Immigrants Don’t “Take American Jobs”

A certain subset of Americans believe that immigrants “take American jobs”, which is their excuse for hating immigrants. This is a breathtaking irony in a nation that is 99% immigrant. As a recent NYT article noted, however, such people assume there are a finite number of American jobs, and when someone gets a job, someone else must lose one.

Not so. Immigration expands the economy. Immigrants create more jobs.

Imagine 100,000 new immigrants to the country, each of whom will find work. Each will then earn a paycheck. The paycheck is reduced by the amount the earner pays in taxes, so tax revenues go up from 100,000 new taxpayers, which is good for the rest of us. Then, every worker has to live someplace, usually by renting from an American, has to buy food, clothing, medicine, and so on, just like everyone else. Each of these expenses for 100,000 new people creates new income, or a new job. There is increased demand for workers for all of these things, builders, food workers, retailers, doctors and nurses, etc.

When a large number of new immigrants arrives, which has happened a number of times in US history, the economy expands significantly. There are more people, and they need goods and services. Immigrant jobs increase the number of other jobs in services and goods for the new immigrants. Immigrants do not “take American jobs”; they create new American jobs.

Immigrants do not “take American jobs”;
they create new American jobs.

There is another reason that the meme “taking American jobs” is wrong. Today, people who complain about this are often exercising an ugly prejudice against Spanish-speaking immigrants. Mostly, they mean Mexican field workers, who work some of the nation’s poorest paid and most demanding jobs.

One state on the east coast passed an ugly and hateful law—only one of many—a few years ago based entirely on their belief that farm workers were “taking American jobs”. Faced with this virulent hatred, farm workers and many other Mexican-Americans simply packed up and left the state. That year there was no one to harvest the crops. Farmers advertised these “American” jobs, and a few people showed up, but all of them were gone by noon of the second day, unable to take the physical demands. Their pay for that day and a half was about $72, same as the pay those hated Mexicans who were “stealing American jobs” would earn. The big farmers had to plow their crops under, and lost millions.

People who come north from desperately poor countries send money back to their families. For those of us who earn a reasonably comfortable living, the idea of sending half of our pay to the old country seems like a huge sacrifice, and it is. But imagine doing it on what the typical immigrant field worker earns. While you’re at it, remember that these workers don’t have regular full time jobs. They must move with the harvest and sleep where they can. At best, their annual income is $12,500. At best.

Now imagine sending half of that back home to your family. That means you as a typical field worker will have some $6,000 to pay for all of your needs for the year. But you also know that if you don’t send the other half home, your family will probably not have enough to eat, the children won’t be able to go to school, old clothing will have to last another year, there will be no medicine.

Anyone who knows the facts
of field workers’ lives
and still complains
has a soul devoid of empathy.

As an immigrant field worker, particularly sin papeles, you may spend decades here alone. You can’t make love to your spouse, or be by her side. You don’t get to see your children grow up. You won’t be there when your parents die.

Anyone who knows the facts of these good people’s lives and still complains about immigrants “taking American jobs” has a soul devoid of empathy, let alone the Christian morality they so often crow about, and that’s before we talk about their flawed reasoning.

Even though there is so much of this ugly cruelty about immigrants in our country, particularly among naive conservatives who keep electing plutocrats who rob them, the plight of our grossly underpaid farm workers is pretty much beside the point when “taking American jobs” is the complaint. Not only do immigrants not “take American jobs”, immigration always results in an expanded economy, with a net increase in the number of “American” jobs.

Complainers are not able to understand
because their error is an item of faith.

I suspect that many of the people endlessly complaining about “American” jobs are simply not able to understand the reasons they are wrong, because their error is the result of an irrational belief. It’s an item of faith, like so many other false conservative beliefs, that immigrants “take American jobs”. It must be true because we believe it is. But the truth is that immigrants have always generated a net increase in jobs, including during the times our own ancestors were immigrants.

By the way, maybe you noticed that all of the high school students who were accepted to multiple Ivy League colleges this year are the first-generation children of immigrants.

We should open our borders and welcome a lot more immigrants. It would be good for our souls and even better for the economy.

The “Nanny State” Is a Great Idea

Aside from the phony Republican name, the “nanny state” is a great idea. Republicans invented the term “nanny state” in order to ridicule those weakling foreigners who can’t even stand on their own two feet, and to contrast their failure with our own macho independence.

But those dang foreigners… They pay way less for vastly superior social programs, and we waste a lot of money for inadequate services.

There’s not a thing wrong with the “nanny state” aside from the handle Republicans have hung on it. Life is decidedly better in the “nanny state” because there are many things that the government does better than free (?) market capitalism.

Those dang foreigners pay way less
for vastly superior social programs.

There are three things we must note at this point. First, the much vaunted “personal responsibility” Republicans tout, which is supposed to be a sign of the great strength of the American character, is nothing of the sort. It is just code designed to reassure true believers that Those People are failures because they don’t exercise “personal responsibility”. This is not true. Neither do Those People fail to exercise personal responsibility, nor are they failures. Nor is it true that those supposedly responsible people have no duty to the larger society outside their immediate family, as they seem to think. We are not, and cannot be, independent of the society in which we live. When we fail to fulfill our duty to our society, we weaken it, and our own lives.

