orestes-pursued-by-furries

What if Russia’s invasion of Crimea is really a post-democracy problem?

The Crimea crisis may feel like a throwback to the Cold War, but it’s actually reflective of 21st century democracy.

ImageDemocracy is defined as “a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.” Despotism is “the exercise of absolute power, especially in a cruel and oppressive way.”

A child denied any access to sweeties, despite abject pleas to the contrary, is experiencing despotism. A child offered a choice of two sweeties, but not one of the fifty they actually wanted, is experiencing democracy.

History is messy. Continue reading

Image (2) SCOTUSexterior.png for post 46109

McCutcheon v. FEC: another Citizens United

When wealthy individuals can donate unlimited sums of money to election campaigns, their votes count more than ours.

Should the rich have a larger say in the outcome of elections? It sounds like a silly question to ask, but with the decision of Citizens United v. FEC, the answer seemed to be a resounding “yes.” With the latest campaign finance case, McCutcheon v. FEC, the rich might have even more power headed their way.

In 2010, the Supreme Court issued a landmark campaign finance ruling with its Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. Splitting 5-4, the fine judges at SCOTUS decided that the First Amendment prohibits the government from limiting independent expenditures by unions, corporations, associations, politically active non-profits and super PACs – allowing these groups to donate millions of dollars to campaigns and potentially swing elections with money. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Journalism

The daily newspaper editorial: Make it weekly, please

Daily editorials, striving to not piss off anyone, have achieved ‘terminal neutrality’

Who — or what — killed the great American editorial? Wasn’t there a time when great newspaper editorials regularly thundered and whispered, sighed and screamed, were outraged or outraged others?

Paul Greenberg, the editorial-page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and a 1969 Pulitzer Prize winner, poses these questions on the website of the Association of Opinion Journalists.

Greenberg calls the forces that murdered the American newspaper editorial “as impersonal and characterless as many of the editorials themselves.” Among them are the goal of not pissing off anyone; “the stultifying editorial conference,” designed to drain life out of editorial positions; and hewing to “the party line or socio-economic fashion.” These forces produced, says Greenberg, “terminal neutrality.”

Although these forces had the daily newspaper editorial on its deathbed by the mid-1980s, Greenberg doesn’t reveal that I — yes, me! (gasp!) — pulled the plug on its life support. Yep, I pounded a few nails into the coffin of the daily newspaper editorial all by myself. Continue reading

Rush Sold Out

Walmart “Working Man” ad: Rush sold out their fans. Big time. #WTF

Rush’s decision to license “Working Man” to a company that has declared war on American workers is one of the biggest betrayals of trust in Rock history.

Rush Sold OutYesterday I offered up a brief post wondering what the folks at Walmart were thinking when they chose to use Rush’s iconic “Working Man” as the soundtrack for their ad on investing more money in American manufacturers. Rush, in case you don’t know them, is Canadian, and that struck me as a tad … ironic. Maybe for a follow-up they can do something with Alanis Morissette. Or a Chinese band, if they want to be especially heavy-handed.

Today it’s time to ask WTF Rush was thinking when it decided to sell out to one of the most egregiously anti-working man corporations on the planet.

First off, let’s get some perspective on the claim. The ad says that in the next 10 years they’re “pledging $250 billion to products purchased from American factories.” That’s a lot of money. However, this is a company with 2013 revenues of nearly $470 billion, so the ad shouldn’t be construed as a commitment to go all-in on the American worker. Continue reading

Advertising

Advertising’s enticement: You must crave, therefore you must buy

Advertising may be evil, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil.

Despite my exposure to what a colleague estimates is nearly 100 million advertising impressions as I approach seven decades of life, I am not taller, I am not more attractive, I am not thinner, and I sure as hell don’t smell much better than I did in the 1950s.

I teach in a journalism school in which more students aspire to be advertising and PR madmen and madwomen than journalists. So I think about advertising often — mostly with disbelief and frequent outrage (the righteous kind, y’know).

The disbelief: I watch an ad in which a pricey luxury sedan maneuvers at night through lanes illuminated by paper lanterns. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Economy

We sell to the rich, to the poor — but not the middle class

My refrigerator is fatigued. Soon, but hopefully not too soon, I’ll need to replace it. Will I be able to buy a modestly priced, well-built but not fancy refrigerator that will last the rest of my life?

