DoomwatchTM vs. Timesizing®

Collapse stories - January 1-15, 1999
[Commentary © 1999 Philip Hyde, PO Box 622, Cambridge MA 02140 USA]

1/15/99 Dow dives 228.63 on Brazil concerns - Capital flight imperils economies in region: Sao Paulo index plummets, by Kimberley Blanton & Anthony Faiola, Boston Globe, p. C1.
Investors continued to be concerned about the impact [in the US] of Wednesday's currency devaluation by Brazil, the world's eighth-largest economy.... Investors continued to withdraw funds at the daily rate of about $1 billion....
The Sao Paulo Stock Exchange closed for half an hour after its key index plunged 10%.... Brazil's dwindling cash reserves [are] down almost 10% to $40 billion in just one week.

1/15 IMF official: No new plan yet for aid to Russia, AP via Bos Globe, C10.
The IMF designed a $22.6 billion bailout package when Russia's markets were tottering last summer. But it froze the package after Russia effectively defaulted on several debts and devalued the ruble in August.... Not the package has been basically abandoned and a new program needs to be discussed.... Russia has been seeking additional money to help pay mounting debts - mostly obligations to foreign creditors, but also staggering amounts of unpaid wages [especially to nuclear workers - 60 Minutes II, 1/13/99], which totaled $816 million on Jan. 1....
[Russia is going to be roadkill until it implements a work&skill sharing approach along timesizing lines. The IMF talks about "an effective recovery program" but its idea of recovery is something the people experiencing it and now even the World Bank call self-annihilation. IMF chief Michel Camdessus basically has no clue what he's doing. Every idea he has is cosmetic and obsolete. He never touches the basic twin problems of over-concentration of wealth and under-investment in mass spending power dba the compensation of labor, a dual problem that goes back to the vast overall labor surplus of the global economy and its continuous and critical exacerbation by accelerating technological efficiencies. In short, standard economics has no idea how to smoothly pass along the benefits of technology to everyone in terms of secure leisure instead of desperate under-employment. Timesizing handles this automatically, and Timesizing, Not Downsizing introduces timesizing in a gradual, step-by-step transition that maximizes win-win for everyone at every step.]

1/15 Open and you'll be amazed at what happens during a booming economy, [blurb on an envelope from the United Way of Boston (245 Summer St, 02210) which arrived today in the mail. Inside, it says - ]
In the midst of this booming economy, there are a shocking number of families struggling in Massachusetts:

  • 156,000 working families with children are living at or below the poverty line...
  • 20,000 families are currently homeless

    1/14 Brazil woes shake world marketplace - Latin nation's currency plunges; blow to US exporters predicted, by Peter Gosselin, Boston Globe, frontpage.
    NEW YORK - The global economic crisis returned with a vengeance yesterday as Brazil flirted anew with a financial disaster that US policy makers and others seemed powerless to avert.
    The Latin American nation has been struggling, with the assistance of a $41.5 billion, US-orchestrated aid package, to protect its currency from the kind of economy-destroying assault that has swept developing regions in Asia and elsewhere over the the past 18 months.
    But the effort proved so politically painful by yesterday that the nation's central bank president abruptly quit [and] his successor agreed to let the country's currency, the Real, slide 7.6% against the US dollar...traders promptly drove the currency's value still lower.
    [Throwing billions of US taxpayers' money at economies where it concentrates in the hands of the top 5% even faster than it does here is not Solution, it's More Problem.]

    ["Pay me now or pay me later" - ]
    1/14 As homelessness rises in Boston, HUD cuts funding [40%] by $5.5m, by T. Robertson and Z. Dowdy, Bos Globe, frontpage.
    [OK, but now we'll have to pay for a surge of burials or if they somehow survive, for their prison costs. The Military-Industrial Complex is dead - long live the new conservative makework campaign, the Prison-Industrial Complex!]

    [Life cheapens apace - ]
    1/14 Delta to charge extra for tickets not bought on Web, Washington Post via Bos Globe, C3.
    [Another example of More Technology & Less Service. Put that alongside fees for getting served by a teller instead of an ATM, fees for robotic Directory Assistance, time expense of big-company robot telephone receptionists.... We are turning our lives, step by step, into technohell instead of technoheaven.]

    [The Asian currency crisis rumbles on - ]
    1/13 Yen tumbles against dollar; drop is worst in 3 1/2 years - Moves by Japan to ease currency's rise cited, Bloomberg News via Bos Globe, C2.
    ...on reports the Bank of Japan sold yen to curb their 32% gain since August.... "Japanese exporters probably complained that a strong yen was hurting them," said Mike American Express Financial Advisers in Minneapolis.... Japan Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa said Japanese "government experts have taken steps to restore stability....
    [With experts like this, who needs amateurs?

