Friday ReadsPosted: October 5, 2012 Filed under: morning reads | Tags: Ancient queen of Guatamala, Baby boomers, Brookside Capital Partners Fund, China, Democracy Now, expanding presidential debate participation, generational warfare, Global Tech, Lady K"abel, Romney, Sweatshop 68 Comments
I”m finally getting over this sinus infection so I’ve had a chance to actually read a few interesting things. First up, is yet another one of those folks that insists that baby boomers are parasites. I really hate generational warfare, don’t you? However, this one is interesting. It’s put in terms of a conversation between baby boomer son and ‘greatest generation’ father and the arguments are backed up by interesting anecdotes and statistics. Still, why do have to keep score on who’s screwed up the country more in terms of age groups?
The boomers haven’t been a total disaster, of course. They did indeed blaze huge social and economic trails for women, minorities, and people with disabilities. Those groups have gained rights that, as long as the rest of us remain vigilant, will never be reversed: Young women can grow up to be lawyers or scientists. African-Americans can grow up to be president. Boomers gave us Apple and Microsoft. They made the Star Wars movies. They grew the economy for a bit. Once, for a couple of years in the late 1990s, they balanced the federal budget.
But the numbers on the laptop remind me how fleeting much of that progress was—and how boomers chose short-term gratification when they had opportunities to secure a better future for generations to follow. Classic example: Instead of devoting the budget surpluses of the late ’90s to social programs that desperately needed them, they voted themselves tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, and an expanded Medicare benefit shortly after—a move a Congressional Budget Office study from that era suggests raised the expected tax rate on future generations from 29 percent to 53 percent. They borrowed heavily to cope with the economic sluggishness of the 2000s and, in so doing, inflated a housing bubble that, when it popped, triggered the Great Recession.
Median-income growth has stagnated for women and minorities over the past decade. The typical African-American today has less wealth than his or her parents did, according to Pew. Labor-force participation for women this year hit its lowest level since 1991.
So, the Brits pile on boomers too. Here’s something from The Economist on “Sponging Boomers” and how that relates to the next crisis.
These boomers have lived a charmed life, easily topping previous generations in income earned at every age. The sheer heft of the generation created a demographic dividend: a rise in labour supply, reinforced by a surge in the number of working women. Social change favoured it too. Households became smaller, populated with more earners and fewer children. And boomers enjoyed the distinction of being among the best-educated of American generations at a time when the return on education was soaring.
Yet these gains were one-offs. Retirements will reverse the earlier labour-force surge, and younger generations cannot benefit from more women working. There is room to raise educational levels, but it is harder and less lucrative to improve the lot of disadvantaged students than to establish a university degree as the norm for good ones, as was the case after the war. In short, boomer income growth relied on a number of one-off gains.
Young workers also cannot expect decades of rising asset prices like those that enriched the boomers. Zheng Liu and Mark Spiegel, economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, found in 2011 that movements in the price-earnings ratio of equities closely track changes in the ratio of middle-aged to old workers, meaning that the p/e ratio is likely to fall. Having lived through a spectacular bull market, boomers now sell off assets to finance retirement, putting pressure on equity prices and denying young workers an easy route to wealth. Boomers have weathered the economic crisis reasonably well. Thanks largely to the rapid recovery in stockmarkets, those aged between 53 and 58 saw a net decline in wealth of just 2.8% between 2006 and 2010.
More worrying is that this generation seems to be able to leverage its size into favourable policy. Governments slashed tax rates in the 1980s to revitalise lagging economies, just as boomers approached their prime earning years. The average federal tax rate for a median American household, including income and payroll taxes, dropped from more than 18% in 1981 to just over 11% in 2011. Yet sensible tax reforms left less revenue for the generous benefits boomers have continued to vote themselves, such as a prescription-drug benefit paired with inadequate premiums. Deficits exploded.
Yes. So, all of us should just head to the ice floes. La-ti-da.
So, here’s my weekly update on interesting historical graves. Archaeologists believe they have found the tomb of an ancient queen in Guatamala. A tiny jar has given them some key clues.
Glyphs carved into a tiny alabaster jar have led archaeologists to conclude that the tomb in Guatemala where the jar was found belonged to one of the greatest queens of the Classic Maya civilization, known as Lady K’abel.