The second point is that very, very few people are able to make and execute satisfactory long-term plans for their own security in old age, no matter what their political or other beliefs might be, especially on inadequate wage. We ought to, but we don’t, and it has nothing to do with our political party. When we are twenty or thirty, retirement is a distant irrelevancy, yet that is exactly the time of life that planning and saving is easiest and most effective, thanks to the magic of compounding and the Roth IRA. Even so, it doesn’t seem so easy if our paycheck is just average. Typically, we are jolted awake in our fifties by the realization that retirement ain’t so distant anymore, and we have to sock away big chunks of our pay, thus losing out on decades of compound interest.

Republican “personal responsibility”
is nothing more than code
addressed to true believers.

The third element is recognition that social programs run by the government are inherently superior to private programs managed for profit, no matter what Republicans say. One of the major reasons is simply that capitalism’s costs, including profit, are not part of the picture. Private health care insurance provides no health care at all, but costs boodles because we have to cough up enough extra cash to pay the rich their profit and to fund the expensive private bureaucracy that tries to prevent actual health care. These costs would vaporize with a decent government health care program. In spite of Republican beliefs that government programs are inherently inferior, there are numerous government programs right here at home that have been well and efficiently managed for many decades. Social Security and Medicare are two of them.

We are overcharging ourselves for inferior services.

So we have the followers of one political party thumping their chests about their great macho independence from government, while scoffing at the best social programs in the world, and condemning the American public to costs far above what they should be for this mock independence. This is a tragedy for the US. We are the richest nation in history, and we ought at the very least to have superior health care, education, and retirement. Instead, we are decidedly deficient in all three areas.

Some places are 95% Republican,
in deep poverty and ignorance,
and robbed at every election.

Now, personal independence and responsibility are good things, but that is not what we’re talking about here. Nor are those things guaranteed for Republicans. In fact, you can look at parts of the country where Republicans are 95% of the population, yet it is obvious from the predominant deep poverty and ignorance in those places that their supposedly superior independence and responsibility have failed miserably. Yet time and time again these poor people vote for rich plutocrats who repeatedly bamboozle them into believing they are independent and strong.

They are not inferior because of their supposed independence and personal responsibility, they are inferior because they have voted for people who fail to protect them and provide security. And they don’t even realize they’ve been had. They fail to see the connection between education and a better life. They know almost nothing about the real world.

How About Some “Personal Responsibility” Where it Counts

The other day as I was walking home I saw a woman using a garden hose to wash her entire sidewalk, driveway, porch, and water her lawn and trees. This is California, in year four of a severe water shortage that may well mark the return to thousands of years of arid climate. There is one year of water remaining for 38-million people. Yet she was spraying water everywhere, running it into the sewers to be wasted. Further along my way there was a restaurant blithely washing the sidewalk. A few days later it was a guy washing his house, and this was after the governor announced new emergency rationing.

On that same day I saw an older man approach a city trash bin with a large bag of papers, all of which were recyclable, all of which he dumped.

I often see people leaving stores with several cases of water shipped in from Fiji or New Zealand, in plastic bottles that may well become part of the great swirling gyres of plastic trash in our oceans, millions of tons of it. This plastic accumulates in huge drift piles on the shore. At sea it constantly breaks down into smaller pieces. Sea birds find small pieces of colorful plastic and feed it to their chicks, all of whom die of starvation. Fish, sea mammals, birds, turtles, even dolphins, sharks, and whales, are frequently entrapped by nylon nets and ropes, six-pack holders, fishline, and other stuff. It is not just carelessly disposed trash. It is clear danger.

trash surf

Photo from Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

We Americans are among the least responsible people on the planet. We drive huge testosterone chariots that are advertised as suitable for roaring around in fragile environments. In spite of the fairly good records of cities like San Francisco, our overall rate of recycling is dismal, as is our efficiency. We are distressingly irresponsible. We seem to feel we can’t be bothered with caring about anything beyond our nose.

The Japanese may be the people we should emulate. In the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami citizens turned in thousands of found wallets to the police. The police devoted many thousands of hours trying to return them to their owners, or to the owner’s family. Such things are not unusual in Japanese culture. Anyplace in Japan, if you lose practically anything it will most likely be returned, either by a neighbor or by a police officer. This is personal responsibility. Responsibility not just for one’s own selfish fortune, but for the wellbeing of the people around us.

We Americans
are among the
least responsible people
on the planet.

“Personal responsibility” is the mantra of Republican conservatives, but what they mean by the mantra is not caring about other people, the animals, or the environment we all depend on for life, for the world in which we all live. For them, every man is a self-sufficient island, sharing no responsibilities beyond themselves and their male-dominated, totally independent family—which of course is not at all independent. The sole purpose of this mantra is to contrast themselves with those they assume are always irresponsible. Their belief has only a tenuous relationship with real responsibility, and even less with reality.

They feel no personal responsibility to assist the less fortunate in any way, because they believe other persons’ problems can only be their own damn fault for being so irresponsible. Really, it’s just an excuse for racism, since the people they believe are always irresponsible are Those Others.

