Work and the politics thereof

Jason Willick:

Since election night 2016, liberal pundits have debated whether Donald Trump won because of “economic anxiety” or “cultural resentment.” According to Oren Cass, “these aren’t different things.” The real issue, the Manhattan Institute scholar says, is work. Whether and how people are employed—what their role is in society’s productive system—“is both an economic and cultural question.”

Karl Marx speculated that workers with leisure time would “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner.” He was wrong. People out of the labor force—especially men—are more likely to be “sleeping and watching TV” than hunting or fishing, Mr. Cass says. Unemployment, more than any of life’s other rough patches, leads to unhappiness and family breakdown. People want to “know what our obligations are, and feel that we’re fulfilling them,” he adds. When this foundation of society starts to crumble, political upheaval tends to follow.

Those who pin Mr. Trump’s victory on “economic anxiety” often advocate directing more government spending to people the economy has left behind. But, says Mr. Cass, the “further down the income ladder you go, generally speaking, the less enthusiasm there is for redistribution as a solution. People will tell you they want to work.” He adds: “It’s when you get to the top of the income distribution that you find a whole lot of people are basically like, ‘Why can’t I just write a check?’ ”

The most extreme version of this impulse is the idea of a universal basic income—a regular government outlay for every citizen, whether they are working or not. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign workshopped a version of the UBI, and California Sen. Kamala Harris has proposed an expansion of the earned-income tax credit that would have a similar effect. Mr. Cass expects more policy proposals along these lines “once the bidding war among the 2020 Democrats heats up.” He says the UBI trend reflects an ideology that has gained traction in Silicon Valley and among the “technocratic elite” generally, which professes that “we can engineer away all our problems” without political choices that may be uncomfortable for the upper-middle class.

Mr. Cass, 35, has spent most of his life among that technocratic elite. He started as a junior consultant at Bain & Company out of Williams College. A few years later he took a six-month leave to work on Mitt Romney’s 2008 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Afterward, Mr. Cass enrolled in Harvard Law School to deepen his understanding of public policy. “Law school is a lot of fun if you’re not there to be a lawyer,” he quips. He worked for the next Romney operation in 2011 between his second and third years at Harvard, and ended up with so much in his portfolio that at the end of the summer “they sort of said, well, you have to stay.” He became domestic-policy director while still in law school.

Returning to Bain after the election, Mr. Cass started writing on environmental and labor policy for National Review. His work caught the attention of the Manhattan Institute, which hired him as a senior fellow in 2015. His new book, “The Once and Future Worker,” grew out of responses to Mr. Trump’s 2016 victory.

Many public-policy experts, Mr. Cass said, saw the defeat of both party establishments as a marketing issue: “Maybe we haven’t done a good enough job explaining how great everything is.” Mr. Cass disagrees. Can working-class Americans “buy more cheap stuff? Absolutely. And do we now transfer more money to them, so they can buy even more cheap stuff? Yes,” he says. “But their ability to participate meaningfully in the labor market, and to become self-sufficient supporters of families has eroded badly.”

Mr. Cass believes the problems of wage stagnation and low labor-force participation “predate the slow growth” of the Obama years. Since the 1970s, he argues, both parties have shifted away from prioritizing work and adopted a “grow and redistribute” economic model that leaves low-skilled Americans with fewer opportunities and incentives to secure well-paid jobs.

And no, it isn’t because all the jobs are becoming automated. “In almost all cases, technology is a complement” to work, not a substitute—in fact, it increases workers’ value. Cases like toll collectors, where machines obviate the need for a human worker, “turn out to be really hard to come up with.” Moreover, new technologies may take decades to be adopted widely. Computers were first developed in the 1940s, he notes, and yet “we’re just now figuring out how to actually deploy them effectively in, like, your local HR organization.”

Nor is the decline of less-skilled work a result of the “knowledge economy” and “service economy” crowding out demand for physical goods. “We can see what the richest Americans consume,” Mr. Cass says, “and that marginal income doesn’t go to digital downloads and yoga lessons.” Or at least, it “also goes to bigger houses and bigger cars, and more furniture, and more clothes, and more electronic devices.” As society gets wealthier, there will still be demand for physical things. In health care, for example, there has been a well-publicized growth in services, Mr. Cass says, “but there’s also a tremendous amount in complex devices, in new and more complex drugs that are more difficult to manufacture.”

Mr. Cass thinks the idea that immutable forces are hollowing out the labor market is meant in part to “absolve the economists and policy makers of any blame” for reducing the viability of less-skilled work. Take environmental policy. “The trade-off that you would strike between environmental quality and industrial activity, if you’re earning $200K in an office,” Mr. Cass says, “is very, very different from the balance that you would strike if you were earning $35K, and trying to make ends meet in the industrial economy.” Environmental Protection Agency regulations have grown so tight “that Brussels, the capital of the EU, would be the single dirtiest city in the U.S., if it were here,” he says.

Draconian environmental policies are the result of a cost-benefit analysis that discounts the interests of workers. “Environmentalists have essentially consumerized air quality,” Mr. Cass says. “We now monetize the value of clean air as something that you essentially get to consume.” For less well-off households, “the EPA is claiming that the air quality that it is delivering is worth almost as much as all of the market income a household has.”

This is the same thinking that has led some policy makers to believe UBI can be a substitute for work; in both cases, the emphasis is on people’s well-being as consumers, not the well-being that comes from having a job and doing it well.

As a result, Mr. Cass says, regulations severely undermine employment in “the segments of society that can least bear them.” Such interventions “may very well have been perfectly appropriate for the situation in the 1970s,” when the Clean Air Act was passed, but they haven’t been adapted to America’s current social challenges.

Mr. Cass thinks a consumerist bias has similarly led U.S. trade policy with China astray. Policy makers rightly judge that Chinese trade boosts Americans’ consumption power, but they haven’t dealt with the harm to the labor market as China systematically steals intellectual property and subsidizes key industries. The Trump administration is right to make Chinese mercantilism an issue, Mr. Cass says, but its response has been ineffectual. Washington needs an international coalition to confront Beijing’s bad behavior effectively, “but that becomes very hard to do when you have a Trump administration that’s pulling out of the [Trans-Pacific Partnership] and then haphazardly slapping tariffs on Europe and Canada.”

Labor policy also is out of sync with a pro-work agenda. Today, “organized labor is primarily a political force, not an economic one,” Mr. Cass says. From Democrats’ perspective, the purpose of unions is “to take the dues payments from a heterogeneous population—unionized workers are only a few points to the left of the general population—and convert it into completely homogeneous donations to Democrats.”

Yet Mr. Cass’s belief that private-sector unions ought to play a greater role is out of step with most conservatives’ views. One reason organized labor has faded in significance, he says, is that “we make all the rules in Washington.” One-size-fits all regulation leaves little room for workers to negotiate. But revamped labor organizations could set their own terms with employers, using the federal law as a default. For example, “a retailer and retail workers might agree, overtime doesn’t get paid at time-and-a-half, but also, no more mandatory overtime, and no just-in-time scheduling.” This would reduce the burden of federal regulations that stealthily increase the costs of employing people.

But even with such reforms, Mr. Cass says, “there is nothing in economic theory that says that when labor markets settle, we’re going to be at a place where we’re happy with what the outcomes look like.” That’s why he advocates a larger wage subsidy to increase workforce participation and low-end wages.

Unlike programs such as unemployment insurance, wage subsidies don’t reduce the incentive to work. His imagined subsidy would add a percentage of workers’ earnings to each paycheck up to a target amount, boosting the return on their labor. Mr. Cass would pay for this $200 billion program mostly by redirecting funds from work-replacing safety-net programs. One source of revenue might be Medicaid, which “appears to be worth maybe 25 cents to the recipient” for every dollar the government spends.

