited incomes. Perhaps a new slogan?
Walmart: We make poor affordable
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
Meet your new union reps: the statehouse and City Hall.
San Francisco’s new law, which its Board of Supervisors passed Tuesday by unanimous vote, will require any “formula retailer” (retail chain) with 20 or more locations worldwide that employs 20 or more people within the city to provide two weeks’ advance notice for any change in a worker’s schedule. An employer that alters working hours without two weeks’ notice — or fails to notify workers two weeks ahead of time that their schedules won’t change — will be required to provide additional “predictability pay.“ Property service contractors that provide janitorial or security services for these retailers will also need to abide by the new rule.
What’s worse, these subversive notions have a way of spreading east from the Left Coast like viruses. Call out the dragoons.
Speaking of predictability, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce is predictably miffed about the “Retail Workers Bill of Rights.” For struggling hourly workers, taking classes, caring for families, and raising children (and managing day care logistics) is something The Economy expects you to fit in between work shifts at multiple, part-time, low-paying, no-benefits service jobs where shift schedules vary a lot. But that’s just the way it is and the way The Economy likes it. With labor unions weakened and workers disempowered, setting working conditions once governed by collective bargaining agreements now falls to local Democrats. That is, if you can find any that aren’t Republican lite.
And go figure, labor-friendly measures such as the Retail Workers Bill of Rights are popular. HuffPost:
With Congressional Republicans opposing a minimum wage hike and other legislation aimed at low-wage work, labor unions and their progressive allies have found much more success on the local level. Despite the drubbing that Democrats took in the midterm elections earlier this month, binding ballot initiatives on the minimum wage passed easily in four red states. A measure that will require many employers to provide their workers with paid sick days also passed in Massachusetts.
Increased unpredictability in work schedules is driven by technology. When store foot traffic had to be measured manually and work schedules were typed out, employers found it cumbersome to alter work schedules too frequently. But just as computers created vast new producer efficiencies through just-in-time store inventories, so, too, did they create vast new staffing efficiencies through just-in-time work scheduling. Trouble is, getting moved around at the click of a mouse is more disruptive to human beings than it is to refrigerators and automobiles.
“Efficiency” is like “shareholder value” that way. When they start hearing it, flesh-and-blood consumable resources better update their resumes, stock up on antacid, and learn to get by with even less sleep.
Earlier this year, 32-year-old Maria Fernandes of Newark, NJ died of asphyxiation while catnapping in her car between shifts of her four part-time jobs. The Economy did not attend her funeral.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)