Good News in Jun. 16-30, 1999
[Commentary] ©1998,1999 Phil Hyde, The Timesizing Wire, Box 622, Cambridge MA 02140 USA (617) 623-8080
6/30/99 Consumer confidence is highest since '68, New York Times, p. C2.
[This particular index would have been soaring all through the Roaring '20s too. Do they survey people in the inner city? Do they survey our world #2 prison population? Betcha this 'random' survey is glaringly skewed.]
...suggesting to some that the Federal Reserve might raise interest rates more than once to rein in spending.
[Keynes once suggested that half the population should get paid to bury bottles of money for the other half dig them up (General Theory, chap.10, sec.VI). That's basically what we're doing in this inefficient, wheel-spinning, job-insecure, spending-scared economy. Why the fear of spending? Inflation. Our current weapon against inflation? Job insecurity. The locus of job insecurity has gone from a 'high' unemployment rate to a constant beat of mergers, reorgs and downsizings. This has a dampening effect on economic growth, an effect deemed necessary under current 'wisdom' by the need to control inflation.
[But there's another way to control inflation that has never been tried as an intentional policy, just as an unexpected (but positive) side effect. Bonding a diverse population together by the principle of "all sacrifice together, starting at the top." This usually only happens during wartime, but it does serve to control the tremendously wage-push inflation pressures of wartime labor shortage. True, we needed price-fixing during the war but enough people were willing to play the game during the war that it worked during the war, and it hasn't since. War sets a kind of cap on the ultimate root and source of inflation = the need of the rich minority of the population for infinite incentives. "But there's a war on," they say to one another when the suggestion arises to indulge in a particularly showy luxury. Caps stop inflation.
[The Timesizing cap is the one on the workweek. It's easier to cap work than money. It's easier to share work than money, because when you take work away from someone, you give him back leisure, rest, free time, but when you take money away from someone, it's not so clear what you're giving him back. And Timesizing takes work away from the overworked in the most optional possible way. When Timesizing lowers the workweek, you have the option to either stop work and leave the overtime for someone else, keep working and reinvest the overtime earnings in training or hiring, or keep the overtime earnings and have them taxed away by the government who will then do the reinvestment you should have done. In any case, this approach induces people to gravitate into jobs where they could work overtime and reinvest - in other words, jobs they love. And whereas the money motive is inflationary, job love is deflationary. As the economy as a whole comes to a better balance of job satisfaction and money motive, inflationary pressures from the latter are balanced by deflationary pressures from the former. Ergo, a new, non-fear-based inflation-control device. As we said in the '60s, "make love, not war."]
6/29 US consumers earning more, spending more and saving less, Bloomberg via NY Times, C12.
[But it's the wrong group of consumers - not the ones with the big money. That means it helps...]
...prolong the economic expansion as consumers go deeper into debt, Government figures showed today....
[You can't get a clearer definition of economic "bubble" than that. Plus the statement that people are "earning more" is always suspect of being inflated by the inclusion of astronomical top-executive pay jumps. Check out also the related article, "New investments in stock mutual funds declined sharply in May," Bloomberg via NYT, C14.]
Economists say consumers are more willing to take on new debt and home-equity loans to pay for their purchases because high stock prices are inflating household assets....
[We disagree. High stock prices are affecting only a minority of consumers. Only a minority of families own stock and only a minority of them don't have it all tied up in pensions, IRAs and 401Ks. Our explanation for the deeper indebtedness? The ever higher pressure from credit card firms to sign you up and hide their fees, for example, they trumpet NO ANNUAL FEE and hide their extortionate late fee which they can hit you with twelve times annually even if you're only one day late with a payment on a $25 balance. We say, give us back the annual fee!
[Another reason? People are desperately trying to maintain their living standards into the change of the millennia, or even through one last 20th-century, 2nd-millennium summer - the "eat, drink & be merry, for tomorrow we die" syndrome. And a dash of "après moi, le déluge!" adapted to "moi this summer, and maybe September, and possibly the first week of Oct?" It's the "snuggling into the last days" syndrome that makes people cherish autumn. But no need to worry, folks. Someone has actually designed a gradual way out of our economic bubble on top and rot underneath - us - and of course, we're talking about Timesizing and its unending family of economic upgrades. On the Timesizing path are many resting places. More rest is one of the big options when you're sharing the technology-diminished work. And since we've now invented the supreme machine, the computer, as soon as any task, however new or complex, becomes standardized or routine, it can be computerized....]