I am not rich; I am not poor. I have a middling five-figure annual salary. I am parked firmly in the middle class. But, according to a New York Times story by Nelson D. Schwartz, American business is becoming less interested in selling to me and the rest of us mired in the middle — because the middle class is shrinking. Writes Schwartz:

As politicians and pundits in Washington continue to spar over whether economic inequality is in fact deepening, in corporate America there really is no debate at all. The post-recession reality is that the customer base for businesses that appeal to the middle class is shrinking as the top tier pulls even further away.

Continue reading

Africa

Tackling poverty means that there will be more KFCs in Africa

Photo credit: CIMMYT.

Smallholder farmer prepares maize plot for planting with CIMMYT improved varieties, Embu, Kenya

Gates Foundation and KFC initiatives are better news than many understand.

Rural villages in Africa are not just poor, their demography is hollowed out. Continue reading

Socialist Test

Are you a socialist? Take the test….

A 2011 study yields surprising results.

The word “socialist” was, for all intents and purposes, dead and buried after the fall of the Iron Curtain. But it has enjoyed a huge resurgence in popularity since, oh, 2008 or so. The thing is, since we hadn’t had any real socialistm for awhile, our understanding of what the term means has gotten a little fuzzy.

So the question is, how socialist are you really? Maybe none at all, maybe a whole lot, and maybe somewhere in the middle. Let’s find out. Continue reading

2013

Goodbye 2013. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass.

2013The economic recovery hasn’t reached my house yet.

I called 2010 the worst year ever. Then I elaborated a little. Sometimes I look back and wonder how the hell I survived that hateful, soul-destroying twelve months. Other times I look back and I’m not sure I actually did. Pieces of me died in 2010 and I carry the emptiness around with me like the ghost pain of a severed limb.

It wasn’t just me, either. 2010 did all it could to destroy a lot of wonderful people, many of them close to me. Continue reading

CATEGORY: CATEGORY: ArtSunday

ArtSunday: The architecture of home…

Even in America, home is where (historically) the class is

I grew up in a Southern mill town.

Such towns come in one of three primary flavors: tobacco, textiles, or furniture. My hometown was a textiles town, the home of several major textile companies over its roughly 220 year history.  As a fellow writer who’s also an Eden native once put it, most of the population of these towns worked in one “good Bastille” or another. Of course, that’s all gone now. Like most Southern mill towns, Eden, NC, is a town struggling to find an identity even as it struggles to survive. Continue reading

Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Black Thursday

Thanksgiving is now Black Thursday and Black Friday is upon us: what should America not be thankful for?

The nation gives thanks … for what?

I was never a William Burroughs fan, but I nonetheless find myself thinking about his 1986 “Thanksgiving Prayer,” surely one of the most caustic (and insightful) takes on our great American holiday. I’m in this sort of mood for a reason. Or two, or three.

First off, you may have noticed all the static around the news that more and more businesses will be open today, getting a jump on tomorrow’s appalling orgy of consumerism, Black Friday. That term originated in the early 1960s, apparently, with bus drivers and the police, who used it to describe the mayhem surrounding the biggest shopping day of the year. Continue reading

Politics

The Kennedy assassination: from Camelot to Clusterfuck

Yes, I know precisely where I was when someone murdered John Fitzgerald Kennedy. No, I do not want to hear where the hell you were. Nor do I want to read or watch any “retrospectives” on his assassination. Nor do I want to read or watch orations on what might have been had the shot or shots missed. I’m only concerned with what the hell actually happened in and to America since Kennedy died.

A half century has passed since my infatuation with Camelot. Fifty years have passed since the naïveté of my youth promised me wars will end, peace will reign, and society will be equitable. Even after the brutality of Daley’s thugs disrupted the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, Camelot sang as my siren. Even after gunfire from the National Guard killed four students at Kent State, I still believed in what the precisely cultivated mass mediations of JFK presented to me while he lived. Even after Nixon and his protect-me politics of Watergate, I had faith in process, politics, and people — even some politicians.
Continue reading

Politics: Democrats vs Republicans

Default is in our House

After years of watching our country claw its way back from the Great Recession, these debt ceiling and government shutdown are foreign to me. Why would we ever want to put our country in the position to default on our loans? Why is this even an argument?

