#1428 Labor Shortages and the War to Keep Wages Low and Profits High (Transcript)

Air Date 7/7/2021

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [00:00:00] Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast, in which we shall take a look at the talking points and policy pushes that have kept wages in America artificially low for decades. The circumstances today are almost entirely new with unprecedented COVID related upheaval, shocking the economy and labor market, but the tactics used to demonize workers and undermine their rights are as old as the hills. 

Clips today are from CounterSpin, Citations Needed, The Ezra Klein Show, Pitchfork Economics, and Economic Update.

Michael Hiltzik on No One Wants to Work! Part 1 - CounterSpin - Air Date 5-14-21

JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: [00:00:35] Like I say, my beef with news media's frequent presentation of economics is that it's a dry kind of analytical field, where there's a right and a wrong, and everyone knows what it is. And it's just a question of how we get to it. When, really, there's visions involved, you know? It's about how much you value people and how you create an idea of what's acceptable for an economy around that vision of people. You know? 

So I just want to drop you right in to this question that we're now talking about, "Nobody wants to work." Let's start with just the data. Are there more people looking for jobs than can find them? Or is there a labor shortage? Because if I just pick up a newspaper, media are telling me both things. 

MICHAEL HILTZIK: [00:01:27] Sure. I think that it's fair to say that there is a labor shortage. What the real debate is about is why there's a labor shortage, why there are businesses that are unable to find the workers that they want.

And it's natural, just as anything is natural, to hear business owners complain about, basically, government policies. And in this case, they're complaining about unemployment benefits that they claim are too generous. In fact, there's no data that supports that notion. It's an intuitive reaction by business owners who don't want to pay their employees more and don't want to, basically, create more welcoming workplaces so that they can attract and recruit more workers. 

JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: [00:02:23] Well, that's what's so interesting. We have often, in the background in news reporting, this very 101 idea of how a capitalist economy works. And, you know, there's supply and demand. And so wouldn't this just be a situation where, you know, if, if workers aren't filling in, that's because employers aren't supplying them with conditions that they want to work in?

 Why does that then get translated into this moralistic thing about, somehow, workers are lazy and they don't appreciate what it really means to work, and yada, yada, yada. If it's dry economics, why isn't it dry economics? 

MICHAEL HILTZIK: [00:03:01] Sure. Well, there's, there's a long tradition in this country of holding up people who are unemployed or underemployed as the undeserving poor, that if they're not working, it's because of their own moral turpitude. And this is very convenient for employers who want to pay as little as they can get away with, who can offer benefits that are as stingy as they can get away with. 

But what we've seen, and in fact, we've seen this in the last few months, as the economy opens up, or tries to open up, is that businesses that actually are willing to pay more, better than minimum wage, or even much better than minimum wage, and are willing to offer decent benefits, they're not having as much trouble, and maybe having no trouble, recruiting workers to fill the slots they have.

So the dime, so to speak, has to drop for these employers. They have to stop blaming the unemployment system for their inability to hire. And of course, whenever I see these signs posted that, say, "Sorry for the long lines or the low hours at our establishment; nobody wants to work." I think the subtext is, "Nobody wants to work -- for me."

And it may be that prospective workers don't think they're going to be paid well enough, if they're in the restaurant and bar business, it's because they know that these jobs are really shaky, that they can be fired for no excuse. And they're not going to be paid very well to put up with obnoxious managers and obnoxious customers. So they're going elsewhere. 

What we saw in this latest jobs report, which as you said was a disappointing 266,000 new jobs created in the month of April, is that we actually saw the best growth in low wage sectors. We saw perfectly good growth in restaurants and hotels and bars. Where you would expect that if these lavish, lavish unemployment benefits were really the story, that's where you would see the biggest gaps, but that's not what's happening.

The Labor Shortage Ruse How Capital Invents Staffing Crises to Bust Unions and Depress Wages - Citations Needed - Air Date 4-28-21

NIMA SHIRAZI - C0-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: [00:05:14] What did you see in terms of how these stories were framed, in terms of what was being said this past year during the pandemic? 

KEVIN CASHMAN: [00:05:22] Sure. Yeah. So, there was some evidence that there might have been some upward pressure on wages for restaurant workers right before the pandemic, which, you know, is necessary, because their wages were so low. Minimum wages were going up in several jurisdictions.

But of course, once the pandemic hit, all these restaurants, just, summarily laid off all their restaurant workers and everybody just accepts that happened. They get unemployment, of course, or they should. But, it's the complete opposite story from what we saw before. And there's much less concern about what's going to happen to  all these people that now don't have jobs.

And certainly the disastrous way that the US handled the pandemic, just, prolonged suffering for all these people. But also, we still have very high unemployment now, over a year after the pandemic started, and it's very hard to say that there's any sort of sector wide shortage of workers.

I think I've seen a few... you just mentioned trucking shortages, but they're starting to pop up again, and it's a kind of a replay of the great recession, where still during the recession reporters start churning out these labor market shortage stories. To me, it's not reflective of reality if you are paying attention.

ADAM JOHNSON - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: [00:06:39] Yeah. Because again, they go to these employers or industry trade groups and they say, "I cannot afford..."  So Kroger just shut down two stores in California because they passed a law requiring $4 extra an hour hazard pay. They said "We can't afford it." They always say we can't afford it. They have some, there's some chart, some graph they have, and the line goes over this, they shut everything down and they piss and moan and they have a capital strike. They love doing capital strikes because, fuck it, they don't care. 

Walmart does this a lot. Walmart will not enter a market, a big city, because they make demands of big box stores to pay as low as $12 an hour back four or five years ago, and they'll give up millions in revenue just to say, "Fuck it." So they can have one of their petulant capital strikes because they think in the long term that's in their best interest. 

There's a viral tweet now where there’s a fast food restaurant, I think it's Burger King, who says "We had to shut down because..." no, it was a Wendy's... "We had to shut down because nobody wants to work." And then if someone found their job offering on Glassdoor and it was like $11 an hour, it's like, no shit. And this of course is the theme we're now beating down people's throat in this episode is that it's a wage problem and that they don't want to fucking pay it.

And that is not, of course, a labor shortage. That is a shortage of what you're willing to pay, because the way things are framed is always incumbent upon the worker to be flexible, never the employer. And of course, we don't know the bottom line at these places. These books are private. If they want to come and say, "Actually if we raise this by $1 Joe Ma Pa Subway goes out of business," I'll listen to that. It's probably bullshit, but I'll listen to it. 

There's just this assumption that it's always incumbent upon the worker to take lower wages, versus the employer to pay more. And I want to talk about. We spend a great deal talking about Mike Rowe, who is I think one of the biggest conduits of this myth, specifically the skills gap, which he liked to push, which was an effort by some of his billionaire backers, Koch brother types, with his foundation, to push this narrative that he would go with...

In 2009, 2010, he’d say "We're in the middle of a recession, and I go by and I see the sign says, 'Now hiring.' They can't fill these roles." He loves to tell this anecdote it's total horseshit, but he says it anyway. And the assumption... there's two things. Number one, it asserts the fact that, this was his primary goal, which is to get the Obama administration and at that point, the Mitt Romney, future Mitt Romney administrators, which is why he campaigned for him, to basically subsidize vocational training so the fucking Koch industries didn't have to pay for it. 

And also, the more of course, trained people they have, as we talked about now, a million times the more trained people they have, the more workers they have, the lower wages they have to pay.

So it's a no-brainer on their part. But one thing it does play into is this kind of moral narrative that I want to talk about, which is one of the reasons I think the media soaks it up, which is that Americans are lazy, that we're spoiled, fat, ungrateful, lazy, all of which is true for me personally, but everyone else, I don't think 

NIMA SHIRAZI - C0-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: [00:09:19] And Especially Millennials, who are ruining work. 

