Saturday, December 26, 2009

Overpaidism Comes to America: What are You Going to Do?

Are you overpaid?

"Americans Are Overpaid" says Fortune Magazine; we must all take a pay cut to "rebalance the global economy".

What does that mean? I just got a new, real-life example:
My father-in-law is being laid off next month because he makes too much money. He has given 30 years or more of skillful and loyal service but, because he's an American who's making house payments and using medical benefits, he's getting kicked to the curb and replaced with a foreign worker. He's a symptom of overpaidism!
Now, let me note that Fortune Magazine and the rest of the corporate media doesn't really think that "all" of us are overpaid; they continually remind us that the CEOs who mastermind the outsourcing of jobs and the collapse of our economy need to get more money, because if you don't pay them enough for shipping your jobs overseas, they might quit working so hard ... and then where we would be? What would happen to America if CEOs didn't ship my father-in-law's job overseas?

Are you stupid enough to believe this garbage that they are feeding you?
Do you feel overpaid? Are your health benefits too good? Is your workplace too safe?

One of the dirty secrets of job exports (that Fortune Magazine article conveniently overlooks) is that the cost of labor is maybe 10% of the cost of imported goods; the really big savings is in safety and environmental issues. Here in the United States, you can't just kill a few workers or pour poison into the air like you can in many other countries. So because we have decided we don't want to poison our kids, we'll lose more jobs.  Or, from the corporate standpoint, poisoning kids is o.k. so long as they can make another buck!
The people who run our economy are telling American workers: "You're too greedy! You want too much money! We can replace you with foreigners who'll work cheap and die quietly! Good-bye!" Although to be fair: they don't seek to export all the jobs; sometime they just fire you and hire cheaper replacements. And then they run for president!.

This is not a question of America's ability to do the job. Americans can do anything.  My father-in-law mastered a technical specialty, and his work is still in demand. The only problem with his work is that he and his co-workers are Americans. We have mortgages, the most expensive health care system on the planet, and expectations of worker safety.  And my father-in-law was getting near retirement; if he'd reached a certain number of years of employment, he'd be eligible for extra benefits upon retirement.

You wouldn't want that!  An American citizen enjoying a comfortable retirement after decades of service? No way, not in our country! Why should Americans be able to own a home, have health care and a comfortable retirement?

My father-in-law's company found some people in another country who could use computer and communications equipment to do the same job, not as well, but a lot cheaper. Remember, the health-and-safety requirements are a lot lower! And retirement? pshaw! Best of all: once you've figured out how to offshore a job to one country, you can easily switch to another one that's even cheaper. You can play off every nation on the planet for whoever's the most desperate! Let Americans eat cake!

What are You going to Do?

The question right in your face is this: What are you going to do about it?
  • First, don't think your job is safe. If you work in a factory or an office, unless you are direct customer service, your job is at risk  (... and sometimes even direct customer service can be offshored.)
  • Second, consider doing nothing. With luck, you'll die before our great nation is a Third World hellhole and you may be able to keep yourself in kibble until then.
  • Third, if you're a patriot, or have children that you love, fight back politically! It's not going to be easy; you're not fighting evil individuals, but evil organizations (Persuade one businessman to do the right thing, and a thousand more will rise to take his place.) A simple labor-equalization tariff would be helpful but will be opposed by our corporate owners with every pundit they can muster. One thing we've learned from the health care debate is that corporate America is willing and able to deploy billions of dollars to protect its vampire-like hold on our nation's blood. A corporate structure that will block the import of life-saving drugs are reasonable prices is not interested in your life and health.
  • On a personal level, you need to prepare to lose your job! At the very least, you need to figure out what to do if your income falls disasterously.
  • Education is not necessarily going to help you. It's good to be constantly learning, but too many people are now coming out of school well-trained for jobs that aren't there, and are not going to be there.  My particular area of interest is the legal field; the number of unemployed entry-level law school graduates is seriously bad ... and heaven help you if you have a liberal arts degree!  One thing you can count on: your school debts will dog you, eating up whatever income you can get from your entry-level job.
  • Adopt the MultiModal Approach to Maintaining Yourself.
    Most of us in our United States are used to a single mode of maintaining ourselves; usually we rely on income from a job, although some of us are farmers. Contrast this to the experience of  one of my buddies worked on land reform in India. The easiest way to get people there out of poverty into a decent living standard was to get them owning enough land to support themselves. This worked in general pretty well, with one limitation: often, a family did not WANT enough land to support themselves 100%. Instead, many wanted smaller plots of land on which they could be part-time farmers, supplementing income from a job or a shop. In retrospect, the advantages are obvious: being a full-time farmer is risky, because of natural fluctuations in the market, weather and so forth; a bad year for a farmer is very bad indeed! Having multiple means of supporting yourself reduces risk and, in good years, can lead to significant prosperity. It can also be more interesting, challenging and perhaps fun.

