This nation should be for real people not artificial people called corporations…

April 24, 2017

So through tax incentives president Trump was able to strike a deal to save 800 Carrier Corp. jobs in Indiana but 700 are still headed to Mexico, or so the story goes. A  story I read said that at least one (and I imagine many more) employees don’t fault Trump for not saving all the jobs, but instead Carrier itself. Of course Carrier is a corporation not a person — oh, that’s right our Supreme Court does consider corporations people with all the rights that come with that designation. I had always thought a corporation was only a person in a strict legal sense involving liability and legal contracts and such, not individual human civil liberties guaranteed in our Constitution, but I digress.

(Former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who granted tax breaks, was not able to save those lost jobs in his state either. I have read various stories about the exact number of Carrier jobs going to Mexico and some say thousands. The number is not really important for this little essay, just the fact that it seems difficult to save American jobs.)

Yeah, I fault Carrier too. I fault all corporations who shun American workers but take advantage of the protections offered by their home country made possible by the blood, sweat, and tears of working people.

And it just so happens I pull a refrigerated big truck trailer, the refer unit of which is, you guessed it, a Carrier.

But of course corporations are not benevolent societies or charities. They depend upon profit and in the global marketplace they tend to move their production to where the labor is cheapest. Sometimes that changes. An example, relatively cheap labor has moved from China to Vietnam.

If Mexico ever got its act together for its people it might not have such cheap labor. Of course low-wage jobs are better than none at all.

Those Carrier employees young enough will move on, to other factories, to other work pursuits.

Maybe the lesson to be learned is don’t depend upon one employer.

Who wants to be a slave to one entity?

And the children of those workers are not entering into a world where you just go to high school and then go to work at the factory. And lucky them I would say.

When I was in high school in the mid to late 60’s it seemed about half the people in the town where I lived worked at one saw mill/wood products factory and the other half worked at another. There was actually more than two of them, but two large ones. Well much of that work is no longer there. But the town still is. In fact it has grown.

Today’s young adults really do have to get a better education than was required before to make a living — and this education can take many forms, from traditional college to special technologies and maybe a combination of traditional higher education but with a bent toward technology.

Factory work once seemed enticing because it was steady (for the most part) and paid well (for the most part). But you know? I had my time (thankfully short) in a factory. After that it was never enticing.

Even with the expansion of job-robbing technology we still have the human element. And this nation is for we humans, we workers, not the artificial humans called corporations.

Don’t depend upon Trump as a savior. Most of his talk was just campaign rhetoric and he has his hands full now with things that much to his surprise he has found “complex” (his own word in his own limited vocabulary) and difficult.

As always, one has to depend upon one’s self.


With the seeming demise of retail we are losing our culture…

April 22, 2017

For the most part I have never enjoyed shopping, well maybe unless I am getting something special for myself or something I desperately need — well then again, I can get excited about buying gifts for others too. But even if I am not a shopper per se I hate to see the demise of the retail trade. But that is what is in the news.

Many small retailers were pushed out by the larger retailers. But now the larger retailers are being pushed out big time by online shopping with the online behemoth Amazon getting much of the business.

There does not seem to be much of a future in being a retail sales clerk.

But that career has been in trouble for a long time. Way back in the 1970s I remember seeing members of the retail clerks union picketing a Montgomery Ward store (I just read that firm is history — no one told me). But I knew some union carpenters who walked right past them without a thought — if you need a saw or a pair of work gloves or overalls or camping equipment or whatever you go to where they have it. You gotta live.

That was before the internet and before online shopping.

But even then there was not really a future in being a retail clerk. I think it was really a job for teenagers or some family member, often a woman then, who was simply supplementing the major source of income for the family.

On the other hand, when I was a little tyke I think the man who lived next door worked in a department store.

Also when I was in high school the town we lived in had its own department store, a locally-owned establishment. I remember a beyond-middle-aged clerk who sold me my gym clothes. I’ll forgive him for putting two left gym shoes in the box resulting in major embarrassment to me my first day of high school gym class, or P.E. as we called it then. That same man also sold women’s undergarments — so I guess the mix-up could have been worse.

Dad always liked to patronize the local stores, such as the hardware store on Main Street, and since he was into photography, for his work and for family stuff, he liked to patronize a local photo studio/camera shop.