Government benefits “can start to get pretty close to what a low-wage job provides in the market,” Mr. Cass says. In contrast, a wage subsidy increases the difference in value between social programs and work so that more people choose the latter. He argues that this widened economic gap between idleness and work should be paired with a cultural one, where idleness is stigmatized and work of all kinds is valued and celebrated. Today, he says, “being an employer of less-skilled workers is sort of a straight ticket to the exposé about how your workers don’t earn enough money.”

Mr. Cass’s critics say his laserlike focus on the labor market reflects a hostility to the creative destruction that is inherent in capitalism and necessary for growth. Why is it the government’s business if the wages or employability of a certain class of workers decline? Work determines “whether we feel that we’re respected and admired,” Mr. Cass says, “and whether we have something that we’re good at.” Technocrats haven’t yet figured out how to redistribute self-esteem.

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Generation Y (pronounced “whine”)

Sandy Hingston is not pleased with the millennial generation:

As a boomer, I have a special interest in millennials. It’s the same sort of interest I have in car wrecks: I don’t want to see what’s going on, but I can’t look away. Take, for instance, the cover story that Time magazine had a few months back about how millennials are raising their children. I didn’t read the article. I couldn’t, because the very first paragraph stopped me cold. Here it is, reproduced in full:

On a playground in San Francisco, 4-year-old Astral Defiance Hayes takes a stick and writes his name in the sand. His twin brother Defy Aster Hayes whizzes around their father.

The fact is, I don’t need to know anything more about how millennials are parenting than that two of them thought it was a great idea to name their twin boys Astral Defiance and Defy Aster.

I mean: Who does that?

There are so very many boys’ names out there that aren’t Astral Defiance and Defy Aster. Old-fashioned names like Ezekiel and Joseph and Malachi. Newer names like Ryan and Marcus and Jack. Even names that are silly but super-popular right now and at least sound like names, like Jace and Jayden and Jaxon. Why would anyone hang a 50-ton albatross like Astral Defiance around his own child’s neck?

I can’t stop wondering how Astral Defiance and Defy Aster’s grandparents reacted when their offspring informed them of their new grandsons’ names. How would I react if my children told me they were doing something so rock-dumb? Would I be able to control my instinctive grimace of pain? I probably would, because every day at work, I get practice hiding my expressions of perplexity and disbelief at the odd things millennials do.

I was sitting just the other day at what we call, here in our office, “the newspaper table.” We call it that because it’s where, since time immemorial, our copies of the daily papers get placed each morning. I was paging through the New York Times when a passing intern paused. “What are you looking for?” she asked.

What was I looking for? “I’m reading the newspaper,” I told her.

“Oh,” she said.

I’ve never felt more old.

There’s an Ed Sheeran song lots of millennials are using for the first dance at their weddings. It’s a lovely song, except for this one line: “Darling, I will be loving you till we’re seventy.” Seventy! Seventy is the outside limit of the youthful imagination when it comes to age. Never mind that the average American now lives to be many years older than that — years, I suppose, that are loveless and forlorn. Fifty, 60, 70 — it’s all the same, it’s old, it’s decrepit, it’s stupid, it has nothing to say or do that’s relevant.

Still, I believe the children are our future, so I try to be kind to them in spite of their obliviousness. It helps that I’m not the only one struggling to come to terms with millennials in the workplace. Philly Mag’s November cover package highlighted the pretzels that local companies are twisting themselves into to attract and keep younger workers. Forget about a salary and some health insurance. Kids today want “hardwood floors, greenery and sunlight,” gourmet staff breakfasts, “nap rooms,” ping-pong tables, slides, rooftop lounges and beer on tap. Floor plans are open, with no doors to close or etch titles into. “The modern workplace has got to be a lot more egalitarian,” advised Al West, chairman and CEO of SEI, the investment giant out in Oaks. “If you’ve got offices for more senior people, it creates a hierarchy and gets in the way.” When did “hierarchy” become a dirty word? Hierarchy is the way the world works.

Just look at nature. Young elks tilt at grizzled older elks, and older elks smack them into place. Wolf pups nip at their elders’ necks, and the elders bite back. It’s the same with humans. Baseball rookies get hazed; sorority pledges have to buy their big sisters lattes; new Army recruits get latrine duty. People who know more get to say more. People who don’t know squat are supposed to watch and learn.

But millennials, West notes, “want to be heard and appreciated.” You know what’s awkward from an elder’s standpoint? Being expected to listen to and appreciate people who haven’t earned that right. Consider, for example, John Lim, a senior at Swarthmore College and, until this past fall, a member of its baseball team. A recent article in the independent student newspaper the Phoenix noted that before Lim left the team, baseball was his life. Yet he quit playing the sport for Swarthmore because he reached this sad conclusion: “I think athletics is really bad for this campus. I really do.” And what, pray tell, has convinced him of this? Why, it’s the unfairness of the athlete-coach dialectic: “[T]he relationship on the field between the player and the coach,” he told the Phoenix, “is very much whatever the coach says, you do.” Whatever the coach says, you do. Oh, the humanity!

Can you imagine coaching an entire team made up of John Lims?

It’s technology that’s skewing the picture, of course. My generation was raised on stories and myths about people who trudged their way through the ranks to positions of power: Ben Franklin, John Rockefeller, Oprah Winfrey. Millennial fairy tales are all about disrupters, the young Jacks who slay the old, slow giants: Evan Spiegel, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs. Raised with iPhones in hand, young people scorn the slow learning curves of their elders. Their prowess with gewgaws like Slack and Snapchat has made them our masters; we’re forced to turn to them for information and advice on our devices. (Though a major Slack theme in our office is, “Who has a charger for my device that has run out of juice because I apparently did not anticipate needing to use it at work today, again?”) What seems to escape their notice is that all the tech is just the delivery system. And cool, fancy new delivery equipment doesn’t make what’s being delivered worthwhile.

There was a time when young people were expected to read the classics — books written by old, or even dead, people. Granted, most of those people were white and male, but that alone shouldn’t see their work summarily dismissed. Yet recently, in the ongoing war over whether college students should be permitted to swaddle themselves in fluffy, fluffy cotton balls, the faculty senate at American University in Washington, D.C., voted in favor of a “free-speech resolution” that would require students who demand trigger warnings in classes to provide medical documentation of their “psychological vulnerability.” In response, the students rose up to complain that being required to provide actual proof of the disabilities for which they were demanding accommodation was onerous. Part of the reason the faculty senate took that vote was that the 18- and 19- and 20-year-old students had been calling on the university library to provide warning stickers on the covers of books that contain controversial material. You know, like The Great Gatsby (“gory, abusive and misogynistic violence,” according to one Rutgers student), and Ovid’s Metamorphoses (“marginalizes student identities,” say kids at Columbia). Students tiptoe out of these feather-lined ivory towers into the office, still cotton-swathed — and they want to be journalists! Do they think they’ll be writing about sunshine and rainbows and puppies, for chrissake? If you haven’t read great works of literature because you find them triggering, how will you write about famine or child rape or serial killers or global warming? What fathoms of the human experience will go unplumbed because gazing into those depths is really, really hard? …

It’s not their fault, entirely. They haven’t been exposed to older people very much. Their best friends may be their parents, but since the reverse is also true, their parents haven’t any adult friends. I saw my grandparents every day when I was growing up; they lived with us. My kids see their grandparents five or six times a year. Again, I’m not laying blame. Everybody’s trying to get together, texting and Skyping and emailing about availability. It’s just that families are different these days — smaller, more spread out, less centered on the hearth. Also, if Grandma wants to see me, she can just sign up for Facebook, right?

