Another Write-wing Conspirator

Commentary, observations, musing, and ranting from the middle of the road (or just to the right of center. Usually.) featuring The Curmudgeon

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  • Welcome to The Curmudgeon’s lair

    Welcome to my curmudgeondom. As you’ll soon learn, your reactions to my missives here are likely to range from fear to loathing to tears to outright rage—and I just might even evoke from you an occasional sober nod or two.

    If you see a posting you like and wish to share it with others, by all means feel free to do so. I'd prefer that you send the link to your friends, but you're also welcome to reproduce anything here—as long as you retain my identity on the document. If you have a web site of your own and wish to post a link to this blog (or to a specific post), again, feel free to do so.

    The purpose of this blog is simple: to provide me a vehicle for sounding-off on whatever topic suits me at the moment. While there’s sure to be no shortage of politically-oriented palaver here, it is by no means all (nor necessarily even most) of what will be proffered to your discerning mind. You’ll also find that my personal politics, ethics, morals, and standards are pretty much “all over the map” (according to my mother-in-law)—so, don’t be surprised to see rants regarding, say, the interference of churches in politics, politically-correct anything, “nanny” laws, taxes, the United Nations, Congress, the Commissioner of Baseball, the State of Ohio’s speed limits, steroids, Jesse Jackson, the “mainstream” media, ultra-liberals, ultra-conservatives, the price of cigarettes, Obamarxism, regulating sales of alcohol, gasoline price manipulation, Muslim foot baths, illegal immigration, laws banning the sale of adult sex toys, cell phones, heavy-handed cops, meddlesome politicians, Hillary, Billary, our all-but-self-proclaimed uncrowned Queen Nancy, “W”, eminent domain, freedom of speech, and the designated hitter all in succession. It is, as I said, my curmudgeondom — and I have the credentials and bona fides to lay claim to the title of The Curmudgeon. So, there.

    Some of the postings you'll encounter may seem familiar—especially to those who know me personally. By way of explanation… I once had an ongoing relationship with a local newspaper, and had a number of published opinion pieces—some of which may be posted here. My arrangement was for a feature entitled An Opposing View; given that the editorial staff had a generally liberal, left-of-center view, it stands to reason that my "opposing" view would generally be perceived as coming from the right (in more ways than one, in my own humble opinion). These posts will be annotated as having been previously published.

    Comments, of course, are always welcome. You may agree or disagree with me. Doesn’t matter. Of course, I reserve the right to completely ignore you — but, feel free to let your feelings be known, anyway. And if you don't want to comment directly here, my e-mail address is: jimseeber@gmail.com .

    Oh, and…yes, I can spell. That "Write-wing" is only a play on words. So, there. Again.

    Welcome, once again. Strap in and hang on.

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    Armchair philosopher, politically-incorrect political commentator, raconteur, retired air traffic controller, dilettante truck driver, US Army veteran, recluse, sometime-writer, redneck convert neè Buckeye, ne'er-do-well, bon vivant, unrepentant libertine, unapologetic libertarian, and (of course) curmudgeon…

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Archive for January, 2010

Maladroit Messiah?

Posted by The Curmudgeon on January 28, 2010

Messianic Misfires and Missteps

Hark back, gentle reader, to an earlier time. A time of great hope, when an electorate absolutely giddy with enchantment and anticipation welcomed the earthly arrival of The One.

It was during Year One of the Marathon Election Campaign of 2008 of the Common Era that the people rejoiced over the emergence of Him, the Great and Wise, He of the silver tongue. As His legend grew, lost souls flocked to Him. Brushing aside questions about His past, His meteoric rise continued without surcease. When He slew the Evil Queen (that would be Hillary), His ascension was all but assured. So great was He that even Chris Matthews gushed about having “felt this thrill going up my leg” as The Anointed One spake. And when He took His show on the road for His World Tour, the masses abroad likewise flocked to Him, so great were His charisma and gravitas. Some felt that the ridiculous formality of an election should be dispensed with, so great was His embrace. And after He was elected, many bemoaned the mandated delay as they eagerly anticipated His inauguration. When finally the inauguration was done, it’s said that even the seagulls must have been awed (yeah, really. ABC’s Bill Weir actually said that. On the air.) . And His greatness soared even higher.

Then…something happened.