    [Ditto the Latin American strain of the "Asian flu" - ]
    1/13 Cardoso tries to calm markets in Brazil as investors flee, Reuters via Bos Globe, C3. the decision by the country's third-largest state [Minas Gerais] to suspend debt payments to the government threatened financial havoc.... Worries that Latin America's giants could be dragged again toward devaluation translated into heavy capital flight, estimated at a net $935 million yesterday - or the same level posted at the height of Brazil's turmoil in September. If yesterday's capital outflow is confirmed, $2 billion will have left the country since the beginning of [January, over 5% of Brazil's $38 billion reserves as of two weeks ago]..\.. "The market can calm down, the government knows what it's doing, what it's going to do," Cardoso told reporters in Rio....
    [Sure it does, Fernando. Sure, sure it does.]

    [Ditto paving the way to hell with good intentions - ]
    1/12 Hub expected to get 'empowerment' funds, by Andy Dabilis, Bos Globe, B1.
    Boston this week will be named one of 15 urban areas designated to receive federal funds for "empowerment zones" that could trigger $1 billion of development over 10 years.... The awards, to be announced in a White House ceremony tomorrow, were reviewed by the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development [HUD] as part of a nationwide competition between communities. HUD was lobbied by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry; US Rep. J. Joseph Moakley...and Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
    [A "competition" that's subject to lobbying? - That sounds real fair.
    [Empowerment zones, block grants, grants in aid, corporate tax breaks and other varieties of "corporate welfare" are all examples of the job desperation in our so-called "robust economy" with its supposed "low unemployment" and even "labor shortages." They are all examples of the ineffectual straining that is completely obsoleted by Timesizing's flexible worksharing approach.]

    1/12 SEC fines brokerages, traders - 28 firms, 51 individuals to pay $27m to settle charges of abuses on Nasdaq, by Neil Roland, Bloomberg News bia Bos Globe, C2.
    ...Almost all the firms were charged with manipulating the market for at least one security by collaborating on Nasdaq quotes in 1994. The SEC alleged many brokerages also failed to honor posted quotess, failed to repot trades in a timely fashion, failed to get the best prices on customer orders, and failed to properly supervise traders. The largest penalties were imposed on Paine Webber....

    1/12 Earnings preview for fourth reveals weakness - 44% of top Mass. firms expect to post lower profits or steeper losses, by Steven Syre, Bos Globe, C1.
    ...Earnings trends...have an obvious impact on employment levels....

    1/12 Treat parents in child abuse, report urges, Reuters via Bos Globe, A16.
    WASHINGTON - ...The number of abused or neglected children has more than doubled from 1.4 million in 1986 to more than 3 million in 1997, according to the study, headed by Joseph Califano, a former secretary of health, who now heads the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia Universty... Welfare agencies...were only able to investigate a third of all cases in 1997. And the number of famlies getting in-home services has dropped 58%, from 1.2 million in 1977 to 500,000 in 1994. [80% of child welfare professionals surveyed said] substance abuse worsens...maltreatment of children the main drug of abuse. Taking children away from their parents does not work, either, Califano said, because only one in four children available for adoption gets adopted.
    [Then how come so many Americans go to South America or China to adopt children? - or do they only want babies? - and we make it too hard to adopt American babies?]
    Children of abusive parents often grow up to be alienated, aggressive and violent, costing society even more, Califano said...."We spend more on cosmetic surgery, hairpieces and makeup for men than we do on child-welfare services of substance-abusing parents. In this nation we take better care of condors than of children of substance-abusing parents."
    [Is anyone interested in the long-term here instead of bandaids for the current disaster? Is anyone remotely interested in controlling parenting more strictly? How bad does it have to get before human societies are driven to reversibly sterilize every young human and have its most exacting and mandatory courses of learning in the raising of any children produced? How long before not any Dick and Jane can reproduce but only people who, for example, do not abuse alcohol or other substances? How much pain does a society have to be in before it designs this problem OUT at its roots instead of constant palliatives - too little, too late?]

    [Good idea in principle but need keep SSI separate? -]
    1/12 Treasury considers buying back debt - Plan may use surplus after Social Security fix, Reuters via Bos Globe, A4.
    [Q1 - why in the world are we suddenly assuming a surplus after the SSI fix when the hair-tearing is still going on about how we're going to stop a bankruptcy in SSI in 20 years?
    [Q2 - why are we mixing up SSI and tax revenues in the first place? Isn't this a ticket to suicide? If it really doesn't matter if we mix them, why are we spending millions to collect them separately?]