But when youngsters haven’t ever been exposed to the brutish behavior of elderly boomers — especially boomers not related to them by blood — that behavior can come as a great shock. Sometimes in the workplace, we have to tell you that you’re doing something wrong. Sometimes we raise our voices. Especially if it’s the fifth or sixth or seventh time we’ve had to rouse you from the nap room to tell you that you’re still spelling “separate” wrong, and that there’s this nifty thing called spell-check that would inform you of that if you would only employ it, and that if you don’t start using it now, today, we’re not going to employ you. It’s no swing down the office slide to be told you need to adapt to the structures that are in place instead of having those structures warp to accommodate you. Sometimes there isn’t any trigger warning at all on your annual review. …

On the very day that then-69-year-old Princeton professor Angus Deaton was named the latest winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, Vox’s Dylan Matthews posted a treatise titled, “Nobel Winner Angus Deaton Is Very Critical of Foreign Aid. The Reality Is More Complicated.” Which led Gen-Xer Michael C. Moynihan of the Daily Beast to tweet a tart link to Matthews’s piece:

I love when omniscient 25-year-old bloggers Voxsplain to newly minted Nobel laureates

I find it immensely heartening that as the Gen Xers mature and we boomers die off, they’re assuming our burden.

Generational stereotyping is dangerous because not everyone of the same age came from the same family background. I know millennials who aren’t lazy and self-centered. They are college student–athletes, however, and lazy and self-centered college student–athletes don’t remain athletes very long.

Complaints about the next generation are also as old as observations about culture. That doesn’t mean complaints aren’t valid.

Even one of them, Johnny Oleksinski, agrees:

Millennials are the worst. I should know — I am one.

At 26, I’m stuck in the middle of the world’s most maligned, mocked and discussed age group. And I hate it. Imagine being forever lumped into a smug pack of narcissists who don’t just ignore the past, but openly abhor anyone and everything that came before them.

“My boomer co-workers get paid more and they have no clue what Reddit is!” drones the millennial victim as the tiny violin plays. Meanwhile, baby boomers gave us, um, computers, and our major contributions to society are emojis and TV recaps.

2016 hasn’t exactly been a banner year for the Lousiest Generation.

First there was Talia Jane, the dopey, 25-year-old Yelp employee who was rightly fired for whining about her low salary on social media. Next came the 27-year-old Mic writer who told his boss he was taking time off for a funeral when he was actually building a tree house.

And then entered the Sandernistas, Bernie Sanders obsessives who preached reform and inclusion by berating their closest friends and family for daring to think differently. (One post on the “Bernie or Bust” Facebook group reads, “I don’t want to be friends with you if you support Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.”)

This is what happens when parents slap their toddler’s headshot on a birthday cake.

Recently, a comment from a colleague hit me like a stray selfie-stick. She said, “In some ways I love being a millennial, because it’s so much easier to be better than the rest of our generation. Because they suck.” It was jarring to hear the truth so plainly stated. But she’s right. We suck. We really suck.

Like a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, I must admit that I’m powerless to my biological age. Nonetheless I fight back every day against the traits that have come to define Gen Y: entitlement, dependency, nonstop complaining, laziness, Kardashians.

People like me are called “old souls,” or “26-going-on-76.” We’re chided by our peers for silly things such as enjoying adulthood, commuting to a physical office and not being enamored with Brooklyn. Contentment has turned us into lepers. Or worse: functioning human beings.

My millennial friends want me to be hopelessly nostalgic for the ’90s, obsessing over which “Saved by the Bell” character I’m most like, while ironically purchasing Dunkaroos and Snapchatting my vacant expressions for 43 pals to ignore. Or flying home for the weekend to recover from office burnout by getting some shut-eye in my pristine childhood bedroom. Thanks, but I’ll pass.

This is my number one rule: Do whatever millennials don’t. Definite no-nos include quitting a job or relationship the moment my mood drops from ecstatic to merely content; expecting the world to kowtow to my every childish whim; and assuming that I am always the most fascinating person in the room, hell, the zip code.

Millennials are obsessed with their brand. They co-opted the term from Apple and Xerox to be — like so many other things — all about them. “What’s your brand?,” millennial employers ask. The trouble is that a young person’s brand rarely extends beyond a screen: Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube. When you meet them, they’re never quite as witty, attractive or entrepreneurial as they seem on Facebook. They’re fiction authors, spinning elaborate yarns about their fabulous lives: “The Great Cathy” or “Asher in the Rye.”

But the truth is more like “A Tale of Two Cindys.” She’s the life of the party online, dull as dishwater in person.

Last year, sitting at a bar in Hell’s Kitchen, a 29-year-old friend asked, “How do you just start talking to somebody you don’t know?” The best answer I could muster was, “I’m interested in other people. I like to ask them questions about themselves.” Simple, right?

Not when your mind has been warped to believe you’re automatically deserving of others’ attention like the pope in Vatican City.

Perhaps their messiah complex is a result of being coddled, petted and worshiped like toy poodles from infancy all the way to college. Pundits love to cite soccer participation trophies as the downfall of Western civilization — but it gets even worse.

Last week, Hastings High School in Westchester, NY, handed out 87 commendations at its Senior Awards Ceremony. The graduation class size? 141 teens. A Reason Foundation survey found 58 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds think their own generation is entitled. Huh. Why could that be?

The social awkwardness of 20-somethings is a problem caused by two enemies: Kanye-sized egos and smartphones. But in order to be a good networker — still the best way to secure a job — you need to stop filtering mediocre selfies with “valencia” on Instagram, look up from your device and string together a few words with strangers. Preferably, words about them.

Too often, during a conversation, a young person’s eyes glaze over as they decide what scintillating tidbit about their brilliant selves to reveal next, be it the three days they didn’t leave their apartment, or how a study abroad experience in Portugal nine years ago shaped who they are today. News flash: Nobody cares.

(Sorry, I just got a text from someone I’d rather be spending time with. Feel free to keep reading while I carry on a separate conversation with them.)

The self-obsession doesn’t go down well at the office, either. Millennials make up the largest portion of the workforce. But employers are terrified of them — with good reason. They’re serial job hoppers. According to Gallup, in 2016, 21 percent of the commitment-phobes left their job after less than a year. Sixty percent are open to it. The “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question has never been more redundant, because the answer is almost definitely “Not here.”

One friend of mine has tackled six different jobs in two years, which seems more stressful than just sticking with one less-than-perfect spot for a while. How long should any person stay in a gig? At least 18 months, according to most career experts. Think of it as binge-working.

And once they do land their dream job as a hoverboard tester paid in wads of cash and sushi burritos? They want to work from their apartment. A US Chamber Foundation study said work-life balance drives the career choices of 75 percent of millennials. In my experience, however, the balance generally tilts toward wherever you can type pantsless.

The situation looks bleak — but we can turn it around, millennials. Here’s how. Action item one: Stop blaming everybody. Don’t blame the big banks, don’t blame your mom, don’t blame the baby boomers, don’t blame your employer, your landlord, the economy, the Apple store, the media, the airlines, the weatherman, George R.R. Martin. By absolving ourselves of responsibility, we’ve become forever 8-year-olds, tattling on the world in hopes it will better our situation. It won’t. It will only make it crummier.

Action item two: Stop being so insular. Many young people were shocked when Brexit won out in the UK, or when Donald Trump became the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. That’s because you’ve curated your social media accounts — where most of your interaction takes place — to be in total agreement with your opinions. But most of the world doesn’t think the way you do, which doesn’t make them bad, just different. Try empathy on for size. Befriend some dissenters. Grab a beer with them, listen to what they have to say. For once, don’t yell at them.