“She was not only a queen, but a supreme warlord, and that made her the most powerful person in the kingdom during her lifetime,” David Freidel, an archaeologist at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a report released today. That description would put Lady K’abel in the same class as other ruling women of the ancient world, ranging from the biblical Queen of Sheba to Egypt’sHatshepsut and Cleopatra.
That’s some heady company for Lady K’abel.
Some of the most bizarre comments made by Mitt Romney was his dislike of shipping jobs to China or having China fund our lifestyle as compared to funding their own. It takes brass ones to suggest that he’s not been in favor of shipping jobs to China given this Bain Capital investment in a Chinese factory that is quite shocking. The word sweatshop is so inadequate. No wonder he thinks all of us are freeloaders if he thinks this situation constitutes a normal working conditions. Romney discussed the working conditions so he was well aware of where his money was going.
Economist Paul Davidson recently pointed out the truth on AlterNet : “Romney has spent his career offshoring and outsourcing American production processes — and associated jobs — to countries like China where human labor is valued in the market at a very low wage rate.” The sub-human conditions at these production facilities represent things that Americans are strongly opposed to: child abuse, squalor, forced overtime, and peanuts for pay.
Romney’s penchant for bragging about his business activities at fundraisers helps underscore just how vile his brand of capitalism really is. While CEO of Bain, Romney invested in a Chinese sweatshop which he appears to be describing in detail at the very same Boca Raton fundraising event where he made his infamous case that nearly half of all Americans are freeloaders.
A report recently released by the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights reveals that while Romney was deeply invested at a firm called Global-Tech, low pay and horrific conditions were status quo at its Chinese appliance factory.
Here are some really horrifying details from the same article.
From April 1998 through August 2000, Romney and his Brookside Capital Partners Fund, a Bain affiliate, poured around $23 million into the Global-Tech sweatshop in Dongguan, China. Among the details outlined in the report were the following:
- Factory workers made 24 cents an hour in 1998 and less than $2 a day. Wages in Global-Tech were less than 2 percent of U.S. wages.
- As CEO, Romney appears to have been uninterested in calling for improvements at the facility. Today, the sweatshop is still a horror where starvation wages prevail and workers’ rights are nonexistent. Overcrowded, filthy dormitories; rotten food; routine 15- to 16-hour shifts; and backbreaking 105- to 112-hour, seven-day workweeks are the norm.
- The appliance factory has 800 student “interns” — 16-years-olds forced to work repetitive, exhausting 15- to 16-hour shifts on assembly lines with no overtime pay.
There’s a story in Vanity Fair on Jamie Dimon that’s also an eye-opener.
… Dimon’s sanguinity is somewhat belied by the formidable lobbying machine that he’s built in Washington. JPMorgan’s shop is much bigger than that of other banks, and it is chock-full of politically connected former congressional staffers. The firm has become known for the regularity with which its top people show up in Washington.
Dimon has put himself front, center, and uncensored in the debate about tougher oversight. He’s lambasted regulators for failing to recognize that, while some companies were “too big to fail,” others were “ports in the storm,” and for making “hundreds of rules, many of which are uncoordinated and inconsistent with each other.”
Part of the explanation is purely pragmatic: Dimon is trying to preserve his firm’s profits—and maybe the firm itself. But it’s hard not to hear something more emotional when you listen to Dimon. “This country would be flying if we had gotten stuff right and all worked together, but we haven’t,” he says. He frequently says that banks and bankers are being “scapegoated” for their role in the crisis, and he is full of righteous indignation. He often invokes Abraham Lincoln: “I’m a Democrat, and I tell Democrats and Republicans, you guys are busy simplifying and scapegoating—well, Abe Lincoln wouldn’t do it.” He says he’s heard the story of a young officer telling Lincoln during the Civil War, “We’re going to win because God is on our side.” Lincoln responded, “Son, let’s hope that we’re on God’s side.”
I watched Amy Goodman on Democracy Now after the end of the Debates. She did a great segment on the difficulty of getting outsider candidates into the presidential debate. You may want to watch it if you get a chance.
President Obama made a good point in late 2011, when he told “60 Minutes,” “Don’t judge me against the Almighty; judge me against the alternative.” If only the public had a full range of alternatives against which to judge. In fact, most people do. They just don’t know it. The reason they don’t know it is because the media don’t report on third-party politics or campaigns. These campaigns also lack the funds to purchase television airtime, or to compete against the Democratic and Republican campaign fundraising juggernauts. This leads to less diversity of voices, and far fewer alternatives on the ballot.