And yet here we are, on the brink of default. From the Washington Post:

“The government will begin Monday with about $30 billion cash in the bank and a little more room to borrow as a result of extraordinary measures launched in the wake of the debt-ceiling crisis. By Thursday, administration officials say they will exhaust all borrowing authority and have only that cash on hand. Continue reading

Thank you, Elizabeth Warren

I first encountered Elizabeth Warren back in 2009, when I followed banks regularly for the hedge fund I worked for. At that time she was the head of the committee that the US Congress had set up to monitor the gargantuan mess known as TARP. Congress had appropriated an astonishing amount of taxpayer dollars to bail out the banks, and wanted to keep an eye on things, which seems sensible. Somehow, in a stroke of really good fortune in hindsight, Elizabeth Warren, a law professor at Harvard law School, got that post, as opposed to some SEC flunky. Continue reading

Surprise! US government actually shuts down.

One of the more surreal aspects of the current government shutdown is the fact that the people responsible for shutting down the government appear to be very surprised that the government has, you know, actually shut down. So last week we had the spectacle of some Congressmen re-opening Arlington Cemetery after it had closed, and of one (Texas, of course) Congressman yelling at a National Park employee as if the shutdown were her fault. Some Congressmen appear surprised that they would be asked to give up their paychecks just because government workers aren’t being paid. Continue reading

PoliticsLawGovernment4

I hate to say it, but the GOP is right

I hope you didn’t sprain anything or break anything irreplaceable.  For what it’s worth, you people have no idea how hard it is to resist the trite “wipe coffee off monitor” quip at this juncture.

Bear with me.

Time and again we hear the GOP, establishment and fringe alike, tell us that we’ve got too much government. Never mind the irony of a party that practices medicine without a license by way of routinely mandating transvaginal ultrasounds telling us what too much government is. Just, um, never mind. Never mind a lot of horribly invasive “small” government ironies.

Damn, it’s hard to do this with a straight face.

Let me try again. Continue reading

CATEGORY: BusinessFinance2

Why we’ll continue to face shutdown battles and debt ceiling debates

Stocks End Week Lower As Govt. Shutdown Deadline Approaches

U.S. stock indexes fell on Friday as the September 30 deadline for an emergency budget deal in Washington to avoid a Government shutdown loomed ever closer.

Is it correlation or causation? Tough call. The way McSherry puts it in the Forbes article, one thing happens as another thing happens. Sounds like correlation, right?

But it was more company-specific issues that affected many stock prices on Friday.

McSherry provides several supporting examples following that last statement. I would think rational-sounding answers replete with performance figures, even bad ones, would do more to placate nervous shareholders. Bad figures are things that management can do something about. The last thing shareholders want to hear is that their investments are entirely at the mercy of a capricious DC establishment engaged in a junkpunching contest. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Taxation

Aren’t crippling sanctions and regime change what we seek against enemies?

A wild GOP appears!

Seriously. If one searches on the terms effect of crippling sanctions, one finds over 800,000 results at Google. A quick review of the first great many confirms, at the very least, that Iran, an enemy (so-called), is the primary subject. Debate rages as to whether sanctions are effective for accomplishing their intended goals, but there seems to be a fair amount of detailed information that they are certainly effective at damaging the enemy’s middle class.

This just in! Partisan radicals have stormed buildings nationwide and are holding hostages at gunpoint. If their demands are not met, they will kill as many hostages as they need to until the Obama administration backs down on the Affordable Care Act.

Here we are, the 21st Century barely warming up, and a select band of partisan radicals famous for co-opting an unholy trinity of political party, fake philosophy, and extremist religion are proposing just such crippling sanctions that would certainly do more to harm the middle class than they would to meet stated objectives. The problem is, those partisans are right here in America, the regime they seek to change is our own, and the net result is that they are treating America as the enemy.

Terrorism is the application of violence or threat of violence to attain political goals. Repeal of the ACA is the obstructionist GOP contingent’s stated political goal. That the threat of government shutdown almost certainly results in the death of greater than 0% of those affected is, of necessity, a threat of violence in the same way that this particular politically partisan contingent construes taxation to be violence. Ergo, GOP obstructionist radicals are, like Al Nusra Front, terrorists actively engaged not only in threats of violence against the American people for their political goals, but in the undermining of national security. Adding insult to injury, their assault on the American people won’t even accomplish their goal if they start executing hostages.

Taxation as theft

Mr. Boehner said the dispute with Democrats amounted to a question of “how much more money do we want to steal from the American people to fund more government.” 

