Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page

Merit Pay

One of the knocks on collective bargaining is that employers should be able to pay people what they are worth.  An interesting example of this phenomenon came in the realm of professional football.  In January 2011, Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha’s contract was voided because his contract included a little-known clause allowed the team to void his contract if he didn’t achieve his not-likely-to-be-earned incentives in 2010 — and he didn’t.  One reason for his failure to earn his incentives was that he was so effective that quarterbacks would not to pass to someone near him.  Consequently, he did not have any interceptions.

Good Dictator, Bad Dictator

You need a scorecard to tell them apart.  Here is how to tell:


Do they have U.S. military bases? 20 points.


Do they have oil? 20 points


How much have they welcomed foreign investment? 20 points.


Do they please Israel? 20 points


Do they speak English well? 10 points?


Has their executive had any connection with the World Bank, IMF, or Wall Street? 10 points?

A Business in Decline?

With the end of unions, what can we do to help those good people who provide strike breakers?

The Most Dangerous Union in the World

Several commentators have remarked about the sudden outbreak of class struggle in the United States.  I see the brutal behavior of the state and federal governments as an indication of the failure of class struggle.

Let me explain.  Back in the 1960s, when United States was enjoying the so-called Golden of economic prosperity, profits were weakening.  By the late 1960s, the organized right wing began to harness the energy of the tea party of the day, which took hold with the defeat of Barry Goldwater.  Using its almost unlimited source of funding, wealthy businesspeople and corporations began to create a solid network of organizations to remake the country by undoing the gains made during the and New Deal, and even emulating the political landscape of the late 19th century.  The Cato Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, right wing legal offices, and a host of other activist operations led a systematic assault on anything and anybody who seem to know represent a barrier to profit maximization. Continue reading

“The real risk is that the U.S. faces a poverty cycle rather than an inflationary one.”

With all the crap coming down on the working class, one Wall Street Journal columnist at least has the sensitivity to see that a little inflation might be enough to push many people into poverty.  At least that is better than ranting about all of the overpaid greedy workers.

Writing about the build up in inflation: “The real risk is that the U.S. faces a poverty cycle rather than an inflationary one.”

Evans, Kelly. 2011. “A Standard-of-Living Shock Is the Danger.” Wall Street Journal (17 February).

Writing about the build up in inflation: “The real risk is that the U.S. faces a poverty cycle rather than an inflationary one.”

Austerity — Force Molting the American Working Class


Austerity — Force Molting the American Working Class

Michael Pollan described how laying hens are force molted — deprived of food and light and water in order to squeeze out some extra eggs before they die.  This practice reminds me of the mantra that politicians spout: Everybody has to make sacrifices (except for the rich and powerful who need more tax cuts and deregulation).  Anyway, capital can always find cheaper hens in the impoverished corners of the world.


“… the American laying hen, who passes her brief span piled together with a half-dozen other hens in a wire cage whose floor a single page of this magazine could carpet. Every natural instinct of this animal is thwarted, leading to a range of behavioral “vices” that can include cannibalizing her cagemates and rubbing her body against the wire mesh until it is featherless and bleeding. Pain? Suffering? Madness? The operative suspension of disbelief depends on more neutral descriptors, like “vices” and “stress.” Whatever you want to call what’s going on in those cages, the 10 percent or so of hens that can’t bear it and simply die is built into the cost of production. And when the output of the others begins to ebb, the hens will be “force-molted” — starved of food and water and light for several days in order to stimulate a final bout of egg laying before their life’s work is done.”

Pollan, Michael. 2002. “An Animal’s Place.” The New York Times Magazine (10 November).


Scary Precedent for Economics

According to a brief note in the New York Times, the Romanian Parliament is considering legislation to fine or punish witches whose prophecies turn out to be incorrect.  Imagine that economists faced comparable sanctions?

“Romania: False-Prophecy Penalty”

An Excellent Analysis of Empire: Reflecting on Cairo

The United States, like Germany, came late to the empire business. It did not aspire to informal Empire, but rather went to great lengths to undermine the existing empires to open them up for US business.  Eric Louw tells the story very well:


Louw, P. Eric. 2010. Roots of the Pax Americana: Decolonization, Development, Democratization and Trade (Manchester: Manchester University Press).


In his account, the US was going to great lengths to undermine Britain’s Empire, especially India, even when those powers were allies during the Second World War.  He attributes Chamberlain’s behavior in Munich to a justifiable fear that dependence on US support in fighting the Nazis posed a greater threat to the empire than the Nazis themselves.  He shows that the US made good use of Gandhi in discrediting the British Empire.


Rather than going to the expense and trouble of maintaining a formal Empire, the US preferred finding compliant regimes in important venues.  For example, the US could have kept Cuba as a colony, but it got what it needed much more cheaply by keeping friendly governments in place. In contrast, Puerto Rico, which was much smaller, would not pose much trouble as a territory controlled by the US.


The book does not seem to be intended as a radical critique.  It does not discuss how this Pax (Pox) Americana proved to be a disaster, leaving people under the rule of Marcos, Mubarak, the Shah, and other such klepocrats and thugs I am anxiously waiting new chapter being written today in the streets of the Middle East.

Grover Cleveland, Obama’s Percursor?

I have been thinking about presidential comparisons with Obama.  The closest I could imagine was Grover Cleveland’s second administration.

Cleveland was the leader of the pro-business Bourbon Democrats who opposed high tariffs, free silver, inflation, imperialism and subsidies to business, farmers or veterans. His battles for political reform and fiscal conservatism made him an icon for American conservatives.  Cleveland was tight with the bankers and the railroad.  Maybe he was not so much in love with them as Obama, but it is still pretty disgusting.

Here are my notes from Matthew Josephson’s The Politicos: Continue reading

Middle Eastern Renaissance

Modern civilization began in the Middle East.  Modern imperialism has blotted out much of what is valuable in a civilized society.  Rather than being encumbered by the expense and responsibility of ruling such societies, the imperial powers have relied on corrupt and brutal dictators to enforce the needs of capital.


Bleeding the country to maintain the lavish lifestyles of their families and friends, these dictators left ordinary people to languish.  A few months ago, the expectation of revolutionary activity in the Middle East would seem highly unlikely, yet the people rose up with great courage.  The numbers of protesters were great enough that violent measures would be unacceptable around the world.


The danger is that their revolutionary courage will pave the way for a dictatorship with a more human face; not the direct dictatorship of a brutal and corrupt individual, but rather the more insidious dictatorship of capital managed by obedient bureaucrats.


The present opportunity is too precious to have people’s rights snatched away under the pretense of democracy.  The courageous people in the streets today deserve whatever support we can offer.