Certain that even the International Olympic Committee would be awed by His greatness, He took wing aboard His personal carriage (we used to call it “Air Force One”) and set about to enchant them.

No dice. And no Olympics for Chicago.

The people gasped.

Taken aback but unfazed, He took wing to China to work His magic.

They seem to have not noticed.

So, He mounted his personal carriage and set out for Copenhagen to save the world from itself.

The world essentially yawned.

You’re kinda seeing where this is going—right?

The candidate that some actually hinted at being The Messiah (well…they drew a lot of comparisons, anyway) seems to be losing his touch.

Since his inauguration, Obama has campaigned for three candidates; all were from states that he’d carried in the 2008 election, and two were from solidly “blue” states.

All three lost. In fact, not of those contests was even all that close. In Massacusetts, it was downright embarrassing—and a clear slap delivered to Obama.

In the preceding entry, I deferred identifying what I considered to be the single most significant aspect of the State of the Union address. I do so now by asking a simple question: Did anyone else notice that a few of Obama’s pauses seemed to last just a little too long? Could it have been uncertainty? Or might he have been awaiting applause—that didn’t come as expected?

I detected an underlying sentiment among many of those present—even some within his own party. At several points during his address, it occurred to me: They’re not buying this crap.

Contrast this with those giddy days when love was in the air and He was on the rise.

When he first appeared on the horizon early in the ’08 campaign, Obama was a virtual unknown; few considered him a serious candidate. There were four key factors that propelled him to success: The media quickly adopted him as their clear favorite (much to the chagrin of Hillary Clinton), he trounced the odds-on favorite (Clinton) in the race for the nomination, and he happened to be running in an election that many believe would’ve been won by any Democrat running against any Republican. Most importantly, though, there was the man himself…his personal charisma—which won over the media and (ultimately) the voters. So persuasive was this man that it seemed he could claim that the sun had risen in the west and set in the east—and still carry the vote.

And now? He can’t get a Democrat elected in Massachusetts and his own party members are forsaking his agenda as quickly as they can. In a recent conference intended to shore-up his Congressional support, he attempted to reassure House members that the difference between the coming election and the debacle of 1994 was…”This time, you have me.”

Whereupon a six-term Congressman announced that he wouldn’t be seeking re-election.

How did this most charismatic politician since John Kennedy fall to this level?

I would suggest two key reasons. One: when one makes as many promises as Obama has (as do most politicians), one has to actually deliver on a few of them. He hasn’t. Not surprisingly, his credibility has plummeted as a result. More importantly, though, he’s been over-exposed. His charm and charisma were effective when they were new; now, people have become too accustomed to his presence to be swayed as they were through the early days of his administration. His narcissistic obsession with constantly focusing attention on himself (has he missed being on television even one day since his election?) has reduced him to being very ordinary.

Besides which, it was learned early on that this great orator could be reduced to a babbling idiot by simply sabotaging his teleprompter.

More and more frequently, he seems to be trying to will people to come around to his viewpoint by the sheer force of his presence; more and more frequently, however, he seems to be coming away from such encounters empty-handed.

Several months ago, Vice-President Joe Biden cited an alleged encounter with then-President George W. Bush (dismissed as untrue by Bush administration officials) wherein Bush is claimed to have commented on his role as leader. Biden claimed to have replied: “Mr. President, look behind you. No one’s following.”

Obama should take a good look over his shoulder.

________

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Posted in obama, politics | 5 Comments »

The State of Our Disunity

Posted by The Curmudgeon on January 27, 2010

More chinks in Obama’s armor?

The State of the Union address is offered in compliance with the Constitutional requirement for the President to periodically advise Congress what’s going on. (After all the flowery verbiage and political posturing, that’s what it all comes down to.) In general, these addresses tend to be painted in broad strokes; long on bluster, short on detail. This is actually a merciful feature, for we’re spared the intense battering and body blows that accompany most political speeches—at the expense, however, of gagging on palaver and built-in applause lines (did anyone else notice that Joe Biden nearly misfired on one?). For the most part, the President generally beats his chest a little and gives his party’s Congressional members a chance to do some blatant in-your-face cheering. The President usually also takes the opportunity to float a few trial balloons (that semi-zinger about the military’s “Don’t ask/don’t tell” policy is a case in point, while the somewhat more suprising reference to expanding nuclear power was another) without committing to anything specific. Personally, I find these affairs generally boring. The main reason I bothered to watch this one is that I knew several people would be waiting to see what I would have to say about it.