    1/11 Unprecedented Homeless Deaths in Boston Area, by Jason Beaubien, Morning Edition, WBUR-FM, 8:30 am.
    There have been eight homeless deaths in the Boston area so far this winter, an unprecedented number, mostly due to hypothermia. One man froze to death in the back of a truck. Outreach workers find that most homeless people they approach refuse to come back with them to the clinics and shelters. The reason, according to Phillip Mandano (sp?) of the Mass. Homeless and Shelter Alliance, may be that the shelters have overflow at the front door and gridlock at the back door, and more homeless people are reluctant to go into an overcrowded, volatile and fearful situation. Mandano's "solution"? People who see a homeless person can phone 911 because Boston police are caring, not punitive, toward the homeless. They will refer them to outreach workers or take them to a clinic or shelter. Plus people should stay hopeful about the homeless situation, that steps can be taken.
    [Comment - for a solution, "staying hopeful that steps can be taken" sounds pretty vague and unactionable. Exactly what steps, Phillip? And for what - solving it or just palliating it? And for whom - the homeless or us?]

    1/11 Mexico turns to welfare to aid poorest, by Richard Chacon, Bos Globe, frontpage.
    [What a switch! A 3d-world country is starting up welfare while we're dismantling it! Or maybe we're reversing status - they're becoming first-world and we're becoming third-world.]

    [Unreality-Bearing Metaphors dept. -]
    1/9 Boston Fed chief sees a 'soft landing' for US, by Michael McKee of Bloomberg News via Bos Globe, E1.
    [The good news is that we've got a female Fed chief in Boston. Cathy Minehan is president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    [The bad news is, she's just as naive in her use of language as the guys in the Fed are. Let's do a little linguistic analysis of this term, "soft landing for the US economy."
    [First, whatever transitions an economy this big makes are gradual and in that sense, "soft" - it's a matter of momentum. But "soft" in the sense of "not too far down from where we are" is not guaranteed. And this sense of the word is linked to the head of the noun phrase, the word "landing." The whole landing metaphor assumes that there is a landing strip for the plane to come down on. The landing strip we constructed in the 1930s after the crash is something we have been in the process of plowing up ever since. We lowered the standard workweek 2 hours a year starting in 1938 at 44 hours/week, but we suspended that process for the war and never resumed it. Taft-Hartley in the late 40s started weakening labor. JFK started dismantling the steep wartime graduated income tax in 1963. Throughout the 1990s we've been weakening the strict banking laws of the 1930s, all learned in the school of hard knocks. This means that we've torn up much of the landing field of the 1930s, and our economic plane may well overturn if it still finds a recognizable landing strip this time.
    [But the main thing we learned in the 30s (but have since forgotten) is that there is no guaranteed high-altitude terra firma for a landing strip in the first place. So merely landing is not enough if the level we stabilize at (another uncertainty) is far below full capacity, i.e., loaded with excess inventory and surplus labor. The laissez-faire free market does not have any level above depression where it automatically stops declining. And it can't even take off again when we've built an airstrip of the makeshift kind we built in the 1930s. That depression was stopped only by world war. Maybe we should balance the center (share per person of work) this time instead of avoiding the center (share of worktime) and trying to balance everywhere else (housing, education, foodstamps, welfare, disability, prison, minimum wage, living wage...). Maybe we should redesign the center to be flexible and gently self-balancing against some intuitive opposite (like unemployment), instead of picking an arbitrary level (like 40 hrs/wk) and rigidifying it forever. Maybe we should automatically timesize so we don't have to keep downsizing businesses and upsizing government.]