Action item three: Stop waiting around for something big to happen. Getting a job is hard. Filling out a million online forms isn’t enough. Primping your LinkedIn and hoping your God-given greatness will finally be recognized by everybody else like your grandma always said it would will get you zip, zilch, zero. You need to leave your apartment, meet people, be assertive, interested, open. I’ve gotten full-time jobs by sitting at bars and dancing at wedding receptions.

 

On “good” and “bad” jobs

WalletHub decided these were the “best” …

… and “worst” “entry-level” jobs …

… which prompted Mike Rowe to write:

When people ask me why millions of good jobs remain unfilled while millions of able bodied Americans remain unemployed, I try to alternate my responses between a decline of work ethic, an onslaught of unrealistic expectations, and our irresistible desire to reward bad behavior. But I think the biggest reason so much legitimate opportunity goes unloved, is due to our bizarre obsession with separating “good jobs” from “bad jobs.”

There’s no better way to discourage the next generation from learning a skill that’s actually in demand, than by telling them that certain jobs are “bad,” and therefore “beneath” them. Consider the latest wisdom from the luminaries at WalletHub. For whatever reason, these arbiters of job satisfaction have taken it upon themselves to identify the “best and worst” vocations in America. To accomplish this, a cadre of “experts” were consulted, as WalletHub compared and contrasted over a hundred entry-level occupations across three “key dimensions” 1) Immediate Opportunity, 2) Growth Potential and 3) Job Hazards.

Next – because science is important – WalletHub identified “11 relevant metrics,” each of which was assigned a “corresponding weight.” Then, each metric was given a value between 0 and 100, wherein 100 represents the most favorable conditions for a specific entry-level position, and 0 the least. In this way, 109 different occupations were ranked from first to worst.

I’m tempted to spell out the absurdity of WalletHub’s methodology, and show you why the statistics they use are as flawed as they are irrelevant. Instead, I’m just going to post their Top 10 and Bottom 10 careers, and direct you to their website, where you can judge their methodologies and agenda for yourself. https://wallethub.com/edu/best-entry-level-jobs/3716/… ,,,

At a time when society could be celebrating opportunity wherever it occurs, in all it’s varied forms, we instead shine a light on “research” that demonizes work, disparages the skilled trades, discounts the importance of dozens of good careers, and demeans thousands of skilled tradespeople. Madness. …

Seven jobs historically supported by mikeroweWORKS have been singled out as undesirable. Welders – a truly noble profession that WalletHub ranks dead last – have used our scholarship funds to gain valuable training. Likewise plumbers, machinists, boiler-makers, mechanics, carpenters, and many other people who had the good sense to pursue a skill that’s actually in demand. I’m in touch with these people, and I can tell you that all of them are thriving. They’re proud of what they do, and proud of how they do it. Seeing their chosen profession at the bottom of somebody else’s list however, is probably a lousy way to start the weekend, so I’ll close with this:

Don’t be fooled by these lists. They’re cobbled together by imaginary experts looking to sell America a one-size-fits-all approach to job satisfaction. It’s a crock. And so are the journalists who report such nonsense as news. There’s simply no such thing as a bad job, and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

When “work” is a four-letter word

Mike Rowe was asked …

‘Hello Mr. Rowe! What’s your take on MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry being offended by the phrase “hard worker”? How can such a label possibly be offensive to anyone?”

… and observed:

… there is no longer a limit to what people can be offended by.

Melissa Harris-Perry appears to be put off by the suggestion that “hard work” is too often linked with success. She doesn’t like the fact that many hard-working individuals have not enjoyed the same measure of success as Speaker Ryan, who was being acknowledged on her show for his excellent work ethic. Here is her response, in her own words…

HARRIS-PERRY: “I want us to be super careful when we use the language “hard worker.” I actually keep an image of folks working in cotton fields on my office wall, because it is a reminder about what hard work really looks like. But in the context of relative privilege, when you talk about work-life balance, the moms who don’t have health care aren’t called hard workers. We call them failures. We call them people who are sucking off the system.”

To me, it sounds as though Melissa is displaying images of slavery or drudgery in her office to remind herself of what hard work really and truly looks like. That’s a bit like hanging images of rape and bondage to better illustrate the true nature of human sexuality. Whatever her logic might be, it’s difficult to respond without first pointing out a few things that most people will find screamingly obvious. So let’s do that.

First of all, slavery is not “hard work;” it’s forced labor. There’s a big difference. Likewise, slaves are not workers; they are by definition, property. They have no freedom, no hope, and no rights. Yes, they work hard, obviously. But there can be no “work ethic” among slaves, because the slave has no choice in the matter.

Workers on the other hand, have free will. They are free to work as hard as they wish. Or not. The choice is theirs. And their decision to work hard, or not, is not a function of compliance or coercion; it’s a reflection of character and ambition.

This business of conflating hard work with forced labor not only minimizes the importance of a decent work ethic, it diminishes the unspeakable horror of slavery. Unfortunately, people do this all the time. We routinely describe bosses as “slave-drivers,” and paychecks as “slave’s wages.” Melissa though, has come at it from the other side. She’s suggesting that because certain “hard workers” are not as prosperous as other “hard workers,” – like the people on her office wall – we should all be “super-careful” about overly-praising hard work.

I suspect this is because Melissa believes – as do many others – that success today is mostly a function of what she calls, “relative privilege.” This is fancy talk for the simple fact that life is unfair, and some people are born with more advantages than others. It’s also a fine way to prepare the unsuspecting viewer for the extraordinary suggestion that slavery is proof-positive that hard work doesn’t pay off.

Obviously, I don’t see the world the same way as Melissa, but we do have something in common. Like her, I keep a picture on my office wall.

Mike Rowe's photo.

That’s me, squatting next to the most disappointing toilet I’ve ever encountered, preparing to clean it out with a garden trowel. I keep it there to remind me of what happens when you need a plumber but can’t find one.

It’s also a nice reminder that a good plumber these days has a hell of a lot more job security than the average news anchor. (With respect.)

On Socialist Workers Day

As usual, if I have to work, it’s not a holiday, and I have to work Labor Day.

Labor Day is the American parallel to May Day, the world socialist workers’ day. May Day used to be the day that the Soviet Union would try to scare the rest of the world by rolling its tanks, missiles and so on in a big parade past the Kremlin. The Soviet Union is dead, but Vladimir Putin seems to want to bring back the Soviet Union without communism.

About bad ideology of the past and present, Megan McArdle writes:

At the New Republic, Malcolm Harris asks an interesting question: Was the Soviet Union’s problem that Communism can never work? Or did the Soviets just need a lot more MacBook Airs?

Actually, Harris is channeling Paul Mason, the author of the book he is reviewing, and unfortunately, he doesn’t really try to answer the question. Instead he makes the stridently timid argument that this won’t happen because the capitalists won’t let it, at least without a healthy dose of revolutionary action.

I’ll swing for the fences and argue that no, even with better computers, Communism isn’t going to work. Nor some gauzy vision of post-capitalism that looks like Communism, but with YouTube videos.

In retrospect, Communism seems wildly stupid, or at least, incredibly naive. Did the people who dreamed up this system not understand the enormous incentive problems they were creating? As Ayn Rand dramatized the problem in Atlas Shrugged: “It’s miseries, not work, that had become the coin of the realm — so it turned into a contest among six thousand panhandlers, each claiming that his need was worse than his brother’s. How else could it be done?” The incentives of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” drive toward falling production, which means there won’t be enough to cover the needs.

Or as a former colleague who fled Communist Poland once told me, “They pretended to pay us, and we pretended to work.” There is a reason that basically all the Communist and Socialist regimes ended in some degree of authoritarianism.

How could anyone who had, y’know, met some people in their visit to our planet, not see that this was coming? Large swathes of Communist and Socialist writing was naive and impractical. But the idealists weren’t entirely unaware that when monetary incentives disappeared, they would need to find other ways to get people to do things.

