Left Out: Labor Demand and the Supply Profile

Left Out: Labor Demand and the Supply Profile
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Although the title of this article highlights the obvious current gap between labor supply and demand, equally if not more important is the somewhat less obvious mismatch between the profiles of labor demand and that of its available supply. We have plenty of jobs that too few are qualified to supply with their labor. There was a book around by the late 1970s that was already predicting that the information technology revolution was going to make much labor obsolete. The book noted that nothing was being done in terms of the education and training urgently needed to forestall the otherwise inevitable future mismatch.

Our failure to pay any attention to this is certainly a large chunk of what is responsible for the current unemployment, underemployment, and just plain surrender to despair in finding suitable work. The lack of foresight and resulting lack of political will to do anything about it has created a mess. Many in industry knew, but this was apparently not collectively important enough to industry, since their lack of demand for lower skilled labor was not nearly as large or immediate a liability for them as it was and still remains for labor. They knew that automation was destined to fill the gap.

The intention here is not to discuss job displacement from immigration, outsourcing to India and other countries, the calculated emasculation of bargaining power for labor, or related problems. These are valid issues, but they lie outside the scope of this article. Quite simply, too many have too few usable skills to find work and either already are, or destined to unwillingly become, social drone bees. We could have foreseen this. Some did and too few listened.

Around 1980 I was predicting that the noticeably waning quality of education was going to create a private industrial response to close this impending gap. My free market advocacy felt that this was going to be a positive thing. I was right about the increasingly commercialized education aspect, but wrong about it doing much to fill this otherwise inevitable gap.  Much of the marketing in commercial education consists only of selling intellectual snake oil and profiting handsomely on the student loans their useless education disallows the students to pay back. Yes, these commercial education institutes are indeed functioning on Ayn Rand's self-interest paradigm, too. Ironically, these same people are probably business oriented conservatives who are disdainful of those dependent on the government while they profit from government loans to their students.

Ayn Rand's noble scenarios and her entire philosophy seem to unwittingly assume ideal people and situations that don't exist in any comprehensive sense in the real world. Current economic theory assumes "rational self-interest" right in line with Rand's position. Research clearly shows that human beings often fail to act with rational self-interest as a result of a variety of psychological and emotional factors. Ultimately, this kind of idealism is the flaw in Marxist thinking on the opposite end of the spectrum. Similar idealism is also the flaw in anarchist thinking.

On the other hand, our founders were realists who implemented checks and balances intended to countermand overly idealistic assumptions. In contrast, Ayn Rand's view was essentially that of people functioning ideally in economic terms, working in an environment of relative economic anarchy. Her ideas would work as described only if we assume that ideal people and efficient markets are virtually universal throughout an economy, along with honest government free of conflicts of interest.

Although we currently have plenty of regulations, the political influence of industrial lobbies has dictated too many of them. The sad result is a complex, twisted tangle of regulatory red tape too often combined with ludicrous favoritism toward specific interests. We need a governmental and economic structure that does not depend on any kind of idealism; that works in the real, practical world and that is also relatively free of the conflicts of interest undue financial and political influence create. Our founders tried to do that, but it has been subverted by all kinds of less than virtuous selfishness as well as by a great deal of naïve idealism.

The scientists who in the sixties were predicting technology would hand us a twenty-hour work week in a few decades failed to factor in short-term profit seeking and the lack of political will in the most politically influential sphere, which was and is naturally constituted mainly of those with the most financial clout. Most of the rest of us were just plain ignorant of the impending realities. It is not too much of a generalization, given the historical evidence, to state that industry has always needed some massive popular uptick in political will to motivate them to treat labor well enough even for their own long term business interests, let alone those of the economy as a whole.

The all too typical corporate mindset is intrinsically short-sighted. These businesses are held captive by their need to keep their quarterly reports looking good for pension fund investors, shareholders, etc. Everyone working in their own interests is natural and inevitable, as Ayn Rand was so fond of pointing out. But contrary to her philosophy, when the economic incentives are intrinsically near-sighted it often fails to actually work in the overall best interests of society. In the long term this fails to work nearly as well as it could have even for the top rungs of the financial and political ladder.

Among far too many of those fortunate ones somewhat better trained or educated there is a conspicuous lack of any compassion for those left out of the current picture. This is especially so among those from similar social classes in which they traditionally competed with each other for work. The more fortunate exhibit an overweening pride, a vainglorious basking in their success as contrasted with those less fortunate. This tends to show up as disdain for the latter and characterization of them as lazy, dependent people who just want a government handout. Some of us accuse them of eating up our hard-earned money with taxes to pay for unemployment insurance, welfare, food stamps, Medicare, etc. But as even Ayn Rand might have guessed, self-interest also motivates the less fortunate enough to desire their own survival. After all, industry is certainly not taking care of that.

The twenty-hour work week scenario predicted in the sixties could never have worked unless the general population was educated or trained to handle the more highly skilled jobs a highly technical economy demands. It also would have required a corporate world willing to share with those increased numbers who had acquired the necessary skills the results of essentially having doubled productivity. These factors would have combined to produce a broader labor base working fewer hours as logically predicted, were it not for Rand's savvy but not always so virtuous selfishness.

Of course, that would have meant lower profits for industry. As it is, only industry is profiting from the higher productivity, enormously so, while those who have enough skills to find work are not paid anything that remotely corresponds historically with their level of productivity. Too many of the rest languish in despair and have to depend at least to some degree on the government for their survival. Meanwhile, the corporate political lackeys in government want to lower taxes on those at the top. God forbid that anyone should even suggest raising them!