6/26 Covance and Parexel cancel their merger, Reuters via New York Times, p. B3 (NE).
...Two of the top drug development companies in the United States agreed yesterday to end their planned merger, originally valued at more that $600 million. The two companies said they had decided the merger would not have been in the best interest of shareholders....
[Or employees, or customers, but who thinks about them nowadays?]
[Is the Boston Globe waking up?- 2nd big story in 2 days (frontpage this time!) on longer hours - ]
6/25 The harder we work [the behinder we get] - An economy in overdrive gives few the chance to slow down, by Kimberly Blanton, Bos Globe, front page.
...While economists crow about the rising productivity of US workers, workplace specialists say that many people are working harder as well as longer hours....
[Oh now that's real progress for you. Evermore technology, more efficiency, more productivity, and longer and longer hours. What happened to "work smart, not hard"? Our fixed-workweek society gave us such a hidden and insecure labor glut, that CEOs could forget about real people management and just trash any employees who gave the slightest indication of "trouble", regardless of how the increasingly moody and spoiled executives might condescend to define "trouble" at the moment. Never mind that the more people they laid off and pay-squeezed, the less markets they had - they always had a simple answer to any flatness in their markets = downsize some more! Technology isn't an extension and servant of man, it's a replacement!]
To be sure, Americans, in the view of other cultures, have always been "overworked." Italy has its lunch feasts, Mexico its siestas.... Employees are being asked [make that "pressured"] to do more; often they are expected to.
[And why does the pressure work? Because people are scared. They have no job security. There may be a skill shortage, but there is a labor surplus. The labor surplus is the cause of the skill shortage, because employers have so much choice of job candidates that they can raise their qualifications repeatedly and pick whatever skill combination they want right off the job-market shelves. They have absolutely no motivation to pay for training. Look at the wording of the section before the last sentence above - ]
..\..With US unemployment at a 29-year low of 4.2%...employers cannot find enough people to handle all the work coming in the door....
[They've omitted a key word - make that "cannot find enough SKILLED people" - because employers are so spoiled, their expectations are so high, and they don't train.]
Workplace experts said surveys of salaried managers clearly show that they are working more than a 40-hour week, and would like to reduce their time at work. Kathleen Christensen [of the Sloan Foundation] said a study sponsored by her organization found that well-educated professionals and managers "increasingly are at risk of working 50-plus hours" but are compensated for only 40 hours.
[Great, "well-educated" morons - giving charity to the rich and building the downward pressures on their own pay at the same time by strangling skill transfer (overtime does that) and working for nothing.]
Indeed, both men and women executives and managers seem to view the eight-hour day as a quaint convention, one that is unrealistic....
[Fine, let's go back to the nine-hour day of 1900. Let's go back to the ten-hour day of 1875. Let's go back to the 11-hour day of 1850. Let's go back to the 12-hour day of 1825 - after all, it survived for a century in Big Steel until the 1920s! What the hell, let's legalize the unlimited workweek of slavery again which we stupidly abolished in the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. But it's so "realistic" to work all the time (and of course we're too professional and managerial to stoop to getting paid overtime) that we've got to make sure that slavery is legal for us whites, this time. Boy, we wouldn't want to miss out on it, would we. It's so "realistic" and "professional" and "managerial." [All sarcasm aside, if we're still working 40, let alone 50, 60 or more hours a week in a society with our levels of technology, we're living Model T lives. We're Stanley Steamers. We're buggywhip makers. We're spinning wheels, in more ways than one. Again, paying lip service to "freedom" without the most basic freedom, Free Time, is pretty pathetic.]
6/25 Federal Reserve has a long-term agenda (NYT) and a social program (BG)!
6/24 Takeover cancelled - $65m communications: DC-based Iridium LLC , NYT, C4.
...a global-communications services concern, terminated a contract to purchase Claircom Communications Group Inc., a provider of in-flight telephone services. Iridium had agreed in December to buy Claircom for $65 million.
