Monday Reads: Heat Wave EditionPosted: June 14, 2021
Good Day Sky Dancers!
Yesterday went up to 97 degrees Fahrenheit with a feels like 107 heat index. The heat index is supposed to hit 110 today. We got a reprieve finally when a storm blew down from the north with rain and kicked us into the high 70s.
I need to get my central air repaired and was planning on doing it last month but I have had nearly 6 years of an unwanted guest and it does no good for me to fix anything so I’ve been operating on a very small window unit in the guest room for the entire back of the house. I’m just exhausted so need to get this up before the intense heat kicks in again. I’ll probably be in a cold bath reading something or another.
Ezra Klein wrote an interesting Op-Ed at The New York Times yesterday. It has a hypothesis that’s worth considering: “What the Rich Don’t Want to Admit About the Poor.” Basically, if the “American Dream” is the carrot, then the everlasting threat of poverty is “the stick”.
Reports that low-wage employers were having trouble filling open jobs sent Republican policymakers into a tizzy and led at least 25 Republican governors — and one Democratic governor — to announce plans to cut off expanded unemployment benefits early. Chipotle said that it would increase prices by about 4 percent to cover the cost of higher wages, prompting the National Republican Congressional Committee to issue a blistering response: “Democrats’ socialist stimulus bill caused a labor shortage, and now burrito lovers everywhere are footing the bill.” The Trumpist outlet The Federalist complained, “Restaurants have had to bribe current and prospective workers with fatter paychecks to lure them off their backsides and back to work.”
But it’s not just the right. The financial press, the cable news squawkers and even many on the center-left greet news of labor shortages and price increases with an alarm they rarely bring to the ongoing agonies of poverty or low-wage toil.
I actually tweeted one of my deplorable senators when he started at it. Got a nice number of retweets too
Back to Klein:
This is the conversation about poverty that we don’t like to have: We discuss the poor as a pity or a blight, but we rarely admit that America’s high rate of poverty is a policy choice, and there are reasons we choose it over and over again. We typically frame those reasons as questions of fairness (“Why should I have to pay for someone else’s laziness?”) or tough-minded paternalism (“Work is good for people, and if they can live on the dole, they would”). But there’s more to it than that.
It is true, of course, that some might use a guaranteed income to play video games or melt into Netflix. But why are they the center of this conversation? We know full well that America is full of hardworking people who are kept poor by very low wages and harsh circumstance. We know many who want a job can’t find one, and many of the jobs people can find are cruel in ways that would appall anyone sitting comfortably behind a desk. We know the absence of child care and affordable housing and decent public transit makes work, to say nothing of advancement, impossible for many. We know people lose jobs they value because of mental illness or physical disability or other factors beyond their control. We are not so naïve as to believe near-poverty and joblessness to be a comfortable condition or an attractive choice.
Most Americans don’t think of themselves as benefiting from the poverty of others, and I don’t think objections to a guaranteed income would manifest as arguments in favor of impoverishment. Instead, we would see much of what we’re seeing now, only magnified: Fears of inflation, lectures about how the government is subsidizing indolence, paeans to the character-building qualities of low-wage labor, worries that the economy will be strangled by taxes or deficits, anger that Uber and Lyft rides have gotten more expensive, sympathy for the struggling employers who can’t fill open roles rather than for the workers who had good reason not to take those jobs. These would reflect not America’s love of poverty but opposition to the inconveniences that would accompany its elimination.
Nor would these costs be merely imagined. Inflation would be a real risk, as prices often rise when wages rise, and some small businesses would shutter if they had to pay their workers more. There are services many of us enjoy now that would become rarer or costlier if workers had more bargaining power. We’d see more investments in automation and possibly in outsourcing. The truth of our politics lies in the risks we refuse to accept, and it is rising worker power, not continued poverty, that we treat as intolerable. You can see it happening right now, driven by policies far smaller and with effects far more modest than a guaranteed income.