    ["Good" news or window dressing? -]
    1/9 Jobless rate falls back to 4.3% in Dec., by Peter Gosselin, Bos Globe, E1.
    ...For the year, unemployment averaged 4.5%, its lowest annual rate since 1969....
    [To get this in perspective, let's bear in mind that, unlike today when market forces (including a supposedly "low" unemployment rate) are suppressing wages enough to allow the free-fall concentration of wealth and strangulation of markets, in the 1940s any unemployment rate over 2.0% was seen as too high. Moreover, unlike today, in the 1940s the best jobs in the economy, manufacturing jobs, were on the increase. Today, however, manufacturing is the sector -]
    where employment tumbled 13,000 in December bringing the loss of factory jobs since March to 272,000. Traditionally, such losses would have been considered a portent of coming recession....
    [But of course, we're so smart today that we don't have to worry about silly old "tradition"! We don't have to regulate banks or imports or any of the other stuff they had to restart regulating in the 1930s because, heck, that was a long time ago and things are completely different now. Lordy, how many times do we have to repeat the same mistakes and relearn the lessons of history?!]
    The government said that the manufacturing losses were offset by the addition of 104,000 construction jobs [notoriously insecure] and another 290,000 service positions [notoriously insecure, poorly paid and part time].
    For the sixth year in a row, the economy created more new jobs than it did new workers, a trend that analysts said has created some of the highest job vacancy rates the country has ever experienced.
    [Two questions - (1) could this possibly be happening because the unemployment rate does not differentiate between full and part time, so we're losing full time jobs and gaining part time jobs, and basically "comparing apples and oranges"? and (2) so where are the market-driven wage raises?]
    ...Workers' average hourly earnings...rose only five cents, or 0.4%, in December to $12.98..\...
    "In some industries like bio-tech and software development, there are 25% vacancy rates," said [Paul] Harrington, the Northeastern [University] labor economist.
    [This raises two more questions - (3) how come there's a double-digit unemployment rate (17%!) in high tech in the over-50 age bracket? and (4) if there's really such a shortage of skilled labor, where are all the market-driven on-the-job training programs? All we're seeing is intense lobbying for more visas for cheap "skilled" labor from India.
    [Which in turn raises the most significant question of all - (5) could this "labor shortage" possibly be due to a conspiracy of perfectionism? - that is, we're talking about record "vacancies" in jobs with record qualifications, required by employers feeling record casualness receiving record resumes from American job-seekers feeling record desperation. And there's even a double standard. For older-American (high-wage) skilled employees, there are perfectionistic job requirements that result in swelling the Help Wanted pages to impressive, if not alarming, bulk. However, for younger-foreign (low-wage) skilled employees, there are indulgent job requirements. "They're from halfway around the world for gosh sake - give them a break!" Oh what a tangled web CEOs and our wealthiest weave, a web that continuously cuts American domestic markets. More evidence? Check this -]

    1/9 Globe to run 'The Big Help', Bos Globe, E1.
    The Boston Globe said its special recruitment section for tomorrow - called "The Big Help" - will be the newspaper's third largest help wanted section ever, totaling 162 pages of help wanted ads.... The Jan. 10 section contains 4,576 ads, slightly up from 1998, with some 120 in color. The color ads equal the number from the record section of January 1998. Seventy percent of the ads fall in the professional help category..\.. The two largest [Big Helps] were published over the last two years, both in January, with 184 pages in 1998 and 164 pages in 1997.
    [That this feature is not a simple matter of inflowing want ads but a matter of manipulation is indicated by the next sentence -]
    The Globe publishes two "Big Help" sections each year.
    [But what if three were required by ad inflow? What if only one was called for? More details -]
    The paper's last recruitment special, on Sept. 13, 1998, contained 118 pages.
    [Well what's so special about that? All the other examples have over 160 pages.]
    Also, the paper last fall began another special recruitment section - Jobapalooza - specifically directed to high-technology, one of New England's largest industries.
    [Oh yeah? well, that's also the industry in which we have 17% unemployment in the over-50 age range. Where's the OJT (on-the-job training)?!
    [How does the Big Help attract the extra ads, despite no corresponding jump in real market demand? Is the Globe offering special rates to advertisers? No, a high-tech jobshop in Acton that took out an ad in this one says it's not discount rates, it's that the extra promotion given by the Globe to these two Big Help issues each year makes more jobseekers buy them. In other words, the Globe misleads jobseekers twice a year into thinking the job market has sweetened dramatically - and it hasn't.
    [But even without the two Big Helps per year, there are a larger volume of want ads than we would expect in a pre-depression job market, although we have not done the research on Globe want ads ithroughout 1928. Our theory is that the assumption is growing among employers that the pickiest of job qualifications can be satisfied by just advertising, no need to offer training. This assumption seems to be justified, despite the "low" spin given our unemployment rate, by the record numbers of resumes employers keep getting. The ever pickier ads in the normal flow of want ads function as a sort of pre-emptive strike against floods of resumés. [And before we leave this topic, let's pop the general question again -
    [Q - Why are there "so many help wanted ads"? A -

  • imperceptibly gradual rise in job requirements from employers
  • imperceptibly gradual lowering of employment compensation (excluding top executives' compensation)
  • imperceptibly gradual rise in employee turnover - many employers now stockpile application forms (and boilerplate want ads to massmail to media?) - Barbara Ehrenreich brought this up on Chris Lydon's Connection on NPR 1/18/99.]