[Good. Smart move.]
6/24 Lower unemployment insurance tax rates seen bringing [11,358 new Mass. jobs next year], by Diane Lewis, Bos Globe, D11.
...according to a study released yesterday by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University [in Boston]. Under current laws, the unemloyment tax will drop from 0.83% to 0.65% of all payrolls between the years 2000 and 2003. The formula could create jobs if employers choose to increase payrolls rather than profits....
[What are the chances? Governor Celucci evidently has a plan that would accelerate the tax drop and create more jobs sooner. Voodoo economics? Currently, Massachusetts companies pay an average of $317/person for everyone collecting unemployment insurance in the state.]
The payments are deposited into a trust fund that is reserved for laid-off employees.
[But everyone currently collecting is presumably laid off, so why bother with a trust fund for future layoffs??]
Under Gov. Celluci's plan, employers would pay an average of $270 per employee between 2000 and 2002.
[Isn't Celucci the guy who couldn't balance his checkbook? We're sorry, Diane, but this story is not very clear.]
[Ford plans factory in Russia.]
6/23 Russian financial eclipse is an opportunity for Ford - A preliminary deal [with the Russian gov't] to put $150 million in to a big new plant near St. Petersburg, by Neela Banerjee, NYT, C11.
6/23 Commerce report describes economic benefits from Internet, NY Times, C8.
...The information technology industry - which includes everything from Dell's PCs to Microsoft's software to Cisco Systems routers - generated at least a third of the nation's economic growth between 1995 and 1998, the Commerce Dept. said in a report released today. During that period, the GDP rose 22%, to $8.7 trillion.... [The report] says that almost half of all American workers will be employed in high-technology industries or at companies that rely heavily on technology by 2006....
Workers in information technology have been at least twice as productive as other workers from 1990 to 1997 and earn 78% more than other workers, the report said....
[Oh? And who's getting the other 22%? Could it possibly be disappearing into the astronomically bloated paychex of the top execs? This obviously can't continue because as productivity rises exponentially and wages only rise arithmetically, the economy performs a disastrous "reverse Malthusian."]
"Internet activity is driving deflationary boom conditions," said Ed Hyman, an economist for the ISI Group in New York. "It's official."
[This is not an unmitigated "benefit." Watch for the deflation to go "runaway" due to inadequate spending power, due to inadequate centrifuging of earnings, ergo - Great Depression II. Timesizing solves this by rationing the availabilty of the workforce to the job market, harnessing market forces to raise wages to a productivity-intake capable level, and solidifying the whole economic bubble into sustainability vs. the ever more menacing phantom of economic collapse.]
6/22 Mellon Bank offers [450 stock] options to [each employee], NYT, C8 (NE).
...over three years to align the interests of shareholders and company staff members. The stock program will help employees "think and act like owners, which will serve our customers better," said Martin McGuinn...who took over as chairman...on Jan.1. Mellon said the stock option program would cut earnings by 3¢ in 3 years if all of its employees exercised their options in that...period.
[Any step in this direction is positive. However, non-employee shareholders are absentee owners and can never have the same stake in the company as those directly dependent upon it for their livelihood. So ideally Mellon would continue this practice until employees owned the majority of the stock, thus insulating Mellon against the notoriously short-term (not to say speculative) perspective of the absentee owners on Wall Street. The general category of stock plans for employees is known as ESOPs = employee stock ownership plans.
[The Timesizing approach goes further and welds the interests of employees and managers together across the participating population, however large. This integration of interests is accomplished via a common but fluctuating reinvestment threshold marking the top of the regular workweek. Any work over that threshold is optional and voluntary, in the sense that it is unpressured and result in all financial consideration being plowed back into the relevant base skills in terms of hiring and/or training. The movement of the threshold (and therefore the length of the regular workweek) varies inversely with the unemployment rate among the participating population, and unemployment is redefined by referendum to include all livelihood-related dependency and risk (such as standard unemployment, welfare, disability, homelessness, prison, and forced part time and self-employment). Timesizing thus implements a policy of "everyone sacrifices together, starting at the top (where it hurts least)."]
6/21 Another boom year for home building - More minorities buying, but disparities continue
, by Maria Puente, USA Today, 3A.