Clearly, we are dealing with folks that believe that the apparently non-violent is, by extension, actually violence. For them, the abstract is concrete. I believe I fairly make their case when I put it thusly:

The government sends you a polite letter notifying you that taxes are due and payable. You send a polite letter back indicating that you will not relinquish your funds upon their polite request. The government proceeds to shuffle about other seemingly polite pieces of paper such that you are required to appear in court. Not wishing to appear ungracious, you make your appearance. The judge informs you, ever so politely, that payment is not optional. It is mandatory. You politely decline. The government proceeds to shuffle about more seemingly polite pieces of paper. At some point, gentlemen armed with guns and authority arrive at your home or place of employment, presenting polite pieces of paper indicating seizure of a variety of your assets. Followed through to its logical fruition, the peaceful and noncompliant citizen is eventually faced with drawn weapons. Violence!

Terrorism

The use of violence or the threat of violence, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political goals.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

Simplified rendering of the latest GOP legislative tactic: Repeal Obamacare (political goal) or we will shut down the government.

See what you made us do?

Fox News: Capitol Hill report warns shutdown could pose risks to national security

“We had victory today,” House Speaker John Boehner said after the vote. “The House has listened to the American people. Now it’s time for the U.S. Senate to listen.”

Yes, because taking America hostage and issuing a credible threat of indiscrimate death to achieve your political goals is a victory.  Added bonus, you actually jeopardize American national security.  We see what you did there.

With that bit of preamble out of the way, let’s take a look at a slice of America as an example of the potential effects of a government shutdown, shall we?

America Under Siege

What a government shutdown would look like in Nevada

The current threats, however, may be more plausible than earlier occasions when Congress sounded an alarm. For the first time, there’s a solid faction of the Republican Party openly angling for a shutdown and for lawmakers to vote to prove how much they really hate Obamacare.

And it’s not like Democrats are about to wave a white flag in surrender just days before the health care exchanges are scheduled for their national debut.

So if a government shutdown is on the horizon, what would it look like for Nevada? Here’s a list of what and where to expect the local effects.

For the sake of simplicity, however illusory, let’s assume that while the numbers presented in the Sun’s article will differ from region to region, the effect of a government shutdown as experienced elsewhere in the country will essentially mirror the effect in Nevada.

Number, numbers everywhere, and not a drop of blood to drink. Pity that, because we only seem to understand blood. Allow me to reframe issue a touch. We’re not just dealing with clowns in clown cars here. We’re dealing with clowns like this:

I’ve got your number, and it’s sweet and gooey!

Hold on, what? Blood? Clowns? Bloodthirsty clowns? What the hell?

Simple. Numbers are the crunchy outside. Blood is what makes numbers gooey in the middle.  These clownish bloodthirsty freaks holding America hostage talk numbers, numbers without calling attention to the fact that it’s actual American blood they’ll gladly spill in pursuit of their agenda.  Hell, even if they actually believe that they’re preventing a greater harm, Obamacare, with its fictitious death panels, that’s just not going to wash.  Destroying the village to save it wasn’t good enough for My Lai.  It’s not good enough for us here.  And it doesn’t change the fact that threatening violence in pursuit of a political goal is a form of terrorism.

This is one arena where GOP & Co. have Team Blue at a severe disadvantage. These clown-headed redshirts (therein lies our sole cause for optimism where they are concerned) are content to use their croupier’s rakes to push little plastic political soldiers around on maps and to hell with the short-term consequences, except when that means they get to gorge on blood-filled numbers that fall out of their cracked and broken toys. It makes great political theater, after all. Pass the popcorn!

Team Blue, on the other hand (provided I leave my cynicism at the door for a moment), positions itself as those who see those little plastic figures as representing very real people, so short-term consequences are as important as the long ones. If the Blues can’t outnumber these Clown Patrol at the polls in deep red territory, at some point Team Blue needs to be willing to make the painful sacrifices necessary to meet bloodthirsty clowns in the abstract.

“Hyperbole!” you say. “Hogwash,” I reply.

For that matter, at the end of this post, I suggest how to concretely drub them about the head and shoulders with their own abstractions.  Far be if from me to show up with a bucket of bitching and not have a solution to offer.

A Dash of Legalese

“But for” – In the law, a proximate cause is an event sufficiently related to a legally recognizable injury to be held to be the cause of that injury. There are two types of causation in the law: cause-in-fact, and proximate (or legal) cause. Cause-in-fact is determined by the “but for” test: But for the action, the result would not have happened. For example, but for running the red light, the collision would not have occurred. For an act to cause a harm, both tests must be met; proximate cause is a legal limitation on cause-in-fact.