MultiModal Maintenance

Most of us in our United States are used to a single mode of maintaining ourselves; usually we rely on income from a job. Few jobs are safe anymore, although as long as you have one it can be very helpful.

Assume that our jobs, or other sources of income, will not be enough for prosperity. Find something in addition that you enjoy.

There are all sorts of get-rich-quick schemes, multi-level marketing and other scams. Don't do it. If it sounds too good to be true, it's not true.

However, there is a lot you can do to develop supplementary income. Millions of Americans are doing this small-time through the internet, via eBay, Amazon, and a thousand other venues. One of the great national benefits of internet marketing in used goods is that it increases the value of things we already have in our country; instead of importing another gadget made abroad, we're reselling something from our existing stock, essentially remanufacturing here in America.

Try starting a business, doing something you love and for which there is a demand. I can't advise you on this, except to keep VERY careful track of your money and get help. Many people start businesses in Depressions and it's hard for you to outsource yourself involuntarily!

My favorite suggestion ... the route I am taking ... is to plant any piece of dirt that you own or rent with low-maintenance crops. If you have the use of land, even as small as a parking strip, plant it! Replace that sterile shortgrass with something low-maintenance and high-yielding. This can really work! while you can invest way too much time gardening, you can get good results also with but a little effort.

In 2009, with access not nothing but pots on a rooftop patio, I produced enough greens to keep 1 person in salads for most of the summer! (Some of it was a private effort, another part was an urban agriculture effort that helped a localfood bank.) You may be especially interested to keep in mind that food you grow on your own can be organic if you like, use varieties developed for taste and nutrition instead of the ability to be shipped a thousand miles, and tax-free. This IRS does not monitor the value you get from home-grown tomatoes!

I'm interested in hearing your comments on other modes of maintaining yourself other than income from a job.  While we will never return to the Ozzie and Harriet days in which one person worked one job to support his family, we can still maintain a decent standard of living if we're smart and determined.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Welcome to Avataristan

If you haven't seen Avatar, you will. All reports indicate that this amazing movie combines story and image into a completely compelling whole as few movies have before.

The question to ask afterwards is this: which side are we on?

Are we the Na'vi, a people smart enough to have figured out how to live in harmony with our planet, to pass on to the next generation something as good as we got?

Or are we a people who are brave and bold to kill those we consider more primitive than ourselves, until they recognize our superiority, adopt the flags
and parliamentary system we set up for them, and hand over the goods?

And most of all, are we brave enough to keep killing the primitives until they learn to stop being Guilty of Defending themselves against our just and righteous occupation?

We, today, in our Asian wars, have no doubt in our exceptional nobility; we have a long list of good deeds we've done to reassure us. (Much of the list of good deeds done by our ancestors, but what the heck.) I know and work with many of our troops; as individuals and groups they are fine people.

The problem is not our troops. The problem is us; We The People who send them to subjugate those we fear and those we feel superioir to. We order them to bomb the heck out of people and replace their indigenous murderous thugs with our preferred set of murderous thugs (but on the plus side, we insist that our preferred thugs talk about human rights before and after they rig an election.) And we expect the rest of the world to accept our innate American nobility, our superiority of intellect and of virtue, our exceptionalism, because after all we won WW2 some 50 years ago, and today we are sacrificing an awful lot to bring civilization to the savages.

