Hypocrisy and Half-baked thoughts

Cafe Hayek has a post by someone named Don Bordreaux trying to make the case that we should abolish the minimum wage.  He begins with a scenario of you being in a fast food restaurant or rent-a-maid office, or the grocery store and you accidentally overhear a woman who is obviously poor, who speaks broken English, ask for and be rejected for a job at this fast food restaurant:

Suppose that you’re at a McDonald’s restaurant or at a Safeway supermarket or at the office of a maid-service company and you see a 20-something young woman.  The woman is obviously poor by American standards and her English is broken and heavily accented.  She has no certifiable job experience.  She applies for a job and is rejected.  She – with entrepreneurial gumption – responds to the rejection by offering to work, not for the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour but, instead, for $5.00 per hour.  You observe the manager’s evident interest in her counteroffer.  The manager ponders for a minute or two and then whispers to her – yet loud enough for you to overhear – “Look, that’s against the law, but I can use you at $5.00 per hour.  So, okay, you’re hired!  But please don’t tell anyone or else I’ll be in serious trouble and you’ll lose this job.”

He then attempts, badly in my opinion, to play on you, the reader, for sympathy, by asking how you could be so heartless as to personally (italics his) intervene:

Would you – you personally – intervene to stop this woman from taking this job?  Would you – you personally – be willing to look her in the eyes and tell her that she may not take that job?  Would you – you personally – inform this young woman (with regret, of course) that she must remain unemployed for the time being and resume her job search elsewhere?  And would you – you personally – be willing to use force against this woman to prevent her from working at $5.00 per hour if she stubbornly ignores your demands?  Would you be willing, if her stubborn refusal to refuse the job persists, to poke a gun in her face to prevent her from working at an hourly wage of $5.00 per hour?

The writer goes on to say that, of course we’d happily turn in the manager, or call the police to intervene, but that prevents the manager and the woman from knowing that it was us, personally, who deprived her of the job and turned in the manager.  He ends with these questions:

But I wonder how many of you – you personally – have the courage of your moral convictions to be able to look the woman in her eyes and expose yourself personally, to her, as someone willing to deny her the opportunity to work at the highest wage she can now earn.

And if I’m correct, how can you, in good conscience, continue to feel that minimum-wage legislation is ethically justified?

The fact that I don’t eat fast food and can’t afford maid service  aside and so never would have heard this conversation to begin with —  I personally would have NO compunction about intervening in this situation, and making a report to the appropriate agencies as well as the division office of this fast food restaurant.

I would intervene for a number of reasons.  That’s because I can think logically.  First, if she was here as a refugee, the government would have offered her employment assistance and therefore she would not be begging for a job at less than minimum wage.  If she was here legally, she could also appeal to a number of government agencies which would be happy to assist her, on a level they do not seem to display for natural born citizens, with finding employment or in getting public assistance.

Second, I can do math.  If this situation were to happen without intervention, the very next thing to happen is that the manager would call his buddies and tell them that he got someone to work for less than minimum wage, and find out if his new girl has friends he can hire or refer to his manager friends.  The next time an employee calls out, or has any sort of a discipline problem, they will find themselves out of a job and yet another person willing to work for less than minimum wage will be employed.  This, I believe, is called wage deflation.  Paul Krugman has an excellent article on this very phenomenon I found when I went googling a definition for wage deflation.  Now, opinions on the REST of Krugman’s essays and work aside, this is a very commonsense and easily understood essay describing this problem.

Third, I can see the end resulting from this cause.  This will have ripple effects – or as the Aussies and the English say – a knock-on effect on the rest of the economy.  Because her wages are less, eventually there will be more people working at less than minimum wage than can be policed by agencies responsible for ensuring compliance with the minimum wage.  People will not speak up, because they will now be working outside the law – and those few who still work for minimum wage will be in fear of losing their own jobs.  These people will have even less money to spend on the basic necessities and therefore can’t.  Sectors not directly related to fast food will experience loss of revenue and layoffs will begin in those sectors.  Even the manager who began paying less than minimum wage will find that his bonus is cut, or the cost of living raise he was expecting, is not going to be happening. This will ripple across the economic landscape, and up the pyramid of unskilled, semi skilled, and skilled workers, to ultimately affect the owner class at the top. Of course, they at the top don’t rely on actual business earnings for their money, they rely on fantasy money produced via ‘vehicles’ such as bonds, stocks, and derivatives, so it will be quite a while before they realize that the REAL economy and money that their fantasy money used to arise from is, in fact, fantasy.