They believe other persons’ problems
can only be their own damn fault.

At the same time, they are being irresponsible themselves, by failing to recognize their duty to others, for how things are, and by failing to even notice the ever worsening condition of the planet. The planet is not infinite. It simply cannot absorb all of our desecration. Look at that picture above again.

It is imperative that each of us assume personal responsibility for the wellbeing of our fellow Earthlings, and for the state of the planet. There is nothing else we could do that is anywhere near as important.

How About You Mind Your Own Damn Bidniss

Are you one of those so-called Christians who purposely discriminate against various groups of people, and otherwise poke your nose into other people’s business? What you are doing is claiming that people who are different from you have no right to exist. The rest is an attempt to control other people’s lives when their beliefs clash with your own.

Thus, a number of states have passed laws forbidding same-sex marriage, or even homosexuality, claiming that the Bible gives them this right. Likewise, they insist they have a right to rule over women’s bodies. They claim that a fertilized egg is a fully-formed human, thus any attempt to limit birth at any stage is murder. Is that you?

These claims in all cases are nonsense, not to mention that they violate the Bill of Rights and Christianity’s claim of tolerance.

Are you one of those
so-called Christians
who purposely discriminate
against various people?

First, homosexuality is not a choice, fool. Neither you nor any other heterosexual who claims it is could become homosexual just by deciding to do it. It is astonishing that anyone could believe such nonsense, let alone large parts of the population.

With regard to your “right” to refuse service to homosexuals, for example in providing a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage, a cake is just a cake. You have no right in civilized society to refuse service to, say, a Jew or a black. If you didn’t know who ate your cake, would it matter, because that’s what usually happens to your cakes? Are you under the delusion that no gay persons ever eat a cake you sell? Do you think that every person at a gay wedding celebration must be gay, and therefore doesn’t deserve your cake? Do you believe there are never gay people at a heterosexual wedding?

Is your marriage somehow damaged
by this “gay” wedding cake?

What happens to your cake after it leaves the bakery is irrelevant, and providing a cake for a gay wedding is no different from providing a cake for, say, a meeting of communists or the country club ladies. It’s just a cake. Refusal to sell this cake is closer to a hate crime than to a right.

But the strangest element in your intolerance, is the idea that differences between people because of race, sexual orientation, religion, or anything else, somehow taint you. Is your marriage somehow damaged by this “gay” wedding cake, or by the fact that there are some 250,000,000 gay persons? If so, please explain how, because the thought is giggle-worthy. Such discrimination is identical to racial discrimination, which we supposedly did away with a while ago.

Your claim that gay marriage somehow desecrates the institution of marriage is particularly laughable, when the majority of heterosexual marriages end in divorce. How sacred is a four year marriage? Could it be you actually believe that forbidding gay marriage would somehow improve your own dismal marriage statistics?

Do you actually believe
that forbidding gay marriage
would improve your own
dismal marriage statistics?

So you believe that aborting a fertilized egg is murder, and every such fertilization must result in a birth. Who gave you the right to make such decisions, to rule over other persons’ lives? What makes you think a fertilized egg is a fully-formed human when a human and a mouse zygote are virtually identical?

Even more to the point, how do you rectify your claim that abortion is murder with the fact that half of all abortions occur naturally? Who murdered all those naturally aborted fetuses? But there are murders. Do you recall the woman in Ireland who died (with her unborn child) because she was denied an abortion that would have saved her life? Would you be willing to willfully deny a pregnant woman a lifesaving procedure, knowing she and her baby would die? Is there some reason you should not be charged with a double murder in that case?

Why do you think you must meddle in the lives of women? Do you imagine that you are automatically smarter than any woman? How quaint. Why do you believe you have the right to make decisions about sex, pregnancy, and childbirth for someone else?

How about you mind your own damn business. Your thinking and your lack of tolerance could use a bit of work.

It’s Obvious Where Our Problems Come From

Why do we have far more of our population in prison than anyone else in the whole world? Why are so many of them black men? Why are so many black men killed by police? Why does the black population have so many social problems? According to Republicans, it’s obvious: blacks are lazy and inferior.

There is certainly racial prejudice, which is true of literally everyone, but those of African descent experience the most by far. But ridding the country of racial prejudice is not going to happen, because it’s part of our DNA heritage, back when we were all Africans, when such discrimination served an actual survival purpose. What needs to be fixed is the practice of justice today.

As for questions about racial justice, some have obvious answers, some less obvious. We have so many black men in prison because of centuries of systematic injustice. Because of self-important politicians posturing as “tough on crime”, which means sending poor people to prison for many years for smoking pot, or for petty shoplifting, or because the penal code was unjustly biased against them, or because someone got a “third strike” and life in prison for some utterly inconsequential violation.

Those politicians are tough with other people’s lives, the ones who have no money and are easily identified by their skin color. We know that the trillion-dollar crimes of the suits on Wall Street are definitely not as important, because none of those who nearly destroyed the global financial system and caused enormous misery for billions of us went to prison. Surely they would have if it were as important as, say, smoking pot.

What needs to be fixed
is the practice of justice today.