Now here is some real nitty-gritty data from way down in the trenches. No one can support a decent standard of living today cleaning toilets. The lack of higher level skills in a good chunk of the population limits them to physical labor that pays little if anything above that level. More than one in five adults in the U.S. reads below the fifth grade level!* The statistics are lamentable indeed:

Percent of U.S. adults who can't read: 14 %

Number of U.S. adults who can't read: 32 Million

*Percent of U.S. adults who read below a 5th grade level: 21 %

Percent of prison inmates who can't read: 63 %

Percent of high school graduates who can't read: 19 %

(Click here for the source.)
 

The current labor supply and demand mismatch was not only predictable, but actually predicted by those with a little knowledge, intelligence, and insight. However, the mismatch was inevitable when we consider the lack of such knowledge, intelligence, and insight in much of the voting population at all social levels. This is not to mention the subversion of our political system with the complicity of too many politically naïve citizens, their often resulting complacence, or the ironically passionate, unwitting support of others for politicians working against their very supporters' interests.

We especially fail to see in most hard right conservatives any understanding or compassion for the less fortunate. Those who publicly manifest these cold attitudes usually fail to show any of the positive characteristics that would have foreseen this or even the hindsight today that should clearly tell us what has happened and why. We as a people need to collectively wake up to these realities with a strong desire to do something about them.

We can do this on an individual, creative level as some are already. We can also do it by exhibiting and exerting our political will loudly and clearly. We have infrastructure needs in this country with dire consequences looming if we fail to take care of them. The government needs to institute work programs that address these needs and that are integrated with training for skills needed in the current job market.

Since some of us seem bound to drive our economy further and further toward third-world status, the government also needs to provide a program that is something like a domestic equivalent of the Peace Corps. Such a program could serve the homeless and others living in abject poverty with little hope of improvement without such help, help that would empower them and enable self-sufficiency. Together we can make the right things happen as a practical expression of our sincere empathy and compassion for all those less fortunate.

In the bargain this would express in practical, productive terms our genuine gratitude for the opportunities life has granted us…something much more significant than a mere vacuous indulgence in the vanity of praise and thanks for our own good fortune. Oh, and by the way, it is perfectly alright to have a bleeding heart, whether conservative, liberal, or libertarian, as long as we do not remain satisfied to just sit still and bleed.

Comments

Robert Wendell Added Feb 18, 2014 - 11:12am
JoF, I read a good chunk of The Virtue of Selfishness decades ago. I had no quarrel with a lot of it. Since then, most of my understanding of her philosophy has just been the elaboration of what I had read through interaction with those who espouse her ideas. Her concept of rational self-interest has a strong element of truth in it to be sure. However, I don't believe that collectively we can depend on rational self-interest to work without some kind of policing of irrational self-interest, including lack of corporate incentives to respect human interests, general unethical business behaviors, and outright criminality. Our arms industry, for example, makes roughly ten times as much profit during war than in peace. They have strong lobbying organization. I believe Vietnam and Iraq and some of what is going on now are gratuitous wars that are a consequence of this. If that is rational self-interest at work and we have nothing to countermand it, you can have it. The problem is that if you have it, I have to swallow it, too.
Mike Haluska Added Feb 18, 2014 - 11:14am
Bob - nice article.  If anything has been evident over the past 50 years of federal government intervention in education it is that the following resulted:
 
1) education quality is lowered and focused on stupid initiatives that do little to help our kids be successful
 
2) due to government subsidies, higher education has gotten ridiculously expensive - every time the government adds a subsidy/grant/loan program, education institutions jack up the cost of education
 
3) local innovation and success is squashed by federal oversight - teachers and schools need to be free to innovate and find new ways to get kids motivated and learning
 
4) Giving parents the freedom to send their kids to any school (Vouchers) has forced lousy public schools and complacent teacher's union officials (NOT the teachers - I have the greatest admiration for 95% of them) to take actions in the kid's interests, not theirs.
Mike Haluska Added Feb 18, 2014 - 11:24am
Bob - your comment:
 
"Her (Ayn Rand) ideas would work as described only if we assume that ideal people and efficient markets are virtually universal throughout an economy, along with honest government free of conflicts of interest."
 
Why do keep insisting on mixing up crook's motivations with "rational self-interest"?  It is NOT rational to cheat a large number of people because you will eventually be caught and either jailed for fraud or run out of town on a rail. 
 
Again, I have read almost everything Rand has written and NOWHERE does she postulate or specify any "conditions" for a Free Market other than non-interference.  You admit that you have not studied Rand's works so please refrain from giving "facts and opinions" on a topic you aren't qualified to.
 
Carole McKee Added Feb 18, 2014 - 12:01pm
Robert--This is a really good article--all mostly true. I applaud your insight. he comments from others are equally good. 
Mike Haluska Added Feb 18, 2014 - 3:03pm
Bob - your comment:
 
"I believe Vietnam and Iraq and some of what is going on now are gratuitous wars that are a consequence of this. If that is rational self-interest at work and we have nothing to countermand it, you can have it."
 
is a great example of what happens when the Constitution is ignored/violated and the US goes to war without a formal declaration of war.  It is an usurping of power by the executive branch combined with a weak-kneed congress and a comatose Supreme Court.  I think the Supreme Court should stop hearing cases about abortion, gay rights, and any topic NOT in the purview of the federal government and start to do its primary duty - make sure that legislation and executive orders are Constitutional.   
 
Mike Haluska Added Feb 18, 2014 - 3:08pm
I'm also tired of slimy Atty Gen's that when asked about the President's legal authority in writing executive orders, they respond "every President did it".  That's a cop-out, not a straight answer.  We are turning our elected representatives into de facto "Rulers" and arming them sophisticated intelligence gathering authority and weapons.   
Robert Wendell Added Feb 18, 2014 - 4:30pm
Thank you, Debra! In one of my many recent comments under the article The Case for Market Socialism by Allen Goldstein (who is pretty far to my left from where stand, but whose heart is in the right place as I see it) I stated that we need "...legal measures strongly enforced to countermand conflicts of interest, which would require outlawing any kind of direct monetary influence on state interests from business interests. This and only this would allow government to judge the monetary interests of the state in terms of benefit to its citizens, uninfluenced by any direct benefit to themselves [politicians], but only by the indirect benefit derived from their own citizenship along with that of the rest.
 