This author relies on shame and an appeal to the emotions in making this case, not logic.   This is why I think most Libertarians of today are just selfish shits who don’t want to share the sandbox, and can’t logically think their way out of a paper bag.  Or, as my ex-husband use to say, they don’t have enough brains to pour piss out of a boot.  We don’t live 150 years ago, and thankfully so, or most of us would be working in factories or mills for those business owners at pennies per week, 16 hours a day, 6 days a week.  We would have started working at as young as 6, and most of us would die from malnutrition or diseases easily prevented by proper diet, basic sanitation, and sunshine.  Yet these Libertarians would happily do away with minimum wage even though their wages are predicated on that minimum standard, and would decrease by a LOT, if it were abolished.  The concept of days off arises from the same place and time where minimum wage was implemented, and I’m sure Libertarians enjoy their holidays and days off as much as the next person.  Same for medical care, enough food to eat, the ability to live where you want…you get the idea.  It is BECAUSE of the abuses inflicted on the unskilled and fearful populace in previous centuries and eras that we have the protections — the privileges of middle class life — we have now.

I agree that regulation has gone too far.  I can’t, for instance, open a business out of my home, because I live in a residential area.  You can’t have manufacturing in a residential zone unless you want to drastically increase your tax burden and open yourself up to a whole host of new regulations.  If I were to ever get to the point where I wanted to open a store to sell my hand crafts, I would need to pay rent for a building miles away, all the utilities, fire/theft/liability insurance (because someone might strangle themselves with a skein of my yarn and I’d be liable), the gas to drive there and back, and so on….   They are right in this point of view.  It would be even worse if I were to build a building myself.  Construction insurance, loan insurance, building codes (including the Universal Fire Code — look that baby up if you want to be goggled with horror at ridiculous regulations!), handicap access, etc.

If I were to hire an employee it would get even more onerous.  Minimum wage, of course, but also Social Security tax, Medicare tax, state taxes, county taxes, and on and on…. or I could hire the employee on a 1099 as an independent contractor and let him/her worry about it, but I’m sure that opens me up to further regulations I can’t even conceive of right now.  Like I said, regulation has gone too far.  In this I do agree with  Libertarians.  How to fix this?  I don’t know.  I do know that slashing minimum wage without dealing with the economy strangling regulations (and the government entities creating more and more every day) is NOT going to work.  Appealing to flawed logic and misplaced compassion for an agenda that benefits business owners – the 1%’ers greatly in the near term, and hurts them in the long term, is NOT the way to go about this.

ETA:  I have more thoughts about this, but I don’t want to make it too long.  I’m on vacation from school until next week so I will actually have time to put thought to form.

How to stop Jeff Bezos from filling our skies with drones

Ilargi over at the The Automatic Earth has the  best idea ever.

Drones equipped with jammers….brilliant.

OK, so I’ve been thinking about this as well — and I think the way to keep these things out of the hands of our local police agencies is to make a very LARGE hue and cry over the ultimate loss of personnel this will cause.  After all, if there are drones patrolling the skies, what need is there for actual police on the ground?  A smaller force can be detailed to respond directly to an area where a crime was committed after the fact; there’s no need for actual in-person patrols when the drones can be deployed in place of people to detect crime.  Do we really want drones instead of personnel?

The same can be said of drones being used by other county/city agencies:  why should they, ultimately, employ people to go and check for code violations, say, when they can simply fly a drone over properties and very poorly pay someone to look at the pictures to find them?  Then they too can send out a small force targeted at violators.  Wouldn’t you rather have people being paid than drones?

The upshot is that if our tax dollars are going toward anything, it should be toward PEOPLE, not drones.  The use of drones will always and ultimately lead to job loss, or the replacement of better paid and trained people with lower paid and poorly trained drone masters.  Which will always and ultimately lead to more unemployment/underemployment and a poorer economic outlook for one’s own community.

The dangers inherent in a new serfdom

While medieval serfs and lords had an arrangement that kept the powers of the lord in check, and gave the serfs many protections – such as the right of inheritance – there are no such protections for the common person today, mainly because it hasn’t been particularly thought of yet.