"We did not ask for this burden," we tell the world, "And please don't compare it to Kipling's White Man's Burden. We're multiracial, y'know. So you can be sure we aren't bombing you into civilization out of racist disdain for you or your false religion. We're doing it someone from a different country than yours killed a lot of our people, and because we are a noble nation that knows what's good for you better than you do!"

Does anyone wonder why it's so hard to get other nations to join our projects of war? Except for our Anglo-Saxon bellophilic friends, "Coalitions of the Willing" members have to be bribed to join us. India and China have borders with Afghanistan; you'd think they'd have an interest in maintaining stability there. It's almost as if they think nineteen boxcutters is not worth spending trillions of dollars in a war on the far side of the planet, or even in a war next door.

Or perhaps they've just put in a little time investigating the extraordinarily decentralized Afghanis before deciding to turn them into a unified nation. (That's a project that took us from 1789 to 1865, and there were some pretty nasty bumps along the ways.)

We, as a nation, have pissed away the goodwill built up through the generations, and We The People didn't even get a T-shirt out of it ...
"...Obama declared, "The plain fact is this: the United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms."

The fact that the global security so underwritten was, like that ensured by other empires past and present, derived from the subjugation, exploitation and death of countless people - described by Obama in strikingly imperial tones, as "tribal" and unable to "reason" - cannot be mentioned.
Their deaths, in the millions in Vietnam, in the hundreds and tens of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention in Latin America and Africa during the Cold War) are left unremarked...."

--- Mark Levin, "The end of American exceptionalism"

And so back to Avatar.

It's entertainment. That's what it should be; movies that preach are always crappy.

But if it does challenge us to question why we might occupy another people's planet, it's only a short step to question why we're occupying another people's land on the other side of our planet.

Of course, the parallel is not complete. The Asians that we habitually explode are not 3-meter-tall blue aliens; they are genetically indistinguishable from Americans. They are human!
More to the point, the corporate goons in Avatar have an obvious motive: plunder! In Asia, our motive as a nation is messier; we (as a nation) gain nothing from occupying them; rather, it is our privateers and war profiteers would reap the plunder of those nations ... and for the most part, it's plunder taken from the pockets of We The People ourselves.

Portraying this on the big screen is beyond the power of even John Carpentar, for it would require the Na'vi to invade and plunder themselves.
It may suffice that Avatar may cause a few people to think twice about the nobility of occupation.

If you tell a story that has deep truths in it, then it's a better story ... and it just might make it easier to face what We The People are doing.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What Do You Do with a Newspaper Bag?

Moving toward Zero Trash reminds me of one of Zeno's Paradoxes; it may be impossible to actually get there but the journey is worthwhile, partly because reducing trash really does help the environment we're leaving to our next generation, but also partly because the challenge is fun. Who doesn't like a challenge?

Recently we moved out of an apartment to a house, and this brought  a new set of trash challenges. Today's challenge is that the paper (which formerly was left in front of our apartment door bound with a reusable rubber band) is tossed expertly onto our porch, neatly bagged. This change is obviously necessary because we're soggy, very soggy (I measured 1.5 inches of rain since we've moved, by the simple expedient of leaving an open cooler on the back porch). I had found a lot of alternative uses for the rubber bands, but now I have to think of something to do with the plastic bags.

To its credit, the Seattle Times uses a bag that bears a recycling seal, so with very little effort, I could simply include them in the large, friendly green recycling bin we set out fortnightly. But that seems so unimaginative! Recycling is good but reusing is better; if you can put an item directly to use without sending it through the recycling process, you may be saving even more energy and whatnot.

For me, the solution is easy; I ship about 10 books a day using a nearly carbon-neutral packaging system that starts with wrapping each book in plastic to protect it from water damage. The newspaper bags work well for massmarket paperbacks and some larger sizes, so I'm set: every day, there's usually one the right size to fit in the bag. This is better than recycling since I don't have to save the bags for two weeks, PLUS I save a teeny tiny bit on plastic wrap.

But what do other people do? How do people who don't ship a lot of books handle newspaper bags?

And what do I do when I run out of rubber bands?