ADAM JOHNSON - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: [00:09:21] There's this subtext, and oftentimes even text, about this sort of American lazy worker. And that of course plays into this idea that there are a bunch of ingrates who won't do the work necessary. I want you to talk a bit about this kind of moral subtext and how much you think this drives this coverage of these labor shortages.

KEVIN CASHMAN: [00:09:38] Yeah. I think these narratives are driven by elites. And the example you gave of COVID is a good example of the wage conditions changing. You're going to have to pay somebody who works in a restaurant or who is a line cook or, whatever, more money to work because it's now a dangerous job.

And they just don't want to accept that they have to pay this premium on top of the wages they're accustomed to get people to work. So it's a lot easier to demonize people and say " You should be taking this job instead of taking unemployment." 

We should have an unemployment amount that's adequate for everybody, and then we should have employers that are paying wages that incorporate all the requirements of the job. I don't know many people who write these stories that would want to go be a line cook in a restaurant, if that was the only job they had available to them during a pandemic, because it's just not worth the risk to their health.

So, essentially they're saying that people who aren't in high paying jobs, or have the same socio- economic status to them, should accept greater risks and then just deal with it, because they need people to serve them their burrito at Chipotle or whatever. And to me, that's a very offensive argument because there should be a basic level of safety at every job. But it doesn't stop them from making the argument.

One thing we do have a shortage of is doctors, and that was even clear pre pandemic. Doctors are paid an absurd amount and they have an association that basically keeps the supply low. And, I never hear people who are telling somebody to go to work at a restaurant for $5 an hour, plus tips, also say that we need to increase the supply of doctors because they provide vital services and we need to pay them less.

But it's the same issue, except there actually is a shortage of doctors. So there's this class solidarity. We should be paying these people who are educated and doing good work an obscene amount of money, because they do provide services for us. But these other people, who I also need their services, they're either lazy or they have some other moral failing for not taking this job. 

NIMA SHIRAZI - C0-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: [00:11:57] Kevin, what do you think is a more responsible way that journalists can cover these stories? The frameworks that reporters and editors can use to really center workers, or even, dare I say, the quote-unquote consumer, in the stories, rather than the lobbyists, the bosses, the boards of industry.

KEVIN CASHMAN: [00:12:17] Sure. Yeah, I would say that labor shortages do happen, but they usually happen in either small towns where you literally can't find anybody, or they happen in crises like this one or in certain areas, or for example, 

ADAM JOHNSON - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: [00:12:32] During World War II. 

KEVIN CASHMAN: [00:12:32] But people need to parse those out from ones... they're talking about huge industries. They need to look at the data. If wages aren't rising, then there's probably not a labor shortage. And I think they need to understand the history, especially since this break in the 1970s where we've seen productivity go up, so companies are getting more out of every worker, but wages have been stagnant, where unions have been decimated, and they need to put that into context because even if we are paying a lot for somebody to be a barista or other very valuable jobs that all of us rely on, it's not necessarily a bad thing.

Workers desperately need wages to go up, because over the last fifty years or so, they've been relatively stagnant. So, I think when you put that into context, you get a much more sympathetic story about employment in the US, and workers in the US. 

And I think that's the necessary other side of the story that every sort of neutral reporter has to report on. If you don't have that viewpoint in your story, I don't think you're even trying to be objective about it. 

Why Do We Work So Damn Much - The Ezra Klein Show - Air Date 6-29-21

EZRA KLEIN - HOST, THE EXRA KLEIN SHOW: [00:13:42] Can you talk a bit about the practice of insulting the meat? 

JAMES SUZMAN: [00:13:46] This is the other great egalitarian device in Ju/’hoan life. In the Ju/’hoan world, people don't place a great deal of store on material resources. Things are shared relatively easily and evenly, and demand sharing is not a cause of tension. 

But one thing in the Ju/’hoan world, which is loved above all others, is meat. And it's one of the few things that inspires people to jealousy, to anger, if they feel a little bit left out. And it is also one of the few things that if somebody is too productive in bringing meat, if somebody is too good a hunter, then there's a risk that person starts to accrue additional social capital as a result of that, to accrue power, just simply because they're the bringer and the distributor of meat.

And so what they do is they have a number of customs around one, the distribution of meat, and two, how to deal with the hunter themselves, in order to manage any kind of tensions that might emerge from this. So when a hunter comes back with a kill, and in particular if it's a spectacular kill, like something huge, like a giraffe or eland bull, the hunter will not be praised in the way that we're generally expect and imagine the hunter coming back with his trophy, haha, everybody's going to get fed. Everybody's going to be wonderful. Pat me on the back. And now I'm the hero for the night. Instead, the hunter is mocked and insulted. And it's done in a kind of lighthearted way, but also with a little bit of an edge.

And the hunter for his part is expected to behave with great humility. And the kinds of insults that will be, everybody knows there it's a performance, a charade, because if a giraffe shows up, it's a big piece of meat. No poor man's going to struggle to eat the thing over the course of a few days. But they'll still say, ah, this giraffe, ah, the meat smells like urine. Ah, it's not enough to even feed my mother-in-law. And there were insults come out again and again and again and again, over the course of the consumption of this animal. And the reason they do this is to avoid the hunter accruing any unnecessary hierarchy, any unnecessary authority over others and any socially destructive authority over others. 

There's a wonderful quote again, by Richard Lee, where man describes the basis behind the practices. We use it to cool young men's hearts. And in this way, successful hunters were in effect encouraged or discouraged from hunting excessively. Now, bizarrely, because in hunter-gatherer bands, everybody liked me. You want us to discourage the good hunters from hunting too much. But at the same time, you didn't want the incompetent ones going out or the elderly going out and being unsuccessful all the time.

So they had other methods of actually distributing the responsibility for that meat. So technically the owner of an animal that was killed was actually not the person who killed the animal and brought it home, the one who effectively did the hard work, but actually the person who made the arrow. And as a result, that meant that in Ju/’hoan communities, the elderly, the club footed and all the rest could occasionally claim to own an animal themselves, and have the added burden of responsibility of distributing the meat and enduring insults.

EZRA KLEIN - HOST, THE EXRA KLEIN SHOW: [00:17:05] So this falls on our ears, my ears, very strangely, right? It defies almost everything you would think about motivation and how you get people to do difficult tasks and excel at them. So in this world where you're a hunter and you bring down a giraffe, and then you come back and everybody insults you, and somebody else gets to distribute the meat because it was their arrow and not yours, why be a hunter? What is the implicit theory of motivation to do things that are valuable for society, but scarce in their skillset within these groups? 

JAMES SUZMAN: [00:17:40] This is one of the wonderful things about looking at the idea of work as we go into our deep history, and actually even beyond the Ju/’hoansi entire evolutionary history. It's pretty clear that we have evolved to love work, in a basic sense.

We have evolved to become these extremely purposeful, focused species with this extraordinary array of skills and flexible devices from our hands to our incredibly plastic brains, that in a sense need to be fed. There's a reason why when we are stuck in solitary confinement in prison for something, that boredom eats us up. It's because we can't basically apply these extraordinary skills we've evolved to have. And people get extraordinary pleasure out of doing work and it can often be different kinds of pleasure.

Now, in the Ju/’hoan case, let's take the example of hunting. Hunting is extraordinarily fulfilling work. It is very satisfying. It engages your mind. It engages your intellect. It engages years of acquired and accumulated skill. It engages your intuition, engages your physical strength and engages your stamina. And it engages you emotionally because you have this huge, empathetic connection with the animals that you're pursuing.

It is deeply and profoundly satisfying. And in the end, it turns into meat in your belly. It fulfills you quite physically at the end as well. As one Ju/’hoan hunter put it to me, he was like, So then, hunting makes my heart happy, my legs heavy, and my belly full. It is profoundly satisfying work.