While a medieval serf was able to will his land parcel to his children, without the permission or interference of the lord (the actual ‘owner’ of the land), that is not the case today.  I recently read of a wealthy man in California who was offering a small stipend and a furnished guest house in return for gardening and landscaping duties at his mansion.  Sounds like a pretty decent deal right?  Not really.   The problem was that the stipend was vanishingly small – buying food would essentially wipe it out – and the duties encompassed being at the wealthy man’s beck and call, available for his whims, at all hours.  The duties themselves involved between 60 and 70 hours a week of hard labor.  The astounding thing was that the wealthy man couldn’t understand why he couldn’t keep a gardener.

I have also read recently that there is a farm in Oregon that uses free labor under the guise of ‘teaching’ farming to ‘students’ who come to live on the farm.  There is no pay, only room and board provided.  And the workload is just as great; the teaching is merely the performance of manual labor at the direction of the owner, and little is carried away by the student other than a general distaste for being taken advantage of.   This is not like Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm, where real teaching of the nuts and bolts of what he does and why is part of the daily labor, where part of the evenings are spent answering questions from students.  It is merely taking advantage of eager or desperate people wanting to learn a skill.

On the local Craigslist last year in the farming and gardening section there was a recurring post by a farmer who was looking for labor as described above.   The farmer also gave a warning that his farm was a Christian one, and that there were strict rising and sleeping times, mandatory church and prayer, and no drugs or alcohol allowed.  I haven’t seen the posting in quite a while; I don’t know if he had no takers or if he got some willing labor.  I suspect that his farm was much more like the farmer in Oregon than like Mr. Salatin’s though, regardless of the religious bent of the farmer.

These examples (not Salatin, the others) are to me exactly what we must guard against.  If there are to be land owners using serf type labor, there MUST be accepted rules  and laws in place, commonly known and accepted by society at large, to govern the behavior of the owners particularly, but the serfs as well.  Land owners cannot demand labor on the level of slavery in exchange for housing.  They cannot keep the serf from performing work for himself and his/her family in order to be at least a little self sustaining.  The owner cannot demand labor 7 days a week, with no holidays.  There must be bonuses paid to the serfs, at least in the form of food gifts, money, or offers of land purchase.  In return, serfs must do the contracted labor or they cannot keep their housing.

It sounds simple, or crazy, or both.  I really think, though, that we must begin thinking about these boundaries now, before serfdom/slavery becomes the custom of the land again, or many thousands of people will be taken advantage of a la Tom Joad’s family in the The Grapes of Wrath.

It’s Hobson’s Choice. Nosalgia for an economic model whose time has passed, whose time has come again.

I watched an excellent documentary from the 80’s on The Shakers the other night.  Contained within it was a quote from a Shaker made shortly after the Civil War, when mass produced cloth became so common it was cheap.  Too cheap in fact.  He lamented that it’s cheaper to buy cloth than to make it.  But it’s cheaper to weave it than buy it because of the quality of the hand made so exceeds the quality of the mass produced.  Thus, garments and items made from the cheaper cloth must be replaced sooner and mended more than those made from hand woven cloth.  He went on to say basically, that it’s a predicament for which there are no good solutions.

140-something years later and this is still a true statement.  A hand woven dish towel will last 20 years easily; the dish towels bought from Costco, even though of ‘higher quality’ than the dollar store versions, will last no more than 5 at best.  But you can buy at least four dollar store towels for less than even one hand woven one.

For clothing, the difference is even more striking.  There is an additional problem though, at least in industrialized parts of the world; even the majority of hand weavers are afraid to cut their cloth because they do not know how to make cloth that is meant for clothing.  Daryl Lancaster is one of the few American weavers – Laura Frye is another (Canadian) – who has kept that knowledge alive and is passing it on to other hand weavers.  Cloth that drapes well isn’t necessarily cloth that will make a garment that will last more than a few washings.  Our body-conscious culture prefers lycra to fitted linen; it requires a good understanding of cloth manufacture from an engineering standpoint to make hand woven cloth that can be used for quality garment construction and still both look attractive and be durable.  The word ‘sleazy’ referred originally to sheer cloth or cloth made poorly; somewhere along the line it became a word used to mean cheap/tacky/vulgar/low class/whore.  It can mean any of those meanings, or all of them depending on context.