Being tough on crime also means failing to help prisoners in any way, including health care. More than a few prisoners die because they are denied their prescribed medicine. Some who were supposed to be taken to the hospital were instead taken to police headquarters, where they died.

It also means failing to deal with mental illness, which is one of the most serious problems of the criminal justice system. The one out of four prisoners who are mentally ill come quickly back to prison because they are untreated, and not in control of their own lives.

Being tough on crime also meant purposely failing to help prisoners gain the skills and education they needed to build a life. Tough! Yeah!

What a great way to improve the country!

Police killings result from a combination of police brutality against presumed guilty black men who are easily identified by their color, and the stark social conditions and lack of opportunity under which many African-Americans live. It’s a national epidemic. Not that all brutality is against blacks. Some cops will even kick a white guy in the face, if he’s safely handcuffed and on the ground. Amidst all this evil it’s hard to remember that most of the police behave properly, and we are blessed to have them.

Economic injustice, however, is the most significant element of the social conditions that keep African-American families down generation after generation.

As I have written several times, social injustice can begin with pregnancy. (And by the way, the problem is not that black girls get pregnant very young. Such pregnancies, black and white, are a fraction of what they once were.) Drug and alcohol use and smoking will damage a developing fetus irreparably, and every school girl and boy should learn this early. Good nutrition comes next in fetal and infant health, and one of the most important markers of a child’s future success is adequate birth weight. Young people need to learn they will soon have a sacred role to play.

The whole social mess
comes to roost in the schools.

The whole social mess comes to roost in the schools: undernourished children, underfunded schools, underpaid teachers, students with various personal and social problems… There is no simple or quick way to solve these problems, although we seem to think teachers should be able to do it in their “spare time” (as if they had any). But the main difficulty is that this toxic mix, when it is in the black community, is seen as the entire fault of African-Americans themselves, ignoring the centuries of slavery and injustice that have characterized the black experience, and the effects of ongoing economic injustice on their lives today.

Poor neighborhoods are a mess, and won’t improve as long as the few jobs available are low-pay part-time work in fast food. We have desperately needed living wage laws for decades, and if we ever get them poor neighborhoods will improve markedly.

Real needs require real money,
over generations.

Our gross injustice and inequality can’t be fixed without tackling everything all at once, meaningfully and consistently. The problems can’t be fixed with a few pennies for a while, and certainly won’t be fixed by GOP money transfers to the rich. Real needs require real money and real action over generations. Far from being the money sink Republicans think it would be, fixing our social ills would be an investment that pays big dividends, because well educated, healthy people who earn a decent living return far more money to the economy and to their neighborhoods than they cost, improving everyone and everything. We will have a vibrant economy only when everyone earns a decent living.

These things will not be fixed as long as Republicans and their supporters continue to believe that all the problems of the poor are caused by themselves, that if only they weren’t so lazy and dependent on welfare, there would be no problem.

Conservatives have from the beginning been locked into a mindset that dictates that our common needs must be perpetually underfunded because those things would destroy our economy if they were fully fun funded. The opposite is true. Our economy suffers from lack of investment of all types of social needs, for infrastructure, education, health care—everything that would make our lives better. How conservatives can fail to understand this, in view of the continuous flow of evidence, casts doubt on the reasoning powers of those who endorse starvation budgets.

President Obama’s announcement of a goal to provide free community college to every deserving student was immediately followed by numerous ugly online comments about freeloaders on welfare, meaning African-Americans, of course. These are blatantly racist remarks. Such thinking completely ignores the fact that many nations have long had four years of free college for everyone, including all expenses, and the best have free professional and medical training as well. In the US, community college is a path that many very accomplished people of all cultural backgrounds have followed.

Soon after the president’s announcement
a number of conservatives who attended colleges
subsidized by taxpayer money
complained about the use of taxpayers’ money
to subsidize colleges.

Unfortunately, no matter how intelligently and how many times the economic maladies that constrain the poor are demonstrated, GOP true believers remain immune to facts, and continue to imagine that everyone already has the same opportunity, and all difficulties are result of laziness, especially the natural laziness of blacks.

Bomb Them Into Loving Us

The Vietnamese are the kindest, most forgiving people there are. American tourists, profoundly ashamed for the millions of deaths in the American war waged in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, are gently forgiven by people who smile and say they look to the future, not the past. It brings me to tears, because we don’t deserve it.

The past is not even past. Far too many southeast Asian infants are born with physical defects even today, forty years later, compliments of the American makers of Agent Orange, which Monsanto said was safe. Every now and then someone dies, or loses a leg, compliments of Accudyne Operations, the American makers of plastic land mines that have rested patiently under the soil all these years, waiting to do their ugly deed. The found collection of large, unexploded ordnance grows slowly but steadily, compliments of the big corporations that made some forty different kinds of bombs—which we dropped by the millions of tons, millions—that did not always explode when they were supposed to.

We should give profound thanks
that the Vietnamese are not like
the peoples we are currently attempting
to bomb into loving us.

And today, none of our wars is over, not even WWII, since Europeans still on occasion dig up 1,000-pound bombs, still intact and live, even as the number of war survivors dwindles.

We should lower our eyes and give profound thanks that the gentle Vietnamese are not like the peoples we are currently attempting to bomb into loving us.