And it's obviously part of our evolutionary heritage, this ability to work efficiently and to apply our skills, to acquiring the food, first of all, that we need, because that is the primary job of life to get the food and energy into our bodies in order to grow and reproduce. And then when we have surplus energy, we clearly use those same skills that have empowered us to be such versatile, flexible hunters, foragers understanders of an environment, we apply those skills to many other things, like creating music, creating art, telling stories and so on. And work is very much part of who we are. And when we are deprived of the ability to work, we are miserable. We are listless. We are bored, we are uncomfortable. And in many senses, life is not worth living.

Michael Hiltzik on No One Wants to Work! Part 2 - CounterSpin - Air Date 5-14-21

JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: [00:20:02] And we've also seen, in terms of the analysis, a kind of, like, COVID exception, you know, which is maybe, maybe it's not generous, (which, you know, you have to snicker at generous... the idea of generous unemployment benefits). Um, but that those might not be why some people are not seeking work. 

But, some news accounts are saying, "Well, maybe they have somebody sick at home. Maybe it has to do with coronavirus or maybe their kids aren't back in school full-time yet, and they still need to be at home to care for them." 

MICHAEL HILTZIK: [00:20:33] Yes, that's right. There were a lot of reasons why people... workers who are unemployed at the moment may be reluctant to take jobs, especially low wage jobs, and difficult jobs, and arduous jobs. Um, and they include: fear of catching the virus at the, at their workplace, either from their coworkers or from their customers; an inability to find childcare or to afford child care. We're still in a stage where not all schools are open. I think there are more, more students that are still  learning remotely than there are going to class. And, of course, that means that their, their parents either, or, or both parents, don't have the flexibility to take any job that's offered. So there are a lot of reasons. 

And what's striking is that, when you read a lot of these newspaper reports, or watch television clips, and what have you, it's always the unemployment benefits that are named first, and these other factors that are also in the background. You know, I would point out that if you looked at these news articles and news clips, in which business owners are claiming that it's all about unemployment benefits. You never see a worker actually being interviewed. You only see business owners, basically, talking their own self-interest. 

Now, there's only one newspaper article I've seen that actually covers both sides of it. It was a recent article in the Washington Post out of Florida, which pointed out, not only are these other factors in play, but the number of restaurants and bars opening in Miami is at an all time high.

So there's a lot of demand for workers, and maybe not every restaurant can fill all of its slots because it's got competition for workers who will work. So, basically, there's a myth out there that it's all, and only, about unemployment benefit. 

What's really harmful is that we have some governors who are taking this as read and are cutting unemployment benefits for workers in their states, supposedly to get them back to work.

And we've seen this now in Montana and North Carolina and more states are already lining up. And I think we're going to see a lot more of this in red states. 

When I wrote my last column about this, it was only Montana and South Carolina. As of today, we now have Arkansas joining the club, and undoubtedly we'll have more, because it's an easy, intuitive meme to throw around that, "Oh, these people are just sitting around at home because they're lazy!" 

JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: [00:23:18] One person said, you know, it's, it's, uh, "There's no incentive to go to work when they can stay on the couch." Which I just think would, just, would, just, shock and amaze, uh, so many people who are struggling, you know, with being out of work, being underemployed, with having children to care for, with having, you know, the idea that they're sitting on the couch, I just think is just amazing, you know? 

And you point to, uh, the importance of sources, as well as ideas, in terms of the impression that that media give.

I guess, one of the things I'm concerned about is that there seems to be a, kind of, idea that... among the most critical news coverage... it's, maybe there was something about global pandemic that made the economic system suddenly not work for people, or suddenly not work for women, you know?

Or you could say, "You know what? People have always had somebody sick at home. People have always had a kid who needs care." You know, I feel like you can either say, "Our perfect system broke down in a crisis!" or you can say, "This crisis has exposed that our system is flawed, and has problems in it."

 So I guess I'm concerned about the economic takeaway from COVID's impact on the economy. 

MICHAEL HILTZIK: [00:24:39] Sure. And what we've seen from the very beginning of this pandemic, and the very beginning of the shutdowns and the lockdowns, is that the United States, in terms of how it treats its workers, particularly it's frontline workers--these essential workers, as we keep hearing them labeled-- is that, the safety net for the working class is far inferior to the safety net that we see in European countries and Asian countries. 

In this country, it's very rare for a working class employee to have access to sick leave. This became an issue starting very early in the pandemic when we actually wanted people to stay home to reduce the transmission of this virus.

And we discovered that most people can't afford to stay home because they don't have sick time coming to them. The United States is far behind other countries in providing for childcare for working parents. That's still the case. It's still the case that sick leave is rare, even among the professional class, sick leave is not really very generous in this country.

So these are all flaws of the system that emerged as the tide went out due to COVID. And the question is, are we going to do anything about it? Are we going to continue to complain about this mythical, lazy worker and show how insulting and demeaning we can be in talking about the working class?

How U.S. policy was designed to suppress wages (with Larry Mishel and Josh Bivens) - Pitchfork Economics with Nick Hanauer - Air Date 6-1-21

DAVID GOLDSTEIN - CO-HOST, PITCHFORK ECONOMICS WITH NICK HANAUER: [00:26:11] Okay. So what are they, let's punch through some, of them. 

NICK HANAUER - HOST, PITCHFORK ECONOMICS WITH NICK HANAUER: [00:26:14] Yeah, let's start at the top with what are the policies that have had the biggest effect, 

LARRY MISHEL: [00:26:19] The, sort of, three biggies, are: one is, what I would call, either the intentional engineering, or the toleration of, excess unemployment for most of the past 40 years. 

And that comes in two variants: one variant is the economy gets into a recession, and policymakers are just way too... They don't try hard enough to get us out of it, don't try hard enough to get us to full recovery. I think that's the really good description of what happened over the past 12 years after the great recession, just no urgency at all, and trying to use fiscal policy to get the economy back where it was.

I think in an earlier period, the real culprit was the Federal Reserve. Basically, they would see a recovery start to happen, unemployment would start to fall, and then in the name of fighting inflation, but often like a completely phantom inflation, and inflation in their models, but one that had not appeared in the real world yet, they would engineer, by raising interest rates, higher unemployment to really zap workers’ bargaining power in the labor market. 

So, that engineering and toleration of excess unemployment, that's a really big one. 

Second, really big one is just the all-out assault on workers' right to bargain collectively and to form unions that has happened over that period, leading to a much smaller share of workers who are in unions. 

And this has two effects, obviously: one is, people who were once in a union and now aren't, so they no longer get that union wage premium mechanically; but then also just big sectors of the economy that once had their wages influenced by the unionized part of the sector... so you had a bunch of non union workers who actually lost out because their sector was no longer unionized, there’s no longer that threat effect on their own employers, even if they were never union, maybe they always had to pay slightly better wages. 

So that de-unionization effect is another biggie.

And then [thirdly] the effect of globalization on the terms we did it, which is the terms of trade agreements that basically put frontline workers in the United States in complete competition globally with the labor markets around the world, but carved out a bunch of protections for corporate profits and very highly paid professionals.

Those three things combined are a really big chunk of the story, like, well over half of the overall divergence we find. 

And then we've got a host of policies along the way as well. Basically, employers waking up every day to find a standard or institution that actually provided a little bulwark to employees' power in the labor market. They tried to focus on like a laser, and take out.

DAVID GOLDSTEIN - CO-HOST, PITCHFORK ECONOMICS WITH NICK HANAUER: [00:28:51] The fact that these policies individually and collectively work to suppress wages over 40 years, that wasn't incidental. It wasn't like, "Oh, we were doing this for this other reason. And oh, by the way, unfortunately, it happened to suppress wages." 

You basically conclude that, well, that's the intent of these policies, which is to suppress wages. Explain why, like, with the Federal Reserve’s actions, why it is that they were so eager to pull back the economy when unemployment started to drop. 

LARRY MISHEL: [00:29:26] Yeah. We're pretty confident in the intent here for a couple of reasons.