Okay, so here’s my take.

First, that business of calling-out the Supreme Court justices was stupid. That cannot be overlooked.

That “I thought I’d get some applause out of that one” comment to Republicans was cheap politics; it underscores his recent crowning as the most polarizing President ever. He’s been around long enough to know how this game is played—and that was clearly out of line.

He isn’t fooling anyone with that pseudo-freeze he’s proposing; it’s nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to appear fiscally responsible—while simultaneously protecting the grandiose spending he’s already done.

No one’s likely to be taken-in by his condemnation of partisan politics (even that little finger-wave at Democrats) as long as Harry Reid’s door is still closed and C-Span is locked out of those supposedly “transparent” health-care reform proceedings.

He’s genuinely tone-deaf. He doesn’t care what the people think or want. He’s been given the resounding message that his proposal for health-care reform won’t fly with the people—but he’s not about to give up. (One suspects at this point that his ego simply won’t allow him to.)

His claim of having not raised taxes on the little guy is at best a half-truth. In direct taxes, perhaps there’s been no increase; however, when one levies taxes on goods and services, it’s a foregone conclusion that the costs to obtain those goods and services will be passed-on to the consumer…an indirect tax.

His haranguing of Republicans for obstructing his steam-roller approach is simply politics as usual.

His “challenge” to Republicans to become more involved in problem-solving rings hollow; it was, after all, his own party that locked Republicans out of the process to begin with. Having now learned that he can’t get what he wants without at least the appearance of bipartisan support, he’s trying to obtain by berating the opposition what he was unable to simply take.

Oh, and he found a way to re-word (though only slightly) his favorite theme: that he inherited all these problems from George W. Bush.

The most significant aspect of the address…well, I don’t want to comment on that, just yet. It fits nicely with an idea I’ve been mulling-over, though. That will be for the next installment. For now, suffice to say that something was missing.

________

Posted in health care reform, obama, politics | 3 Comments »

It’s enough to make you sick (if you can afford it)

Posted by The Curmudgeon on January 25, 2010

There’s gold in them there ills—but who’s raking it in?


While taking my daily walk several months ago, I was bitten by a neighbor’s dog. The injuries weren’t severe, but the skin was punctured in a few places. I approached the neighbor and confirmed that the dog had been properly vaccinated (and reassured him that I had no intention of suing him into oblivion), and made arrangements to have the overly-exuberant canine quarantined for observation. Upon returning home, I thoroughly cleansed the wounds per medical advice. No big deal.

After doing a little research, however, I was reminded of the routine practice of obtaining a tetanus (or booster) shot. The outstanding risk seemed minimal, but the potential consequence of inaction is sobering, to say the least (lockjaw isn’t a pleasant prospect). The following day, I telephoned my regular physician. Unfortunately, his office was closed for the next several days; waiting for his return was not an option, as the delay would exceed the prescribed window for obtaining the vaccine. His practice is located in a small local hospital, so I called the emergency room. After explaining the situation, I asked about the possibility of dropping in for an injection. The nice lady was only too happy to accommodate me, but pointed out that I’d “have to be seen by the doctor on duty.”

As an indication of the nature of the times, it can be stated that scarier words are rarely heard.

That afternoon, I spent about an hour and forty-five minutes at the aforementioned emergency room (one wonders what the term “emergency” is intended to convey). The physician on duty spent less than a minute (literally) in the treatment room with me—just long enough to tell me that the vaccination was probably unnecessary, statistically speaking…and that a nurse would be along shortly to give me the injection.

My business concluded, I was presented with a bill that proved a microcosm of today’s burgeoning budget numbers.

An injection that might be reasonably expected to cost (I’ve been told) something on the order of $15-$50 was in fact a few bucks short of $1000. An “itemized” bill that explained little listed various charges (e.g., physican fee, ER fee, triage fee) that all appeared to me to be inflated. I contacted my insurance carrier.

Long story short: the insurance carrier did whatever it does, I received a refund of my deductible (in fact, the actual cost to me ended up to be nothing), and whatever method or formula the carrier and its preferred providers (this hospital is one) use to find common ground brought down the overall charge substantially (I never did see the final figure).

My question is this: How does a $15 charge get to be a $1000 charge in the first place?