They were also aware, however, of a point that has eluded some of their cruder critics, which is that monetary incentives are far from the only reasons that people do things. People don’t take care of their kids because they’re getting paid for it. Nor were the millions of Americans who headed off to World War II mostly chasing those princely military paychecks. Most of the folks who volunteer to help the homeless, or just to make a casserole for the local potluck, are not thinking “There’s a buck in it for me somewhere.” The idealists behind Communism thought that using non-monetary incentives could compensate for the loss of the money motive — and that there would also be great efficiency gains from eliminating wasteful competition and no longer goading consumers to generate superfluous consumer demand.

They were quite wrong. Competition turns out not to be so wasteful; it makes a system resilient. That misunderstanding was a symptom of a larger issue called the socialist calculation problem. We think of prices largely in reference to ourselves, or other individuals, which is to say that we mostly see them as the highest barrier to getting something we want. But as we pull back to look at society, or the globe, we see that they are in fact an incredibly elegant way to allocate scarce resources.

This was best explained by Friedrich Hayek in his essay “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” Some good like tin becomes scarce, perhaps because a large tin mine has failed, or perhaps because there is a new and very profitable use for tin that is soaking up much of the supply. The price rises, and all over the world, people begin to economize on tin. Most of them have no idea why the price of tin is rising, and if they did, they wouldn’t care; they just switch to another metal, or start recycling old tin, finding a way to bring global demand closer in line to global supply. A lot of that is possible only because of price competition.

You can think of this as something like a distributed computer network: You get millions of people devoting some portion of their effort to aligning consumption with production. This system is constantly churning, making billions of decisions a day. Communism tried to replace this with a bunch of guys sitting around in offices, who occasionally negotiated with guys sitting around in other offices. It was a doomed effort from the start. Don’t get me wrong; the incentive problems were real and large. But even if they could have been solved, the calculation problem would have remained. And the more complex an economy you are trying to manage, the worse a job you will do.

The socialist calculation problem is not fundamentally an issue of calculating how to produce the most stuff, but of calculating what should be produced. Computers can’t solve that, at least until they develop sufficient intelligence that they’ll probably render the issue moot by ordering our toasters to kill us so that they can use our bodies for mulch.

The most important piece of information that the price system provides is “How much do I want this, given that other people want it too?” That’s the question that millions of people are answering, when they decide to use less tin, or pay more for tin and use less of something else. Computers are not good at answering this question.

How would a computer even get the information to make a good guess, in the absence of a price system? Please do not say surveys. You know what did really well on surveys? New Coke. Also, Donald Trump, who is not going to be president. We are, in fact, back to some version of the incentive problem, which is that when the stakes are low, people don’t put too much thought into their answers.

In many cases, people are interested in getting rid of prices precisely because they don’t like the signal that it is sending — that the best possible medical care is a scarce good that few people are going to get, or that other people do not value your labor very much. People are trying to override that information with a better program.

But even if we decide that the planners know best, we still have to contend with the resistance that will arise to their plan. Just as Communism’s critics need to remember that money is not the only reason people strive, post-capitalists need to remember that they will be dealing with people — cantankerous, willful and capable of all manner of subversions if the plan is not paying sufficient attention to their needs.

It’s possible that we’ll see versions of a “post-scarcity” economy in things like music and writing, since these are basically versions of activities that people have been doing for free for thousands of years. But when it comes to unpleasant labor like slaughtering animals, mining ore and scrubbing floors, even an advanced society needs to figure out exactly how badly it wants those things done. And so far, nothing beats prices for eliciting that information.

The latest sign of the workplace apocalypse

CareerHMO.com CEO J.T. O’Donnell on why your newest employees are from the worst workforce generation:

Recently, I wrote this article explaining why Millennials aren’t getting promoted. In response to Millennial readers’ requests for a deeper understanding of how being misperceived can negatively affect their careers, I’m taking it a step further and outlining exactly what’s getting them fired.

Employers are seriously fed up

To get a sense of how heated this has become, read this article by one irate employer and his prediction of the backlash that will soon ensue from the Millennials’ attitudes toward work.

Additionally, this survey by SmartRecruiter of 28,000 bosses detailing where Millennials are falling short is just one example of the data to support the huge disconnect costing some Millennials their jobs. Here are the key takeaways Millennials need to know.

1. Employers don’t want to be parents

Growing up, Millennials were coached their entire lives and they unknowingly assume employers will coach them too. However, the relationship isn’t the same. An employer pays us to do a job. We are service providers. Expecting extensive training and professional development to do the job doesn’t make financial sense. In many employers’ minds (especially, small to midsized businesses with limited budgets and resources), Millennials should foot the bill to develop themselves and make themselves worth more to the employer.

Tip: Millennials should do their best to proactively seek resources on their own to help them close gaps in skills and knowledge in the workplace. There are plenty of online tools and resources to help them put their best professional self forward. Additionally, they should seek out a mentor to privately ask questions and get guidance on how to make the right impression.

2. The anti-work attitude isn’t appreciated (or tolerated)

As explained here, Millennials tend to work only the minimum time expected–and will push for flexibility and a reduced work schedule to create more time for other pursuits. Being demanding about when and how they want to do their job can be viewed as disrespectful. A great way to look at how some employers feel is the way the dysfunctional phone/cable companies work. It’s annoying when they announce they can come out only on a certain day. They can’t tell you what time, and then they say they’ll call the day of and give you a four-hour window when they’ll arrive. While the phone/cable companies have us trapped, employers don’t feel the same about Millennials. They’ll fire the Millennial worker and find someone who can work when they need them to–and without the attitude.

Tip: In the early days and weeks of a new job, Millennials can make up for what they lack in skills by being consistently on time. When an employer sees their commitment to their work, they will earn her trust and respect, resulting in her being comfortable with their taking time off, and even providing them with a more flexible work schedule. When Millennials prove they can deliver on their company’s terms, their company will give them more of what they want.

3. Millennials’ happiness isn’t the employer’s responsibility

Millennials are pretty vocal about wanting work to be a “fun” place to go. Besides career development, they also desire lots of cool perks and benefits to make their job feel more rewarding. Besides nice work spaces, amenities like gym memberships, healthy meals on-site, in-house parties, etc., are being used in an effort to attract and maintain Millennial workers. Unfortunately, this is backfiring on employers–and that makes them angry. In spite of all the perks to keep them happy, Millennials are getting to these jobs and quickly showing visible signs of disappointment and dissatisfaction within months of joining the company.

Why are Millennials so tough to keep happy?

Part of the problem is how much external motivators were used on Millennials growing up. In the book Punished by Rewards, Alfie Kohn argues that Millennials have an addiction to praise, perks, and other incentives to learn–better known as bribes. Thus, when they get to the job and the newness wear off, they think it’s the company’s job to fix it with more incentives. But, this is where the cycle of bribing has to stop. A company can offer only so much in the form of compensation and benefits. The reality is thatMillennials (like all workers) must learn to find intrinsicmotivation (internal drive for work), so they can find real satisfaction and success in their careers. SinceMillennials haven’t learned this yet, they’re experiencing sadness and confusion in the workplace. Unfortunately, their unhappiness is transparent to employers who have no desire to pay for what they perceive as a bad attitude at work.

Tip: Millennials who feel confused and unhappy in their job should not blame the employer (yet). First, they should seek some career coaching. Many Millennials just need help understanding some of the basic elements for finding an internal motivation for work. They need to know their professional strengths and workplace personas, and the defining skills they’d like to grow so they can build up their specialties and find direction and motivation at the job.