    [Then there's this curious item -]
    1/9 [US Supreme] Court may widen disability law, Bloomberg News via Bos Globe, E2. giving protection to workers with high blood pressure, nearsightedness and other correctable medical problems. The high court agreed to review three cases that could decide whether tens of millions of workers are eligible to file a disability discrimination suit if an employer denies them a coveted job through a hiring, firing or promotion decision. A decision favoring workers likely would allow suits against companies over other treatable medical problems, including diabetes, depression and hearing impairments.
    [Question - If companies are really so desperate for workers, how come they are treating workers with such callousness in the first place? And how come the Supreme Court is so willing to widen the category of people whom they can potentially remove from the job market indefinitely as "disabled"?]

    [And a more straightforward item showing the domino effect of bankruptcy -]
    1/09 Caldor stops paying suppliers, Bloomberg via Bos Globe, E1. it tries to negotiate with creditors who want the company to sell its 145 stores. The discount retailer [has been] in Chapter 11 bankruptcy since 1995....

    1/08 All-star money grubbers, by Hilary Smyth, letter to editor, Bos Globe, A18.
    I would just like to comment on the money-grubbing found in professional athletics today.... It is much more enjoyable to watch high school or college games where the players are out to..\..excel on the court or playing field [and not in] the number of zeros in a player's salary....
    [Hey, maybe that's where CEOs got it! They're always using sports metaphors like "team" and "player" and all that other hypocrisy while they lay people off and collect 300 times the pay of ordinary employees. Didn't sports players start this first?]

    ["Another Nail in our Coffin" Dept.]
    1/06 US mulls plan to sell Ginnie Mae for $2.5b - Could prove largest sale ever of government agency, Bloomberg News via Bos Globe, C2.
    ...A sale of the profitable housing agency...would raise cash [for the federal government to fund Clinton administration priorities] though it would forgo more than $400 million a year in revenue from the agency.... The proposal would give Ginnie Mae [and the new private owners] the exclusive right to continue handling FHA and VA loans...for 10 to 15 years.
    [Great, let's raise taxes $400 million a year right now in preparation. And while we're giving away tax reducing income sources, let's privatize the national parks. We've already given away taxpayer income from sale of domain names on the internet and ISBNs on new book registration, both of which provide taxpayers relief in other countries, plus we're virtually giving away lumber on public lands and lumber roads to private lumbering companies, minerals to private mining companies, grazing to private cattle growers, water to the casino fountains in the desert in Las Vegas. How can national legislators call themselves taxcutters when practically everything they concentrates wealth and spreads tax pressures? Why don't we all just swig Guyana cocktails and self-destruct cleaner-fresher-smoother? The Ecological Age is upon us and we're slimed with legislators whose whole idea of long-term planning is deciding whether to have titillating witnesses on nationwide TV again tomorrow.]

    1/05/99 Manufacturing slows in Dec. - Weak US demand sinks key index to '91 low, by Eric Quinones, Boston Globe, p. C1.
    The [National Association of Purchasing Management] reported its monthly index of business activity fell to 45.1% in December its lowest level since May 1991 [the end of the last recession]. The results surprised economists, who had predicted the index would rise slightly from its November level of 46.8%. December marked the seventh consecutive month in which the index was below 50%, a sign of contraction in the industrial sector....
    The private [trade] group's report is compiled from a survey of corporate purchasing executives nationwide. It is widely followed because it is usually the first indicator of how the economy performed in the previous month. [It] showed American manufacturers were hurt by slowing domestic demand - already seen in the largely disappointing Christmas shopping season - on top of continued troubles abroad.... Exports continued to decline in December.... Prices dropped at a faster rate, a trend that plagued the manufacturing sector through all of 1998, and production declined at a faster clip as well. With struggling manufacturers being forced to cut jobs to save money, the sector's employment also dropped at a faster rate last month [and helped slow domestic demand further].
    [CEOs are going to continue to add fuel to their worst nightmare until they realize they're not "forced" to cut jobs to save money - they can always cut hours instead. And until they start sacrificing together with their employees by cutting hours for all instead of jobs for a few - and a few more - and a few more - they will be maximizing the general feeling of insecurity that leads to depression instead of minimizing it.]

    For earlier collapse stories, click on the desired date -

  • Dec/98.
  • Nov/98.
  • Oct/98.
  • Sep 16-30/98.
  • Sep 1-15/98.
  • Aug/98 and before.

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