Some of you might recall a similar question I posed in an earlier entry about health-care reform, noting that the emphasis has been on throwing huge sums of money at the symptom of rising health care costs without identifying the reason(s) for the rise.

I think I now know why no one’s ever clarified that.

Try doing a few online searches on physician income, malpractice insurance cost, malpractice lawsuit payouts, drug costs, lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies, indigent health care, and “defensive” medicine. Care to know beforehand how it’ll turn out? Think about one of those TV ads for Bing; you’re immediately awash in contradictory data that’ll take you years to sift through.

We all know that malpractice lawsuits have increased logarithmically for years—right? Odd. There are many studies that suggest a decrease. We all know that malpractice judgments and settlements have caused malpractice insurance rates to soar—right? Not if you sift long enough; you’ll find just as many surveys and studies claiming that litigation isn’t the issue…insurance carrier profit-taking is to blame. But without a doubt doctors have had to pass along the cost of insurance coverage to their patients—right? Yep. That one’s not much in dispute—but how much effect it’s had is pretty much impossible to determine. For that matter, try determining how much doctors earn (or should). Unless you ask each one personally or hack your way into IRS databases, you’ll probably never be able to figure that one out, either. “Defensive medicine” (e.g., ordering expensive tests that probably aren’t necessary—but you might get sued for malpractice if you don’t) is an oft-cited culprit; this argument loses a bit of validity, though, when one considers that many physicians’ incomes are directly tied to the number of such procedures they perform. Health care for illegal immigrants is also a popular scapegoat; however, confidentiality issues and the practice of ultimately charging indigent health care to Medicare blur the picture considerably (indeed, this is also part of the reason Medicare itself is in trouble—but we still don’t know the extent of its impact).

How many times have you seen television ads sponsored by law firms chumming for cases urging users of one drug or another to contact them? It has become a common cycle: Big Pharma comes out with a new wonder drug…doctors prescribe the drug (earning huge sums for Big Pharma)…law firms recruit clients to sue Big Pharma over the side effects of the drug (earning them huge sums)…Big Pharma comes out with another new drug…

…and so it goes.

The problem with that scenario is that Big Pharma exists to make big money; after paying-out huge sums to settle lawsuits, they factor that into the cost of the next drug they produce—and the spiraling cost of health care simply goes higher. Moreover, having already been burned in previous lawsuits, they take a preventive approach—driving costs even higher, and delaying the new drug’s availability.

Here’s another sobering thought: how many local hospitals have been taken over by corporate operators? And why (back to Economics 101) do these corporate entities exist? To make money. With that in mind, what incentive do they have to hold the line on costs? In simple point of fact, they make more by having ICU beds full, regular beds full, and a humming ER business.

Now that the Obama regime’s quest for health-care reform seems to be stalled, it’s time to step back and re-assess the situation. Obama’s claim is that people want affordable health-care insurance. He’s wrong. What people want is ready access to affordable health care they can have confidence in. To be able to obtain that care will no doubt require insurance—which, yes, they axiomatically want to be likewise affordable. However, they also want for it to remain affordable—a provision destined to remain unachievable as long as the reasons for the costs getting out of hand in the first place remain undetermined.

Good luck trying to unravel that one.

________

Posted in health care costs, health care insurance, health care reform, illegal aliens, insurance | 4 Comments »

In transition

Posted by The Curmudgeon on January 25, 2010

To those who follow this blog (bless you all), things might’ve been a bit confusing as I’ve transitioned here from Blogspot. It was all fairly seamless, but there’ve been a few formatting issues to deal with. Thanks for bearing with me.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

“I’m not dead.”

Posted by The Curmudgeon on January 19, 2010

Scott Brown turns the blue world upside-down

“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” — Mark Twain

“Guess what, guys? The time has come to embrace the horror.” — from the movie “Armageddon”

Either of the above quotes might make a poignant message to the Democrats’ national headquarters. So might the title of this post (a line from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, by the way).

For several days leading up to the Massachusetts special election to fill the Senate seat left vacant by Ted Kennedy’s death, the nation’s attention was gradually drawn to what would ordinarily be a little-noted event. It was, after all, intended only to fill the unexpired portion of Kennedy’s term—in a state where the only question in such affairs is usually one of which Democrat will get the job.

And a fractured, demoralized Republican party written-off for dead only scant months ago is suddenly very much alive—much to the concern of the Democrats’ power brokers.