Proximate Cause @ Wikipedia

A Look at Those Tasty, Crunchy Numbers and Their Gooey, Bloody Filling

God always punishes us for what we can’t imagine.

Stephen King, Duma Key

The article at the Las Vegas Sun highlights a great many consequences that, but for GOP terrorist hostage-taking, would not occur.

Approximately 11,000 civilian federal workers in Nevada may be furloughed or asked to work, temporarily, without pay. Does this mean their bills stop? That a bank will kindly waive mortgage payments? That they cease needing food, clothing, healthcare, fuel, automotive insurance, or a host of other necessities? Of course not. Is it really that much of a stretch of the imagination to believe that at least one of these workers or their family members may actually die as a result of such deprivations as may be caused by the GOP’s act of terror? To wit, I posit that some percentage greater than 0% of affected workers and/or their family members face a threat of death that, but for GOP hostage-taking, they would not face.

Active duty service members should not expect to be paid until after the shutdown is ended. I posit that some percentage greater than 0% of active duty service members, distracted by a financial crisis imposed on them by GOP terrorists, and perhaps other service members and/or civilians that rely upon the effective discharge of their duties, will die. Is it really too much to imagine that an interruption of soldiers’ allotments to their families back home be would weigh heavily and distractingly on their hearts? That worries about keeping the lights on and mortgages paid back home would add to the already inordinate burdens they bear in the name of patriotism and service to country? Do we not have enough active duty military suicides already? But for GOP terrorism, this additional risk would not exist.

What about the risk of death faced by military contractors and their families? Is it too much to think that even one might die for no other reason than hardships caused by GOP terrorism?

Some in the country, depending on the ability of their state to bridge the gap between unemployment benefits due and funds available from the federal government, might suddenly find themselves even farther up shit creek without a paddle. Again, I don’t think it’s a stretch of the imagination to suggest that greater than 0% of the people already struggling to survive will experience the slashing of their unemployment benefits in the form of death that, but for GOP terrorism, would not occur.

Social Security benefits for existing recipients may be safe, for some value of the word “safe,” but new applicants and those awaiting adjudication won’t be so lucky. Will every single one of those unfortunates be able to bridge the gap between existing resources and the start of their benefits? That’s yet another risk the GOP is willing to take with American lives.

The same goes for new applicants for VA benefits. Once again, when it comes to fully supporting our troops, the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way for the good of our nation, the GOP sees no problem with putting this incredibly at-risk population under the gun. Think that active duty suicide rate was jaw dropping? Can anyone believe that a government shutdown will do anything to improve on the suicide rate among veterans? Yet again, but for GOP terrorism, some percentage greater than 0% of veterans will likely die.

Surely none of this affects civilians who work in the home construction market, right? Wrong. FHA won’t be processing loans under a shutdown. No loans, no purchases. No purchases, less work for contractors, less sales for home improvement businesses and suppliers. Take everything you know about trickle-down economics and apply it to loss instead. If someone, due to a political hit on an already struggling recovery, should lose their job, how much luck are they going to have, as a new applicant, in getting unemployment benefits from strapped state coffers? Don’t get weary of my repetition just yet. Death is death, after all, each one a tragedy, each one a mere speck of collateral damage the GOP is willing to embrace as part of its political machinations. But for GOP terrorism, some percentage greater than 0% of workers in the construction and allied trades will die.

Are the good folks in the private sector working to address our renewable energy issues immune? Nope. As indicated in the article, programs expecting payments at the beginning of the fiscal year might just have to wait. Sometimes waiting is not an option. If those concerns cannot find a way to stay operational while funds are pending, doors get closed, sometimes permanently. Not only is that bad for our energy independence and bad for the environment, that’s bad for workers who, like construction industry workers, could end up competing for limited assistance resources. Yet again, but for GOP terrorism, some percentage greater than 0% of workers in the renewable energy industry will die.

Think the latest attempt at slashing $40 billion from food stamps was extreme? Heaven help you if you rely on that or similar public assistance if your state draws the short straw when it comes to timing. Yet again, but for GOP terrorism, some percentage greater than 0% of public assistance recipients will die.