"In my opinion, the big mistake our founders made was to leave this last out of the constitution. They included separation of church and state and checks and balances, but I don't think that was enough. I think our current situation illustrates the point. They should have included separation of direct monetary influence from business on the state as well. Without that, I believe corruption of government by business interests is inevitable."
 
So I agree with you wholeheartedly on that issue. You might also wish to take a look at my article Declaration of Economic Independence/Interdependence. It outlines the principles I believe should underlie good government in complex, technological societies and suggests ideas for how to implement some of them.
Robert Wendell Added Feb 18, 2014 - 4:32pm
Yes, Ben, and thank you, too! Our educational system is way down the international list now in terms of student knowledge. I went to the first grade in 1950. I used to complain about how teaching even then tended to stifle creative thinking and critical thought. Now I thank God I went to school when I did, since the teachers I witness now don't know their fecal orifices from a hole in the ground.
 
One of the main reasons for that is that although they technically qualify as professionals, anyone smart enough to be a truly competent professional won't work for long at current pay levels. Add to that the both parents work now to barely get by and what do you get? You get parents who don't have time or even know how to cook real, healthy food that everyone sits down together to eat. As to their children you end up far too often with a bunch of fat dumbos who don't respect their parents, other adults, or each other enough to behave halfway decently, can't read, write school papers as if they were texting on their damn cell phones, etc.
Robert Wendell Added Feb 18, 2014 - 4:43pm
Mark, thanks for the correction. I changed unfortunate to fortunate, so it's fixed now.
Robert Wendell Added Feb 18, 2014 - 6:07pm
Mike: "Again, I have read almost everything Rand has written and NOWHERE does she postulate or specify any "conditions" for a Free Market other than non-interference."
 
But Mike also says: "Why do keep insisting on mixing up crook's motivations with "rational self-interest"?"
 
My answer is simple, Mike. I don't. I just don't assume rational self-interest represents more than one aspect, a subset if you will, of the practical reality. That means "non-interference" by government is not an option.
 
Quoting JoF regarding the prohibition of private financial influence on government:
"Objectivism and Natural Law are in agreement that such prohibition is one of the few legitimate roles of government."
 
Government "interference" or "regulation", which I prefer to call policing, is something I don't believe we can rationally afford to privatize. That would result in the fox guarding the henhouse, which is pretty much what we have now anyway. Without such policing, we get a corrupt mixture of both kinds of self-interest. I submit that anyone who has had a "friend" who suddenly became an irrational idiot when money became involved has a solid basis for understanding how pervasive irrational self-interest is when money is involved. 
 
It is precisely private financial influence that has corrupted our regulatory structure and made it so counterproductive. It has required ad hoc countermeasures to prevent utter depravity, but which combined with our messy political process has resulted in such a tangle of regulatory red tape.
 
My only quarrel with the "virtue of selfishness" is that it's not necessarily virtuous at all in practice. It sometimes is and often isn't. To assume it is to the point that free, efficient markets can exist without government "interference" (i.e., policing) is idealistic to the point of becoming completely unrealistic. It doesn't matter that Rand's ideas would work if it weren't for so much irrational self-interest. That's not the real world. Marxism would also work if people were so highly motivated by charity that they enthusiastically and happily enabled do-nothings to mooch off the rest or simply helped the disabled under the ideal assumption that charity is so universally motivating that moochers don't even exist. I believe neither works for the same bottom line reason, which is that practical reality does not conform to any such ideals. JoF's natural law arguments as well as the various versions of anarchy would work, too, if people actually conducted their lives in conformity with natural law.
 
The basis for the inclusion of the checks and balances our founders instituted in our form of government was a fortunate realism stemming from experience with the English monarchy. This realism recognized that self-interest is not necessarily either rational at all, or virtuous for that matter. There has to be some means of practically dealing with this simple truth. But I think checks and balances were only part of the possible solution.
 
One of my core beliefs about government is that checks and balances should also include total government insulation from the influence of commercial or any other kind of private financial pressure. I believe the only way to protect government from otherwise inevitable corruption is to outlaw such pressure, just as we have with the separation of church and state. Our government is just as corrupted with sectarian secular influence as surely as a theocracy is infected with sectarian religious influence. We don't usually think of commercial interests as "sectarian", but they do have a secular equivalent.
 
One small example is the trucking industry that lobbied for our interstate highway system, against which I have no objections considered in isolation. I'm happy it exists. I was in the fifth grade when our Weekly Reader announced Eisenhower's support for the interstate highway system. A few years later I became a happy beneficiary of it when our trip to our maternal grandparents' home required much fewer hours to negotiate with much greater comfort.
 