One, on the easy issues, like the fact that the minimum wage was just throttled for almost decades at a time. As inflation just battered its purchasing power, or the assault on unions. 

There's obviously a group of employers who just make higher profits because minimum wages are lower, or they don't have to deal with a unionized workforce.

I think the slight puzzle is, why did many all the way, even on the center left, why were they okay with some of these policies? And I think even in that case, the predicted distributional effect of these changes was never in dispute or in doubt, like you lowered the minimum wage, low wage workers do worse.

You block the ability to form unions, unionized workers, and the people who work in those sectors, they're going to make less. The claim that was always that, yes, there's going to be some regressive distributional outcome, but these are frictions that keep the economy from operating more efficiently.

And as these frictions are removed, aggregate growth is going to leap forward so much that people are actually going to be better off. Like their relative slice of the pie might shrink, but their overall amount of the pie will grow because of this aggregate growth. And in that case, they've just failed miserably.

We've actually had slower growth at the same time we've had a lot less equal growth. 

I think the case of the Federal Reserve is the one that doesn't fit this perfectly. Like, I think it's the one policy where I think you could quibble a little bit with the intent, but I think the dynamic is still there.  Everybody knows that, all else equal, low unemployment is good.

And with the sort of last-hired, first-fired, dynamic in labor markets where historically discriminated against workers are the last ones to see gains for really low unemployment. Everyone knows that low unemployment, it's not just good, it’s also progressive. 

And so there must've been some justification for why aren't we trying to maximize how low we can make unemployment go.

And their argument in real time would have been, "Well, the 1970s showed us that inflation is a genie that's always trying to storm out of the bottle. And if we ever let it get a foothold in the economy, we're going to have to engineer a really bad recession. So we have to keep unemployment at this pretty high level all the time to keep that inflation genie in the bottle."

But I think it fits in the overall rubric of all of them. It's, " Yes, this is bad for some workers, but it's going to be good, because it's going to unleash overall growth."

And in every case, that overall growth argument has turned out to be a huge failure as well.

Jaisal Noor on Worker Co-Ops, Duncan Meisel on Fossil Fuel Greenwashing - CounterSpin - Air Date 6-11-21

JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: [00:31:47] COVID laid bare a number of conflicts, hypocrisy, and frank inequities that normal times and corporate media kept hidden from some. Perhaps most depressing, the pandemic saw media openly suggesting that some workers could be both essential and expendable. Some faceless thing called "the economy" could demand that people return to work, but would not be responsible for protecting their lives and their health when they did. Other countries were guaranteeing wages while encouraging workers to stay home, to protect their lives and those of others, but avert your eyes from those examples; those models are not for us in the US. The economy simply had to restart. Though it necessarily meant picking sides in a battle that one New York Times headline described as "lives versus livelihoods," "a moral trade-off," the paper called it. 

Well important to maintaining the idea that such a trade-off is necessary is obscuring, erasing, and denigrating other economic models. Jaisal Noor has been looking at co-op businesses specifically during the pandemic. He's senior reporter at The Real News Network, and he joins us now by phone from Baltimore. Welcome to CounterSpin, Jaisal Noor. 

JAISAL NOOR: [00:33:16] It's great to be back. 

JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: [00:33:17] Corporate media report the crises of corporate capitalism as flawed, and yet still this only game in town. They allow debate, but only up to a point when you start asking questions about the structure. And that's why it's so valuable to dig into other structures that exist: co-ops are facts on the ground. You can't say, well, if the workers were the owners, they would be lazy, because there are real world examples. 

So I just wanted to start you off by saying, what did you learn from this project on co-op workers and specifically, what did those workers tell you about their pandemic experience? 

JAISAL NOOR: [00:34:01] Yeah. I really appreciate the invitation to have this important conversation, because a lot of what I ended up doing was media analysis in this project. Because before I started this project, I was reporting on how other businesses and institutions dealt with the pandemic. And you're absolutely right. What workers were told, what the public was told, was that there was this choice. You can keep the economy going or you can keep people safe. You can't do both. 

So that's one of the reasons I wanted to look at how worker cooperatives respond to the pandemic. They've been around for decades and fundamentally they work within the capitalist system, but their top priority isn't profits. They are businesses, they are for-profit businesses. They are seeking to make a profit. But because the workers are the owners, they're not going to put profits in a higher importance over their lives. That's a deeply profound saying in our American society where profit is god, where Jeff Bezos is god, where he gets thousands of these articles talking about how much his wealth has increased during the pandemic alone. And very few people are asking what costs does that come with? What was social cost does it come with to have this massive concentration of not only wealth and power? 

So the amazing thing about cooperatives is that, even though they are small businesses with owned by workers for the large part that come from communities that don't have a lot of wealth. Most worker cooperatives in America are, and I'm talking about specifically democratically-controlled workplaces, they are in frontline sectors. They are in service sectors. It's low wage work. It's not going to generate massive amounts of wealth. But you can have a workplace with dignity. You can have profit-sharing. You can have a living wage. And these are all things we are told that you can't have in America, you can't have a profitable business while also protecting their workers.

And so when these businesses were confronted with the same challenges other businesses were facing, where you had CEOs telling workers to go into the warehouse, no matter how many people were getting sick -- ignoring like in Amazon's case, ignoring the thousands of workers that got sick, that maybe the dozens that died -- when you have CEOs and managers making that decision, and they're not accountable to the workers, they're going to make very different decisions than democratic workplaces, where the workers can make their own decisions, can vote, debate, and decide what is best for them and the business. 

And it turns out that by taking those steps, your business has a better chance of succeeding. There's reports of a hundred thousand small businesses closing because of the pandemic. And according to the figures and the numbers we have so far, what we know, worker cooperatives fared much, much better. There is 60 worker cooperatives that work with a loan fund called Seed Commons, and none of them closed permanently due to the pandemic.

The worker owners at these cooperatives were able to work together. They still face challenges. Many of them had to close temporary, or had to pivot their business models, but they were able to stay open. They were less likely to lay off their workers, and they prioritize public safety, their workers' safety, keeping their businesses sustainable.

The whole goes to say that basically what you raised, this lie that we've been taught, that it's profits and nothing else matters, is wrong. Even in our current society, even with this equality, we can have successful businesses that exist that pay a living wage and that can treat their workers with the respect they deserve.

And as you mentioned, these are the heroes. These are frontline workers that were -- there were placards, billboards they created to "honor them," quote unquote, while they were still being given substandard wages, not given PPE, not given sick leave. And these are all things that worker co-ops provide.

JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: [00:37:51] Let me just say, I think part of the story that media tell is that it's business owners versus workers, and yet I've spoken to numerous business owners and small business owners who aren't about that, as you're just saying, and who recognize that if their workers can buy food and buy clothing for their kids, they're more likely to stay at the job. It's all very simple, if you just think about it. And yet we're overcome with a narrative about a conflict between profitability and workers' lives that doesn't really exist. So in other words, it's part of about who people listen. It's part of about who gets to speak in the media.

So I guess I just want to ask you as a media person, as well as a person who's been researching co-ops, what would be the translation? What could journalists do that would lift up this model, that would complicate the narratives that major news media are telling about the economy. What would the intervention of actually knowing about cooperative businesses, what could that do? 

JAISAL NOOR: [00:39:03] So on a very simple level, one thing I was struck by when there was reports all across the country, I was looking at newscasts from local TV stations, where they were talking about this worker shortage. And all the people they interviewed --  and I've watched dozens of these broadcasts -- almost every single person they interviewed was a business owner. In some cases, small business. You can talk to workers, you can talk to people that don't want to work for low wages, and put their lives on the line for minimum wage and no benefits. On a simple level, talk to workers.

