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.
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.
If you’re like most people, you probably think that you can never have too much access to credit. After all, you never know what might go horribly wrong or when an opportunity to really follow your dream might come up. A little scratch ready in the background might be the difference between the good life and something much less.
Then again, a lot of credit has a corrosive effect. In a world saturated with borrowing everything is judged against the expected return if the money was simply loaned out at market rates. It seems reasonable that where a little credit is a good thing a lot of credit, defining everything in the world, is the biggest enemy of both long-term thinking and a society looking to maximize happiness and human potential.
Logic says that where a little credit is good a lot could be bad, meaning there is an optimal point. Where is that? Where are we with respect to a good level of credit? It turns out that train left the station a very long time ago – and this may explain a lot of the problems in this economy.
How will the economy perform in 2015? In many ways, it’s a lot like the weather. The first guess is that we should expect more of the same from 2014, which is to say a steady improvement. Last year was a turning point for many people as the bottom hit five years ago was finally shaken off. Progress was made overall – it’s really a question of who benefited and who will continue to benefit.
But when putting together an economic forecast for the coming year something stands out that is quite remarkable. There are hardly any trends for 2015 that should not be important in 2016 as well. Understanding why takes Barataria back to the fundamental principles, theories really, that have guided our understanding of the economy and where it is going.
Black Friday is well named. The term seems to originate with the Philadelphia Police, who in 1966 started to dread the massive disruption in traffic that put them all on overtime the day after Thanksgiving. The massive public expense for the benefit of retailers was given the dark moniker because it was something that the city wanted to dissuade.
It’s worth noting that this was the first holiday retail season after the debut screening of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in December 1965, which also decried how commercialism has destroyed Christmas.
From this simpler time, things have only gotten worse. After a few decades of tacit acceptance of the dark day, the hours have been pushed back from a 6AM start time to before midnight. This year, Wal-Mart plans to open at 8PM on Thanksgiving Day and workers are organizing a strike that may shut the whole operation down. The issue? Over work, under pay – and much of the cost of low, low prices ultimately born by the public. It’s time to put a stop to Black Friday as we know it.