The comments probably demonstrate that bad attitudes are not just part of the millennial generation — claims that all employers screw their employees, that it’s abusive to have to work after 5 p.m. or before 8 a.m. or, horrors, on weekends, etc., etc., etc. One article actually claims that “This article – and every other like it – is boarding age discrimination.” Another started with “Like it or not, the future of the workforce belongs to Millennials,” and then proceeded to validate every stereotype of millennials as thinking they’re smarter and more special than you are.

Those are countered by …

  • #4. Your bills aren’t your employers’ problem! If you need more money cause your paycheck wasn’t enough to pay your bills or your 2015 you’re sporting, find another job or get a second job or move back home! It is that simple.
    #5. You got a child or have children, you need a job? That’s why an employer should hire you?
    #6. There are many work ethics and job skills one learns just by doing chores at home during upbringing and being active in school and community! Employer/s shouldn’t have to spend time and money where your parents and schooling didn’t just to hire or keep you on payroll! However employers, businesses and companies do suffer from the lack of can’t hire affordable, educated, respectable, honest (got integrity), ‘healthy’, common sense and reliable workers these days! The very main reasons why many employers have required that their committed and/or vested employees to answer their phones and emails 24/7 and texts within minutes, notify their boss in advance (some at least a month) when and why they won’t be available, and requesting veteran employees who are up for retirement to stay a bit longer with upped bonuses and benefits!
    #7. My pet peeve, new hire who hasn’t passed a 90 day probationary/training period (a week on the job already has called-in), how in the hell he/she believes in an ‘entitlement’ to make just as much even more than someone who has been on the job 5-10 years? 10-20 years? Job Equality verses Job Experience? Or, College Graduate (Associate Degree/BS/BA) with NO experience verses years of Job Experience?
    #8. There is no misunderstanding, Millennials don’t possess self discipline, lack respect for their employers and job responsibilities once hired, (a)pathetic to the point of unable to do time management, solve daily life problems, and handle challenges and others as if they have ‘learned helplessness’, UNGRATEFUL and selfish (doesn’t know his/her behavior is wrong even baseless), and absolutely don’t possess overall common courtesy and good WORK ETHICS to get and stay employed!
  • The work has to get done. If employees don’t get the job done, it falls back on their manager. So they will hire those who will get the job done with the least complications.
  • “Millennials don’t possess self discipline”…if you’re hiring people who are apathetic, learned helplessness and a lack of discipline, I would think that says more about your hiring practices and management/HR tactics than anything.
  • I wrote an article entitled “14 Simple Rules to Getting That Promotion.” In it, I suggested what I considered to be completely reasonable rules, such as show up on time, take 15-minute breaks—not 30 or 17, stay off Facebook, and put your cell phone away. I was stunned by the backlash. I was told to “chill out,” that “I’d hate to work for you.” I was accused of “inflicting arbitrary rules that no professional would be expected to be follow,” and of being “uptight and anal-retentive, enforcing 19th century factory rules.” And my person favorite: “How many texts I send a day is no reflection on my effectiveness at my job.” I have no way of knowing if these comments were from Millennials. But based on the demographic of the website I write for, I’m guessing they were. I hate to say “I told you so,” but “I told you so.”
  • This article is #1, #2, and # 3 spot on! Millennials don’t want to work but want entitlements to a paycheck! The reason why Millennials have the highest cost of living than any other generation in history is, Millennials are a bunch of 911 zombies who can’t live, attend grade school/college, work, and drive a rimmed vehicle without a cell phone! Successful Generation-X parents dropped the baby! Millennials are brainless, spoiled sick, miseducated, “greedy”, genderless rotten brats who are ‘entitled’ materialistic do nothings!
  • … I’m one of those baby boomers.  It’s a wide range of years in that group–1946 – 1964– and thus, as you can imagine, also has a wide range of people with different experiences, likes, and dislikes. I graduated from college in 1979 when the interest rates for borrowing was around 20%. Jobs were very hard to find and none of us ever dreamed of starting our careers with big jobs that enabled us to buy homes until our early 30’s. There were no kids that were inventing apps companies that sold for billions and most of us worked while we went to school, with another large group getting their education through the GI Bill. There were several recessions that troubled America while I was growing up (though none as bad as the one that smacked us in 2008) and lots of us in my time had to worry about being drafted into war. Those who came out of college at the same time I did were not receiving big salaries, and, in fact, I cannot think of any baby boomer that did. We did, however, move out of our homes by age 18 and our parents were completely different (because most of them came from the Big Depression) than what I see now. The “love and flowers” time frame you reference was really on a couple years.  You can read up on that time frame and watch numerous documentaries that will show you a different story than the one you have imagined. Pretty much none of what you said is accurate and your defensiveness is something I see quite often with Millennials–I guess, like the article said, because Mommy and Daddy always told you how special and right you are.  We definitely thought we were right about a lot of things too, but it seems to me priorities have shifted a lot and this article points out that folks who pay wages are tired of the nonsense.
  • Add to this the open hostility expressed by Mils toward all things business and you have toxic employees. I don’t want to hire people like that or work with them. No one likes negative self absorbed co-workers. Fortunately not all mils are that way, so you have to deal with them individually like you do every other group. Some are self motivated and have strong work ethics. The process of weeding out bad mils is no different than weeding out bad apples from any other generation. Just know what to look for in bad attitudes and warning signs and avoid them. I have ran into plenty of baby boomers and Gen X that act every bit the stereotypical mil, smartphone addiction included.

I entered the workforce 34 years ago during the early-1980s recession, and the full-time workforce 27 years ago. No one had to tell me that it was important to show up on time. Whatever was “fun” about the places I have worked had little to do with work perks (largely because I’ve had almost none, other than flexibility, anywhere I’ve worked); it had to do with having challenging work, along with the people with whom I’ve worked. (In the same way that you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family, you can choose where you work if they’ll have you, but you can’t choose your coworkers.)

What O’Donnell describes appears to me to be a gross failure of parenting and possibly education as well. The extent to which schools should train students for the workplace is debatable, but schools certainly should be emphasizing those habits of successfully employed people — showing up on time when scheduled to work, working hard, focusing on work instead of other things while you’re at work — regardless of a student’s future plans. Maybe my parents did what today’s parents of millennials didn’t do by setting examples of how people are supposed to act in public. (Yes, the parents of millennials apparently are people my age, but I certainly do not want our kids to grow up lazy and self-entitled.)

There are risks of generalizing (about which I can speak from experience as part of the “liberal media”), but stereotypes always have a source. O’Donnell must at least be hearing complaints from other CEOs and those who work for her to generate these ideas. If I had to guess, I would guess that those complaints come from employers who employ a lot of entry-level people. (Which suggests, for one thing, that millennials maybe should become more creative at where they decide to work, instead of just going to a big company they’ve heard of.)

These are the sorts of things Mike Rowe has been pointing out on his Facebook page. It is not because you should be wedded to your employer forever. You should, however, be committed to work, to being productive, to contributing more than you take out of the planet. I have found in employing people that you can teach almost everything about a job except for work ethic. Either you have it, and you will remain employed (somewhere) regardless of how your employer does, or you will not.

 

Unemployment and unfilled jobs

Mike Rowe was accused by someone named “Craig” of demonizing the unemployed. To that accusation, Rowe wrote:

Everyday on the news, liberal pundits and politicians portray the wealthy as greedy, while conservative pundits and politicians portray the poor as lazy. Democrats have become so good at denouncing greed, Republicans now defend it. And Republicans are so good at condemning laziness, Democrats are now denying it even exists. It’s a never ending dance that gets more contorted by the day.