However, there were other commercial pressures resulting in legislation I will not bother to enumerate that contributed to the growth of the much less efficient trucking industry and the eventual demise of a huge portion of the railroad industry. It also resulted in the virtually complete destruction of the passenger railroad industry. Anyone who has been the beneficiary of the efficient, pervasive passenger railroad system in Europe and is also old enough to remember the heyday of passenger rail travel in the U.S. realizes what a loss this has been. The vastly less fuel efficient airline industry is another beneficiary of our lopsided transportation system.
&
Robert Wendell Added Feb 18, 2014 - 6:12pm
Continued:


This was was all good for the auto, trucking, and airline industries and bad for conserving fossil fuel reserves and the environment, not to mention the economic abandonment of the demographic that cannot afford automobiles, flying, or do not wish to or cannot for whatever reason fly or drive. This is just a tiny example of how fundamentally and powerfully undue commercial pressure on government can affect the entire infrastructure of a major, highly technological society.
Robert Wendell Added Feb 18, 2014 - 6:18pm
Alvin, thank you for your encouraging comments. May you enjoy the best that life has to offer to a motivated man with high goals and the willingness to go for them with all his heart! Bravo, my brother!
Mike Haluska Added Feb 19, 2014 - 7:29am
Bob - I think we're converging on an understanding.  Can we agree on the following assumptions?
 
1) People are a mixed bag - some good, some bad
2) A Free Market is one where buyers and sellers are able to negotiate their own terms, and transactions take place without the use of force, coercion, extortion, etc.
3) There are always going to be people that try and "cheat" others or use undue influence on others to get what they want - there is no economic "system" that eliminates them.
4) A proper function of government by consent of the people is to protect individuals from harm by others.  In the Free Market this protection includes laws and regulations designed to catch and punish those offenders.
5) Another equally important function of government is to provide protection to allow all individuals (NOT GROUPS) the right to pursue their own separate interests within the law.  This includes non-interference in legal pursuits by any individual.
6) It is NOT a proper function of government to protect, destroy, shelter, favor, subsidize or provide any advantage to any individual, company, industry, union or trade association.  The collective actions of all people if a free market should be decide the success or failure of any enterprise.
 
How does the above set with you? 
Robert Wendell Added Feb 19, 2014 - 10:23pm
JoF: "Where you and I disagree, however, is what form of solution is required."
 
Please elaborate. I didn't quite get it if you feel you already did. We seem to agree that government must police commerce against unethical and criminal behavior and that government must not be infected with conflicts of interest that countermand this. That means to me that government must be insulated from any kind of direct monetary influence from private interests.
 
That means, in turn, that no individual or entity within Government be allowed to profit personally or organizationally in any direct or surreptitious reward from any specific legislation. Also, government must be transparent and fully account for those it is intended to serve. 
 
This is the only way that there can be legitimate government concern for the economy that it profits from only as society profits from that same concern. Individual reward for those in government must be conditioned on exactly the same general economic factors that affect any citizen. It is the only there can be economic incentives for those in government to serve society rather than themselves. This kind of "trickle up" theory is the only kind of economic "trickling" I believe in.
Robert Wendell Added Feb 19, 2014 - 11:03pm
Mike, I can agree fully with points 1 through 4 and also with 5 and 6 with certain caveats. There are some situations that require government mediation, such as an example I've used before, company towns. I use this as just one example, but a very easy one to understand, since it so clearly represents a situation that can very easily violate your condition that "buyers and sellers are able to negotiate their own terms, and transactions..." And that they should "take place without the use of force, coercion, extortion, etc."
 
I believe that people should be able to negotiate collectively, since the companies they work for can do exactly that, too. However, I don't believe in labor organizations that can hold whole industries hostage to their demands, since that is clearly a monopoly just as sure as a corporation that manages to corner its market is. I suggested in my article Declaration of Economic Independence/Interdependence that collective bargaining should have strong legal protections, but should be limited to the particular company for which the collectively bargaining labor actually works. There would naturally also have to be protection against all kinds of legal maneuvers on the part of the companies to split labor up by creating new divisions or whatever else they could conceivably come up with to skew the balance in their favor. Such shenanigans would have to be policed by government and decided by the courts.
 
There are many other situations that are similar. I also see a problem with never allowing under any circumstances competent authority to override public opinion that is clearly in error because the public doesn't believe a hurricane is coming, for example. So parents refuse to evacuate and so kill their innocent children along with themselves as a result of their own suicidal decisions.
 
Public opinion is far from infallible and easily influenced by those who specialize in influencing public opinion for their own corrupt advantage. You might be interested to know that I don't think we have any business trying to impose democracy on other nations, since I've been around internationally enough to become thoroughly convinced that democracy can only work when there is an informed citizenry free of radical religious ideas, for example, and/or intense ethnic and cultural divides that we can witness right now in some places that disallow democracy. We like democracy in other countries only when they vote the way we want them to anyway. Often they vote against their own interests. I think a good chunk of people in this country are doing just that. Very importantly, I don't think we really have a democracy right now in the U.S., but a plutocracy that suckers gullible folks with less power and influence to vote against their own interests to unwittingly aid the interests of their manipulators.
 
We live in a highly technological society with politicians making technological and scientific decisions who are completely illiterate in these areas. So we have a scientifically illiterate population living in a society that is supported by a very small percentage that is competent at all, and even many of these fail to see very important implications for society and the world of what they're doing. For most people, the technology they completely depend on and are often even addicted to might as well be magic. For them it is effectively magic. They make not think of it that way, but that's only because they're used to it and not at all because they understand it. I regard that is very dangerous for what I think should be obvious reasons. All these ignorant people end up voting for people who are either "bubbas" that they would be comfortable having a beer with or are really good at pretending to be, but incompetent to make wise decisions in our current scientific and technological environment. So the big question for me is how do we deal with that?! I'm not sure, to be honest.
Robert Wendell Added Feb 20, 2014 - 1:25pm
JoF: "Robert, we have to stop treating politicians like fair maidens being spoiled by dirty businessmen."
 
So when have I even remotely implied that? Isn't it clear that to be corrupted, you have to be corruptible. Just because I didn't explicitly make that obvious point doesn't imply its opposite.
 