Afghanistan and Iraq are littered with various dangerous things that continue to maim children who see them as interesting objects to play with. Even if they don’t explode, thousands of fascinating things lying around were made from radioactive metal whose effects are uncertain, but certainly not benign.

If you ask what country
is the greatest menace to world peace,
the answer is always the US.

And of course, ten years later, the peace we were promised in those places does not exist, nor does it in most of the Middle East, where the people battle the most cruel and ruthless terrorists the world has ever seen, largely a product of our enlightened recruitment strategy of alienating everyone.

Yet if you ask almost anyone in the non-Western world what country is the greatest menace to world peace today, the answer will invariably be The United States of America. That’s us, land of the free, home of the brave. You might even think we don’t know what we are doing. Why can’t we bomb people into loving us?

So who are these terrorists we hear about so frequently? They are people who indiscriminately kill innocents. Young men from the Middle East see what America did to their country, and they flock to radical groups that seek revenge by killing any Westerner they can. How pointless. How cruel. They kill innocents, people who did nothing.

President Obama will not escape
the terrorist label.

But note, those innocents are our innocents, not theirs. How many perfectly ordinary Iraqis, doing their best to love their families and survive under the despot Hussain, died under the onslaught of war criminal Dick Cheney’s Shock and Awe, which was supposed to show them how great and all-powerful we are. And which quickly became a recruiting point for enraged young Muslims.

The most commonsense definition of terrorism, and the most commonly accepted one, is indiscriminate killing or injury of noncombatant innocents. Know why the US cannot accept that definition? Because that’s exactly what we did in WWII. Dresden had absolutely no strategic importance, but we firebombed it and an unconscionable number of its ordinary citizens into charred cinders. Hitler still refused to believe that the war could not be won. But instead of continuing to pound his tanks, planes, factories, and railroads into useless dust, we turned to carpet bombing civilians in German cities, where people wanted only an end to the war, and escape from the madman ruining their lives.

We are bombing them with love.
Soon they will love us.

Today, Obama alone is responsible for the ongoing terror raining from the skies in the form of Hellfire missiles launched from universally hated US drone aircraft, operated by men no doubt also adept at fantasy video games that glorify killing, from secure bunkers in Kansas or someplace. And the list of respected village leaders, entire wedding parties, funeral parties, rescue parties, and picnic outings that have been summarily executed by the American terrorists in Kansas continues to grow, to say nothing of the collateral children and others blown to bits along with the occasional militant. We are bombing them with love. Soon they will love us.

President Obama will not escape the terrorist label, and after he leaves office there will probably be countries he cannot visit on pain of arrest for war crimes, just as there are for Kissinger, Bush, Cheney, and other master war planners.

Obviously, the centuries-long American campaign to win hearts and minds by bombing the hell out of everyone has been less than a perfect success. What then is to be done?

Here’s the Republican solution: Bomb them back to the Stone Age.

A profound strategy, suitable for a bumper sticker, and certain to succeed.

There are far too many Republicans, some in positions of real power, who continue to believe that more bombs are always the best solution. Now they want to bomb Iran, no doubt killing large numbers of Persians who don’t like their own government, but whose families would quickly come to despise the US.

[P. S.: Right on cue, the day after I published this article, John Bolton published an editorial in the New York Times calling for the bombing of Iran.]

Bootstrapping 101

Conservatives are forever recommending that people pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I did it! You could too, if you weren’t so lazy.

Before we get into that, I would like to note that the world is well on its way to being a permanent plutocratic two-class system not unlike that seen in the centuries of feudalism. That is, a tiny extremely wealthy elite, and the rest of us. This is coming about because of the inherent flaws of capitalism, the most egregious of which is unlimited growth of great wealth, which also allows capitalists to literally control government and everything else. Bootstrapping works poorly in such circumstances.

There are several reasons bootstrapping is so hard, aside from the factors that allow me as a white guy to do it, but not you because you are the wrong color. Those who think it’s a panacea for escaping poverty think anyone can do it just by working hard, despite the evidence of generations of hard work whose only reward has been endless poverty.

To bootstrap, you are a David, fighting a dozen Goliaths much more powerful than you. The fault is in the system, not individual motivation, and that’s before we get to questions of race. Bootstrapping as a racial question is nothing more than dog-whistle racism intended to prove that African-Americans are inferior and lazy.

Most individuals can’t escape
by bootstrapping.

The conventional wisdom says to overcome Goliath and get a good job, get an education, because a BA is the minimum requirement for the best jobs (unless you are the governor of Wisconsin). But the reason for low levels of employment, and pay that has not kept up, is not education. The unemployed American public has the highest level of education ever, and too many of the new graduates are baristas. In fact, the only shortages have been for skilled labor, not for the college educated. 

I deny that the entire purpose of education is to prepare for the workforce anyway. This is in sharp contrast to what Wisconsin’s Governor Walker—who failed to graduate from college—believes. Preparing for work is part of the goal, but a smaller part than we usually realize. The true value of higher education lies in critical thinking and a broad understanding of the world, and these things make you a valuable employee. Red state ignoramuses—some of whom are in Congress—whose archaic beliefs defy reason demonstrate that lack of thinking skills does not exactly lead to an informed electorate. Remember “Get your government hands off of my Medicare”? (And if they fail to be an informed electorate, imagine the damage they do as legislators.)