...In 1998, home sales reached new peaks; housing starts topped 1.6 million units; and the value of residential construction reached an all-time high..\..intensifying urban sprawl and leaving out the working poor....With mortgage interest rates and unemployment rates at 30-year lows, the national home-ownership rate hita record 66.3% in 1998.... Says Nicolas Retsinas, director of [Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies] the...leading research center on housing in the USA...a flourishing housing market reinforces the economy.... Total spending on home building and remodeling hit $300 billion in 1998 - up 9% over the year before....
[Re "intensifying urban sprawl" - ]
...Development is increasingly concentrated in medium- and low-density counties on the fringe of metropolitan areas or beyond..\..
[In short, doing more with more, not less. This means that there is a definite ecological limit to the amount we can use "the housing solution" - in this form - to preserve our economic bubble, just as there's a limit to which we can use the trade "solution," the charity "solution," or the related government job creation "solution." Sooner or later we're going to have to stop straining to save a critically flawed system - with fixed workweeks and an unlimited centripetal force on wealth - and share - in the first instance, that means sharing the diminishing work and concentrating skills. Burmashave - oops, we mean Timesizing.]
...New kinds of mortgages that allow for lower down payments have helped fuel the boom....
[That's another "solution" we can't continue forever - consumer debt.]
More minorities and immigrants are buying homes. Minorities account for 30% of first-time homebuyers, up from 19% in 1985.... However...homeownership rates for whites top 70%, while rates for blacks and Hispanics barely hit 45%. "It's one of the ironies of all this prosperity; we have barely made a dent in the disparities," Retsinas said.
[You can say that again, pal.]
6/20 Yes folks, today The Timesizing Wire goes national (and international!) by switching its main newspaper source to the New York Times. Wednesday (6/16) was the last straw. The Boston Globe had only 3 merger stories and no downsizings. The Times had TWELVE merger stories and a mass relocation (4,000 people) that amounted to a downsizing because most of them would not be able to move. Plus we figured if we didn't upshift to the national level with our unique contrarian-but-design-based-optimistic critique, somebody else would. This will give Canada and the rest of the world more reason to scope our site, because the NY Times is the closest this country has to a national newspaper, USA Today and the Boston Globe, Washington Post, LA Times, Philly Enquirer, and Christian Science Monitor notwithstanding.
6/20 For Democracy in Unions, Pair Defies Labor Leaders - In Washington State, a ballot initiative 'as American as apple pie,' by Steven Greenhouse, NY Times, 14 (NE).
SEATTLE - ...Jamie Newman and another bus driver [Johnny Jackson, are] using a website and a network of friends to...collect signatures \to place Initiative 702\ on the state ballot this November - a measure that would would instill more democracy in unions....
[We never did understand how unions thought they were going to gain power by practicing the same kind of dictatorship as CEOs.]
"What we're doing is lighting a fire," said Ms. Newman.... "Many people just don't get involved in union matters because there's so little democracy." But many union leaders [are] convinced that it will fuel factionalism...and weaken unions' ability to stand up to management.... The state AFL-CIO issued a leaflet calling it "unnecessary, dangerous and illegal."
[Well, Winston Churchill once said of our great American democracy that it was like a sleeping lion - it took a long time to awaken, but once roused, there was no stopping it.
[Here at The Timesizing Wire, we are all in favor of more, fuller, deeper and more direct democracy through referendums and ballot initiatives. The future sure is not in the other direction! Why should little Switzerland with its many referendums have more democracy than us?!
[And don't give us that bull about "it can work in Switzerland because it's smaller, but not here." Switzerland is still 5.5 million people in 15 cantons or "county-states." Solve the problems for 5.5 million people and you've solved them for, what are we now, 200 million?!
[Let's get moving toward Buckminster Fuller's dream of 24-hour telephone referendums! What? you're afraid of your fellow citizens?! Then maybe this thrust is what we need to give direction and goals to our floundering "education" system. And recall that other Churchill line - something like "Sure democracy is a louzy system, but the others are much worse."