What I'm saying is that if the money were outlawed, the incentives that attract corrupt people into the political system would be gone. We have a lot of things in this economy that provide incentives that are upside down with regard to anything that even begins to be positive for society.
Robert Wendell Added Feb 20, 2014 - 6:59pm
Irvn: "...if one really wanted the money out of politics, one would logically advocate for less taxation,..."
 
What do taxes have to do with paying off politicians with campaign funds, perks of all kinds, special retirement plans and lifetime incomes that make Marxism look right wing?...all essentially bribes. Taxes don't bribe politicians. So who do you think does?...or do you just look the other way and pretend it's all fine?
Carole McKee Added Feb 22, 2014 - 9:48am
Nathan Kelley--For once we are in total agreement. I always knew that day would come.
Robert Wendell Added Feb 22, 2014 - 12:08pm
Me, too, for once!
Robert Wendell Added Feb 22, 2014 - 12:13pm
We need a simple sales tax on everything that gets exchanged, retail or wholesale. That way the people who use social infrastructures the most pay the most for it. If you tax only at the retail level, that doesn't happen. Taking your kids to school uses a lot less government infrastructure than manufacturers and their parts vendors do. This would be an extremely simple, fair, but very unlikely solution because we have a ton of people in the U.S. who make a very good living from consulting on our extremely complicated and UNFAIR tax system.
Robert Wendell Added Feb 24, 2014 - 10:42am
Larry, I agree with most of your comment. But we need to recognize that our economy is not supporting jobs for everyone in between children and those too old to support themselves. We have a bunch of factors we've inherited from our past and current behaviors as a country than includes greed from those who have plenty much more from those who merely struggle survive. I smell a lot of political naivete in your comment in that regard.
 
I think it's a bit of a stretch to call people greedy who naturally hope for help when they otherwise have to grovel in garbage to sift out some pitiful excuse for food. We have failed to educate our people well. We have automated many of them out of jobs. We have ripped off other countries' natural resources for the money it takes to bribe their corrupt leadership to let us do it while their people starve.
 
Now we have some of those people in poor countries starting to get an education and take away good jobs our poor don't know how to fill. This makes people at the top super rich and leaves out our uneducated poor with no place to go for work. In other comments elsewhere, I've proposed that most of these U.S. poor don't know how to do basic things we all used to do for survival, like eat real food that grows in the ground that we can learn to produce ourselves.


I know how to garden. I've come back from vacation with a garden so lush with vegetables we didn't have to shop for anything to eat until after we'd been back for four days. None of what we were eating was processed food unless you count dry whole grains and beans.
 
But I was also once laid off after getting a laptop as reward for being the most productive employee. I was the last to still be working before the company went under. I then had to do anything I could find, including temporary painting jobs and cleaning barns. I even worked in a grocery store for minimum wage for a while. I ran out of unemployment insurance twice and had to get food stamps and Supplementary Security Income. I don't think I was being greedy and I have a college education and had been making $62K/year in a small rural town in Iowa in 1996 before this happened.
 
So I get a little sick at my stomach when I hear blowhard blather about starving people being greedy because they welcome survival help from the government.
Robert Wendell Added Feb 24, 2014 - 10:58am
Larry, by the way, my way out of that mess was to leave my family and friends after 22 years in that town and accept a graduate assistantship at age 60 (a minor miracle) for a Master's degree at the University of Florida, Gainesville. I graduated in 2006 with a 3.95/4.0. I worked a few hours a week as a consultant for $50/hour to keep my student loan needs low. I now work part time to supplement my retirement income and earn $45/hour before my costs for publicity, which are relatively low. How many people in my position could have done that, especially people without my skills and education? You may think you're a self-made man and get all puffed up about that and judgmental about people who aren't doing so well, but that ignores a ton of factors that have allowed you have whatever success you've experienced that you had NOTHING to do with, including in what family you were born and how they raised you, etc. Maybe you should think about being more grateful and less puffed up about your success and so less judgmental about those who've been less fortunate?
Carole McKee Added Feb 24, 2014 - 1:53pm
Larry, the story about the lady in your office just fries me! And I'll tell you why. I was a single parent with no education. I worked my butt off, sometimes two or three jobs at a time, just to keep a roof over my kids' heads. Their dad was a deadbeat who contributed nothing to their support, and since I worked and made my own way, support court didn't give a damn. Now that woman makes $32-37 a year? I made $5 an hour! I took nothing from anybody. My kids didn't have cell phones, X-box, Gameboys, designer clothes, big screen TVs, but what I did give them was love and a work ethic. 
 
I had no money to further my education and certainly no time, since I worked so much. Then I lost the use of my hand. After surgery, the hand worked but never worked quite as well. I ended up at OVR (Office of Vocational Rehabilitation) looking for help with a career change. After testing, I was offered a college scholarship and I jumped on it. But the point is, I lived on very damn little and got no help. I don't understand how all of these other people get so much free assistance. 
 
Now again, I find myself in severe unbearable pain that took me right out of the workforce. I now collect Social Security (I was turned down for disability) and I am just up against the wall every month. I'm trying to find a part-time job that wouldn't require a lot of physical activity rather than try to get any kind of government assistance. 
 
Now I feel for the woman with the special needs child, but I think she is getting a lot more than she needs from the government. 
 
I think what really infuriates me is that people who are getting assistance have a much better lifestyle than I have, and I've always worked.
Robert Wendell Added Feb 24, 2014 - 10:36pm
Larry, I understand there is an element of truth in what you say and I know that situations like that exist and that there is some fraud as well. The fraud is never going away any more than other kinds of insurance fraud. But does that mean we just focus on the relative pennies these people get compared the corporate fraud we just witnessed not so long ago? And that's just the tip of the iceberg and a zillion times more of a taxpayer ripoff. Magicians use misdirection of attention to pull off their "magic". There is a plutocratic component of our economy that is using misdirection big time to get us ticked off at little people with small-time fraud or greed if you like.
 