A college degree
no longer guarantees
employment.

Bootstrapping is recommended for the purpose of employment, but it would be for employment as a subject of the capitalist system. Do what we say, and we will give you a job. What we don’t say is that the pay for this job has barely kept up with inflation for 40 years, despite the enormous increase we have seen in productivity over that period. No, that money has all been reserved for capitalists. So sorry, you are not one of them.

Yet the idea of bootstrapping is a valuable one. It’s just that we must re-define what the term means. What bootstrapping must come to mean is for the entire class of those being screwed-over by the capitalist system to construct their own system that more reliably rewards them for the things that capitalism fails to do. That is, non-capitalists must embrace the idea of a very large community of people who are willing to help and support each other in ways we have only begun to define.

What bootstrapping must mean is for
those being screwed-over by capitalism
to construct their own system.

I have several times suggested ways this might occur. The most valuable of these ways is the worker-owned enterprise. In contrast to the usual capitalist enterprise, in which the entire profit of the business goes to the rich capitalists who own it, the worker-owned enterprise is entirely owned by the workers themselves. When there is profit to be paid, it is divided evenly among the worker-owners.

I suggest that a new type of workers group be formed. This would be unlike the historical labor union, which was valuable to its members only so long as its membership was large enough to be a threat to capitalist management. Rather, I suggest a much larger type of organization capable of functioning completely outside the system of capitalism, and centered on the idea of cooperation.

A useful model is Nextdoor, an online group that can be useful to the neighborhood in various ways: by trading household items, by recommending workers, stores, or doctors, by voicing civic concerns, by sharing skills, or by warning about potential criminal problems, for example.

I suggest that a new type of
workers’ group be formed.

The age of the internet is ideally suited for such a purpose, because people don’t have to live in the same place to help each other. 

An important possibility for a very large group is health care. The goal here is also to escape the capitalist trap. In today’s insurance-driven system nearly one of every three dollars is paid to capitalist insurance companies, which provide absolutely no health care. When this burden is eliminated, costs drop dramatically. They drop further when all doctors are salaried. Once a critical mass is achieved, something akin to national health care could equal the superior European systems, at far less than we pay now. This may be important if Republicans continue to deny us the benefits of a national plan.

There must be millions of possibilities for exchange of skills and materials. There are also many possibilities for things like financial advice, banking, local currency, etc. As time passes, it will become more apparent where the best options lie. It would seem to me that practically any arrangement that escapes the inherent greed of capitalism is a step in the right direction.

California Water Wrongs

There is little doubt in my mind that we are not experiencing our fourth year of drought. What we are experiencing is a return to the historic norm that kept the Southwest dry for thousands of years before we arrived. Nor is what we are up against due entirely to global warming…yet. Check out The West Without Water, by Ingram and Malamud-Roam.

We easily forget that we Europeans have only lived around here for a few hundred years, and until very recently there weren’t many of us. The brief period since we arrived the climate was wet. There were even some years of flooding so severe that Sacramento was under eight feet of water for months. In normal years heavy snowfall in the Sierras gave us plentiful fresh water, enough to irrigate the entire Central Valley and create an agricultural miracle. Enough that the European-American residents in the south were misled to believe it was always this way, and they could recreate the green, green grass of Kentucky.

Unfortunately, it’s not. Photos from space show us the difference between the green years and the returning norm. Below is the California Central Valley. Lake Tahoe is at the intersection of the two state lines you see. Keep in mind that 2013, shown in the first photo, was already a dry year.

California-drought-via-NASA-NOAA-800x430

We’ve also seen photos of California reservoirs like this one. These are boat docks. The former water level was up near the road.

boat docks, folsom76-1

An important point we must remember is that these photos do not reflect the effects of global warming. There is little doubt that global warming is a hugely important part of the picture for water in the Southwest, but the above effects can all be accounted for by an ordinary return to the historic arid norm. When global warming is added to the mix it becomes frightening.

We are experiencing a return
to the arid norm that existed
for thousands of years before we arrived.

When population demographics are added it becomes still more frightening. The California population today is forty times what it was in the early 20th century. California has five million more people than Canada.

The message is crystal clear: only radical change will prevent us from experiencing a very serious permanent shortage of water. It will threaten every part of the lives of all 40-million Californians.

But all is not lost. We can do something about it. We just haven’t, and it’s getting very late.

When you look at the overall picture of how water is used in our cities, it becomes apparent that we are simply squandering the most precious resource we have. The greatest uses of potable water are for flushing waste away, and it is lost. When we do get rain, most of it gathers on top of impermeable surfaces and washes into gutters, and is lost as it rushes away into storm sewers that carry it to the ocean. The water we use for washing clothing, for showering, for cooking…almost all of it is carried away into sewers and lost.

We are simply squandering
the most precious resource we have.

