Monday, April 12, 2010

The Value Of Labor

I was in Josh's yard last week helping him pull weeds and trim bougainvillea, in an attempt to bring his jungle under control. It was a companionable way to spend an evening, as the sun declined in the sky and the temperatures were only modestly hot. My Labrador shifted a pile of pea rock to make a soft cool place to lie down and watch me was a I hoed weeds. We drank bottles of Yuengling and talked desultorily of this and that.

It was a thought that flashed through my mind as I pushed and pulled the hoe that came out of my mouth before I could stop it. "I don't think I'd like to have to take up landscaping if I were to lose my job." Josh looked at me with incredulity writ large across his face. "You're never going to lose your job!" he said to me. And he has a point after all. I have seniority and I work a job that so far cannot be replicated by a telephone service based in India. I wonder how long it can last, when i think about it some days. Perhaps, I suggest to myself, in a post technological world police response times will stretch out and an instant response to a 9-1-1 call will no longer be required or expected. Perhaps we will go back to an inefficient world where my skills will no longer be necessary to route help. Who knows?

At the moment it's Josh's profession that is under attack, teachers are an impediment to the wholesale destruction of living wages. So we hear how good teachers must be rewarded and "bad" teachers must be eliminated and the path to accomplishing this is by destroying unions. By and large I view the prospect with trepidation. My entire adult life has been a platform to observe the wrecking ball of well paid, first world jobs, all in the name of efficiency.

I have been an advocate of protectionism as I watched American jobs exported to Mexico, until Indonesia and China undercut the maquilladoras along the US border. I have remained an advocate of protectionism watching well paid jobs vanish in US industry. One has to wonder if an unemployment rate of 30% in Flint Michigan is better for the US than paying auto workers a living wage of $24 an hour. The answer seems obvious to me, yet people will crawl down my throat arguing that cheap consumer goods are the backbone of our economy. Perhaps, but they haven't got us anywhere good.
I am forced by circumstances to view a de-industrialised future in a new light, if indeed the American Empire is imploding and wealth is being sucked out of our country by sovereign debt, interest rates and all the rest. Some observers try to make the argument that China is on the cusp of a major implosion which seems unlikely to me- all that accumulated wealth and a dictatorship of the proletariat to tell people what's what should take care of any unexpected problems that might crop up. If they aren't benefits sufficient to head off economic failure one has to wonder what will have happened to the US by that stage.
I am trying to think of a de-industrialised future that may be better than our high tech immediate past. It might be nice to live in a world where speed and efficiency will be replaced by a more humane pace. Perhaps work will re-valued, perhaps not. Perhaps a more rural lifestyle will be better for us, but I have my doubts. After all, the wonderful world of saving labor wasn't so brilliant after cheap oil ran out, I can't believe any future dreamed up by the pschyopathic power mongers on Wall Street will be much better for we the serfs. America the Pastoral. Heaven help us.


madjacks of key west said...

Greetings from the Hill.

"Hooray, Hooray for Common Sense."

A little sunday satire for you!



Milton's Freeman said...

If we remove the determination of wages from the free market, who decides?

The gov't bureaucrats who've done a masterful job of managing this country's fiscal situation?

Let's say you own Tachless Triumph's Repair Shop. You enjoy the business of maintaining the Key's private fleet of say 100 Tachless Triumphs... Work enough to cover rent, parts, pay 3 part time mechanics $12/hr, and keep for yourself the equivalent of $24/hour. The Manchurian President edicts a minimum wage in the new socialist states of amerika at $24/hour. What do you do?

a) Applaud the "fairness" and promptly double the wages of your mechanics, leaving nothing for yourself (since you're the greedy employer, you technically don't get a wage).

b) Fire one of the mechanics (knowning he'll be saved by the social welfare net being funded by other evil employers), pay the remaining 2 $24/hr and double your hours and keep $12/hr for yourself?

c) Fire 2 mechanics, pay the remaining $24, triple the hours you work?

I "get" a living wage of $24 would be wonderful to the few remaining workers that get it, but what about those that are let go?

Do we require employers to not fire anyone once wage costs double? (Didn't the USSR try that once?) How'd those UAW labor costs help those in Flint in the long term?

All these economic "ideas" are based on the notion that money/capital can't flow to a more favorable climate. That somehow you can fence it in and bleed it a pint at a time...

Don't misread what I'm saying as endoresment of abuse of labor or unbridled capitalism. I'm advocating a carrot, not a stick approach to economics.

Conchscooter said...

I think as a theoretical exercise you are right. However where I have a problem is with the notion that exporting work is okay. Is protectionism wrong? Cane we decide collectively (not from the top down necessarily)to pay better wages and pay more for the junk in our daily lives?
The current race to the bottom is wrecking us all.

Anonymous said...

I recall when the free trade legislation scam was being pushed by the Republi-Crats in the early 1990's.

They facilitated our jobs being shipped offshore in the interest of corporate profits. Particulary damaging were the manufacturing jobs. The only real way to create real wealth is to add value via manufacturing.

This was a clear statement that corporate America had taken over our Government. The banking events of the past 2 years confirms it all again.

Conchscooter said...

I agree and add to that the selection of a Supreme Court Justice and who knows what next.
Thenwe see Financial Reform getting pushed ahead despite the lobbying action. I wonder what that means? Anything good for we the people?

Milton's Freeman said...

I believe we can all agree having more and better paying jobs in this country is a good thing.

Protectionism doesn't work.

...and the call "don't export jobs!" is also doomed to fail.

It all comes down to employee productivity. It's impossible to pay a worker/employee more than their economic worth in the long run (see: Flint, MI)

If the Manchurian President decries "All workers hereby get $24/hr" then employers will have increased economic incentive to automate jobs (e.g. robots, etc.) - or reduce the number of employees demanding more output per hour of those remaining (see: "salaried" employee scam), or simply close shop and payroll drops to $24/hr x 0 hours = $0 income.

Protectionism has the same results. If the Manchurian President at the behest of the labor unions that run the socialist democratic party call in their campaign donation chips and demand that no foreign (fill-the-blank) products will be allowed in the U.S. below $x - then society at large is being taxed via higher prices to support the wages of the few making uncompetitive goods. In the long run - see: Flint, MI

Whether thru quotas, tarrifs, bans, etc. the result is higher prices for U.S. consumers (another way of taxing via fiat) and a declining std. of living.

I'd love to understand how you come to believe protectionism could work in the long run...

The better long term answer is to focus on how to make the U.S. worker more efficient, value added, productive, etc. to compete and win on the open market.

Anonymous said...

Is keeping manufacturing jobs in the US a form of protectionism? I think not. Rather it is a form of national self preservation by creating real wealth.

Here's a simple example. Glass is manufactured by turning sand into the end product. A zero value precursor transformed into a valuable saleable asset.

Why not keep that value in the coffers of the US and its citizens? Is our current financial predicament not damnng evidence that this off shoring is a failure?

Conchscooter said...

I favor prootectionism. Off shoring was a disatser. Is a disaster. I don't suppose congress will repeal NAFTA any time soon.

Milton's Freeman said...

How do you stop "offshoring"? If it's possible to convert sand into glass cheaper in Mexico, buyers will turn to them... and along with it the associated "jobs"..

The ultimate "made at home" economy, N. Korea, demonstrates that protectionism won't work... unless we want a N. Korea standard of living.