Also, you started a janitorial business that enable you to survive without government assistance. Bravo! I congratulate you. Do you think everyone has the ability to do that, or even do what I did to get myself off of government support? I did take that support, because where I was I saw no option other than ending up on the street. Does that make me a greedy, blood-sucking good-for-nothing in your eyes? I'm not cut out to be a salesman, but I've done a significant amount of high-end industrial sales work. It didn't come naturally and it was quite a strain for me. I'm pretty highly skilled both technically and musically, but I'm not a natural businessman either. I do have my own music teaching business with myself as the only employee, if you will. But that is a pretty simple kind of business in terms of the business side of it. It takes a lot of deep knowledge, though, to teach what I teach as well as I teach it.
 
The point is we're all different and cut out for different things. Some things are more readily supported by society and the economy than others. Music is considered a luxury by everyone except musicians, so in hard economic times, things go more slowly. I've had success to whatever degree I have because I'm extremely good at what I do. Not everyone is as good at whatever they do as you and I are.
 
So I feel that you're being a bit too judgmental in the bigger picture if we ignore the exceptional situations like the one about the lady who works for you. I've always worked, too, just as Carole has, but I needed the help or I honestly don't know what would have happened to us. We didn't need it long, but when we needed it, we really needed it. You ignore that both of you were raised to be the way you are and have the way of thinking and being that worked for you the way it did. Does that mean we should condemn everyone who was not fortunate to be born into that kind of situation to economic hell? I don't think so. I don't even think that would be good for anyone, including us, in the long run.
Robin the red breasted songster Added Feb 28, 2014 - 3:20am
Nathan:  Is that true about tax breaks for campaign donations?  Sounds incredible.
Johnny Fever Added Feb 28, 2014 - 12:29pm
@ Robert & Larry
 
While I disagree with just about everything Robert says, as it relates to this discussion, I agree with Robert. Greed has nothing to do with the social safety and entitlement programs which Robert and others depend on. Being dependent on social security, unemployment, food stamps, etc. is not a lifestyle to be envied. Furthermore, this is a generous country so despite Fredrick Douglas’ cold hearted approach to the needy, we provide for the needy.
 
Because we’re a capitalist country, there are far less needy which need to be provided for than if we lived in a socialist country. But living in a capitalist country doesn’t make us greedier nor should it be considered a curse of capitalism. Greed is a sin, wanting more for you and your family is a commendable goal. Thankfully capitalism allows us to pursue that goal far easier than in a system where everyone is supposed to be the same…socialism.
Robert Wendell Added Feb 28, 2014 - 8:03pm
Thank you, Johnny. For once we have something to agree on. One of the problems of the current political far right political environment is that they view just about any social safety net to be more than merely socialist, but Marxist!
 
I get the impression from your use of the word socialism that you tend to equate it with Marxism. Much of Europe is much more socialist than anything the hard right here classifies that way in the United States. This is even truer of Scandinavia, most especially Sweden and Denmark. None of these is a Marxist social system.
 
On the contrary, they are highly capitalistic in their business models with low levels of both government regulation and interestingly, of poverty, which is much lower than ours. However, these countries also have their downsides and Switzerland, which is ultra-capitalist, also has very low levels of poverty. I attribute this in Switzerland to a strong work ethic and a superior form of democracy that is vastly less corrupted by money than ours. Here is an interesting article with a relatively balanced perspective that looks at the pluses and minuses of Scandinavian socialism/capitalism:


http://www.frontpagemag.com/2011/steven-plaut/does-scandinavian-socialism-work/  
Johnny Fever Added Mar 1, 2014 - 12:31am
@ Robert
 
Although I can’t speak for everyone in the far right I don’t think they think the social safety net is Marxist.  In addition, I personally don’t equate socialism to Marxism.  I also don’t think the Scandinavian countries you mentioned are “highly capitalistic in their business models with low levels of both government regulation”.  I think they are far more socialistic than us but we’re catching up quick. 
 
I think your link did more to discredit some of your assertions than help.  For example, the title of the article is “Does Scandinavian Socialism Work?”; not exactly a title touting a capitalistic system.  And most of the article was spent debunking your statement about their poverty levels being lower than the United States.  
Mahendra Kent Added Mar 3, 2014 - 5:50am
I don't know if I like the word Greed.  Can we replace it with passion please.  It kind of sounds good.  Greed for life does not sound as good as passion for life.  The word greed implies a sense of selfishness whereas passion includes others also.
I notice that the many readers seem to believe that only economic success will solve all our problems.  I feel that time has come now where the psychological survival will play just as an important role as the economic survival.  The reliance on drugs and alcohol to relax is bit scary in my opinion.  
 
I also feel there is some confusion about knowledge, skills and education.  I think they are all very different.  The current system only provides skills and knowledge.  The word education implies the total understanding of concepts and the ability to efficiently apply in real situations.  I do not come across that too often.  I notice that common-sense is lacking in many people.  Compassion should be part of education too.  In my experience, a compassionate manager achieves better results from his/her employees than a money driven manager.  
 
A good, passionate not greedy, organisation is able to predict its future requirements of skills and it prepares its employees for those skills.  One requires intelligence to foresee what is coming.  It should be noted that knowledge is one dimensional, logical arrangement of that knowledge is two dimensional, complete understanding of that knowledge is three dimensional but intelligence is beyond time and space therefore has no dimension and is very rare.  That is why the current issues as seen in theses discussions.  Can institutions provide education and not just knowledge and skills?  Industry must work with institutions to help the colleges prepare new candidates and their current employees to meet the future skills requirements.  I believe it is called being pro-active rather than reactive.  Greedy people only want the profits now, passionate people want the profit now but also want to prepare for future. 
 