Every bit of this city water can and must be recovered and used again and again. Many scientists have been working on these problems for a long time, but we haven’t paid much attention to them because there always seemed to be plenty of water. Several very workable systems, for example, can return water contaminated with human waste to the purest levels. Other systems use no water at all for human waste, and recover all urine for agricultural fertilizer, with feces used as fuel to dry it. This is not the old outhouse; it’s an ultra-modern, indoor sanitary system.

The reason we have huge and elaborate storm water systems is simply because our streets and sidewalks are impervious to rainwater. It runs off in great quantities and must be managed. But new building materials allow water to soak quickly through. This eliminates the need for elaborate oversized storm sewers, and allows rainwater to quickly soak through to replenish groundwater. What does not soak through can be recovered and purified, although this can be more difficult to treat than household water.

People living in rural areas can easily use these modern developments, among which are new types of cisterns. Such containers allow storage of large quantities of rainwater that can even be enough to sustain a household during severe drought.

Major projects should be started immediately.

But what are we actually doing, in cities like my own San Francisco? Almost nothing. If we are doing any planning at all, word has so far not reached the public. All these possibilities are available, all have had exposure via the public press, all could be put into place. But they won’t happen unless government starts by putting them on the agenda. It would seem that major projects should be started immediately, before the situation becomes an emergency.

More Notes On Post-Capitalism

Capitalism has innate characteristics that are leading us into worldwide plutocracy. We have already crossed the threshold where the wealthiest 1% own half of the world’s wealth. This can only worsen. What should succeed capitalism is not at all clear, but it is important that we try to find out.

A key question for the post-capitalist world is, Where will the money for large projects come from if not from capitalists? I see several possible sources, among them government, ad hoc groups, citizen-government partnerships, and workers. Government is a legitimate source of initial investment, but it is not in the best interests of the country or the government itself to become the owner of most business enterprises, so any government involvement must be temporary.

The most promising source of cash for businesses, even large businesses, is the workers themselves. Worker-owned small businesses are excellent, but worker-ownership is also promising for some very large businesses. Professional managers can be hired at competitive salaries, but without becoming owners. Not that workers have a lot of money, but large numbers of workers together have a lot of money. Laws that require workers to be paid a living wage could also require that they invest some small part of their earnings in ownership of the enterprise where they work. If an initial government loan were used to start the business, worker contributions could be used to pay off the loan. This would give workers “skin in the game”, a highly motivating direct stake in the success of the enterprise.

Worker-owned businesses are a form of “socialism”, but not of “Socialism”. The very word “socialism” causes gasps of horror in the US, which is very mysterious to the rest of the world. People in the US seem to have missed the point that “Socialism” requires that the government own everything. Think North Korea. We do have a national military, a national highway system, and a national air control system, after all, and nobody thinks that’s “Socialism”. (Well, it’s true that some libertarians seem to think—against all evidence—that the military ought to be the only thing the government pays for.)

Worker-owned businesses are one of the most important responses to the worsening threat of capitalism. In a rather vague sense they are socialist, because the workers are equal in their ownership. But the company is not owned by the government. No individual can own the company or determine its direction.

The movement of capitalist investment from manufacturing to finance means that fewer workers are needed. The resulting surplus of workers places a downward pressure on wages, resulting in lower average income for all workers. This puts further negative pressure on manufacturing capitalism, because with fewer employed workers earning lower wages, the market for goods is smaller, creating a vicious cycle.

Capitalists have been allowed to shift many of the costs of their operations onto the public by calling costs they rely on such as highway maintenance, pollution, waste disposal, resource depletion, and the like “external”. These costs are socialized and billed to us. “External” costs are paid for by all of us with tax money, while profit-making costs are privatized, with all profit going to the capitalist owners.

Costs are also cut by various evasive schemes such as moving the corporate headquarters to a country with low taxes. Many of the biggest corporations pay little or no US tax. In that case the people are forced to make up for industry’s avoided costs. In the post-capitalist world this must not be allowed.

In the 2008 crash and the ensuing bailout all the losses of the “too big to fail” banks were socialized, and a year later bankers were again rewarding themselves with multi-million-dollar bonuses. Everyone lost but the bankers, although it could have been worse.

A conundrum: Much of the presumed health of an economy requires high consumer demand. High demand increases cash flow and capitalist profit. But it also has negative effects, in depletion of natural resources, increased pollution, and waste materials. In more than a few cases it’s debatable whether high demand produces a positive or negative outcome.

A truly healthy economy must define economic health less in terms of demand for consumer goods, or Gross Domestic Product, and more in terms of true physical and economic health of the population, equality, the environment, efficiency, etc.

In the recent past several attempts have been made to formalize this accounting, but none seems to have caught on, and their data are now several years behind. Even an imperfect measure gives us a more realistic picture of economic health than GDP, which counts things like the cost of imprisonment on the same side of the ledger as graduation rates, or losses from natural disasters as categorically equivalent to improved cancer survival rates.

Capitalists and bankers are in near complete control of the government today. Every member of Congress, particularly on the Republican side, votes for what capitalists and bankers determine is in their own interest, because capitalists and bankers contribute controlling sums of money for re-election efforts. (As Jim Hightower noted, “Corporations don’t need to lobby government any more because they are government.”) The continuing growth of their wealth and power will not be tempered voluntarily, let alone yielded. It is therefore necessary for a post-capitalist economy to function completely outside of this system for the foreseeable future. Only when this post-capitalist trend becomes the dominant economic mover of the country will the government be returned to the people.