And if small businesses or restaurants are facing challenges in hiring workers at this current time, find a local worker cooperative in your area, or any business that pays a living wage that has benefits, that has some type of profit sharing or democratic control of their workplace, are they facing the same challenges? If not, then maybe you're on to something. What the workers told me is that it doesn't feel like a job, a traditional sense when someone is a master over you, over your work, when you are your own boss, when you got to create the job, you get to create the working conditions and you get a share of the profit at the end of the day. That's something that most jobs won't offer. And I think the biggest part of that is bosses being unwilling to give over control and thinking they know what's best for their workers, what's best for their business. And cooperatives prove that the people that are actually doing the work that's the bosses and CEOs are profiting from, they actually know a little bit about what it takes to run this business. And having a say and having power can be transformative.

Yeah. So talk to workers, talk to worker owners, talk to people in cooperatives. And see if their perspective is different than what CEOs are telling about. 

Insurgent Working Class and Organization - Economic Updates with Richard D. Wolff - Air Date 6-17-21

RICHARD D. WOLFF - HOST, ECONOMIC UPDATE WITH RICHARD D. WOLFF: [00:40:46] Welcome back friends to the second half of today's Economic Update. It is with great pleasure that I welcome to our cameras and to our microphones, an old friend of mine, professor Manny Ness. He's a professor of political science at Brooklyn College. It's a part of the City University of New York. And he also is a senior researcher at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa. He has written prolifically on labor, globalization, migration, the gig economy and protest movements across the world. His most recent book, and why he's with us today, which is to talk about it, is called Organizing Insurgency: Worker's Movements in the Global South, published by Pluto Books.

First of all, Manny, thank you very much for joining us. Okay. And this, in this new book, let's get right to it. You say something about the global south, and I want to press you to just define that. So we're all on the same page. You say that the workers in the global south quote, "hold up the world." What do you mean?

MANNY NESS: [00:42:01] That, of course the Greek metaphor, the Greek god Titus who lost a major battle, and as a consequence had to hold up 90% of the world, including his own world. 

And so I thought it was a very fitting way of evoking the nature of the global economy and the political structure that exists today: that the majority of the working class in the world, who live in parts of the world that produce commodities, that produce food, that produce almost anything that we consume, live in places like India, south Asia, east Asia, of course, China, and elsewhere. 

And so I think it's a crucial point to make that in fact, without the working class, and by this, the working class that exists throughout the world, we here in North America, Western Europe, and parts of northeast Asia would not have the lifestyles that we have, that also includes parts of the working class that are in the upper echelons of the working class in this country. 

So when we think about worker solidarity, I think we must recognize those people who hold up the world. They're holding up the incredible force of the society through producing incredible goods, creating pollution in their own countries, that are consumed here and polluting here. And they're crucial, but yet they are in fact important to recognize in terms of changing the world toward socialism, which is something that I think we have to fight for.

RICHARD D. WOLFF - HOST, ECONOMIC UPDATE WITH RICHARD D. WOLFF: [00:43:47] Tell me, you title your book, Insurgency. Is it a reasonable inference to draw that you believe, and your research shows, that the workers of the global south whom you've just described are in a state that we can call insurgency. And if you think that, tell us what that really means in terms of what you found. 

MANNY NESS: [00:44:09] Rick, absolutely. In my view, workers are always in a state of motion, whether it is resisting the boss, whether it is organizing into a union, or trying to, whether it's organizing into a protest in a social movement, workers are constantly in a process of struggle against their employers and their oppressors.

This is not something that is unique to the global south. It's something that extends to the United States and and Europe, et cetera. And doing a lot of research over the last 15, 20 years, more specifically in the south or in countries of Africa, Asia and particularly as well as South America, I have found that workers are always in a state of motion. They're constantly in a struggle against [inaudible]. So in other words, this idea of insurgency is something that is a constant. And I think people don't recognize that. We went through here the Occupy movement, that's an insurgency. There was the Arab Spring and countless other movements. We now have Black Lives Matter. It's crucial; without organization, these insurgencies will lead to nothing. And by that, a working class socialist organization that has a commitment and principled analysis and a program for social transformation. 

RICHARD D. WOLFF - HOST, ECONOMIC UPDATE WITH RICHARD D. WOLFF: [00:45:40] There are quite a few people who believe that this is the missing link or the missing element if you like, everywhere in the world.

In other words, that socialism is at this point in world history, insurgent perhaps everywhere, but well-organized almost nowhere. And that this contradiction or this dichotomy, is this something, do you find this as well as this part of what you're seeing, insurgency prolific, but organization deficient? 

MANNY NESS: [00:46:15] Precisely Rick. I absolutely see that. In fact, that's the reason why I went to places where there was organization, where there has been lasting and durable organizations that are revolutionary, that believe in a future of socialism. And let's face it: socialism is something that we have to build. Workers will be fighting for and engaged in struggle, as you very well know, all the time. So will the bosses. We have to have an organization that will be as strong, if not, absolutely stronger, than the bosses'. Because the bosses will continue to fight even after socialism. This we learned from Marx. We learned from Marx and Engels and Lenin, and many of the leading classical scholars, as well as the contemporary ones.

And we have to stop this confusion that we have today about taking solace in the fact that people are organizing. They've always been organizing. And I've found in places like the Philippines and places, parts of India and South Africa, to be the seeds of what we could look for in the future and actually right now.

And that's why you go there

The Labor Shortage Ruse How Capital Invents Staffing Crises to Bust Unions and Depress Wages Part 2 - Citations Needed - Air Date 4-28-21

ADAM JOHNSON - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: [00:47:31] So, let's talk labor shortage here. The ubiquity of the labor shortage article spans many sectors as we discussed at the top of the show: nursing, construction, STEM, teachers, farm workers; you name it, there's been some sort of mini moral panic about a labor shortage over the past 30, 40 years. 

But there's very little kind of widespread coherent skepticism of these claims. There are industry by industry counter narratives, I know unions oftentimes will push back against this, obviously the work you've done at CEPR has been great, which is why we're excited to have you on. You skeptically look at some of these claims in a couple articles you've written.

So I wanted to talk about, high level here before we get into the nitty gritty... In your writing, what are some of the broader themes of these claims and where have these claims fallen short? And what do you think maybe, perhaps, don't wanna be too cynical here, what are the ulterior motives behind these claims?

KEVIN CASHMAN: [00:48:19] Sure. For me, the ones that I've seen and looked at over the past few years, they tend to be very personal. There'll be a story about some employer at a specific company, whether it be a roofing company, or a construction company, or something like that, and they’ll be talking to the reporter and say, "I can't find any workers. It's awful. I can't hire anybody. I'm almost going to go out of business because of it."

And there'll often be no mention of wages at all, or raising wages that is, and... If there's a shortage of oil, if there's a shortage of wheat, if there's a shortage of anything you and me buy, we expect the price to go up. And, we understand that. But when it comes to workers, that's not part of the discussion, even in an article that will be specifically about this shortage. 

So, that's the first thing that strikes me when I see these claims. And it's not all of them, but it is a high number, in my experience. So that's something that definitely tells you there's something else going on here. 

You talked about the ulterior motive. It’s pretty obvious and clear to me is that employers don't want to pay workers as much as they need to in order to keep them employed. Now, I don't know if that's a cynical calculation on every employer's part, or every manager's part, they might not have the authority to raise wages in some cases. But it's definitely an attitude that is prevailing across many industries, and different kinds of employers. 

So that's the main reason why I think that these claims are so ubiquitous and so important for employers to talk about and get media to report on.

NIMA SHIRAZI - C0-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: [00:49:59] Yeah. I want to dig into one of the more common frameworks for the labor shortage story that we see. It's one of the most popular, most evergreen ones of the past, say, decade and a half, and its STEM. And we've discussed this on the show before, but in the mid 2000s, we basically had a national meltdown, moral panic, freakout, that there were not going to be enough software engineers to possibly fill the jobs we need in our digital society.

