Entrepreneur-in-Chief: The New Model City

4 01 2013

Jamelle Bouie, a moderate liberal writer for The American Prospect, tweeted this:

around the same time that Mick Dumke, a left-leaning Chicago Reader reporter, wrote this:
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It’s Chaos on the Shop Floor!

26 11 2012

For all but the smallest or most specialized of employers, a single employee’s refusal to work has a minimal effect. For all but a comparatively small portion of the workforce, an employer’s dismissal of an employee is devastating. These baldly true propositions underlie the basic, original organization of modern American labor policy.

I use the phrase “labor policy” because there isn’t a good term in popular use for what I’m trying to talk about. That belies a phenomenon we’ve noticed particularly over the last handful of years: increasing (visible) fissures on the political left between “neoliberals” or “left-neoliberals” and traditional progressives. That is, when labor or class issues crop up–Occupy, collective bargaining in Wisconsin, the Chicago teachers’ strike, the Hostess strike and bankruptcy, the Wal-Mart job actions–the former tend to be reflexively skeptical, the latter reflexively supportive, of the “labor position.”
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Labor Markets and the Jolly Monopoly

27 09 2012

I can’t believe I’m having to write this, but after a number of emails, twitter back-and-forths, and this fabulously stupid article by John Stossel at Reason, apparently it is in fact a thing that needs writing.

Critics of unions get easily worked up over the so-called “monopoly” that unions “enforce” in workplaces–their characterization of the requirement that upon a vote of employees, an employer must deal with an exclusive bargaining representative (i.e., a union) and may not cut individual deals. Basically, they say, if you work somewhere that is unionized, you are forced to join the union (this is technically untrue; at most, you are forced to pay an agency fee since the union is required by law to represent you); it is, they call it, “forced” rather than “free” association. Therefore it is the inverse of free association–and therefore it violates one of the most hallowed American rights, found right there in the First Amendment. Unions, unlike firms, get this “monopoly” power that they abuse to force people to pay dues. Outrageous.

Like so many reactionary arguments, it is elegantly simple and obvious until you spend an extra moment to think past the sloganeering.

Yes, in a superficial way unions act like monopolies–the sole “seller” of labor–in a single workplace or for a single employer. But that is only because the employer is a monopsonist–the sole “buyer” of labor. If you’re looking just at a single company, of course there is a sole “buyer” of labor–the single workplace. And if you’re in a situation where there is a single buyer, it only makes sense to allow the sellers to act like a single “seller”–that’s the only way they have equal bargaining power.
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Feminization of Insecurity in the New Economy

17 07 2012

What is productive work in an economy–real work, jobs that we value for adding value to an economy? What is it, in other words, that we value. What we value is a function of several decision-making processes; among them are the human–food, shelter, health, and personal security; the purely economic–those jobs that transform a basic or primary resource into something of use to others; and the moral–what humanity values for its metaphysical or numinous quality.

While the term is no longer en vogue, the public sector is conflated in civic discourse with the “nanny state”–it provides those supposedly superfluous services that are otherwise without real economic value. The government does “caretaker” work supposedly, and the term “nanny” state is not accidental. Much of public sector work is so-called “woman’s work,” work that often earns little more than sneers from champions of the private sector and its munificent spontaneous order. Public sector employees are teachers, librarians, social workers, case workers, child care providers, nurses, and so forth. As the public sector shrinks, the economic security of workers in these professions evaporates; and in the neoliberal climate of the last 30 plus years, growing the public sector once its been shrunk means that that economic security is unlikely to return.

Over the last three years of the recession, 80% of the net employment gains have gone to men, and despite the recession officially ending three years ago, the public sector has continued to lose jobs, and women have been disproportionately impacted by that trend.

This isn’t an accident, even if it isn’t a result of an organized effort by a particular cabal. In a policy atmosphere that hews to the idea that the market grants value to economic activity, and that “social engineering” produces quasi-immoral results, it is rational that historically “feminine” work will be under valued and discarded. It is perhaps true that in the short-term economic sense, elder care, social work, and teaching are not valuable. Support for such work requires a conscience decision by civic institutions. Even those private institutions that can turn a profit providing these services rely critically on government programs–either because they are directly contracted by government to provide them, or because government programs like Medicare, Medicaid, or TANF provide the main source of funds for their clientele.

It is of course just outmoded attitudes that characterize “caretaker” work as feminine in people’s minds; there is nothing inherently feminine about social work, or nursing, or child care. We’re conditioned to consider care taking work as feminine, and for that reason presumably women gravitate towards it (or more likely, men gravitate away from it, apologizing for the impossibility of something gravitating away from something).

But of course, given the structure of the mainstream American political left, it’s hard to make a moral case that repudiates the so-called “spontaneous order” of the market. Lip service is paid to a society that cares for the “less fortunate,” but in practice, the Democratic Party in particular can’t operate in a way that acts on these ambiguities.