Even vacationers, but more importantly, those who depend upon them, would feel the bite. With visa and passport processing being delayed, a great many, tens of thousands if history is a sufficient guide, will have to cancel plans. Those counting on tourism revenue will surely be adversely affected. Remember, all it takes is one layoff, one desperate soul pushed beyond despair. That’s a life and death risk the GOP is willing to take. Yet again, but for GOP terrorism, some percentage greater than 0% of tourism and hospitality workers will die.

All of that, all of those possible indiscriminate deaths that, but for GOP terrorism wouldn’t even be up for discussion, and their hostage-taking goal won’t even stop Obamacare thanks to the fact that the money that needs to be spent for the next stage in the rollout has already been spent. As pointed out in the article, at least this time we don’t have to worry about critical emergency services. We’ll just have to wait for America’s own Al Nusra Front as embodied in the current obstructionist GOP contingent to pull out their guns again when the next debt ceiling debacle comes into play.

Now, I realize that the temptation will be great to rebut with the claim that death is an unfortunate possible unintended consequence of even the most well-intended policies.  I submit that the difference here is quite stark and simple.  Faced with a failure to prevail in the election booth, terrorists hiding behind the GOP front are overtly threatening to harm our nation if their demands are not met.  As for my seemingly strident cry, again and again, that greater than 0% of affected populations will die, let me as you this.  What is more likely to be true, an absolute assertion that nobody will die as a result of this GOP threat (100% will survive), or that even one will will perish?  How does this differ from a madman pointing a scary rifle into a crowd and letting off ten rounds if he doesn’t get his way?  Would it even matter if all ten rounds miss?  The threat is all too horribly real.

To recapitulate, nearly verbatim, from the beginning of this post, terrorism is the application of violence or threat of violence to attain political goals. Repeal of the ACA is the obstructionist GOP contingent’s stated political goal. The threat of government shutdown which, as suggested above, almost certainly results in the death of greater than 0% of those affected, is, of necessity, a threat of violence in at least the same way that this particular politically partisan contingent construes taxation to be violence, although I contend that my claim is far more grounded in reality. GOP obstructionist radicals are, like Al Nusra Front, terrorists actively engaged, not only in threats of indiscriminate violence, in this case directly against the American people, for the attainment of political goals, but also in compromising America’s national security.   Perhaps its time we start treating them as terrorists.

To the extent that their efforts undermine national security, I would also argue that the GOP terrorist contingent lends aid and support to the enemy and should, as such, be charged and tried for treason.

—-

Image credits:

Al Nusra Front Executions. Image, as released by Al Nusra Front, posted at Threat Matrix.

Dice. Photo by John Morgan @ flikr.com.  Licensed under Creative Commons.

Scary Clown Face by Spider.Dog @ flikr.com. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Taxation is Force. Posted at thinksquad, unattributed.

CATEGORY: Education

Should teachers be paid more? No.

Recently, I made same comment to my fellow Scrogues and got some, ummm, disagreement.

They then trotted out arguments about it being teachers that are entrusted with our most precious resource, our children, that the value they provide is incalculable, that it was kindly Miss McCutcheon in second grade that germinated my love of poetry with her passionate reading of Dr. Seuss. To quote Jimi Hendrix, “Blah blah, woof woof.”

The value argument is absurd on its face. First of all, relatively few professions are remunerated on value—perhaps professional athletes, some entertainers, commission-based salesmen, and arguably CEO’s whose pay package is tied to stock options. The reason is that to pay someone based on value creation, it’s first necessary that it be possible to calculate value. Sorry, but that’s how it works.

Calculating the value of instruction to hundreds of children that will pay off at some undetermined point in the future is simply impossible. It would require an ability to estimate what value each child will provide to society over his or her lifetime, what that value would have been without the contribution of each particular teacher absent the effects of parents, friends, and other teachers, and the ability to discount that back to the present. Even were it possible, I suspect most teachers would be wary about signing up for that pay program, because they wouldn’t want to see their annual bonus docked because Little Johnny will grow up to be meth dealer in twelve years.

Come on, folks, everybody thinks they’re paid under their true value, from CEO’s that make fifty mil a year (really, I know a couple) to garbage collectors.

Now that we’ve dismissed that silly value argument and made poor Miss McCutcheon cry, let’s talk about how most jobs are really remunerated, supply and demand. Teachers don’t like it that they are paid according to the laws of economics. Welcome to the club. People love economics when it comes out in their favor, and hate it when it doesn’t. The same folks who go to WalMart are the ones who see their jobs being outsourced. Wall Street tycoons who piously talk about the free market are the first to grovel and beg for government hand-outs when things go south.  People don’t like economics because the market is ruthlessly rational. It may not be fair, but it’s rational.