[Referendums are Phase One of the Timesizing public-sector program. They are the only way we're going to get beyond the logjam in Congress and take the hard, ecology-forced decisions that the people are so far ahead of their "leaders" on. Plus it's a lot easier to make tough tradition-breaking decisions on a secret ballot in the boondocks than on a public rollcall in Congress. Does anyone suppose the NRA would have an iota of power in a nationwide referendum on the availability of military weapons in America?
[Maybe some progress is held up by referendums - Switzerland only gave women the vote in 1971 and Colorado had some anti-gay referendums - but when the whole public makes a decision, it costs a lot more for special interests to buy the result than with just 535 Senators and "Representatives" and the later vacillation rate won't be as high. And wouldn't you rather know the real attitudes of the majority of people around you so you can move elsewhere if they turn out to be really weird?
[Honestly, Americans, isn't it time we got our old money-drowned democracy into the 20th Century of direct Swiss-style democracy, let alone the 21st Century of 24-hour issue-oriented telephone referendums or the 3rd Millennium of direct citizen-determined earmarking of one's own tax payments?! We're getting very BORED over here at the Timesizing Wire. Let's get GOING on some real social, political and economic PROGRESS! And that might just take some real experimentation.]
[Dual ecojoy - ]
6/20 U.S. aims to have 5% of electricity from wind by 2020 foresight - Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has a plan to harness wind power, by Matthew Wald, NYT, 17 (NE).
6/20 Grand Canyon blazing trail with light rail..., by James Brooke, NYT, 14 (NE).
[Colleague Kate Jurow is a Canyon Sister - 10 dauntless dames who hike the Grand Canyon once or twice a year. Their leader is gorgeous, former pistol-packing park ranger, *Denise Traver, and plucky Denise's lucky husband is Brad, who features in this "spread the rail" tale of the trail (& the Grand Canyon RR already has low-pollution oil-fired steam engines in service from the park to the highway!) - ]
..."It's going to take time for people to embrace this new way of seeing national parks," said Bradley Traver, the park's chief planner.... "If we run diesel-belching monsters for buses, we are part of the problem," Mr. Traver said. Air pollution has cut visibility at the canyon to an average of 110 miles, from 140 miles at the start of the century....
6/19 G-7 [don't they mean G-8 now with Russia?!] offers aid to poor nations - Plans to relieve countries of debt load that has hampered development, by Charles Babington, Washington Post via Boston Globe, p. F1.
COLOGNE [= KÖLN] - ...The program...could eliminate up to $90 billion in debts owed by nearly three dozen impoverished countries, provided they steer the savings mainly to education and health programs, especially AIDS prevention. Without such relief,...the debtor countries will continue to sufrer high rates of child mortality, illiteracy and HIV infection. The agreement "is an historic step to help the world's poorest nations [blah blah blah]," President Clinton said. "It represents a sound, humane effort to promote widely shared prosperity [blah blah blah]"....
[There's a lot of self-congratulatory rhetoric around this offer. Note it's not simply "sharing prosperity" but "representing an effort to promote shared prosperity." All that verbosity involves a lot of middlemen and we suspect by the time it passes through them, it'll just be a trickle. The offer is clearly part self-serving good and part fog-spreading bad. Good is the self-serving focus on AIDS. Bad is the deeper fogginess twixt foreign loans and foreign aid, and the disincentive to further loans. So to summarize: AIDS and aid.]
6/19 Record 3.2 million working in Mass. - But jobless rate inches up in May, by Kimberley Blanton, Bos Globe, F1.
[The total number working is irrelevant. Let's cut through the cheerleading and get down to a more basic and meaningful level. What we need to know, for our long-term survival as a large biosystem, is our parasite rate. We can soften this for the faint-hearted by calling it our "dependency rate." That's the total of our unemployed, under-employed (=falling consumption = forced part-time plus forced self-"employed"), disabled, on-welfare, homeless, and imprisoned divided by the total of that plus our amply employed workforce. That figure would be deep in double digits, because the only places where wages aren't stagnant or sinking are spot shortages of seasonal cheap labor such as that noted on today's frontpage article about Cape Cod.]
6/18 Torn union - Reforms by official of carpenters drills rift in union's 22,000 members, by Diane Lewis, Bos Globe, C1.
[Let's just lock in the good news here.]