I thought the guys at the hardware store were nice and helpful and I am sure my dad thought them even more so in that he spoke their lingo more than I.

The photo place, not so much. I found the old guy to be a kind of crank.

And that was the way for a  lot of local merchants. They would go on and on about how people were ripping them off, supposedly snatching stuff when they were not looking and generally letting their little ones run amok. And often the little local stores at the time did not have a wide selection. It was common for people to go either north or south to the neighboring and larger towns that had shopping centers with larger stores.

One thing I like about little stores, particularly things like the old-fashioned hardware store, is that those old boys (girls too sometimes, but not so much then maybe) could not only sell you something but could advise you on how to use it. When the big box stores came in they sometimes hired people who through no fault of their own did not know much about what they were selling. In some cases I think that situation improved at some places over time.

Anyway, even though I myself have not always been a shopping fan, the loss of the shopping experience I realize is a major loss or will be in our culture.

I mean shopping is part of the history of all civilizations I think.

Remember the ancient bazaars, Scarborough Fair, Market Street in San Francisco in maybe the 1950s, with the Emporium, City of Paris, Macy’s.

People went shopping not just to get goods but to socialize and patronize eating establishments and walk around and enjoy their time on earth.

But in this crazy fast-paced world where everyone is racing to who knows where and gets stuck in traffic in the process and where retail service is spotty — some clerk’s can’t even figure out a discount if the computer goes haywire — it is so much easier to get on the smart phone and order.

I think we’re losing something here. And it is not just jobs.

p.s.

Well don’t write off retail just yet. Just today I passed by a new shopping center going in with advertising for a sporting goods store due to open soon.

 


Raising interest rates is good for all of us…

December 14, 2016

The Fed is expected to raise interest rates today after years of 0 interest for banks who purchase money to lend to you. Pretty good deal, huh? They pay nothing and charge you a lot.

So what does the raise in interest rates mean to you, the average consumer?

An article in CNN Money says:

American savers have struggled for years, earning next to nothing at the bank. Now they could be a step closer to light at the end of that tunnel and earn a little more interest on savings account deposits.

When the Fed raises short-term rates, banks pay customers higher interest on their deposits. But how much higher and how fast they will go up will depend on whether the Fed will keep raising rates.


And while I know little about money it seems higher interest rates is good. Higher interest rates allow consumers to make money on their own money, just like the banks (except on a smaller scale of course) and they discourage reckless borrowing that got us into the Great Recession in the first place.

When you have your money in various interest-bearing accounts you are a lender (not directly of course). I was told when I was just a kid better to be a lender than a borrower. Too bad I did not really get it until so many years later.

Borrowing has its place (if for no other reason than if no one borrowed you would have no one to lend money to), but living totally off of borrowed money is the road to disaster for an individual or a nation.

And of course one trick to investing is to somehow use other people’s money or O P M, as they call it. President-elect Trump could fill you in on that.

So I know some things about money, but almost too little too late.

 


While congress plays petty politics we let our manufacturing base die, but there is hope…

October 1, 2013

What we need is a president and a congress who work at returning manufacturing, the producing of things, things needed, to the United States of America, everything from socks we wear to giant pieces of equipment.

But wrapped up in petty politics (such as shutting down the government as a political blackmail blame game) we have let all that slip by for decades now and what we have is high unemployment, too many low-wage jobs, and maybe a few generations who see no point in learning anything at school, especially the basics, such as English and reading and writing, along with math and science — all needed for good jobs in manufacturing these days.

And we need a return to vocational education, with major industries funding it perhaps. But of course it needs to be up to date. But even there the old time shop classes have value. I mean it all starts there with the basics of the basics.

But even home ec and its sewing instruction could be helpful in the textile industry — and remember when mom actually sewed your clothes or repaired them? Well no, probably not, unless you were born in the baby boom generation or before. Yeah, I know, where home ec or whatever they now call it is still offered young men take it too (good).

Not everyone wants to or even can work in hands-on stuff, but a whole lot do and a whole lot should.

We have sold our soul to globalization and the international conglomerates who run to where the cheapest labor is.

But some of that labor is not as cheap as it once was. And there are those fuel/shipping costs, and concerns of quality and safety, and even government stability outside our borders (we seem to be in a little trouble ourselves at the moment).