Now, when you put it like that, on its face, it seems sensible, maybe even benign. After all, sure, who wouldn't want more well trained young people to run tomorrow's economy? They will be more successful, will be more successful, bla. But what maybe are some of the other reasons that this continues to be pushed and by whom. I don't want to put my finger on the scale here, but we hear STEM being pushed by Raytheon in Girl Scout commercials.

What does this say about the way that industry, and especially certain industries, lean on state funding to subsidize training its future workforce? 

KEVIN CASHMAN: [00:51:14] Yeah, that's a great example of employers overtly saying that the state, whether its state governments, federal government, local governments even, need to subsidize the education or training of workers that they think are too expensive, because the average software developer is paid a lot, and they definitely want to lower those costs. 

But it's also that they want the employees themselves to take on the burden of that training. We've seen an explosion of coding boot camps that are very expensive. Some of them are structured in a way where they'll take a percentage of your salary once you get employed for ten years, or I think there's even some that are much longer than that. It's a way to get workers cheaper.

Now it's also a way to put pressure on wages for workers that they're currently employing, and lower their wages, or give them fewer raises, less lenient, or fewer benefits, those types of things, and fewer perks. You know, that Silicon Valley has this culture of expecting a lot of perks, and those are expensive.

If labor got cheaper than, they wouldn't extend those so widely, 

ADAM JOHNSON - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: [00:52:23] We talked about this earlier, right? Look, if especially in software engineering, you have... and of course, Apple and Google and other firms were caught in a literal wage-fixing scheme. They were actually fined by the Department of Justice for doing it. They got caught in a conspiracy to depress wages. 

Software engineers walk around making $180k, and this drives the employers mad because they're not easily replaceable by cheap liquid labor, which is why they also obsess over... 

One of the things we run into in this episode a lot is that, they're also behind very limited, very cynical, and I think, especially in the 1920s, very racialized expansion of immigration, which we'll set aside for now, but it's the worst possible motive you could have. And basically what they want to do is they want to expand the pool by any means necessary, whether they use liberal inclusion language, or whether or not they use...

They want to have more workers, because if I have twenty people applying for a job versus three, the demands of course will be far less. Of course, in a way it's like certain basketball players who complain after every foul. You lose nothing by trying. They have really no disincentive to not piss and moan about labor shortages every six months, because they don't really lose anything by it.

The trucking industry we documented earlier in this episode has been claiming driver shortages, quite literally, almost every year for 35 years, and the Wall Street Journal just ran another piece about how there's truck driver shortages. It seems like so much of this is, they have nothing to lose as long as the media keeps going with it without asking any follow ups, specifically, as you mentioned, obviously, wages.

And one of the things that the trucking industry is doing, is, they're really lobbying to try to lower the age of truck drivers from 21 to 18, for the same reasons we laid out before, which is expanding the labor pool. How much of this is not just about suppressing wages and having the government subsidized training (or, as you mentioned, employees, themselves paying for their own training, and going into debt for that, which is also quite clever), how much of this is about workplace health and safety standards, and trying to get those lowered, and licensing and other barriers to employment lowered, so again, we can have a big fat pool of labor to play off each other?

KEVIN CASHMAN: [00:54:21] Yeah, I think that’s a big part... the way I sort of understand it is, if we go back to the 1970s, there’s sort of this break between wages and productivity. So workers are getting more productive, but their wages aren’t going up. And firms in the US are experiencing a declining rate of growth of profits. So they’re looking for all these different ways, and you pointed out a lot of them, to lower costs, whether it’s in the software industry, H-1B visas, construction and farming, low-cost labor from Mexico and Central America, and safety standards. 

So maybe you don’t need as much sleep before you start driving your truck again. I know unions have pushed back against, I think, there was a requirement that you had two people running every train, and they want to change that to one. 

So, these are all different sort of ways that they attack the problem and the narratives that they come up with often don’t make sense, and I think that they just say any narrative that they can get out there to try to chip away at this problem, which is that you can’t lower the wages of service jobs as easy as you can manufacturing jobs. For manufacturing jobs, you can ship them overseas, and a lot of manufacturing companies did that, and they’ll get a bigger piece of the pie once they produce stuff over there. But you can’t move a truck driver to China, and then have them still deliver stuff in the US.

How U.S. policy was designed to suppress wages (with Larry Mishel and Josh Bivens) Part 2 - Pitchfork Economics with Nick Hanauer - Air Date 6-1-21

DAVID GOLDSTEIN - CO-HOST, PITCHFORK ECONOMICS WITH NICK HANAUER: [00:55:48] Can I ask a slightly more technical question guys? So, when you did your economic analysis, and you were trying to figure out... when you were doing your analysis of why... what factors led to this wage suppression, how did you think about things like the minimum wage? 

So, let me clarify my question, because if the minimum wage had tracked productivity gains over the last 45 years, it would be in the $22 range, wouldn't it? Plus or minus, right? 

LARRY MISHEL: [00:56:21] Yep. That's about right. 

JOSH BIVENS: [00:56:22] Yeah. 

DAVID GOLDSTEIN - CO-HOST, PITCHFORK ECONOMICS WITH NICK HANAUER: [00:56:22] Okay. And, clearly, if the minimum wage was not $7.25 an hour today, or $2.13 cents plus tips for tipped workers, but $22 plus tips, we'd have a very different economy. And the minimum wage would have contributed mightily to workers wages keeping up with productivity gains.

So how, like... when you do your analysis, how do you rank the minimum wage as one policy in the scope of how much people got screwed by? Do you know what I mean? Like how did you... 

LARRY MISHEL: [00:57:01] Absolutely. 

DAVID GOLDSTEIN - CO-HOST, PITCHFORK ECONOMICS WITH NICK HANAUER: [00:57:02] It's a hard question to pose, but I think you get my intent. 

LARRY MISHEL: [00:57:05] I think it's a very straightforward question.

If you want to pick one policy that's very identifiable, then it's a choice that clearly hurt workers, it would be the failure to raise the minimum wage. 

And we look at two things. So, one of the things we do is we try to account for how does the typical, or median, worker do, (that's the worker who earns more than half the others and less than half the others, right?) Where we think the minimum wage had its biggest impact is that we think it devastated the bottom third. And it accounts for all, basically, most of, or all, of the inequality that emerged between a low wage worker and a middle wage worker. 

Because that mostly happened in the 1980s, when the minimum wage was frozen, inflation was high, and basically by the end of the 1980s, the minimum wage was not affecting anybody’s wage. So, it is huge for that. Some people might think that the minimum wage, if it had been indexed, productivity would have really affected the median wage, and that would be a different thing. 

But what we think are the largest, are the ones that Josh talked about, which were the corporate globalization, erosion of unions, the excessive unemployment; and those by themselves basically sabotage the wages of the typical worker by at least $5 an hour, explains more than half of the divergence.

And we also look at issues like: workers being misclassified as independent contractors instead of workers; the erosion of the overtime threshold, (which I know you've been focused on); there's the issue of the fissuring of the economy, where big companies contract out all sorts of work so that they can, basically, take the profits and the wages from the supplier chain and bring it to the bigger company. 

When you account for all those, we think we can account for at least three fourths of the entire divergence. And then there's other things that we look at where we don't have a quantitative measure, like the fact that we have left undocumented workers without any worker rights.

The fact that there's forced arbitration agreements affecting more than 50% of the workforce. We don't know what the wage impact of those things are, but we know they matter. We think pretty confidently that we can quantify the vast majority of what happened. And then there's stuff we can't quantify, which can easily explain the rest.

So that what people need to appreciate... what we hope that listeners can appreciate, is that this didn't happen by accident. That this was the intentional result of policy decisions. It was enabled by our economics profession, which was wedded to a Neoliberal model that seemed dismissive of the needs in terms of workers. And that created the inequality.

And what this means is that what has happened didn't have to happen. It means that it doesn't have to happen going forward. Going forward, if people are organized politically, put pressure on the policymakers, and they get policymakers to pay attention to increasing the power of people individually and collectively in the labor market, vis a vis their employers, then we can have shared prosperity going forward. 

