Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Employment Myth

Between the ages of 18 and 40 I bought into "unemployment figures". 5% to 9% seemed like reasonable, single-digit numbers that could easily be overcome. The comfort that unemployment numbers are not too high is a nervous consolation, in case you ever happen to find yourself there. The strong-minded will tell themselves, get up and finish the race. When you finally do pick yourself up and get back in the race, it could even make you embrace Republican values and  "laissez-faire" capitalism. The conservative assumption is that most of that 5% to 9% could be seen as a healthy, temporary number, and some of it is inevitable human nature - a.k.a. the lazy ones. As Mitt Romney thought he was saying privately during his 2012 presidential campaign, self-proclaimed victims who unaccountably rely on the government are a lost cause.

While a part of me never really thought 5% to 9% unemployment meant that 91% to 95% of the country was employed, I didn’t quite grasp the reality that more than 50% of America's total population is unemployed. That number includes children and seniors over 70, but someone still needs to work for them. While some of the seniors over 70 paid for themselves, they still had to work for it. Either way it has little to do with laziness: U.S. style capitalism is simply not designed to provide for 220 million jobs – the number of Americans over 16 and under 70. According to the Current Employment Statistics and Current Population Statistics, the total number of jobs in the U.S. is about 150 million. That's a 70 million adult deficit. It boils down to 22% of the total population, and 32% of the working age population.

We could drill down further and say that only about half of the 32% really competes hard for a job. That would be under the assumption that the other half are spouses or "significant others" who play a voluntary support role. It would make the true, effective unemployment rate in the US 16%. There's just one problem with that logic: the single job that pays for one adult mouth to feed also has to pay for two. While the two halves can economize and scale all day long, the single job per couple math reaches a tipping point sooner rather than later. You can pick which end you prefer, 32% or 16%. But either way it is still a far cry from "5.5%". I choose to go right down the middle, and I call the true, effective unemployment rate of the U.S. 24%. One-quarter of the nation, one out of four, is unemployed. From a macro perspective, 170 million Americans are not formally employed.

Counting new unemployment compensation filings every month (currently at 5.5%) is a dishonest collusion that both ruling parties have engaged in for almost a century. It looks better on their leadership record, and they guilt the ordinary citizens into blaming themselves more than the system.

It needs to stop. It's neither honest nor sustainable, and neither party knows how to fix it. The best argument conservatives have is that given the right incentives, able-people will eventually get off their asses and find a way to make themselves productive. The best argument liberals have is that there are way too many unable-people in our society – not lazy, literally unable. Unable physically, mentally, or a combination compounded by a true unemployment that lies somewhere between 24% and 53%. Ignoring them will not make them go away, and labeling them “welfare queens” who don’t understand trickle-down economics amounts to conservative smugness.

Neither argument by itself will ever work. If both sides acknowledge that both arguments working together is in fact the answer, then we may yet make America a greater society.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Why I'm Not Feeling The Bern

First, I do feel the need to point out that of all candidates, Bernie Sanders is one of the most principled politicians the United States has to offer in 2016. One of the burdens of the U.S. is the unethical purchasing of political power. If anyone is doing an impressive job at minimizing the purchase of his/her campaign, and therefore her/his convictions, it's Bernie Sanders. Even "self-financed" billionaire Donald Trump is not last in outside / "dark" money (PAC): Trump is second to last in PAC funding, at almost $2 million as of March 2016. Sanders is dead last at under $50,000. (

Second, I also feel the need to point out that Sanders is one of the most socially empathetic candidates in the U.S. political mix today. The shaming of social empathy has traditionally been a dark political pastime of the U.S., even by moderate liberals. Conventional wisdom dictates that survival of the fittest is seriously eroded by "excessive" social empathy, like a mother and a father who tiresomely disagree on what nurtures and what weakens the child. According to the same conventional wizards, social empathy is the damning of the poor: it makes them lazy and weak (Ronald Reagan's "Welfare Queen"). This prevalent suspicion, embedded in the American quilt, is the fundamental reason the U.S. is in the bottom half of the thirty most developed nations when it comes to social progress. (Social Progress Index)

You would think that those two significant attributes would be enough to feel the Bern. After all, haven't we always turned a blind eye towards the darker side of politicians, as long as we believed they were enlightened in matters that are most important to us? (Something future generations may call Trumping, much in the same way we use the term Machiavellian today.) But more to the point: with those two impressive Sanders attributes highlighted, is there anything about him that would even require the old blind eye?

The answer to that depends on whether you believe that the dark side of socialist democracies are the lesser of two evils. With that I am offering the reader the courtesy of not insulting his or her intelligence, by taking it as a given that ALL man-made socioeconomic systems have a dark side.

Even more importantly, the answer to the blind eye question depends on whether you believe that a vastly less homogenous nation like the U.S., vastly larger, with vastly more significant technological and scientific contributions to the planet, can or should wear the "Nordic Model" skinny jeans (the Nordic Model is the socioeconomic system of five European nations: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden). If you believe that the shiny side of the Nordic Model is not heavily fueled by a fiercely "offshore" capitalist model, then you might want to challenge your own sense of social fairness. The offshore dog-whistle by the way is in great part code for "let's do our dirty business in nations where they give much less of a shit about social fairness than we do". If you have not considered that the Nordic Model is still greatly benefitting from the war chest of its non-social heyday, then you might want to vet Bernie Sanders' idealism a little better. Don Corleone's way of life did not magically clean itself up after a whole new generation. You can put lipstick on a pig, but you're still addicted to bacon.

Here's the heart of the matter: the conservative rich are not laughing at Sanders because they think he's a dreamer; they're laughing at him because they know where the money that will be used for "free" healthcare and "free" education comes from. And they know how it's made. Because it's not your mom and pop's money from back in Pleasantville. In case that doesn't sink in, please think back to the Scandinavian heyday war chest. And to the Corleones: Bernie is like Kay Corleone (Diane Keaton), when she begs the conscience of her husband Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), "I thought you weren't going to become a man like your father... Because this all must end... this Sicilian thing that's been going on for two thousand years."  

The Corleone boys don't do lipstick, Bernie.


This is not the election of a lifetime. The elections you make for yourself every day when you wake up are the elections of a lifetime. Stop falling in love with politicians preaching change, and be the change. These are not the droids you're looking for. 

This is also not a call for a non-vote. By all means, do vote. The democratic process, as frustrating as it may be, is still the healthiest way we have so far in our evolution to propose a general way forward. But destiny is not up to our leaders. It never has been, and it never will be. There is only one destiny, and it's the collective sum of all individual destinies. The only thing you can do to help change the world is focus on your own destiny. Only then will your vote truly count.

Just be aware of one slight rule of engagement, when it comes to focusing on yourself: the more you take without giving, whether in love or in profit, the more insignificant your destiny will be. Even if it makes you a billionaire. Especially if it makes you a billionaire.


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