But from time to time there are reports that give me hope. I often have wondered whatever happened to our textile industry. Then I read something positive in this New York Times piece, the link to which appears at the end of this blog post.

The Global economy is good I suppose, but we need to be part of it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/30/business/a-wave-of-sewing-jobs-as-orders-pile-up-at-us-factories.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0


A trillion-dollar coin to keep the Ponzi scheme going

January 10, 2013

If you can simply make money based on nothing but you saying it is money and worth something then who among us would have any financial problems? We’d just design our own version of dollar bills and have them printed up or copied on a copy machine. We wouldn’t even have to risk getting arrested for counterfeiting if we used our own style of money (well I don’t know the actual law on that, really).

That such an idea of minting a trillion-dollar platinum coin that the federal government would then deposit in the Federal Reserve Bank, thus making $1 trillion of debt disappear could even be floated, at least semi-seriously, clearly demonstrates how dysfunctional our political system has become (and then why not mint $16 trillion or so to pay off the whole national debt?).

I have been so busy in the past several days I had not even heard of the trillion-dollar coin idea and when I saw a headline on it while surfing the web I did not even bother to read the story at first — but then my curiosity picked up when I kept seeing references to it.

As I understand it there is no trillion dollars worth of platinum available to the government, but some quirk in the law makes it possible for the U.S. Treasury to mint a platinum coin of lesser value and assign whatever value it wants to it. Well, that is pretty much how all of our money, paper or coins, goes.

I along with probably 90 percent of people don’t fully understand the concept of money and how its value is decided. Once upon a time when I was a kid I was led to believe that paper money at least represented gold and/or silver kept at Fort Knox. I was later stationed at Fort Knox in the U.S. Army but I did not go anywhere near or at least did not see the gold or silver. But anyway even though we once did base our currency on the value of precious metal we really had on hand, that went by the wayside some time ago.

Nonetheless, the dollar has been the world’s standard currency for a long time. People and governments want our treasury bonds even when they are worth nearly nothing because they are safe. Or at least they have been safe. But the threat of default, first by the crazy fiscal cliff crisis and now by a coming re-enactment of the debt ceiling limit battle, threatens the stability and trust of our financial system.

Even though it would seem that the Republican Party is the predominant obstruction in all of this, I would put blame on both the Democrats and the Republicans. The Democrats are to blame because of their unwillingness to face up to the fact that you cannot or should not indefinitely spend more than you take in (does not work for individuals and does not work for governments) and the Republicans are to blame for playing politics with the crisis, threatening to let the whole nation and even the world fall into a financial abyss in order to exact spending cuts on social programs and the lower taxes.

The GOP appears sharply divided on this issue. Old guard Republicans, who tend to be more moderate, are willing to compromise, while the newer Tea Party type know nothings want to dismantle the whole system. I imagine most business types, particularly big business types, see the need for compromise. And by the way, that reference to know nothings was not a mere accusation of ignorance but more of a historical reference to a political faction back in the 1850s.

Needless to say, the minting of a trillion-dollar coin does not seem wise nor practical and maybe it was just a joke anyway.

But our government does essentially print up dollar bills based on nothing but money borrowed via treasury bonds issued. When everything goes great guns it’s all kind of like a Ponzi scheme. We keep ahead of the game. Somehow back in 2008 we fell behind (the burst of the housing bubble was blamed).

Simply printing money based on no real underlying value has not historically worked. It results in hyper-inflation and loss of trust in the currency. The oft-cited example is Germany after World War I with the image of people pushing wheelbarrows full of German marks down the street to buy a loaf of bread and the famous photo of a hausfrau burning them to keep warm. A more recent example is in the African nation of Zimbabwe where money was simply printed up based on no real value at all. The annual inflation rate was as much as 11.2 million percent at one time. People quit using the local currency and used dollars instead.

The United States borrows so much money from China, we might be in danger of having to carry around billfolds full of Chinese yuan.

In light of the recent election I think the moderates are going to prevail here in the United States.

But the know nothings are posing a serious threat.


The only way out of our fiscal hole may be to make more money…

January 4, 2013

With our aversion to raising taxes or cutting government spending there seems only one way out of our fiscal hole. Make more money.