In the wake of surprising Republican upsets in last November’s New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races, the Democrats’ spin was immediate and predictable: blame the candidates for poor campaigning, cite state and local issues as the key factors, and dismiss the notion that either race was a referendum on the Obama regime’s policies—despite Obama’s personal campaign efforts on behalf of both losers. Seeing the writing on the wall in Massachusetts, similar preliminary spin and damage control began late last week, largely blaming Democrat Martha Coakley for inept and unenthusiastic campaigning and downplaying the significance of Scott Brown’s likely win. They all but borrowed Lincoln’s quote about snatching defeat from the jaws of certain victory. A few Democrats still half-heartedly maintain that this election is of no real significance.

None of it is working. As Obama himself might say: “Let me be clear: This…is…huge“.

Gone is the Democrats’ filibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate. ObamaCare is now officially on the “Critical” list. The juggernaut that smacked of such arrogance, partisanship, and back-room dealing is now sitting at the side of the road, smoke emanating from under the hood.

And dozens of incumbent Democrats are now seriously reconsidering their allegiance to a Presidential agenda that has proved dangerously unpalatable to voters—and caused them to soberly examine their own political viability.

There remain many variables and conceivable permutations. There’s a chance that Democrats (who pretty much have a lock on Bay State politics) will attempt to delay certification of the vote in an attempt to negate Brown’s potential impact on health care legislation. There have been several quietly discussed “Plan B” scenarios to salvage the Democrats’ plans. And the simple truth is that Democrats still maintain a huge numerical advantage in both houses of Congress.

The message to incumbent Democrats remains nonetheless clear: if a Democrat can’t win in arguably the “bluest” state in the nation, what fate awaits them? How many will jump ship now that Obama’s aura of invincibility is shattered? Regardless of Coakley’s performance, one inescapable fact cannot be ignored: Democrats poured substantial sums of money and a massive personal appearance effort (to include Obama, himself) into this election—and were soundly beaten.

Another point needs to be noted, however; though Democrats have slipped in the polls, Republicans haven’t enjoyed commensurate increases in popularity or approval. Recent trends show less of a pro-Republican mood and more of an anti-incumbent mood. While Republicans have before them an enormous opportunity to climb back into the game, it’s not a certainty; they’ll have to work for it—and it’ll be no easy task. Without question, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and various other key Democrats are circling the wagons and huddling, planning a revised strategy. Their campaign apparatus stands very much intact, and they still wield tremendous power.

What remains to be seen, though, is how well they’ll be able to rally the troops to what looks increasingly like a losing hand.

________

Posted in health care reform, obama, politics | Leave a Comment »

Working Hard—or Hardly Working?

Posted by The Curmudgeon on January 16, 2010

How greed hastened our decline

I happened to catch a recently-aired news piece that immediately seemed all too familiar.  A company that manufactures sports equipment had decided to shut down its operation in favor of moving the whole works to another country—where labor costs were considerably lower.  The workers interviewed exhibited the usual degree of concern over their futures, a company spokesman explained the market forces involved, and we were treated to a sneak-peek at the new operation.

“Nothing new,” you might say?

Not quite.

The operation marked for termination was in Mexico; the newer, cheaper operation was in China.  The company itself was a long-established firm that had years before closed its U.S. operation in favor of cheaper labor in Mexico.  Moreover, this was not the first such Mexican plant to close—nor is it likely to be the last.

I relate that story as a lead-in, of course.  As such stories often do, this set my fertile (some would say “fecund”…or even “fetid”—and I’m nowhere near being out of “F” words, yet) mind to wondering.  And wandering.

At the close of World War II, the U.S.—the place that then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt had characterized as “the arsenal of democracy” (ironically, he was actually referring specifically to Detroit)—was the unquestioned world leader in virtually every manufacturing field.  From stoves to steel to guns to shoes to ships to airplanes to pretty much everything, we were It, the dominant power without peer owing both to the wartime industrial build-up and the simple fact that all the other nations’ manufacturing bases had been decimated by several years of aerial bombardment or hostile occupation.

We all know by now, of course, what’s transpired in the interim.  Countless U.S. factories have closed, thousands of workers have been thrown-out of what were once secure jobs, and even entire industries all but disappeared.