And I’m happy to report that I think that is the agenda that we're seeing from this administration, which is very different than every administration that I've observed in my adult lifetime. And my first vote for president was in 1972. So it's been a really long time without feeling like anybody in power in Washington, DC really wanted to focus on workers getting a better deal. 

DAVID GOLDSTEIN - CO-HOST, PITCHFORK ECONOMICS WITH NICK HANAUER: [01:01:01] I'm confused though, Larry, because my understanding was that if American workers, these lazy American workers, just taught themselves how to code, we wouldn't have any of this inequality. 

But you looked at that right? The skills gap? 

LARRY MISHEL: [01:01:20] Yeah. There, is a conventional wisdom that says that it was technology and automation that led to employers needing more skilled workers, workers weren't skilled enough, therefore they were left behind. And so it's really all about automation, which is something that you can't affect, nor would you want to affect.

And the fact is that even the proponents of that had provided the evidence that,  over the last 25 years, it's clearly not plausible. I'll give you a couple reasons why: one is, that this theory is supposed to work by raising the wages of people with a college degree relative to other people.

But in fact, that didn't happen so much over the last 25 years. It happened very little. The wages of college graduates didn't do very well in the 2000s. We know that automation itself actually didn't happen very fast in the last 10, 20 years. In fact, it could be seen as being slower than at any time in the last 150 years, based on a lot of metrics, like how much computer equipment software is invested in the workplace.

That was very slow. 

Why Do We Work So Damn Much Part 2 - The Ezra Klein Show - Air Date 6-29-21

EZRA KLEIN - HOST, THE EXRA KLEIN SHOW: [01:02:34] One of the fascinating threads of the book is the way the transition to farming transforms the way we experience labor of course. But also that we experience and understand time. And you really emphasize the human relationship to time essential to our relationship to work. So can you tell me about that, the difference between how foragers and farmers related to time? 

JAMES SUZMAN: [01:02:54] It is an extraordinary phenomenon. And it's one that I was very attuned to, right from the beginning of my first ever field work, because I was working with Ju/’hoansi who'd lost their land already. This was in the early 1990s. And my determination was to actually get a Ju/’hoan oral history of what had happened. We had all these colonial histories dominating what had the story of Africa. I wanted to get their version of events in a sense. 

I really struggled. People didn't have history. They didn't talk in historical terms. They didn't think in particularly temporal terms. And at the same time you had lots of the farmers who were trying to employ them saying, oh, they're Ju/’hoansi. They don't think beyond today. They don't have a concept of tomorrow and so on and so forth. And it turned out that this was what the Ju/’hoansi, largely agreed with. And part of the reason was they had what's called historically an immediate return economy. In other words, pretty much all economic effort went into simply meeting their needs for that day. And that was based on this idea that they had few needs easily met. So they were competent foragers. They knew that with a few hours of spontaneous effort, they could fill their bellies and so on and most circumstances, and as a result, they didn't really spend a great deal of time panning into the future, or indeed thinking about the past.

Now, the transition to farming was very different. Where hunter gatherers viewed their environments as inherently provident, as almost generous as something which gave them. Farming, you have to view your environment is only potentially Providence. For it to be Providence, you have to invest your labor into it. But investing your labor into land in order for it to provide you with something to eat involves a timescale.

If we use, for example, early wheats that were grown in the first populations to embrace agriculture in the Levant. You have a seasonal cycle. You plant the seeds in the spring, you then have to nurture and look after the crop and water it and so on and so forth, nurtured over several months, then process it. And eventually, maybe by New Year's Eve, you might have a loaf of bread out of it. Everything is focused on future rewards. 

Now the problem with not being able to meet your immediate needs is those future rewards are rewards that are then stored and used to sustain you over the next agricultural cycle. So farmers find themselves locked into this kind of circular time, this process where they invested their labor into the land and the land in effect gave them a return, some points in the future. And this of course changed not only the relationship with land, because the land became something if you work that land, you had some kind of claim of ownership, so it changed their notions of territoriality and ownership.

But at the same time, it transformed the perception of time. Everything became future focused. Much like it is for us today. Most of the work we do involves accruing some kind of return in the future. In fact, there are only a handful of activities that we routinely do, such as, for example, cooking is an immediate return economic activity, if you're going to eat that meal immediately afterwards. 

But most of the economic work we do is for the immediate future or the distant future. And in farming societies, often the aim was if you worked hard enough for long enough, you might be able to secure sufficiently grand surpluses stored away in your silos that you might be able to, in a sense, enjoy some kind of retirement, some kind of time off. You might be able to purchase your liberation from labor. And all of this came with the fact that actually farming involved a great deal more effort and work than hunting and gathering did.

EZRA KLEIN - HOST, THE EXRA KLEIN SHOW: [01:06:33] So farming changes our relationship to time, changes our relationship to work. And then you write about cities is really changing our relationship to want, that people began pressing in together.

And then you write that they develop a form of scarcity articulated in the language of aspiration, jealousy, and desire, rather than an absolute need. That we are around so many other kinds of people, we can see what they have or in competition with them. Can you talk a bit about the way density changes desire?

JAMES SUZMAN: [01:07:03] I think there might be something within us -- we talked a little bit about human nature -- there's something within our nature that responds very viscerally to inequality, to somebody having more than us. And again, this is something we see without, when you watch two siblings sharing out their bag of sweets with immense precision, and there's can be no inequality in how it's done.

Cities are different spaces. And we've got to remember, even though most history of the last 10,000 years or 7,000 years since the first cities were born, is a history of cities, because that is where people learn to write, and that's what they focused on. Most people still lived in the countryside and made a living -- and when I say most, really 90% -- it was only sort of small elites that ever lived within city walls. Most people worked on the land, producing the energy that they needed to survive.

 Cities, on the other hand, were these sort of exclusive spaces where nobody worked to produce energy, but everybody worked to expend energy. And so the ability to monopolize, control the distribution and flows of energy resources, whether those took the form of food, whether those took the form of beer, whether it was took the form of ultimately money or exchanges in debts, became a source of great power, became a source of great differentiation. 

But at the same time within cities, because people were spending energy, and because they have this innate creativity, this drive to work, you ended up with a whole efflorescence of new professions, ways and things of doing. You have this explosion of art and literature.

You also had people developing religious centers and sense-making ritual power on themselves. And these forces ended up creating many micro-communities within cities. But these micro communities were often highly differentiated by the amount of power they're able to accrue, the influence they were able to work.

And this effectively transformed the way people engaged with one another and lived with one another. And produced, I think there's real sense that people wanting things, people wanting, you are continuously confronted by somebody who had more than you or somebody who had less than you, of whatever it happens to be. It could be any form of capital, whether it's social capital, ritual capital or capital. Yeah. But you're constantly confronted by people having more. And we have that gut instinct to say, if they have that, maybe I want to have that too. And in many ways, I think that is the kind of driver of -- if it said that we have infinite desires, I don't think it is. We just want to have as much as the next guy. And there are two ways of achieving it. Either you work to try and get what they have, or you try and take what they have. Or as has happened throughout history, and again, it's very particularly a history of, there'd be very few what you'd call great turning things over revolutions in purely rural communities. You have them in urban centers where you get elite brought down, crashing down, and then the process begins almost inevitably again.


JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:10:06] We've just heard clips today, starting with CounterSpin in two parts, discussing the insidious talking point of the undeserving poor; Citations Needed explained that labor  shortages are almost always more accurately described as wage shortages; The Ezra Klein show looked to anthropology to understand humans' deep connection to, and a need for, meaningful work.

Pitchfork Economics explained the policies that have been intentionally keeping wages low for decades; CounterSpin looked at how co-ops responded to the pandemic, when the workers themselves were in charge of deciding how to manage the crisis; and Economic Update with Richard Wolff pivoted to a global perspective on how the global South has had their wages suppressed in much the same way that the working class in America has.

