May Day for Working People

Proletarier aller Länder vereinigt Euch!
(Workers of the world unite!)
– Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto (1848)

For 170 years, this cry has echoed through every May Day. On streets all around the world, police and many citizens have watched warily as many of their neighbors marched under red banners. Others have hidden, wishing the hint of revolution and danger would simply pass. In most nations, it’s a day off to celebrate the simple fact that labor creates all wealth. In the United States, almost alone, it’s not even a holiday.

What is the proper celebration for all workers on this International Day of Labor? Perhaps it is best to recognize that the best application of the same cause which Marx championed, the workers, may have created Communism as an ideology but in practical terms stands to save Capitalism from itself.

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The Failure of Money

Economics is all about money, right? It’s all about theories on how to distribute it, use it, make it, or protect it, yes? This is a common perception, and the focus on money dominates the area of political and personal understanding of all things related to important concepts like markets and wealth.

Yet there is substantial evidence that this is simply inadequate at best, wrong at worst. The purpose of money, according to a rigid definition, is to be a medium of exchange and a store of value. But there is quite a lot of evidence that as a store of value, a representation of accumulated wealth, it often fails horribly.

Money only works in a dynamic sense. There are several ways to read that statement, and they are all valid points.

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Unions are Our Future

Labor Day is brought to you by those who brought you the weekend – Organized Labor.

When I worked in Germany for a short time in the 1990s, labor relations often came up. Some of my colleagues were envious of the US system while most hated it. All of them, however, had a term for what they understood our core principle to be – “Hire and Fire”. The idea of an “at will” employee with no job security in law and no loyalty by tradition was alien to Germans.

Compared to the nations in the developed world which we compete with, our position is unusual. It’s a bias at the foundation of our system – a natural outcome of the demand for a flexible workforce. This is also likely to change as more and more skill is needed to do the jobs of tomorrow.

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It Starts With an Excuse

Through the first decade of Barataria, one theme becomes clear.  There is always hope, there is always a better way if we just figure out how to talk honestly about what’s wrong and how we have to work together.  The exceptions to this theme are the most illuminating.  This post is from January 2010, the low point in the recent Depression.  The distinct lack of hope is a bit chilling.

What would make a recovery sustainable?  If you ask an economist, they’d tell you that what makes any economy grow and prosper is, ultimately, what they call “productivity gains”.  That’s the ability to make more with less that allows a people to propser.  During the 1990s this was given as the reason why interest rates could remain low and we could have one Hell of a party – a sloppy, hazy bender.  We live in the hangover that resulted, but have we really learned how intoxicating this one, simple idea is?

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Labor Unions are Inevitable

Labor Day is brought to you by those who brought you the weekend – Organized Labor.

When I worked in Germany for a short time in the 1990s, labor relations often came up. Some of my colleagues were envious of the US system while most hated it. All of them, however, had a term for what they understood our core principle to be – “Hire and Fire”. The idea of an “at will” employee with no job security in law and no loyalty by tradition was alien to Germans.

Compared to the nations in the developed world which we compete with, our position is unusual. It’s a bias at the foundation of our system – a natural outcome of the demand for a flexible workforce. This is also likely to change as more and more skill is needed to do the jobs of tomorrow.

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Labor Day 2016

Labor Day. For most of us, it’s one last picnic as the seasons change over. It’s one last chance to look back over the hot, lazy summer to reflect on where we’ve been and where we are going.

What it’s really for is Labor. Rather than give workers a May Day holiday, the deep suspicions and fear lingering after the Haymarket Riot made politicians wary enough to put the official day clear on the other side of Summer. The US, and later Canada, decided to go it alone in our celebration. Some things never change.

The two of these facts have a lot in common this year as we look back from what is clearly a turning point in the economy. The glass is indeed half-full for Labor – or, if you’re not so optimistic, half-empty. Jobs are being created, if slowly, layoffs are at an all-time low, and wages are finally beginning to creep up. What’s ahead of us? If this keeps up it may surprise just about everyone that a serious labor shortage is in the works – indeed, there already is one in some industries. That’s worth celebrating even more than the end of Summer.

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About this EU Thing …

I’m sitting here watching the BBC site as the results of the Brexit referendum pour in. It’s not looking good for the EU right now, and that has to give us all pause. The EU is absolutely essential, in some form, but the bureaucratic mess that has resulted isn’t necessarily helping anyone. The UK never went all in, keeping the Pound, so their view has always been a bit askance.

For far too many, it comes down to an interesting revelation. Did Germany actually “win” after all? Signs point to yes, they did. But how? What does this mean to other industrialized nations? Is there something we should all learn? Is Britain right for possibly wanting to go it alone?

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