 
Robin the red breasted songster Added Mar 3, 2014 - 9:51am
Some of the very best benefits for mankind have come from people who are passionate but not greedy.
 
The Internet for example, essentially donated by Tim Berners Lee and which, because of the fact that it was not monetised, was immensely more useful and popular than the paid for alternatives that existed before e.g. Compuserve.
 
Once you have enough to satisfy needs, the psychologically healthy human being starts to be driven by other things such as, for example, the praise of his peers, a sense of achievement etc.
 
It is only the seriously unbalanced that continue to pursue money for its own sake... sitting like some bad tempered troll on a growing pile of gold coins.   The rest use what they have to create something else more worthwhile e.g. Bill Gates and his Foundation.
 
Money does not make you happy.  What you choose to do with it just might though.  However just buying stuff rarely works as a happiness generator beyond the short term
Robert Wendell Added Mar 3, 2014 - 10:42am
Johnny, please try to read with your heavy political filters turned off. Those articles mentioned that poverty does indeed exist in those Scandinavian countries, so they haven't eliminated it, but it's much lower and they get a lot of government help. That said, you have to go beyond that title to get to the part that talks about how strongly capitalist their business models are.
 
Are you going to deny that the openly and strongly Marxist government in China has implemented an essentially capitalist business model? Well, the Scandinavian countries are much more capitalist than China. I also compared them to Switzerland, which is anything but socialist, yet also has very low levels of poverty.
 
I also disagree strongly with the characterization of greed as responsible for financial success. I think it corrupts financial success by converting it to a "no holds barred", dog-eat-dog kind of success. That's essentially criminal. The drug cartels operate on that philosophy taken all the way to its logical conclusion. Slavery is also an extreme example.
 
Getting enormously rich by taking advantage of people who have no choice but to accept very low wages or starve is just a less obvious, milder brand of slavery. I don't think greed is ever good. The most truly successful people I have run across were wealthy, kind, and happy. They made their money by providing others with an opportunity to contribute to their entrepreneur's success and their own with their own work and creativity. They inspired passion, as others here have put it.


That is not greed. If everyone functioned this way, there would be no poverty and the society as a whole would be much more successful both financially and in quality of life. There is no reason with our current technological knowledge to be anything but wealthy on an inclusive, social scale. The idea that we're in a zero sum game is essentially a Marxist idea, that we have to take from the rich to give to the poor. We need a simplified, fair tax system and we need to get rid of our upside down financial incentives that reward the wrong kinds of behavior at both the industrial and individual level. We just need to quit trampling on each other to get off the boat and start bailing water together.
Robert Wendell Added Mar 3, 2014 - 4:51pm
Mark, your example translates Mahendra's philosophy extremely badly. First, there is nothing in being a compassionate manager that eliminates the goal of monetary achievements. Your example eliminates them to make the it a severely unjust interpretation of Mahendra's philosophy.
 
I have worked in industry quite a lot. I've seen it all. I've seen managers who judged everything in terms of apparent short term monetary advantage while ignoring human feelings and lost really good employees as a result. As a personal example, I trained someone highly qualified to do work that I managed and she became much better at it that when she came. She was highly technical but cold as ice in her interactions with clients. She improved greatly under my training. This is a level of feeling for people absolutely affects revenues.
 
Now here comes another, even better example in the same company. A few months later, the president and CEO wanted to lay This new woman off because business was slow for reasons unrelated to her or anyone else's performance. I convinced him that it was a bad idea; that we had invested a lot in the new woman and she had become quite good at her job.
 
I knew this man and was quite aware of his essentially heartless way of managing his company. I knew that by convincing him to keep her I was risking my own job; that this turkey could easily lay me off instead sometime later because I had been there much longer and cost him substantially more. But I knew what I was doing was the honest thing to do.
 
Sure enough, he did lay me off a few months later. The new woman realized who she was working for, how cold-hearted and strictly money oriented he was. She got a new job at her earliest convenience. He was left in the lurch and called me right away.
 
I implied to him quite directly, firmly, but politely essentially how wrong-headed his behavior had been. He was desperate and I took full advantage of my leverage to reinstate my longer vacation time, a higher salary than before, and the ability to take my vacation time only a couple of months after returning when I had originally scheduled it. I got everything I asked for, of course.
 
I told him that he had made three bad decisions. one of which I had talked him out of, and that he had clearly made the wrong decision every time because he was thinking only of the apparent short term monetary advantage each time with no attention to either moral integrity, sensitivity to, or compassion for others' needs and desires. He shrugged and said you can't always make the right decisions, making it clear that my remarks had sailed right around his dense little head.
 
Only three months later, after having returned from my European vacation, I got an attractive job offer from another company. I took it.  The wife of the president and CEO of the company I was leaving was furious. She hadn't been furious at all when her dear husband had done exactly the same thing to me. I think I smell something of a double standard there. It's funny (but not so humorous) how twisted people's perceptions can be, isn't it?
 
The power elite in any country often have this kind of double standard: one for themselves and another for those they regard as having lesser status. They see no irony in their treatment of others in ways that would offend them deeply if anyone directed the same behavior toward them. In their minds, their still exists a modern equivalent of the divine right of kings that justifies one standard for them and their noble colleagues and another for "commoners".
 
I have seen this many times, as well as very different and vastly more positive attitudes in people with much greater wealth than this mighty moral midget had. The difference in their personalities clearly corresponded. So did their company's morale. The employee morale in the story I just told was always in the sewer. How much money that cost that turkey is an opportunity cost that I'm not competent to assess, but I'm quite certain that it was very high.
Mahendra Kent Added Mar 4, 2014 - 2:16am
Robert,
 
Thanks for the clarification and the support.
 