I don’t mean roll the government printing presses.

What I mean is get more productive. I have written it and so have so have many others, but we must get the United States of America producing things in more quantity — real things that people need or even think that they need.

If there are barriers to starting or expanding business then they need to be removed. And I know that is the tricky part. Certainly I am not talking about removing reasonable health and safety and environmental  regulations. And tax breaks are problematic because they end up being tax shifts to someone else. Also I suspect tax breaks are often given out unwisely due to political pressure (lobbying). But in some cases tax breaks as an incentive might be appropriate.

One phenomenon we are facing within this context is mechanization and technological advances that are destroying jobs. That is probably inevitable but then again, if there was a labor force to handle things there in many cases would not be quite the incentive to do away with many jobs. Of course a whole host of jobs are gone forever too.

Why don’t we produce more textiles in this nation? We used to have a strong textile industry. We certainly have the resources for the raw product, such as cotton.

I presume the answer is cheap labor offered by other countries where the standard of living is lower than ours.

While we don’t want to bring down our own standard of living it would seem that it would make sense to find a way to offer employment to so many who are chronically unemployed. I don’t mean grab people off the street and put them at a sewing machine. But if work was the only way to get by, many people would opt for gainful employment.

The way it is now, what with unemployment payments and perhaps sometimes too liberal disability awards and the much-abused Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) siphoned off by adults, there is a large and I think ever-growing population of idle people.

And there is a large population of quite willing to work and talented able people for which there does not seem to be employment or at least adequate employment.

We need industry and we need to find a way to limit the restrictions on it to those that are really necessary and we need to cut the red tape.

Unemployment insurance and disability insurance are a must for a stable society, and certainly we do not want any children to go hungry (no matter the reason). And we don’t want to lower our standard of living. But we have to do something or we will go broke for real.

Sometimes prudent families take stock and figure out what lifestyle is acceptable to them and then they realize that the only way to pay for it is to — make more money. I think that is where we are as a nation.


Even if most people want to avoid fiscal cliff, remember: all politics is local…

December 26, 2012

I’m guessing the reason lawmakers have not been able to come together on fiscal cliff negotiations is that even though a majority of people in the United States might want to avert the drastic measures of automatic spending cuts and raised taxes for all, all politics is local.

Each individual legislator plays to his constituents, or more to the point, he or she plays to the powers that be who help in the campaign or who have the power to excerpt pressure. Since campaigns are more about raising money than directly appealing to the masses this is what we get — gridlock on the issues.

The Republican Party used to be comfortable in being conservative and pro business interests but now is deeply divided, adding to the paralysis on the fiscal cliff issue.

(I think the current division is an outgrowth of the GOP’s program of appealing the ignorant, the bigoted, and narrow-minded interests, all in the name of simply getting votes. The program worked well in the beginning because it did get votes but now the party has reaped the whirlwind.)

Also this all may be a game of poker. The Republicans who are holding out may be bluffing. Well I guess that is a given.

And this may not be such a good metaphor but maybe at the last minute, New Year’s Eve, both sides will fold — realizing they both have a losing hand. Another stop-gap measure to kick the can down the road for someone else to deal with.

(You will recall the automatic spending cuts and tax hikes were enacted in legislation that was a result of a stalemate in budget talks that produced a lowered credit rating for the federal government, and since our government operates on borrowed money, the credit rating is crucial for survival.)

With Obama’s fairly decisive re-election victory (electoral college wise especially) it would seem he and his party, the Democrats, have the better hand.

In my posts on the subject of the fiscal cliff I have been critical of both sides. My idea is that we all have to share in getting our nation’s fiscal house in order (to the extent that such is possible), rather than do it by a class basis (the Democrats have wanted to spare the pain for the middle class and the Republicans have refused to raise taxes on the rich — although the GOP is now divided on that).

So what happens if the New Year begins with no agreement and then the automatic spending cuts, which fund social programs and lucrative government contracts for business, and the raising of taxes on virtually everyone goes into effect? As I said in my last post on the subject, maybe then there will be enough pressure from the public or from those who legislators listen to in order for something to give. So falling over the cliff may resolve the problem. I certainly do not know.

HAPPY NEW YEAR to come!