Those who doubt that this degree of corporate control is real should consider a current news item, the sale of mining rights on sacred Apache grounds on federally protected land in Arizona. Mining for minerals would destroy the land forever and once again betray First Nations people, a betrayal that has been going on for centuries, and could only have come about because the enormous power of mining conglomerates has purchased enough members of Congress to make it happen. Perhaps it will not come to fruition because of the obvious illegality and amorality of the plan, but this is not certain. Similar evils have happened many times before, always in the name of profit.

A large part of consumerism serves no real purpose other than to support capitalists. It provides no benefit to the spender. I define consumerism as “spending for the support of capitalists”.

A whole industry—Madison Avenue—has developed around telling us what we must spend our money on. Often the point is to aspire to spending on “stuff” we can’t afford and don’t need. To reach upward, and spend beyond our means, which makes capitalists and bankers richer, but does nothing to improve our lives.

The post-capitalist society must instead focus on spending for things that are more worthy of our attention and our dollars. The question is how to counteract the power of Madison Avenue, which has had a century to learn how to influence us so we spend too much money on things we don’t need, and which spends billions to convince us that we do need it.

Expenses worthwhile to us include healthcare, education, and housing. Healthcare and education in particular are places where government can play a worthwhile role, as it does in advanced European and other nations. Essentially, it is far more efficient to pay for these via taxes, where the broadest possible customer base is achieved. An increasing number of nations provide free public education all the way through graduate degrees for the same reason. There is a role for government in provision of housing—we already have tax deductions for mortgage interest—but nobody suggests that government should provide housing (although even here, free housing for the homeless has been found to be a money-saving success).

Why Republicans Hate Obamacare

The reason Republicans hate Obamacare boils down to racism, as Republican positions so often do. They hate it because they think health care is a privilege, not a right. If you can’t afford healthcare, it’s because you don’t work hard enough, or you would have enough money for insurance. That being so, the government shouldn’t be giving it to you.

They hate it because it’s “socialist”, a charge that every person living in one of the many democratic countries more advanced than we are, who enjoys superior health care at half what we pay, would find utterly mysterious. What makes it “socialist”? The fact that everyone can get health care when they need it?

The idea that anyone who can’t afford our expensive private for-profit insurance should be denied health care altogether is simply more Republican dog-whistle racism. Who is naturally lazy and inferior and unwilling to work hard? Why, African-Americans, of course. Maybe Latinos too. Everyone knows that. So why should we be paying for their health care insurance? Don’t think there aren’t Republicans who would make that claim. There are. Out loud. For the public record.

The idea that anyone
who can’t afford insurance
should be denied health care at all
is dog-whistle racism.

The argument is bogus on several counts. First, there is no evidence that African-Americans (or Latinos, or anyone else) are lazy and inferior. None. In fact, around the world, poverty itself is related to long working hours.

There is no question that blacks, and other people of color, have been the victims of hundreds of years of ill treatment by European-Americans, starting with slavery, and continuing today with frequent shooting deaths of unarmed, non-threatening black men, and far too much lack of employment opportunity in anything but minimum-wage jobs.

There is deep prejudice against blacks in every part of the country. The recent federal report on Ferguson, Missouri documents that city policies and police actions victimized blacks, essentially requiring them to subsidize the city budget, and particularly victimizing the poorest.

We also forget our sordid history of murders and lynchings of Mexicans (my nomination for the hardest working people on the planet) driven off the ranches they had managed for centuries when the US absorbed the present Southwest states, as well as the ongoing ill-treatment of Spanish-speaking immigrants.

Republicans cannot claim that all the many millions of American workers who cannot afford our expensive private health care insurance are lazy, and at the same time claim that the $7.25/hour minimum wage that so many of the poor earn is a living wage. Yet they do. Wisconsin’s Scott Walker flat-out states that a minimum wage is a living wage.

Republicans cannot claim that those
who can’t afford insurance are lazy
and also claim that minimum wage
is a living wage.

One would like to remind the governor that the present minimum wage has a third of the value it did when it became law, lo those many years ago, and it wasn’t particularly generous even then. I suppose it’s overkill to also remind him that his punitive and dogmatic economic policies have dragged Wisconsin’s fiscal condition down to its most dismal level in at least half a century.

The average minimum-wage worker is someone in her thirties, not a 16-year-old high school kid. The full time earnings of someone making minimum wage is $15,080. The average cost of insurance outside of the ACA is about $15,000 annually per family. That’s why the working poor didn’t have health insurance before the ACA. Most of the companies paying minimum wage will not allow their employees to work full time anyway. Laziness never enters the picture.

The conclusion is inescapable: the Republican hatred of the Affordable Care Act is pure hypocrisy, based on bogus beliefs about its beneficiaries that are belied by the facts every step of the way. It is this kind of thinking that keeps the working poor at subsistence level, and one step away from an illness that can easily end in bankruptcy and death, ruining the family’s finances and opportunities for generations.

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