A few weeks ago in Georgetown, President Obama accused Fox News of “perpetuating a false narrative” by consistently calling poor people “lazy.” Fox News denied the President’s accusation, claiming to have only criticized policies, not people. Unfortunately for Fox, The Daily Show has apparently gained access to the Internet, and after a ten-second google-search and a few minutes in the edit bay, John Stewart was on the air with a devastating montage of Fox personnel referring to the unemployed as “sponges,” “leeches,” “freeloaders,” and “mooches.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/…/daily-shows-jon-stewart-bu…/

Over the next few days, the echo chamber got very noisy. The Left howled about the bias at Fox and condemned the one-percent, while the Right shrieked about the bias at MSNBC and bemoaned the growing entitlement state. But through all the howling and shrieking, no one said a word about the millions of jobs that American companies are struggling to fill right now. No one talked the fact that most of those jobs don’t require an expensive four-year degree. And no one mentioned the 1.2 trillion dollars of outstanding student loans, or the madness of lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back, educating them for jobs that no longer exist.

I started mikeroweWORKS to talk about these issues, and shine a light on a few million good jobs that no one seems excited about. But mostly, I wanted to remind people that real opportunity still exists for those individuals who are willing to work hard, learn a skill, and make a persuasive case for themselves. Sadly, you see my efforts as “right wing propaganda.” But why? Are our differences really political? Or is it something deeper? Something philosophical?

You wrote that, “people want to work.” In my travels, I’ve met a lot of hard-working individuals, and I’ve been singing their praises for the last 12 years. But I’ve seen nothing that would lead me to agree with your generalization. From what I’ve seen of the species, and what I know of myself, most people – given the choice – would prefer NOT to work. In fact, on Dirty Jobs, I saw Help Wanted signs in every state, even at the height of the recession. Is it possible you see the existence of so many unfilled jobs as a challenge to your basic understanding of what makes people tick?

Last week at a policy conference in Mackinac, I talked to several hiring managers from a few of the largest companies in Michigan. They all told me the same thing – the biggest under reported challenge in finding good help, (aside from the inability to “piss clean,”) is an overwhelming lack of “soft skills.” That’s a polite way of saying that many applicants don’t tuck their shirts in, or pull their pants up, or look you in the eye, or say things like “please” and “thank you.” This is not a Michigan problem – this is a national crisis. We’re churning out a generation of poorly educated people with no skill, no ambition, no guidance, and no realistic expectations of what it means to go to work.

These are the people you’re talking about Craig, and their number grows everyday. I understand you would like me to help them, but how? I’m not a mentor, and my foundation doesn’t do interventions. Do you really want me to stop rewarding individual work ethic, just because I don’t have the resources to assist those who don’t have any? If I’m unable to help everyone, do you really want me to help no one?

My goals are modest, and they’ll remain that way. I don’t focus on groups. I focus on individuals who are eager to do whatever it takes to get started. People willing to retool, retrain, and relocate. That doesn’t mean I have no empathy for those less motivated. It just means I’m more inclined to subsidize the cost of training for those who are. That shouldn’t be a partisan position, but if it is, I guess I’ll just have to live with it.

The right to work (to sound like a complete idiot) bill

Gov. Scott Walker is scheduled to sign the Legislature’s union-shop-ban bill into law today.

The Senate passed the bill first, followed by the Assembly following 24 hours of debate that included these brilliant insights as chronicled by my Facebook friends in rough chronological order:

  • Rep. Cory Mason (D–Racine) said “We already saw that there is bipartisan opposition to this bill that came out of the Senate.” That would be Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R–Stevens Point), who voted against knowing full well that it would pass anyway, similar to former Sens. Mike Ellis and Dale Schultz. Mason’s comment is technically correct but meaningless.
  • Rep. Chris Danou (D–Milwaukee) said “I know that very few of you have a good sense of history, but you need to look into the history of ‘right to work’ laws.” To which someone commented that Danou should research the history of labor unions and organized crime. (Followed by a comment that Jimmy Hoffa was unavailable for comment.) Danou also touted Madison’s economic growth (the result of having both state government and UW–Madison in Madison and nothing the city has done) as the proof that progressive policies work, failing to mention Rayovac’s moving from Madison to Middleton, Gander Mountain building in De Forest and not Madison, and, most famously, Epic Systems’ huge campus in Verona, not Madison. Or, for that matter, Madison’s unaffordable housing.
  • Rep. Jonathan Brostoff (D–Milwaukee) joked that the Minnesota Vikings would love to see the Green Bay Packers jailed for union activities. Brostoff should have found out whether members of the Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans or Arizona Cardinals have been similarly jailed for their NFL Players Association activities in right-to-work states. (Short answer: No.)
  • Rep. Jill Billings (D–La Crosse) cherry-picked statistics and then claimed she wasn’t cherry-picking statistics.
  • Rep. Dana Wachs (D–Eau Claire) referred to the 1970s Green Bay Packers (which is only useful when talking about gross incompetence, of which Wisconsin Democrats have demonstrated a lot) and dyslexia.
  • Rep. Melissa Sargent (D–Madison) said “I wish that you had the courage to not steal from the wallets of hard-working Wisconsinites,” failing to see the irony in opposing a bill that ends stealing from the wallets of hard-working Wisconsinites by banning mandatory union membership. (To which I replied that some legislators steal from hard-working Wisconsinites every time they get paid.) Sargent also said “I hope that you won’t sleep better tomorrow.”
  • Rep. Gary Hebl (D–Sun Prairie) said “Don’t listen to where the money comes from,” perhaps referring to the $575,000 unions gave Senate Democrats to vote against the bill and the $115,000 unions gave Assembly Democrats to vote against the bill.
  • Rep. Chris Taylor (D–Madison) made obligatory complaints about the American Legislative Exchange Council, because fiscal responsibility is contrary to Wisconsin values, or something. Taylor also said “We are here because of a political stunt of this governor,” which is false; Republican legislative leaders brought up the bill despite Walker’s statements not favoring the Legislature’s considering the bill.
  • Rep. Mandela Barnes (D–Milwaukee) depicted Moses and Aaron as labor organizers and the plagues brought on by “bad workplace conditions.” I’m guessing Barnes’ cherry-picking of the Bible ends when a discussion of, say, abortion rights comes up.

Then again, maybe these Democrats are just representing their constituents. Scott Reeder of the Illinois Policy Institute came to Madison to visit the Capitol and observed:

I’ve covered the Illinois Statehouse for 15 years and before that the Nevada Legislature. I’ve never witnessed anything under a dome quite like what I saw in Madison this past week.

My only thought after observing the shenanigans — they sure aren’t doing themselves any favors.

After all, it’s kind of hard to have a serious public policy conversation with someone clad only in long johns.

As I was standing in line to enter the Senate gallery, the fellow behind me explained that Scott Walker engages in mind control and a group called “ALEC” had people locked up for being delusional.

The woman in front of me in line explained to me that Walker, a Baptist preacher’s son, couldn’t be a Christian because of his opposition to some of organized labor’s positions and Jesus’ commandment to love one another.

I asked the woman if she loved Scott Walker. There was a long pause and then she sputtered, “just a little bit.” …

One could argue that the folks demonstrating in Madison these past four years are among the people most responsible for Walker’s rise to national political prominence.

The rascals on the left alienated themselves from the majority of voters. After all, a hero needs a villain.

David had Goliath. Batman had Joker. Hamilton had Burr.

And Scott Walker? Well, he has the unions.

As union demonstrations spiraled out of control, rank-and-file voters found themselves identifying more with Walker.

They couldn’t bring themselves to support what they saw as an increasingly radical labor movement.

During the last four years, Walker has won three races for governor, including a recall election that was pushed by the unions.

I asked the fellow in long underwear why Walker keeps winning, and his answer was telling — “I have no idea.”

Maybe he ought to look in the mirror.