And the problem remains multifarious. So long as these jobs are dominated by women, they’ll be undervalued, because women are undervalued; jobs that provide care will always be labor intensive, and thus hard to profit from, no matter what the increases in efficiency; because the wealthy–the choice consumer group–can always provide for their own care, the caretaking industries will always rely on socialized models anathema to those institutions and social cohorts who finance elections and employ lobbyists; and because of the dominance of the male worldview of labor, caretaking will not be considered “productive” work.

In the meantime, needed care goes unprovided, labor is further immiserated, and as so often in history, women carry the burden, particularly because given family structures, care that is not provided by society will be provided for free by women, women who already account for at least forty percent of breadwinners.





Life in the Neoliberal City: Post-Partisanship Wins!

29 06 2012

America’s big cities (and major metropolitan areas) are the laboratories of policy, if states are the laboratories of democracy. In metro areas and cities, universities, professional organizations, and trade associations and economic alliances are capable of exerting outsize influence and try to implement to approaches to social and economic problems that, again, are more easily identified and addressed because of high population concentrations in relatively small geographic areas.

Tell the nation! Draw near all ye with David Brooks columns bookmarked for other than hate reading purposes: Chicago and America’s big cities have achieved post-partisanship! The very post-partisanship our President talked about on the campaign trail. As the post-partisanship machine takes firmer hold of our cities, it will move upward, capillary-attraction speed, to the states, until finally–finally!–we achieve the post-partisanship paradise pundits prattle on and on about.

What does that post-partisanship look like? Let Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky tell you:

Welcome to part two in our ongoing series on the mayor’s millionaire’s club, in which we pore over the mayor’s daily appointment schedule with the aim of shedding light on how the mayor prioritizes his time–and his far-reaching connections…

[O]nce again, we found that his days were loaded with rich guys, campaign donors, powerful contractors, union busters, charter-school supporters, City Hall insiders, aldermanic brownnosers, and other favor seekers.

But during these three months Emanuel found time for another type of visitor: major funders of conservative attacks on President Obama. As such, the mayor’s calendar offers a glimpse of what passes for bipartisanship in Chicago–and shows the ways in which wealth and access, at least as much as party identity or ideology, have come to command the attention of politicians, leaving everyday people out of the conversation.

Meanwhile…

As a whole, appointments with neighborhood groups or community leaders were largely missing from the mayor’s schedule. [Amisha] Patel says her group’s requests for a meeting with the mayor have been ignored. She notes that Emanuel continues to find job subsidies for profitable corporations and developers at the same time he’s cutting library hours, neighborhood services, and public-sector positions. “Let’s talk about job creation but let’s do it in a full way.”

In fact, like many up-and-coming Republican stars, the mayor has shown a willingness–some would say an eagerness–to take on organized labor, especially the teachers union. He’s also an avowed supporter of charter schools, paying them about as many visits, and arguably more attention, as he does regular public schools.

Post-partisanship means staying away from the organized (and thus cantankerous) disaffected and powerless, and hew to the already powerful and wealthy who must know what’s best.

If this were just a Chicago phenomenon, it may be dismissed as yet another quirk of Chicago’s sui generis politics.

It’s not though! Phew, right? Post-partisanship lives to fight another day! In the form of…
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Vacuous Deference and the Affordable Care Act

28 06 2012

During oral arguments on the Affordable Care Act, Justices asked the challengers of the bill if they wanted to see a return to the “Lochner era.” The bill’s challengers strenuously denied this was their aim. The term refers to the era of Supreme Court jurisprudence after the turn of the last century, when the Court repeatedly struck down state statutes regulating workers hours, overtime pay, child labor, and the like, on the grounds that they violate a nebulous “freedom of contract.” The name refers to the case Lochner v. New York, a case striking down a New York statute setting wages and conditions for bakers and confectioners. The Lochner era was characterized close judicial scrutiny of legislatures’ determination of social ills and the best means to address them. In other words, the Justices were concerned that striking down the ACA would set a precedent of lack of judicial deference to legislatures’ political judgment.

I was of the belief that Chief Justice Roberts would not vote to strike down the minimum coverage requirement of the Act as a whole, for two reasons: first, because invalidate a law so hotly debated, that resulted from intense negotiation between massive political and economic interests (not just between parties) in an election year, would forever tarnish his name and his Court as the politicized Supreme Court. Second, because as the Chief Justice, he could by voting with the upholding majority, author the opinion and narrowly limit the holding. These two dynamics certainly won out when weighed against the potential risks and rewards of creating a nebulous line between “activity/inactivity” that the dissent encourages and striking down the law.

Indeed, Justice Roberts hewed to some basic canons in Supreme Court jurisprudence: don’t judge a statute as policy; defer to the legislature’s judgment as to findings of facts and potential remedies; and, if a statutory provision can be considered constitutional in any way, it should stand. In other words, be deferential to the legislature. That deference cuts both ways.