I try not to romanticize the past; our ancestors mostly lived hard, short lives and  I have already exceeded my probable life expectancy compared to 100 years ago.  I would not have even survived to bear children were it not for antibiotics.  I do think, though, that in many ways living standards for the average person, as compared to the wealthy, have declined since the Middle Ages.  It seems to me that while a serf might have been effectively a slave, it was also the case that the lord was perfectly aware that their wealth derived from the work of the serfs on the land they all shared.  Not shared in the sense that the serf owned it, but that they were entitled to live on it, they were entitled to work it, and their time was basically their own once the work for the lords was done.  Work that didn’t require hours of time every single day but rather sporadically and in bursts as the seasons dictated.  The lords did not have access to much better medicine or treatments than the serfs; they didn’t live much longer lives, and they didn’t live (too much) in a way that was drastically better than the serfs.  The plague took as many of the gentry and nobility, percentage wise, as it did the serfs, just as an example.

The Industrial Revolution finished the decline that began more than 200 years previously.  It destroyed sustainable peasantry, their leisure time, their self determination (within limits, of course), and concentrated wealth in the hands of a few who DID live drastically differently and better than their peasants.  This is the time in history when money became essential to life for all classes. Which, of course, puts the poor at a serious disadvantage and effectively makes them slaves to the wealthy in a far more dehumanizing way than serfdom ever did.

I think perhaps this is why Jane Austen’s novels are so beloved by so many knitters and crafters in America.  They romanticize the time without realizing how very destructive that time was to their ancestors, those who were lucky (or unlucky) enough to survive the final destruction of an entire way of life.  They see the leisure of Jane’s characters as indicative of a time gone by without stopping to think that, for the vast majority of us, we would NOT have been the ones with the leisure time, we would have been the ones working 7 days a week as a servant, going without adequate sleep for the entirety of our lives.  Or we would have been factory workers, working 7 days a week in a dark workhouse, straining to see by candlelight, being always hungry.  The grace and beauty of that time period belonged only to the wealthy.

In the Middle Ages, even noble-born women were expected to spin, to weave, to sew and embroider, and to mend, as well as manage their households and act in the name of their husband.  They did not — could not — leave those tasks to their servants.  It was expected that all people in a household, nobility included, would contribute to the production of household goods.  Just as a late example:  Queen Katherine, Henry VIII’s first wife, continued to make his shirts for him until Anne Boleyn demanded he stop accepting them.

Distributism is the technical term for the economic model that arises from re-localization.  And it is an economic model that allows for hand woven cloth, the economy of chickens, and of small farms, and community self sufficiency.  It does not require money as the only coin of exchange.  It is the model of the Middle Ages, the model of the Shakers and other religious communes of the 18th and 19th centuries, the model that was destroyed in favor of savage capitalism.  It is the model that values the economy of hand woven cloth, and the clothing and items made from it, over mass produced inferior cloth.  If we rely on money alone, hand woven items are something only the wealthy acquire and value.  If we rely on interconnectedness, on trading within and among communities for those things we don’t or can’t produce, it is the only affordable choice.

Will miracles never cease?

Mr. TF and I have been stressed for most of the year, thinking we were going to owe tax money even though we’ve earned significantly less money this year than last (Mr. TF lost his full time job in 2009 and has only been working part time this past year). Our property taxes went up even though our valuation went down, why wouldn’t our income taxes go up even though our income went down?

Well, well, well. As Gomer used to say, “surprise, surprise, surprise!” We are getting a refund. Of course, it’s mainly because we’re both in school and got to deduct our school expenses.

Yay, a wood stove is definitely in my future now! The tax refund will go for that! Woo Hoo!

Half. com. What a ripoff.

I posted a textbook on half.com because I’m done with the class. Not only does the site now tell me what I can charge for the book, it also charges a 15% fee for the listing — its commission– and only reimburses a flat rate for shipping.

Wish I’d known about all those changes before I listed my textbook. Now I’m getting about 25 dollars on a 60 dollar book, which I could probably have sold locally for much more.

AND they only pay you twice monthly, which means they get to use my money and earn interest on it ON TOP of the commission.

Ripoff artists.

No more half.com

Is there any decent online selling place any more????

ETA:  I’ve been a long time customer, and have sold textbooks through them (as well as buying) for years.  I haven’t sold anything in the last year or so, and I really wasn’t aware of these changes prior to the sale of the book.