It’s a bit like global warming. It doesn’t matter if you believe in it or not, it’s still getting warmer. It doesn’t matter if you believe in supply and demand or not, that’s still the way most of the world, including labor markets, works.  Even centrally planned economies are subject to the laws of supply and demand—that’s why gray markets exist.

Now labor markets aren’t completely pure for a variety of reasons—unions, restrictions on immigration, Hay systems, licensing boards, racism, etc, etc.  but for all intents and purposes we can think of the job market facing an average person entering the job market as being subject to the laws of economics, specifically supply and demand.

The way that works is this.  The demand for how many of each profession is determined by the economy. For example, in the U.S., we have jobs for 8,374,910 educators, trainers and librarians. We have jobs for 641,020 lawyers, 3,456,000 computer scientists, and 61,140 tax preparers. These are the number of current people in those jobs at current wages. (The math gets very complicated very fast, and this simplified version is close enough.)

The wages for each profession is determined by how much the economy needs to pay to get  a supply of 641,020 qualified people to be lawyers. For example, 641,020 people are able and willing to be lawyers. For $130,880, they will undergo the years of training necessary, face the uncertainty of the profession, and do boring work.

People are willing to work as social workers for $44,200 per year and as teachers for $51,120. People will be sales reps for $68,580 and computer programmers for $80,200. If nobody is willing to be a social worker and the economy needs more, it will raise the wages until it gets the number it needs. If it needs fewer, it will lower the wages until some leave the profession and go do other jobs.

So why don’t teachers get paid more? Simply put, because 8,374,910 people, exactly what the economy needs, are willing to do it for $51,120 each. Could we as a society decide to pay them $60,000 each? Of  course we could, but why would we? It’s a bit like if a washing machine repairman fixed your dryer for $200, but because dry clothes are important to you, you insisted on giving him or her $500. And the same for the grocer, doctor, hair dresser, etc. Would any rational person do that? Of course not. Remember, at the end of the day, teacher salaries don’t come from some magical pot of money in the sky, but from people’s taxes, and most people don’t want to pay any more than they have to.

The real question is why so many people are willing to be teachers for $51,120. I admit, I don’t get it. I tried a little college teaching and hated it. Yes, it has low barriers to entry, the hours are good,  it has a certain shabby chic status and job security, but it’s tedious, you spend your time around unhappy peers who bitch all the time, and you don’t make any money.  I went into business, which had no job security, but paid well and was interesting. Still some people find teaching a desirable job, 8,374,910 to be exact, and as long as they do and are willing to do it for $51,120, then that’s what they’ll get paid.

They’re not alone. As a rule, jobs that people want to do (teacher, writer, pastry chef, antiques store owner, diving instructor) always pay less than jobs people don’t want to do (tax preparer, salesperson, etc.) It’s not necessary that teachers like their work (although I think they do. Two of the people who weighed in have told me they love teaching.) It means that as long as they like it better than their alternatives, they will be willing to work for less to do it.

When I made this point, my fellow Scrogues stopped hurling insults and picked up stones.  One comment was especially interesting. A teacher explained why she taught instead of other professions. She said

I REALLY hated the 2 months I worked in higher ed tech sales after the company I worked for shut the training department I led.  Cold-calling made me feel unclean.  I was lucky they didn’t cut my salary for those 2 months from what I had been making as head of training to commission only.

Exactly. That’s exactly my point. And as long as people like to teach, or at least like it more than they like selling, sales reps will always make $68,580 and teachers will always make $51,120.

Don’t get pissed at me. Go throw eggs at the home of an economics professor.

P.S. What could dedicated, competent, passionate teachers do to raise their wages? It’s simple really. De-unionize and embrace standardized testing. That would create a market between various school systems for the best teachers, and while average wages might stay the same, you’d see wages shoot up for the best. Indeed, top suburban school systems already pay more than their rural and inner city counterparts, but it’s still within a relatively narrow band. If teachers could prove their abilities, e.g., with their students test scores before and after they got them, then they’d get paid. But I haven’t heard any teachers arguing for this.

Next post: Message to Adjuncts: Administrators aren’t the enemy, tenured professors are.