Mark,
 
I would just like to add to what Robert has just said.  Compassion is a very powerful energy and it contains, but not limited to, the following.
1. Responsibility to yourself and your employees.
2. Passion for what you are doing.
3. Desire for an outcome which include budgets, sales targets and the other economic factors.
4. Code of conduct.
5. Consideration of the feelings of employees and their personal issues.
 
I have operated my business for the last twenty-three years without ever making a loss.  I have maintained my team and have never sacked a single employee.  During the global financial crisis when large and small companies were struggling and shutting their doors, we not only survived, we did better. My acquaintances closed business.  The reason for our survival and the demise of others was simple.  There employees were working for the money, our team was working for me and I was working for the team.  Compassion is the most powerful energy on this planet if one knows how to utilise it.  It gives you strength to carry on.  Currently I am training young engineers in power generation industry how to integrate philosophy with technology because they are related.  I pray that few listen. 
Robin the red breasted songster Added Mar 4, 2014 - 2:34am
I would agree with Mahendra here.  When employees are only working for money they do not deliver of their best for you.  In fact, those are the employees that you have to be careful of if they are in a position of trust.
 
I have twice had problems with employees defrauding me.  Both were highly money orientated.
 
The best employee is one who is motivated to deliver his best irrespective of whether extra money is involved.  Employer and employee need to be loyal to each other.
 
If you find yourself trying to motivate through money, then you have probably failed.
 
This is not to say that you should not remunerate people accordingly.  You should.  Inadequate remuneration can be a demotivator.  But motivation of the best sort comes from other sources.
Robin the red breasted songster Added Mar 4, 2014 - 2:38am
I should say that Mark is correct about money perhaps delivering more as a motivator... in the short term.
 
If you have a monthly or quarterly driven business then maybe cash is the best way to go.   No-one is committed to the business for the long term so the only thing anyone really gets out of it is cash today.
 
But those businesses rarely make it through for the long term unless something is done to develop and conserve the business's human capital.   When an employee leaves, a huge amount of value leaves with him... this is certainly true in the businesses that I have been involved in.  It can take years to replace.
Robert Wendell Added Mar 4, 2014 - 10:15am
Johnny: "Although I can’t speak for everyone in the far right I don’t think they think the social safety net is Marxist."
 
Well, then why, since we have not even remotely attempted to implement anything close to the socialism that abounds in Europe, and since even European socialism is not Marxism, then while I'm not defending everything the current administration does, why is the far right yelling Marxism at everything economical the current administration tries to implement?
Mike Haluska Added Mar 4, 2014 - 12:52pm
Bob - your comment:
 
"Well, then why, since we have not even remotely attempted to implement anything close to the socialism that abounds in Europe"
 
indicates you have a different definition of "remotely" than most everyone else.  Now that we are implementing socialized medicine, allowing the NSA to eavesdrop on any and all private communication, using the IRS to punish "dissidents", implemented even harsher penalties to those trying to get out of the welfare state trap, destroyed the traditional family, etc. I'd say we're leading the race to the perfect progressive ideal - Total Control of every aspect of the ordinary citizen's life
Robert Wendell Added Mar 4, 2014 - 6:15pm
Mike, don't be so paranoid! The NSA has been doing that for a long, long time, way before the current administration. The only difference between what was happening before is the increasing technological ability to do what they were already doing their darndest to do.


YOU have a very different definition of "Total Control" than most everybody else, but this time "everybody else" is for real. Your implied concept of "most everybody else" seems to include only your particular social and political environment, which I would submit is far from representative of the general population.
 
Oh, and by the way, government control, spying on your own citizenry, harsh treatment of dissidence, harsh penalties, etc. do not have anything to do with any reasonable definition of socialism. Every kind of dictatorship that has ever existed has had these characteristics, most of which had nothing to do with socialism.
 
You think of me as a liberal, but I'm as against all those things at least as much as you are. So what's your beef?
 
Point by point:
 
1) What I said about what the current administration has been trying to do really doesn't approach anything like European socialism, which is also still far from real Marxism.
 
2) All the things you mention as proving otherwise have nothing to do with socialism. I don't like them either.
 
3) All the things you mention have been growing decade by decade. The current administration is not doing anything that wasn't already happening or trying to happen under many previous administrations, including all the Republican ones, who have been some of the worst offenders despite their disingenuous rhetoric to the contrary,
 
4) Republicans have constantly harped about spending while historically increasing spending by vastly greater percentages than Democratic administrations.
 
5) They talk about trickle down economics, but the economy has performed worse by far under Republican administrations than under Democratic ones as a clear matter of public record.
 
6) Income inequality has increased enormously more under Republican administrations than Democratic ones for reasons completely unrelated to entitlement programs.
 
7) I dislike both parties, but find the Democrats the lesser of two pretty disgusting evils. 
 
8) I believe we need to unseat this political duopoly by peaceful means, but lack the social unity to do so.
 
9) This same lack of unity is even more impotent to effect change by violent means than it is politically.
 
10) I believe in intelligently regulated capitalism (i.e., policed for the purpose of bringing criminal economic behavior to justice).
Robert Wendell Added Mar 17, 2014 - 9:53pm
Addendum to my preceding post:
 
Point 10 should read, "I believe in intelligently regulated capitalism (i.e., policed for the purpose of bringing criminal economic behavior to justice and eliminating conflicts of interest, which should be outlawed).
Ryan Messano Added Jun 10, 2016 - 6:07pm
Ayn Rand was off a bit, but on conservative financial principles I agree.  I agree with you Robert that the educational system has failed us, and that literacy rates are abysmal.  But I peg that to the failure of the family structure, and fathers being moral leaders in the home than I do to economic data.  
 
America is great because she is good, and when America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great. Tocqueville