...In the two years since he was elected secretary-treasurer of the 22,000-member New England Regional Council of Carpenters, [David] Bergeron has...brought in 1,700 new members....
[That's 8% - no mean feat in an age of entropy for unions!]
Supporters say the...labor leader's whirlwind pace has breathed new life into a moribund union.... If asked to describe Bergeron in one word, his supporters would say "persistent".... While serving as business manager of Carpenters Local 108 in Springfield, Bergeron doggedly pursued an East Hartford contractor who was hiring undocumented, nonunion workers at cheap wages. After a five-year war, Bergeron got the contractor to sign an agreement, by luring away his best drywallers and promising them union jobs that paid $3 to $5 more per hour plus benefits. Then, he sent organizers to apply for their jobs [don't you LOVE this! - at last, a smart union guy!], and hauled them into court for refusing to hire them [yyyyyes!]....
[Now if this guy is really smart, he will help get the union movement back on the major goal it abandoned at the start of its current long-term decline - the goal of shorter hours. Control of working hours is the one key to labor leverage and bargaining power. The ability to establish a maximum workweek is superior even to wage-setting leverage, because a labor surplus will always undermine higher wages, while a labor shortage will always correct inadequate wages by natural market forces.
[Today we have a surplus of labor and a shortage of skills. And the shortage of skills is caused by the surplus of labor, because it lets CEOs impose on labor insecurity and desperation to supply skill training, either directly by labor paying for courses or indirectly by labor pressuring government to beef up and relevantize education. CEOs get lazier and lazier, and the skill gap, especially in an age of fast-changing technology, gets wider and wider. Result. No training anywhere except abroad (India for high tech, Czech Republic for tool&die/machinists,...) and CEOs constantly wailing about worker shortage - without raising wages or providing training.
[There is NO FUTURE in this. We need to take the middle way we ignorantly shunned as socialist in 1933 (before veering left and actually getting into a lot of socialism in the "new Deal") and cut the workweek to levels more in line with our onrushing technology. Job creation has not worked apart from war. We need work sharing and wsork spreading, not more strained and artficial job creation to preserve some outdated shibboleth of a fixed-level workweek. Human work is slowly disappearing - that's the whole point of technology = to take it off our hands. That absolutely REQUIRES reduced workweeks if we're not going to keep bunching up all the work and skills and earnings on a few people - and downsizing our consumers. On this threshold of the Third Millennium, LET'S GET GOING ON THIS! Heaven awaits, compared with the time bind of the vanishing middle class that we've got now, and our burgeoning subway grates and prisons for the poor.]
6/17 Fed: US economy strong, inflation 'well behaved', Bloomberg via Bos Globe, D17.
["The fundamental business of the country...is on a sound and prosperous basis." Press statement, President Herbert Hoover, 10/25/29 (four days before the Crash - see "Oh Yeah?" from the Viking Press, p. 11.) At any rate, we still have some time to keep polishing the key to faster progress for all of us, not just a few, via weaning ourselves from fixed- to fluid-workweek economics.]
6/16/99 Head of Internet Body Attacks Network Solutions, by Jeri Clausing, New York Times (web), p. B10?, or
Battle Over Internet Names Escalates, no byline, NYT (Boston hardcopy), C11.
WASHINGTON - In the latest sign of escalating tension between the Internet's new oversight body and [the] monopoly on the lucrative business of registering names in the Internet's top-level domains: .com, .net and .org..., Esther Dyson, interim chairperson of the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers..\..asked for [Ralph] Nader's help in breaking up the [Network Solutions Inc.] monopoly....
[And as we've mentioned before, we believe the only economy in the world that has this vital public service in private hands is, big ol' dumb us, i.e., the US of A.
[We're always complaining about taxes, yet the government like the Post Office largely pay for itself if we'd stop these outrageous giveaways to private companies like Network Solutions, and private industries like lumbering, mining, fishing.... The argument for these giveaways is always the same tired whine - JOBS. If we'd quit straining for job creation and just spread the existing natural employment, we'd get out of this stupid Catch 22 and save all the corporate welfare and lots of taxes. We could spread the employment by cutting the workweek to a level more appropriate to our high technology levels, as determined by our unemployment rate broadened to include welfare, disability, homelessness, and prisons.