What happened?  How did we go from being the world’s leading producer of so much to being the producer of…well, basically reality-based television shows and corporate mergers?

This decline isn’t completely attributable to any single cause.  While it may seem to some a convenient diagnosis to cite a combination of greed and laziness on the part of the average worker, it’s important also to consider what some view as the indefensibly lavish—even scandalous—levels to which executive compensation soared.  In recent years we’ve been stunned by revelations of astronomical salaries and bonuses, extravagant lifestyles, and outrageous “perks” bestowed upon high-ranking corporate officials—many of whom presided over firms reeling from staggering losses.  Government regulation and environmental policy have also played key roles, gradually creating an ever less-hospitable business environment—elevating both production costs and exposure to litigation.  Unfair trade practices affecting foreign markets have posed ongoing woes, largely through protective barriers.  Automation has also dramatically reduced the number of workers required.  And of course the very nature of our economic base has undergone dramatic change.

That said, the one factor looming largest is labor cost; it simply costs less now to produce many goods outside the U.S.  As domestic labor costs have risen, foreign-based manufacturing facilities have flourished owing to the availability of cheaper labor.

Here’s a thought: We know the effect of rising domestic labor costs, and we’ve heard the condemnations of organized labor for effectively pricing many workforces out of their respective markets—but does that tell the entire story?  Yes, unions typically press for higher pay and benefits (arguably, sometimes unreasonably so), but…why?  Certainly, some of this effort is genuinely intended just to improve the workers’ lot.  Still other demands seem intended merely to maintain a union’s own viability and relevance (i.e., unions must continually secure something for their members in order to justify their own existence—and to retain the member support vital to the unions’ survival).  In some areas, however (the auto industry comes immediately to mind), wages not only adversely impacted industry viability, but shocked the rest of the nation.  Added to this were the demands for more lucrative benefit packages that inflated overall compensation even more.  How does one justify paying an assembly-line worker more than six figures per year?  For that matter, how does one justify the audacity of demanding that kind of compensation in the first place?  What about those guarantees of wages being paid during periods of seasonal layoffs—effectively requiring the employer to pay people for not working?

Let’s go back to the aforementioned new factory in China.  What were the workers there doing before the factory opened?  Were they employed?  Were they among the lowest-paid unskilled labor?  Maybe eking-out an existence on a family-operated farm?

In turn, what were the workers in Mexico doing for a living before the (now) soon-to-close plant first opened?

In general, operations relocated to countries offering reduced labor costs have proved a boon to the local economies where they were introduced.  Though low by prevailing U.S. standards, compensation for local workers generally brought a substantial improvement in standard of living at the time the plants were established—just as they initially provided opportunities for U.S. workers more than a century ago as the domestic economy transitioned from its largely agrarian base.

Which brings us back to why the U.S. plants closed in the first place.  Why did labor costs rise?  More to the point: Why were (perceived) excessive demands made by the labor force—the very demands that contributed, at least, to their own demise by making foreign labor more attractive?

For generations, this country offered virtually limitless opportunity—to those willing to work for it.  Family histories abound with tales of great-great-great grandfathers who uprooted their families from other countries to come here seeking their fortunes.  Many (though certainly not all) succeeded.  They set their sights on a goal, achieved it, and rested on the fruits of their labors and risks.  Quite a few entrepreneurs along the way established businesses and built factories, boosting the local economies where they were situated.  Vast numbers of unskilled (and to no small degree unemployed) workers learned in-demand trades and secured good jobs.  They went on to live relatively comfortable, secure lives—not as comfortable as the entrepreneurs, of course (who had, after all, made the initial investment making it all possible, assuming all the risk)—but the lives they ultimately led were measurably better than the lives that had seemingly awaited them.  Consequently, this also led to the rise of what have come to be called “the working class” and “blue-collar” workers.  Again, in many ways this domestic experience presaged  that of the Chinese and Mexican workers of recent years.  (Keep in mind that this emergence was related to the spread of the Industrial Revolution, and became a world-wide phenomenon—and note that neither “working class” nor “blue-collar” is synonymous with “unskilled”.)