He got the best of both worlds: he upheld the statute, avoiding the firestorm that would have resulted from a murky decision, but also reinforced the Court’s traditional deference to the legislature particularly on its use of the taxing power. Reading the opinion, Roberts’ elan and cunning shines through. Scholars are going to be all over this bad boy for the next decade.

Ultimately, the Court avoided the more exacting “Lochner deference” standard for economic legislation that requires a legislature to prove that their statute address an actual problem, and that the means they’ve chosen will certainly achieve those ends.

That’s good news. The legislature is the most frequently elected body of government, thus the most accountable; and it is the largest, thus most representative. It should be afforded deference in all but a handful of narrow categories of legislation.

It has also become hopelessly manipulated by corporate and cash influence, such that elections are perennially losing efficacy, and lobbyist power neuters what change is made at the ballot box–for an example, look at the Affordable Care Act itself.

Americans largely supported the public option, but it was a non-starter not for electoral reasons but because of the power of a handful of very wealthy and influential lobbies, particularly AHIP, the insurance trade association that made it clear that the public option was unacceptable to them.

In a post-Citizens United electoral landscape, expanding deference to the legislature is not necessarily a victory for progressives. It indicates very little risk for elites. In the Lochner era, the Court was applying minimal deference as a reaction to populist legislation fighting the excesses of capital. In the current era, applying generous deference just enables capital’s excess as it is expressed through the legislature. Deference to the legislature is in other words a neutral value.

What’s more, Justice Roberts’ narrow holding–that the minimum coverage requirement was constitutional as a taxing-and-spending power, not a commerce clause power–makes the jurisprudential effect of the decision even less problematic for the political right. Taxation is always less-than-popular. In the big-cash-as-speech era, expansive deference to Congress’ power to impose and spend new taxes is judicial deference to political poison.

Ultimately, the Court held that the minimum coverage requirement or individual mandate is constitutional not under the Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the power to regulate commerce “among the several States” (Art I, Sec. 8), but because it operates like a tax. If Congress wants to tax you for not having health insurance, a risk-taking behavior that potentially creates costs for others, they can do that. What they cannot do, Roberts says, is use the Commerce clause to induce people to buy a product. The Court held this explicitly.

The government briefed an alternative to their Commerce Clause argument, that the mandate was constitutional under Congress’ explicit power to lay and collect taxes for the public welfare. It was this alternative argument that Roberts accepted. Roberts is winning praise from progressive and moderate commentators for his deference to the political judgment of legislators–but the fact that he accepted this alternative argument means that that deference is qualified. The Commerce Clause is not a near-boundless grant of power for Congress to regulate social and economic relations.

Whether the case was “rightly decided” is not particularly interesting. The act of judicial restraint in not invalidating a statute because it is clumsy was appropriate. As a piece of precedent, the holding that the Commerce Clause does not justify consumer mandates is fairly politically neutral; recall that the individual mandate was originally a conservative idea. The precedent of deference shown to Congress’ taxing-and-spending power tracks with historical treatment of Congress’ taxing-and-spending power (see for example South Dakota v. Dole) and, in the big-money era of electoral wheel-spinning for progressives, such deference doesn’t promise anything new.

On the ramifications of the policy actually moving forward, more to come.





Privatization, Non-Profits, and Disinheriting the Public

26 06 2012

Privatization has been accelerating at break-neck speed (and in ludicrous ways) the last thirty years or so, in part because of the decline in government revenues and the general growth of the neoliberal consensus that assumes the profit motive brings with it ideal efficiency. It is also an efficient means of weakening the labor movement, because employees of a government contractor are covered by a different, considerably weaker, set of labor laws than employees of a state actor.

But privatization isn’t new; in fact, privatization of public services was quite common back in the day, and by back in the day I mean ancient Rome.

The late Roman Republic grew quickly as a result of conquests and voluntary ceding. There was no time to inculcate Roman civic values and grow the necessary institutions to ensure administration along Roman lines. Instead, what the Roman Senate, Consuls, and other governing bodies did to guarantee the provisioning of necessary public services and the gathering of taxes was to contract powerful local men, called Publicans, to provide these services and gather these taxes.

The Publicans in turn grew immensely wealthy with these government contracts, and thus were able to flex significant political muscle in Rome itself, through the buying of tribal leaders in elections and the funding of foreign adventures for ambitious soldiers and politicians. It was a textbook rent-seeking loop.

The privatization craze may be leading to similar results in the U.S. (hopefully without the foreign adventures, although, you know; military-industrial complex). Stories have been popping up with increasing frequency indicating that privatizing the provisioning of public goods is creating wealth, but not, you know, provisioning public goods any more efficiently.

First, here’s Paul Krugman on the privatization of the prison industry–he touches on several of the key points, so I’m quoting at length:
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