That's what everyone heard. But members also heard a bonus clips from Citations Needed, continuing their discussion on how the suppression of wages and demands to repeal regulations are only there to boost profits; Pitchfork economics zeroed in specifically on the refusal to raise the minimum wage in the U S to see the impact it's had on keeping wages low; and The Ezra Klein show discussed more about how humans have adjusted to a labor intensive lifestyle in the wake of the advent of agriculture. 

To hear that and all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly into your podcast feed, sign up to support the show atbestoftheleft.com/support or request a financial hardship membership, because we don't make a lack of funds a barrier to hearing more information. Every request is granted, no questions asked. 

And now we'll hear from you.

Blog renaissance - Dave from Olympia, WA

VOICEMAILER: DAVE FROM OLYMPIA: [01:11:45] Oh, Best of the Left. It is days from in Washington. Jay, I just wanted to comment on your thoughts related to the relevance of the word, the law. I think that blog is about to have a Renaissance in use, and this is entirely true. Just due to be a groundbreaking new media. Enterprise which you know is still not largely known, but from the desk of Donald J.

Trump which maybe it's more like a white journal they've made maybe live journals due for a Renaissance based on that new and exciting piece of media that is coming into the world.

On the etiquette of difficult names - Bud from Boise

VOICEMAILER: BUD FROM BOISE: [01:12:33] Hi, Jay, this is from Idaho. I was listening to your podcast about the I think it was called the invisible burden of racism, or anyway, it was the pertinent racism. And the two women were talking about their names stuck out quite a bit to me. My name is Walter, which is not hard to think of.

But I have between that and a complicated, last name. I have some sympathy and some empathy for people who have names that are difficult for others to pronounce. I've also worked in the at the Navajo Hopi reservation in Northern Arizona and the whole piece, especially have. One last names with many syllables and I was just determined to get them right.

So the only tears that the women felt burdened because other people had difficulties pronouncing their name. I get that, but I also find that making an effort. A good faith effort, successful preferably a successful effort to pronounce somebody's name correctly is is a way of respecting them.

And I know that it would frustrate me when people would pronounce my last name, wrong. I stand, it's been pronounced so many different ways. It's spelled so many different ways. It's hilarious. I just smiled now after 63 years, I'm starting dishes to it. But like I said I just sympathize and I found their conversation a little bit frustrating because I thought it was a sign of respect to make an effort to pronounce somebody's name correctly.

And now I hear that it puts a burden on them. So it, it kinda leaves me...

Final comments on the etiquette of difficult names

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:14:17] Thanks to all those who called into the voicemail line or wrote in their messages to be played as a VoicedMails. If you'd like to leave a comment or question of your own to be played on the show, you can record a message at 202 999 3991, or write me a message to [email protected]

First of all, Dave from Olympia... for those who don't know, he, he lives in a bit of a time warp, he's always three to six weeks behind the news. And, uh, and so he clearly called in as soon as he heard my mention of the, sort of, antiquated nature of the term blog. And all I can say is, boy, is he going to be heartbroken when he hears the next episode and learns that I made the same reference to Donald Trump's blog in the context of the fact that it's already been shut down. 

So if you, um, if you want to send your condolences to Dave to help cushion that blow he'll receive them in three to six weeks. 

Bud, we also heard from, talking about difficult names, or names that people in society generally perceive to be difficult... First of all, his connection went bad in the last 20 seconds or so, so apologies. We couldn't hear how he finished up, but we pretty much got the point, I think. 

And I have some clarification; I think that I can, I can distinguish between what was being discussed on the show about racism between the two women discussing how frustrating, irritating it is to have their names, particularly the names that they consider to be relatively simple, to be mispronounced so frequently that they actually prefer to go by nicknames with the general public, while only their friends know how to pronounce their real names. The difference between that and what Bud is describing. 

So struggling with a name, but putting in genuine effort and, not just to get it right, but also, a real concerted effort to make sure that you remember it correctly, and say it correctly going forward, is very different than what the women were describing, largely. There's a lot of discussion about assumed difficulty, and, sort of, expressing that as sort of an imposition being put on people, or an irritation that people were feeling having to try to pronounce a name that they perceive to be difficult.

And then beyond that, not bothering to try to work, to get it correct. I mean, this is a spectrum here, and I think that the women, what they were describing, were, sort of, more the extreme versions of what goes badly, but how the regular experience of those very negative situations colors other experiences as well...

But here, let's see if we can wade our way through this...

So I also happen to have a name that has been mispronounced my whole life, but no one has ever gotten exasperated at me about it. So my name has nine letters, and three syllables, people look at it and they just think, "Oh no, am I going to be able to figure this out?" And they, sort of, assume it's going to be hard, but I still have a lot going for me.

It is a very English sounding name, and it is made up of sounds that sound very familiar to English speakers. So it doesn't obviously sound foreign. So it's long, but it just doesn't sound foreign, and that hits people in a different way, I think. 

So when people get that, sort of, instant frustration about hard names, that are not only hard, but also sound foreign, there is an element of racism or culturism that plays into that. And so that ratchets up the whole dynamic, you know, 

I have no doubt that most people who have the experience being discussed by those two women on the show would agree with Bud's general idea that if a person not only makes a good faith effort to pronounce her name, but does it in a way that doesn't show irritation or frustration, and after learning the correct pronunciation really makes the effort to say it correctly, then it would be seen as a sign of respect. I do think that most people would agree with that. 

I have no doubt that Bud got a good response from the Native people on the reservation, as he described, he was obviously trying very hard to be respectful, was making a great effort, and very much wanted to get names correct. And I'm sure that was appreciated. 

The problem is that the vast majority of people don't do that, which makes it natural for the expectations of a person with a so-called difficult name to be low, and for their irritation level to be high, when having one's name frequently mispronounced. 

And this is what I think is most important, because Bud expressed frustration in hearing that clip. And this is what's important: the irritation that people have, because their expectations are low and their frustration levels are high; that needs to be okay with us. If we, people like Bud and I, White dudes, if we make a good faith effort to get a name correct, that is difficult to us, and we're attempting to be respectful, but the response we get is of irritation, we shouldn't take that personally. 

And we should absolutely be understanding about that, and be okay with it. In that situation, people who look like me are very likely to have a minor meltdown, and a, sort of, DARVO effect where they would: Deny that they intended offense; probably actually Attack the person for getting angry; and then play the Victim because they were treated so badly. "Hey, I was just trying to be nice, and now you're getting mad at me. Like, screw you. I guess I won't bother trying to learn your name." 

That is what people who look like me very often do. So, if you pronounce someone's name wrong, and they get irritated, it is much better to be understanding, apologize, and acknowledge that that must happen to them all the time, and be quite frustrating. Then assure them that you would very much like to get it right.

But that's the kind of reaction that a person could only reasonably be expected to have if they had an understanding of this other person's lived experience, that they must have very often deal with people mispronouncing their names, and that that would be frustrating for them. 

And so, gaining that kind of understanding is exactly why I played that clip on the show, and it is with that knowledge that we can know to react differently than we otherwise might.

As always keep the comments coming in at 202 999 3991 or by emailing me to [email protected]. That is going to be it for today. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and their participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to the Monosyllabic Transcriptionist Trio, Ben, Ken, and Scott for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together.

Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism, segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and  bonus show cohosting. And of course, thanks to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at bestoftheleft.com/support or right from inside the Apple podcast app. That's how you get instant access to our impressively good bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content and no ads in all regular episodes.

For details on the show itself, including links to the sources and music used in this and every episode, all that information can always be found in the show notes on our website and likely right on the device you're using to listen.

So coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to you twice weekly thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com


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  • Jay Tomlinson
    published this page in Transcripts 2021-07-07 15:41:40 -0400
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