Now, let’s revisit the U.S. industrial capacity at its zenith: post-World War II.  Notwithstanding the legions of returning soldiers who took advantage of the G.I. Bill to obtain college educations, many servicemen returned to their pre-war jobs or found similar employment.  A great many were wage-earners, whether skilled and unskilled labor; truly blue-collar.  They generally earned a decent paycheck.  They would typically live in a modest—but respectable—home.  They weren’t rich, but they provided well for their families.  Most could manage at least one family vacation per year, drove late-model (though not necessarily new) cars, and could even manage to put a little into savings.  With some creative financial management and judicious spending, they could even send their kids off to college.  For most, life wasn’t so bad.

Except for two things.

With the growth of the “white collar” workforce, there appeared a growing tendency to look down on those of the working class…as though actually working—like with their hands—was something about which to feel somehow inadequate.  As the armies of white shirts, ties, and suits grew, so did the gulf between the two classes—in both pay and in prestige.  Well-appointed offices and desks seemed somehow superior to punching time clocks and getting dirty, and the paychecks of the respective classes generally reflected this.  (Some white collar positions did lag behind, though; indeed, there even appeared a movement around 1980 calling for equity in “comparable worth”, with its agenda being advanced most prominently on behalf of female office workers annoyed that they were paid less than some labor-intensive working-class jobs would typically pay—though there don’t seem to be many accounts of secretaries and clerks trading their air-conditioned offices and business attire for coveralls and heavy manual labor in brutal weather conditions.)  At a time when image gained importance, white collar professions (and the trappings thereof) loomed larger in stature.

And then there’s Man’s basic nature to always want more.  As our happy wage-earners surveyed the difference between their standard of living and that of the “suits,” they wondered why they weren’t more equitably compensated.  Their skills were certainly essential (do you think that most purchasers of a brand-new Mercedes or Cadillac are likely to maintain or repair their own vehicles—or pump-out their own septic tanks?).  Perhaps they were initially justified in demanding a larger slice of the pie—and with increased income came the ability to afford more of the extravagances that would also serve the dual purpose of equalizing the prestige enjoyed by the white collar workforce.  But how much more would be enough?   Should our assembly line worker be able to afford the twenty-acre estate that a board chairman commands?  Are we all entitled to our own private jet?  More importantly…when does “enough” become “too much”?  Where should the line(s) be drawn?

Economists assert that such lines are determined for us by market forces.  Simply put: If you demand more than you’re worth (what the market will bear), your job disappears.  Knowing what that limit is, however, is often difficult; it goes without saying, then, that any negotiation becomes something of a gamble—and the greater the demand, the greater the risk.  With the advent of “outsourcing” and “moving offshore” during the latter part of the twentieth century, the stakes were raised even higher as another dimension was added to an already-competitive business environment.

Labor simply demanded too much—and several foreign economies became the beneficiaries of this miscalculation.

Significantly, some view this international redistribution as a normal occurrence, in keeping with economic evolution as undeveloped (and emerging) nations claw their way onto the global stage—either filling voids left as other nations expanded their “service-oriented” economies viewed as preferable to emphasis on manufacturing, or by simply undercutting competition.  However, this stance ignores both the unfavorable balance of trade that results and the hazard of becoming overly-reliant on foreign sources for a reliable flow of essential goods—and the results of having that flow disrupted.

Look around you.  Start with your feet—or, more correctly, your shoes.  Chances are that they were made overseas—and the odds are that they came from China.  Check the labels on your clothes.  Sri Lanka?  Malaysia?  Dominican Republic?  How about all your gadgets?  You may think your computer, at least, was produced domestically—but were its components imported?  Even a call to tech support frequently goes to India or Pakistan.

Now consider the impact of these (and many, many more) items suddenly becoming unavailable owing to a brewing conflict in some far-flung corner of the world, catastrophic natural disaster, or insufficient fuel reserves to transport these goods to domestic markets; the seemingly unrelated issue of labor costs abruptly becomes very much a national-security concern.

…largely because we devalued the virtue and integrity of real work and let our growing desire for extravagance become an unquenchable thirst.

Yes, we’d all like to have a vacation home, a yacht, and other trappings of wealth; unfortunately, that lifestyle simply isn’t in the cards for most of us.  We won’t all be able to send our kids to Ivy League schools, either.  And our personal wealth isn’t likely to rival Donald Trump’s.

What we once had, though, was a respectable job, a comfortable living, and a stable future—much of which we gambled away in an ill-fated quest for perceived stature and unjustifiable wealth.

 

 

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Posted in economy, labor, labor costs, outsourcing, unemployment | 5 Comments »