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.

Continue reading

Markets Moving

The politics of this moment have little space for something as esoteric as market forces. In much of the developed world, popular media and politicians alike seem to have run back to the safety of a warmed-over 19th century discussion. Is the way forward based on industrial nationalism or international socialism? The language has been updated, but the basic platforms have not.

It seems particularly strange given that half of our waking hours are at work, and for most people the world of work has nothing to do with either view. It is changing, yes, and may not seem to have a coherent vision of just what is happening in any way that affects politics. That disconnect is certainly the first problem.

But there are lessons to learn from the one force which does indeed shape the world of work and directly affects the daily routine of hundreds of millions of people in the developed world. These are the forces of the global market, and they are not going away.

Continue reading

Work Redefined

What has been called “The best job market in half a century” is reason enough to revisit this piece from three years ago.

Is technology a net creator or destroyer of jobs? The question is as old as the Industrial Revolution, when workers in mills found themselves put out of work by large industrial looms. In France, they threw their shoes (sabots) into the weaving machines to destroy them – the origin of the term “sabotage”. The protests didn’t stop the machines, however, and the workers had to find something else to do in an ever-changing economy where machines did more and more work.

Today, the pace of technological change is faster than ever, with new gadgets coming into our lives constantly. Automation is also transforming our lives, with new robots and artificial intelligence replacing workers constantly. Are today’s productivity gains tomorrow’s unemployment? Increasingly those who study technology in our lives and the popular media are coming to the conclusion that yes, workers are net losers in the race against tech. And this is not a partisan issue.

Continue reading

One Giant Factory

This is a post from 2009, updated heavily.  

Canton, Ohio, is a brick and proper kind of town that most people know for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  I was there to visit a customer who was kind enough to give one of the new products I was developing a real-world trial.  That went well enough, but Canton itself was a bit of a mystery.  Why is it there?  What did people do that gave them the scratch to create a decent town that was aging poorly?  One night I had to ask my favorite authority on these kinds of questions, which is a random person in a bar – color is always more important to me than accuracy.  But in Canton, Ohio, there is only one answer to the question as to why they exist:

Continue reading

Redefining Work

A busy day calls for a repeat. This piece from two years ago demands a revisit in light of the potential for inflation now that we are approaching full employment and wages are indeed rising.

Is technology a net creator or destroyer of jobs? The question is as old as the Industrial Revolution, when workers in mills found themselves put out of work by large industrial looms. In France, they threw their shoes (sabots) into the weaving machines to destroy them – the origin of the term “sabotage”. The protests didn’t stop the machines, however, and the workers had to find something else to do in an ever-changing economy where machines did more and more work.

Today, the pace of technological change is faster than ever, with new gadgets coming into our lives constantly. Automation is also transforming our lives, with new robots and artificial intelligence replacing workers constantly. Are today’s productivity gains tomorrow’s unemployment? Increasingly those who study technology in our lives and the popular media are coming to the conclusion that yes, workers are net losers in the race against tech. And this is not a partisan issue.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Good Season(al Adjustment)

By the time you read this, the big news is likely to be jobs. It hasn’t been a hot topic since the election, and most of what was said during that strange period wasn’t exactly true. The big job gains for February, along with a large round-up for January, make it impossible to ignore.

The economy has definitely turned around.

It’s all over but the shouting, of which there will be a lot. There is little doubt that Republicans will claim credit for a big turnaround in 2017, which will be utter crap. This has been a long time in the making and things have not been actually bad for a long time. Nevermind. Positive news will feed on itself and everyone will be happier.

But there is one final twist to the very good news – it’s really in the adjustment.

Continue reading