It hasn’t always been this way. In 1980, the League of Women Voters ran the debates, and independent presidential candidate John B. Anderson was allowed to participate (President Jimmy Carter opposed his participation and boycotted the event). In 1992, billionaire Ross Perot used his personal funds to overcome the media blockade of his presidential campaign. His successful debate performance temporarily propelled him ahead of both Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush in the polls.
Since then, no third-party candidate has been allowed into the presidential debates. The debates are run by the Commission on Presidential Debates, an organization described by George Farah, founder and executive director of Open Debates, as “a private corporation financed by Anheuser-Busch and other major companies, that was created by the Republican and Democratic parties to seize control of the presidential debates from the League of Women Voters.”
Farah told me that in 1988, “you have the Michael Dukakis and the George Bush campaigns drafting the first-ever 12-page secret debate contract. They gave it to the League of Women Voters and said please implement this. The League said, Are you kidding me? We are not going to implement a secret contract that dictates the terms of the format. Instead, they release the contract to the public and they held a press conference accusing the candidates of ‘perpetrating a fraud on the American people’ and refusing to be ‘an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American people.’”
The Democratic and Republican parties wrested control of the debates from the League of Women Voters, and have controlled them since.
So, I love Japanese woodcut prints and had quite a collection of them prior to the divorce. Fortunately, older daughter has been ensuring they don’t disappear to E-bay and into her step mother’s casino fund. The one above is called Beauty and Violence. I wanted to end with a really interesting and inspiring story about the elderly in Japan. Japan has an extremely large population of long-lived seniors. This story is about them and their participation in athletics. Notice that Japan is not promoting the ice floes like Paul Ryan and a lot of Republican leaders even though Japan’s debt is substantially more worrisome than ours.
Saddled with record public debt, Japan is promoting social interaction to curb the cost of caring for the 32 percent its people older than 60 — the highest proportion globally. By 2050, one in five people worldwide will be over 60, from one in nine now, according to the United Nations. Japan’s approach may help other countries also facing rising numbers of elderly.
“It enables them to participate quite actively in community life,” said Babatunde Osotimehin, secretary general of the UN’s Population Fund, which is leading UN efforts on aging. People with strong social networks “will probably not fall ill as frequently,” he said in an interview in Tokyo, where the UN released a report on aging this week.
Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare released policies on health and aging that focus on strengthening seniors’ community involvement in July, a shift from previous approaches that centered only on individual behavior.
Finding cost-effective ways to promote healthy aging will be critical for countries trying to reconcile rising welfare costs and a shrinking tax base. By 2050, 42 percent of Japan’s population will be at least 60 years old, according to Global AgeWatch.
Read on about Japan’s 10 point plan for Healthy Aging. It includes subsidizing exercise for seniors and rewarding them for doing civic and group activities with coupons.
In Tokyo’s Suginami ward, where Doi lives, authorities award points in the form of stickers to seniors who participate in government-approved activities from picking up litter, to attending health and sporting events, to cultural activities. Each point has a value of 50 yen (64 cents) and can be exchanged for grocery coupons. The Suginami local government has allocated 80 million yen for the project this year, according to its website.
“People who are disadvantaged socially and economically have more health problems,” the health ministry in Tokyo said in July.
Each year since 1988, the ministry has hosted the “Nenrinpic” carnival in which seniors compete at a national level in sports such as tennis, petanque and croquet. Doi’s petanque team has represented Tokyo five times, been a finalist three times and won the championship in 1999, she said.
Health clubs are benefiting from a growing enthusiasm for exercise among seniors. Koshidaka Holdings Co., which operates 1,200 women-only fitness centers in Japan, says 50- and 60-year- olds make up more than 60 percent of its 500,000 members.
“The core customers have never really exercised in their adult life before, so they feel the benefits from an easy, 30- minutes of weight training,” Hiroshi Koshidaka, the company’s president, said in an interview. “Many come three times a week, feel improvement, make friends, encourage others to join, and stop people from quitting.”
The purpose of the plan is to end the isolation that many seniors feel and support them in a healthy, connected life style. Wow. Imagine that.
So, I’ve gone way past my usual length and MABlue always gives me a hard time about that so, I’ll leave the rest of the day’s news reporting to you. What’s on your reading and blogging list today?