I have a friend who is the walking anecdotal evidence on “shoe-leather costs” and how they relate to risks in job searches. She had an off-and-on job as a concierge at a small hotel during the panic and had to rely on unemployment for obvious reasons. Another neighbor had a long-term job with a big hotel here and they basically paid to retire him early which may or may not have been a good deal but a year ago the risks of being out of a job were quite hard to predict. They’re both out on the street. He’s about my age and she’s in her 40s and on her own.
So, she gets this great job offer at a start-up hotel operation in the Garden District in a historic building about a month ago. She was on the payroll as they were training everyone and getting ready to open which they did about 10 days ago. She quit her not-so-stable job for one that appeared to look like a great opportunity. Well, about 2 days of open hotel, the owners realized they’d be overly optimistic on business and they downsized. That’s business-speak for leaving your employees to the wolves.
She has a job interview today. But, look at her now. She has two jobs from which she is unlikely to get references and look sketchy in terms of time on the job on a resume. She’s trying to get back on UI because once again, she’s out of work. It’s risky and hard work to find a reliable, well-paying job these days. Low wages are built into the business model since we’ve been in an employer’s job market. Well, if all it takes is giving people a certain level of money to pressure low-wage payers to pony up, then call me a Marxist.
Remember the business owner in Seattle that just paid everyone what would be needed to live in Seattle? Here are his comments about the little ticket to ride Jeff Bezos just bought.
Like Klein said, it’s about our priorities in the policy arena. Threatening families with homelessness and starvation so they’ll accept $9 an hour to sweat it out in a hot-as-hell kitchen in New Orleans is such a good example of the American Dream. Isn’t it? And let’s not forget about who bought that 28 million dollar ticket to space. The guy that’s rich enough to buy that can’t be bothered with paying taxes and Republican policy has granted that to him. At least the ticket proceeds with going to a nonprofit set up to encourage children to study technology.
If you’d like a reminder, here’s the list of billionaires who avoided paying taxes while also getting richer during the pandemic. and economic meltdown. That’s because if you can play the market, you can bet for or against the economy and still make money. Guess what group of people can’t do that easily?
Another, the weather is hell story comes from me last night working at this desk and waiting for Amazon to deliver my two packages of socks. I noticed the storm coming in and that the parish had just shut down the causeway because of 65 mph winds. I ran out to meet my driver–a young black woman–who was frantically trying to get the last of the packages delivered around 8 pm. Yes, I left my desk. I wanted her to know they had just shut down the causeway and what she might get caught up in. She didn’t know the causeway had closed but she said all of us were trying to tell them it was going to get bad but they kept telling us to get that last package out. I said please be safe and rain through the misty rain to the desk where I am underpaid and overworked while being way overeducated. The first question I had was why did those other workers in that other state turn down a union. The only place I ever worked as a college instructor that actually paid fairly was solidly unionized and bargained for wages and would get a complaint into the NLB if the negotiations were crap.
The Senator up there is also whining that everyone is being mean to the oil and gas company. I sure hope he is here melting in the “unusual” heat we have going on with everyone else. Maybe he’d like to work a while with the guys trying to clean out the drains before the next “unusually active” hurricane season gets on with it. He needs to hang with those folks working outside to give his Doctor Senator Ass a chance to learn about heat exhaustion.
He’s also against equal pay for equal work and any kind of law that stops racial discrimination or anything else that has nothing to do with getting a job done. All of these things prove that we don’t have the kinds of perfect job markets because according to classical economics (i.e. capitalism) we should all be paid according to our productivity. Sex and Racial discrimination shouldn’t exist but they do which requires some kind of intervention to make the market right. So, the guy hates functional markets. What else can I deduce from his prattle?
Anyway, thanks for coming to my Ted Talk and reading my rant. I’m probably going a bit crazy from the heat and I still have to work today. My employer isn’t interested in my AC issues just that it makes me unfit for service.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?