 

 

The history of Right to Work

Mike Nichols of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute was a union member when he was a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter:

In an effort to determine whether Wisconsin should consider right-to-work legislation, WPRI decided last fall to undertake two different lines of research: a poll of public opinion and an analysis of potential economic impacts.

We released the 2015 WPRI Poll of Public Opinion in January, and it included numerous questions regarding right-to-work. The survey of 600 Wisconsinites determined that approximately twice as many citizens of this state would vote in favor of right-to-work legislation as would vote against it (62% to 32%). Over three-quarters of respondents (77%), meanwhile, said they think no American should be required to join any private organization, such as a labor union, against his or her will.

In addition, a plurality of the 600 respondents, said they believe a right-to-work law will be economically beneficial for the state. Four in 10 (40%) said such laws will “improve economic growth in Wisconsin,” 29% said they believe the laws “will not affect economic growth” and 27% said such laws will “reduce economic growth.”

Our second line of inquiry – the paper in front of you titled “The Economic Impact of a Right-to-work Law on Wisconsin” – concludes that what a plurality of state residents intuitively believes is backed up by statistical analysis. Right-to-work laws are economically beneficial.

WPRI commissioned this paper by one of America’s foremost experts on right-to-work, Ohio University economist Richard Vedder, months ago. Dr. Vedder and his colleagues, Joe Hartge and Christopher Denhart, happened to be finishing it up just when legislative leaders decided to bring a right-to-work bill to the floor this week. While they did not see the bill prior to conducting this analysis, right-to-work is a straightforward concept that varies little from state to state. As a result, we believe this paper – by comparing economic growth in states that have had right-to-work to those that have not and calculating the potential impact in Wisconsin – provides the best, most nuanced, most objective and most accurate analysis that has been done in the Badger State.

The essential finding is clear:

Over the last 30 years, states with right-to-work (RTW) legislation have experienced greater per capita personal income growth than other states. And that positive correlation between right-to-work and higher incomes remains true even after controlling for other important variables (such as tax rates in various states) that might have had a simultaneous impact.

The statistical results suggest that, in fact, the presence of a RTW law added about six percentage points to the growth rate of RTW states from 1983 to 2013. With such a law, Wisconsin’s per capita personal income growth of 53% over those years would have been, instead, about 59%. Wisconsin would have gone from having economic growth below the national average over those three decades to having slightly above average growth – enough above average that it would have erased the current per capita income deficit between Wisconsin and the nation as a whole.

We think this is extremely significant because, as the report points out, Wisconsin truly has fallen behind economically in recent decades.

In 1950, well over $22 of every $1,000 in personal income generated in the United States was earned by Wisconsin residents. That figure has steadily fallen to only $17.55 in 2013 – a decline of well over 20%. Most of this reflects relatively slow population growth. But income growth for residents over the 1950-2013 period was below the national average. In 1950, per capita income was 1.63% below the national average; in 2013, the income deficit was more than double that.

Wisconsin’s per capita personal income received from all sources in 2013 was $43,244, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis – $1,521 less than the national average of $44,765.

The regression analysis suggests that had Wisconsin adopted a RTW law in 1983, per capita income would have been $1,683 higher in 2013 than it actually was – and would have brought the state slightly over the national per capita personal income average.

There are some caveats that apply to all such analysis. Although the results are strong, the authors – as all good economists would – urge some caution in using the precise estimation. Comparing states with right-to-work to those without is a complex undertaking. Some possible determinants of economic growth are very difficult or impossible to measure, such as the extent of statewide environmental regulations, and there may be a significant “omitted variable bias” in this simple regression model. At the same time, it is unlikely the inclusion of other variables would materially alter the estimations with respect to RTW.

In addition, it is important to note that this is an analysis of the past – the 1980s through 2013. Labor unions today have a smaller presence than they used to, so the effects of a RTW law might reasonably be expected to have a somewhat smaller impact in the future – especially in Wisconsin where Act 10 is already having an economic impact.

That said, it is a fact that Wisconsin has fallen behind. As this study indicates, Wisconsin’s role in the national economy has shrunk with the passage of time. The analysis suggests that passage of a RTW law likely would slow and possibly reverse this trend. Right-to-work laws in sum are economically beneficial and would help Wisconsin catch up to other states with which it competes economically.

As importantly, we at WPRI see this as a fundamental issue of individual freedom – and it is clear that Wisconsinites of all political persuasions agree. A majority of self-identified Republicans, independents and Democrats say they would vote in favor of right-to-work legislation.

The right to work (without union dues)

A Facebook Friend invited me to share this:

I have a really good question here, in regards to the Right to Work Law that is being passed in Wisconsin:

Are the unions and the government responsible for protecting the workers from what they see as their shortsightedness? Or are the workers responsible for their own free choices?

In the end it’s about freedom and personal liberty. Let’s not curtail them.

Politicians are infamous for doing what they think is better for you the ignorant voter, as opposed to what voters want, of course. Gov. Scott Walker has tried to dance away from right-to-work legislation because of how divisive the Act 10 debate was. But he’s going to get it with the Senate scheduled to vote on the bill today.

I feel slightly different about the right-to-work issue (which is, let’s face it, a euphemism like the two sides of the abortion rights argument using “pro-choice” and “pro-life”) from public-sector unions only because, unlike with government unions, consumers can choose to buy products or services from businesses based on, if they choose, their union affiliation, or lack thereof.

However, it’s perfectly obvious, just like with public sector unions’ inability to stop Act 10 from becoming law, followed by their inability to punish those who got Act 10 into law, that private-sector unions have worn out their welcome with the American voter. Driving General Motors into bankruptcy (with a big assist from GM’s inept management), rampant corruption (one word: Teamsters), being more interested in increasing union officials’ salaries than with members, failing to grasp that businesses need to be profitable first and foremost, and diverting union dues into campaign contributions for politicians and candidates not necessarily supported by union members — it’s obvious that the problems with unions are the unions’ fault and no one else’s.

Four years ago during the Act 10 controversies unions tried to claim responsibility for every supposed worker benefit from coffee breaks to vacations. Which is laughable when you consider the number of people who contribute more to society than clock-punching union workers — they’re called “business owners,” who don’t get nights or weekends or holidays off.

The Act 10 debate also demonstrated some uncomfortable truths about unions, ranging from their managements’ six-figure salaries when their members are making considerably less, to the fact that in many small communities government workers are making more money than the people whose salaries pay their taxes. (For instance: The average Wisconsin teacher makes more money than the median Wisconsin family income.)

Regardless of that, there is one fundamental flaw with unions. They are essentially socialist in the concept that everyone should be treated equally, whether or not one employee works harder than others, or whether one employee needs different benefits than others. I want to have the ability to negotiate my own pay and benefits, because I know better than the union rep what I need in my own life. Most people seem to feel that way, based on declining union membership numbers.

The concept of needing to be in a union to have a job is a reprehensible violation of our First Amendment right of free association. No one who claims to value freedom can support the closed shop. (Which is why it was amusing to read someone replace “right to work” with “freedom” in the quotes of various Democrats who oppose right-to-work.)

Republicans have been accused of seeking political revenge by pushing right-to-work legislation through the Legislature. What a crazy thought — politicians vote for things their supporters support and vote against things their supporters oppose! (Although Barack Obama’s veto yesterday of the Keystone XL pipeline, when construction thereof would provide union jobs, is harder to understand.)

The best way for employees to get better salaries and working conditions is through competition for employees. In the 1990s jobs that required minimum-wage skills paid better than minimum wage because there was demand for those workers. If you don’t like how you’re treated at work, you leave.

I made a passing reference earlier today to how liberals hate markets. It’s hardly surprising because my guess is that giving employees a choice to join a union, or not, will result in employees’ not joining unions, similar to what has happened in Wisconsin since Act 10 became law.